The Best Things to Do in Long Beach, California

settings 2018 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach

Brian Cleary/Getty Images 

Long Beach, California (known as the "LBC" by locals) is a city of about half a million people in Los Angeles (LA) County and is directly south of Downtown LA

Long Beach is best known for its urban waterfront attractions, like the Queen Mary and the Aquarium of the Pacific, but despite being the sixth largest city in California, it has a small-town, provincial feel, with bike-friendly streets, active neighborhood associations, and artist collectives.

Long Beach has more music and cultural festivals every year than anywhere else in Southern California. Its thriving dining and entertainment scene included famed dive bars and live music venues that have launched a number of notable bands. The city is also known for the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach that turns downtown streets into a race course every April.

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The Queen Mary

RMS Queen Mary at Long Beach at Sunset
Aydin Palabiyikoglu/Getty Images 

The Queen Mary is a luxury ocean liner that is now permanently docked in the LBC. The ship is rumored to be haunted and offers daily tours, as well as nighttime ghost tours for those who aren't afraid of the dark.

Overnight stays are available in ship's staterooms, and packages that include breakfast, a tour or a Catalina Island excursion are also offered. Even if you're not staying overnight, you can still drink and dine on board at Sir Winston's lounge, the Chelsea Chowder House, or the observation bar. 

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The Aquarium of the Pacific

Japanese Sea Nettles at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach
 GABRIEL BOUYS/Getty Images

The Aquarium of the Pacific is located on Rainbow Harbor in Downtown Long Beach and has over 12,000 pacific coast creatures including penguins, sea otters, puffins, sea lions, and seals.

The lorikeet forest is a very popular exhibit, and guests are given the chance to feed the cute, colorful birds. Visitors also have the opportunity to touch a moon jelly, stingray, or a nurse shark, if you dare. 

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The Beaches

Lifeguards discuss surf conditions from tower in Seal Beach, CA
 bradleyhebdon/Getty Images

The beaches in Long Beach offer a variety of activities like biking, skating, kiteboarding. However, since the beaches are sheltered by a breakwater, there are no large waves. While this is disappointing for surfers, the calm water makes LBC's beaches popular for families or beginner swimmers.

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Bluff Park

If you want to enjoy the beauty of the Pacific Ocean without getting sandy, a visit to the grassy Bluff Park is a must do. The bluff's paved sidewalk makes it a favorite spot for romantic sunset walks and picnics that can be enjoyed on the green.  

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Shoreline Village

Parkers' Lighthouse and Restaurant, Shoreline Village.
 Richard Cummins/Getty Images

Shoreline Village's boardwalk is dotted with funky shops, family-friendly attractions, restaurants, and bars, all along the Shoreline Marina.

There is a carousel, and an arcade, and rentals for powerboats, Jet Skis, electric boats, kayaks, sailboats, and more can be arranged right from the marina. The village also hosts live music on most summer weekends and during the Christmas season. 

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Bike and Segway Rentals

View of Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach, CA
bradleyhebdon/Getty Images 

Wheel Fun Rentals offers surreys, pedal karts, bikes, tandems, tag-a-longs, and strollers at Shoreline Village and Stand-Up Paddleboards at Rainbow Harbor Dock 10. 

They also offer Segway tours around the Shoreline Marina and Rainbow Harbor area, as well as an extended tour that goes past the Queen Mary. 

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Whale Watching Cruises

Whale watching tickets tours daily vinyl yellow banner sign
MarieDolphin/Getty Images 

A wide variety of boat tours depart from Long Beach including harbor cruises, but the most popular with visitors is whale watching tours.

Depending on the time of year, you may be able to see any of the following whale species on the tour: gray, blue, fin, humpback, minke, or killer whales (orcas).

Many other creatures are also commonly spotted while searching for whales and can include common, bottlenose, Risso's, or Pacific white-sided dolphins, stingrays, and pinnipeds.

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Naples Island

Buildings on Naples Island in Long Beach.
Neil Setchfield/Getty Images 

Naples Island is comprised of three islands in Alamitos Bay in Long Beach. When most people talk about walking around Naples Island, they are referring to the inner island, that is accessible by car. The island has a walkway that takes visitors past million dollar mansions, picturesque bridges, and grand yachts, creating a beautiful setting for a sunset walk.

