With one of the second-busiest ports in the world and a population of more than a half-million, Long Beach is one of the West Coast's most important cities. It's proximity to L.A. and San Diego is a mixed blessing - it's easy to get to but somewhat overlooked by many tourists. There's much to see and do here, however, and a prominent GLBT community that convenes each May for one of the country's largest Pride Festivals. Here's a photo tour of Long Beach, from gay bars to historic neighborhoods.
The Queen Mary
Launched in 1934 and tied up in Long Beach Harbor since it ended passenger service in 1967, the 12-deck, 1,000-foot Queen Mary is one of the city's most recognizable attractions. Today the sleek, Art Deco beauty is a working hotel - a fun, quirky place to stay that's appealing for a chance to experience the ship's grandeur. Accommodations and amenities at the Queen Mary, however, are understandably a bit dated. Even if you don't stay here, come by for a tour - several kinds are offered, including self-guided audio tours, as well as guided walks with different themes (the ship's role during World War II, ghosts and legends, behind-the-scenes, etc.).
The hotel has 314 staterooms, although decorated true to the period, they do contain such modern amenities as iPod docks, satellite TV, Wi-Fi, and flat-screen TVs. Amenities include a full-service Queen Mary Spa, as well as several restaurants and ships. If there's a "must" among these, it's the classy Observation Bar, a swank Art Deco landmark with lovely sunset views, great cocktails, and a light food menu. There's also a kitschy shop called (go ahead and snicker) the Land of Fruits and Nuts, which is worth a stop for an authentic California date shake.
The story of the Falcon is one of those cautionary tales of what happens when an old-school dive bar that few but hard-core, day-long drinkers ever paid much attention to develops serious cachet among hipsters and poseurs. Longtime locals appear more divided on the Falcon's increasing popularity, some uneasy about the crowds. Other like that the Falcon draws a genuine mix of Long Beach revelers - gays, straights, alternative-music fans (there's a rockin' jukebox), and even a few suits after work. If you're a fan of Akbar up in Silver Lake, or Roosterfish in Venice, you'll likely feel right at home here.
A classic example of the art deco era's Streamline Moderne style, the stunning restored Art Theatre is along funky East 4th Street "Retro Row", right beside the city's gay and lesbian community center. Opened originally as a silent-movie house, the theater has just one screen and shows a mix of art-house, classic, LGBT, and documentary movies. Adjacent to the theater are Art du Vin wine bar and the Portfolio Annex Coffee Bar, both of which tend to draw quite a few gays and lesbians. Recent restoration upgrades in 2008 vastly improved the audio and video, returned the interior to its original style, and added a replica of the 1934 marquee. There's a reason indie-movie lovers and history buffs from throughout metro Los Angeles flock to this place - it's truly one of the architectural gems of Southern California.
Next to the beautifully restored Art Theatre along the city's funky 4th Street "Retro Row," the Center acts as an LGBT community space and resource for greater Long Beach. The building is open weekdays 9 until 9 and hosts a range of health and social services, youth programs, meetings, and useful events. If you're new in the area or visiting for a while, it's definitely worth stopping by here. The center's website has links to many organizations as well as a calendar of GLBT-relevant events.
Hot Java Community Coffeehouse
There may not be a coffeehouse in California with a more loyal gay following than Hot Java an attractive cafe with plush couches, a fireplace, hardwood floors, and tall windows overlooking the city's main gay-bar strip, East Broadway, as well as leafy Bixby Park. Hot Java is just a 10-minute walk north of the beach, too, which is an excellent place to carry your iced latte, Italian soda, slice of cake, or dish of gelato. This GLBT favorite also stocks many of the area's free gay mags and papers.
Belmont Shore Beach
There isn't necessarily a clear gay section at any of the broad, sandy beaches in Long Beach, but the area of Belmont Shore beach across from the gay bar Club Ripples has the strongest GLBT following. This part of the beach adjoins a parking area with metered spots. Belmont Shore is popular for kite-flying, jogging, fishing off the pier (several blocks west of here), and biking or blading along a paved path that curves through the center of the beach. It's always a fun mix of people. Visible from the beach is the curious mix of ships that ply the waters of Long Beach, from enormous tankers to Navy craft to cruise ships.
Belmont Shore is on the east side of Long Beach, adjacent to a historic residential neighborhood of the same name that abounds with enchanting arts and crafts bungalows. A few blocks inland, East 2nd Street is lined with restaurants and shopping, and to the east, the Naples neighborhood is a series of tiny islands separated by canals that bears a resemblance to Venice Beach. The beach continues well west of the Belmont Shore neighborhood toward downtown - in fact, you can follow the paved jogging/blading path right into downtown.
Hamburger Mary's Gay Bar and Restaurant
The nearest gay bar in Long Beach to downtown, Hamburger Mary's is part of the much-loved, high-camp chain of burger joints with locations throughout the country (and the greatest number in California). The large patio is the best spot for lunch or dinner, while inside the bar serves up potent drinks, with specials throughout the week. Nightly themes include Club Lucky Wednesdays with go-go boys and drag shows, bottomless mimosa Sunday brunch, Friday's Boy Bar, and lesbian-focused Doll House Thursdays.
Of course, burgers are a major draw here, with the open-faced "sloppy Mary" a favorite among piggier patrons (it's smothered with chili as well as Jack and cheddar cheese). Fish tacos, chicken sandwiches, coconut-shrimp salads, and similarly hearty and fare round out the menu.
The Silver Fox
In a handsomely restored art deco building just off the quirky 4th Street Corridor and a bit northeast of the main gay bar district in Long Beach, the Silver Fox has been one of the city's nightlife mainstays for many years (it opened in 1981). It's not, despite the name, necessarily geared toward older men - age-wise, the crowd is very mixed. The attractive interior, friendly staff, huge video library (mostly comedy clips and music), and relatively compact dimensions make this a good spot to socialize, especially early in the evening, when it's most popular. Occasional go-go dancers, piano cabaret, and karaoke are among the better draws.