During the Christmas season, visitors flock to the island to see the decorated houses along the water and take in the festive boat parade that goes past the outer and inner islands.

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Gondola Rides

Aerial views over Los Alamitos Harbor in Long Beach.
Matthew Micah Wright/Getty Images
Tours & Classes
4.6

Gondola Getaway offers the most authentic gondola rides outside of Venice, Italy. With tours on Alamitos Bay and through the canals around Naples Island, you can choose to savor the experience of a relaxing ride​ or add a dash of romance by booking a decadent brunch cruise served with bellinis. 

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The Museum of Latin American Art

Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA)
mark6mauno/Flickr 

Visit the only museum in the United States dedicated to contemporary Latin American art. The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) has an outstanding collection of modern paintings and a permanent collection of sculptures displayed in the museum's courtyard garden.

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Belmond Shore

Every beach town has a main drag and in Long Beach, that's Second Street in Belmont Shore, lined with sidewalk cafes, restaurants, and small boutiques overlooking the beach.

Belmont Shore hosts a number of events throughout the year including a chocolate festival, a sidewalk chalk art festival, a pre-Grand Prix event, the Haute Dog Howl'oween Pet Parade, and a Christmas Parade.

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Retro Row

Retro Row gets its name from the many thrift shops packed into just a few blocks. Hollywood costume and set designers are known to raid these shops to outfit movies and TV shows, so the vintage items sold here are of the highest quality.

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Lighthouse Park

Lighthouse at Rainbow Harbour
Richard Cummins/Getty Images 

You can't climb the lighthouse in Lighthouse Park, but this tiny peninsula jutting into Rainbow Harbor is a popular place for skateboarding, checking out the view of the Queen Mary and Rainbow Harbor, and picnicking.

This park is one of the best viewing areas for the Queen Mary's Independence Day fireworks show, so every year the park fills with people beginning at sunset. 

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Rancho Los Alamitos

The exterior of the adobe house at Rancho Los Alamitos historic house museum, gardens, and park, in Long Beach
Monacat/Wikimedia Commons 

Rancho Los Alamitos is located near California State University, Long Beach and is the last remaining corner of a Spanish land grant given in 1784. Today, it serves as a living history museum that includes six agricultural buildings, a working blacksmith shop, adobe ranch, an exhibit center, gift shop and gardens.

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Rancho Los Cerritos

Rancho Los Cerritos
 Konrad Summers/Flickr

Built in 1844, Rancho Los Cerritos is one of the last remaining two-story adobe structures still in existence in Southern California and is now a museum. In the summertime, the ranch hosts free outdoor community concerts.

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Long Beach Museum of Art

Long Beach Museum of Art
Kayte Deioma

The Long Beach Museum of Art is a bluff-top museum overlooking the beach. There are rotating exhibits as well as a permanent collection, and the onsite restaurant, Claire's offers incredible ocean views. The museum offers free admission on Thursday evenings and all day on Fridays.

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Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum

The Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum is based on the personal collection of the late Robert Gumbiner, who also founded the Museum of Latin American Art. The museum showcases pieces from all of the Pacific Islands​ but focuses mainly on Micronesian arts.

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Pine Avenue

Pine Avenue, Long Beach City, Los Angeles
Richard Cummins/Getty Images 

Pine Avenue is the hub of Downtown Long Beach dining and nightlife with a plethora of mostly independent casual and fine dining restaurants, live music venues and nightclubs.

Pine Avenue hosts numerous special events and festivals throughout the year including Thunder Thursday, the opening ceremonies of the Long Beach Grand Prix, food festivals, and summer music events.

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Performing Arts Centers

Carpenter Performing Arts Center
Carpenter Performing Arts Center/Wikimedia Commons

There is no shortage of great live performances in Long Beach. Housed within the Long Beach Convention Center, the Long Beach Performing Arts Center encompasses the Terrace Theater, which hosts traveling Broadway musicals, concerts (including major children's productions), and the Center Theatre, home to the award-winning  International City Theatre that hosts both plays and musicals.