East 4th Street, roughly from Walnut Avenue to Junipero Avenue, has emerged in recent years as "Retro Row", a strip of boutiques and galleries specializing in art, housewares, furnishings, clothing, and assorted odds and ends. Pictured here are a couple of neighborhood favorites, Deja Vu (mid-century modern furnishings) and Xcape (old-school patio furniture, retro antiques, etc.). But you'll also find several restaurants (Lola's is a great choice for Mexican fare), the city's LGBT community center, and the stunning Art Theatre cinema. Cool neighborhood events include "Last Saturdays", a monthly evening festival that includes free art and entertainment.
Lola's Mexican Cuisine
A cheerful, casual Mexican restaurant across from the Long Beach GLBT Center and the handsome Art Theater along the hip 4th Street Retro Row, Lola's serves a mix of California-style and regional Mexican cuisine - everything from camarones al ajillo (shrimp with garlic sauce), carne asada, and mole verde, plus an excellent Birria Guadalajara (made with pork and veal, and served with frijoles charros). Save room for Lola's Tres Leches cake.
Blue Line Light Rail Stop
Downtown Long Beach is connected with downtown Los Angeles (with connections there to the Red Line) via the Blue Line Light Rail, which opened in 1990. The ride along this 22-mile line takes a little under an hour, which is generally much faster (and easier) than driving. Stops in downtown Long Beach include this one pictured here at 1st Street and Long Beach Boulevard, plus stops at Pacific Avenue Transit Mall (at West 1st St.) and at 4th and Pacific and 4th and Long Beach Boulevard.
Executive Suite is the closest gay club in Long Beach to the 405 Freeway - it's about 3 miles east of downtown, and it operates with a different approach than other GLBT hangouts in the city: it's open only Thursday through Saturday, and each night is geared toward a different crowd (Latin on Thursdays, gay guys on Fridays, and lesbians on Saturdays). Of these events, the lesbian nights are highly popular, but all have their fans. For the most part, it's about dancing and clubbing here - there's a cover charge every night, and the crowd tends toward younger and from throughout the southern L.A. region and neighboring Orange County. The dance floor is upstairs and can feel a bit cramped. Downstairs is a bar with pool tables and a patio.
Like many classic leather bars, the Mineshaft has steadily transitioned over time to more of a Levi's and T-shirts bar - it's still very much a butch guys' hangout, with a somewhat cruise-y vibe (at least late on weekend evenings), but this unpretentious neighborhood bar with a mock-Western facade is mostly just a laid-back spots for affordable drinks and shooting pool. Dim lighting and a rustic wood interior give the Mineshaft a bit more character than some of the other gay bars along the busy East Broadway gay nightlife strip.
Westin Long Beach
Among the several mid- and upscale hotels in downtown Long Beach, most of them clustered around the harbor and the city's convention center, the Westin Long Beach stands out for its spacious, contemporary, and nicely appointed rooms. Many of them have harbor views, and all are outfitted with classic Heavenly Beds and stylish bathrooms with double-headed massage showers. Amenities include The Grill restaurant (fine for hotel dining, but not a destination restaurant), a fitness center, and pool.
One of the several greatest hits that make up the East Broadway gay bar strip near downtown Long Beach, Sweetwater Saloon is a pretty classic neighborhood bar - there aren't a lot of bells and whistles here, just a no-nonsense bar with an outgoing staff serving low-price booze to low-keyed gay guys (and a fair number of straights). There's a patio off the bar, a pool table, and a cool jukebox with a wide variety of tunes.
The Brit Bar
The Brit is one of several gay neighborhood bars along the East Broadway strip in Long Beach. There's not a whole lot to distinguish this one from some of the others along here - it's a relatively quiet spot with a largely local following. Amusements, beyond the stiff drinks (at low prices), include pool, darts, and a fun jukebox.
Southern California has surprisingly few gay beach bars, especially with the demise a few years ago of the Boom Boom Room in Laguna Beach, but in the laid-back, underrated city of Long Beach - just 30 miles south of Los Angeles - you'll find one of the biggest and the best, Club Ripples. This two-story gay nightclub has been catering to the GLBT community since it opened in the early 1970s, just across the street from Belmont Shore's gay beach. Although the bar is an icon, it had seen a steady decline in patronage in recent years, prompting the owners to invite Tabatha Coffey of Bravo's Tabatha Takes Over to come and work her business-makeover and marketing magic in 2011.
The proximity of the beautiful surf and sand of the beachfront, as well as the bustling retail and dining scene just a couple of blocks inland along East Second Street, makes Club Ripples a particularly convenient and enjoyable place to socialize. You can stop in here to cruise the cute crowd and sip cocktails after lazing in the sand, or perhaps following dinner on East Second. Belmont Bay, it should be noted, is a popular municipal beach and is by no means a gay-exclusive stretch of sand, but especially on weekends, it enjoys an ardent gay and lesbian following - and it can be quite cruise-y, too (although be warned that police patrol the area heavily at night).
Club Ripples is a spacious club, and the crowd here fits the easy vibe you might expect of a California beach hangout - friendly, unpretentious, and well-tanned. The crowd is usually a mix of men and women (Fridays are usually more of a lesbian crowd), and there is a sizable Latino and African-American following, which fits with Long Beach's racially diverse population. On weekends, the under-30 set dominates, but everyone is quite welcome here. Watch for theme nights and parties catering especially to the Latin crowd, bears, and women, depending on the night. There's a good-size dance floor (with go-go dancers), and also a large, breezy patio.