The Carpenter Performing Arts Center, which is located at California State University, Long Beach is the home of Musical Theatre West and presents performances by their in-house musical theater company.

Long Beach Playhouse is a community theater that lets locals shine on stage with high-quality performances presented throughout the year on the mainstage or in one of the more intimate studio theatres.

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East Village Arts District

The East Village Arts District is an area of shops, galleries, and cafes in Downtown Long Beach. On the second Saturday of each month, the streets in the area are closed to traffic for an art walk that features multiple art vendors, gallery openings, and live musical entertainment. 

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Tall Ship American Pride

The Tall Ship American Pride is operated by the Children's Maritime Foundation. The ship was built in 1941 with two masts (instead of three) and served as a fishing boat on the east coast for forty years. The American Heritage Marine Institute acquired the ship in the 1990s, re-christening it the American Pride.

Tours of the ship are limited mostly to school groups, but it is worth checking out, even from the shore.

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Long Beach Navy Memorial

The Long Beach Navy Memorial, which is adjacent to Lighthouse Park, pays tribute to the city's naval past. Beginning in 1908, when President Theodore Roosevelt stationed 16 ships of the Great White Fleet in the port, Long Beach served as a naval town for over 100 years until the closing of the shipyard in 1997. 

The Memorial includes a flag mast from the Long Beach Naval Hospital, an anchor from a ship in the Great White Fleet, and a replica of the compass rose from the Naval Station Administration Building.

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The Pike Outlets

Long Beach Convention Center
Tehsigo Eternamente (J Mondragon)/Wikimedia Commons

The Pike Outlets at Rainbow Harbor is a shopping, dining and entertainment complex across from the Long Beach Convention Center. In addition to outlet stores like Restoration Hardware and H&M and restaurants such as Auld Dubliner Irish Pub, there are also many other activities to partake in at this shopping center. There's a movie theater; giant Ferris wheel, and a comedy club called the Long Beach Laugh Factory 

The Cyclone Bridge, which is not a ride, but pays homage to the site's former amusement park, connects the Pike with Rainbow Harbor for pedestrians.

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Aquabus and AquaLink

Lifeguard standing under Belmont Pier, Long Beach, California, United States.
 Maureen Sullivan/Getty Images

Long Beach Transit provides seasonal transportation between waterfront attractions via the Aquabus and the larger Aqualink. It's a fun way to get from the Aquarium of the Pacific or Shoreline Village to the Queen Mary, Belmont Pier or the Alamitos Bay Marina.

Utilizing public transit is also an inexpensive way to go for a boat ride, even if you don't plan on getting off. 

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The Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden

The Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden
Don Le/Flickr 

The Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden at California State University, Long Beach is a beautiful 1.3-acre garden retreat with a koi pond that's free and open to the public​ and will melt any stresses away.

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Historical Society of Long Beach

If you're interested in the history of the city by the sea, the Historical Society of Long Beach operates a public gallery in Bixby Knolls, which is about five miles north of downtown. In addition to rotating exhibits from the historical archives and special themed exhibits that draw from community artifacts, they have a great selection of books on Long Beach and historic photos and postcards for sale.

If you're visiting around Halloween, sign up for the cemetery tour, where actors tell the fascinating stories of real people interred in Sunnyside Cemeteries. 

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Catalina Island

Long Beach
Anthony JarvisFlickr

Though you will have to leave Long Beach, a day trip to Catalina Island is a popular excursion from the area. The Catalina Express runs ferry service from Long Beach and San Pedro, and there are plenty of activities to do when you land on the island including hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail, visiting the botanical gardens and going on a thrilling undersea expedition in a semi-submersible boat.

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Air Tours and Flying Lessons

Long Beach Airport
 Atomic Taco/Flickr

Whether you're serious about learning to fly an airplane or just want to give it a whirl, Pacific Air Flight School is a great place to take a small plane or helicopter flying lesson.

Or, if you'd rather sit back and enjoy the ride, there are several different helicopter tour companies that offer tours departing from the Long Beach Airport, including some that fly over Hollywood.

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El Dorado Park Nature Center

El Dorado Park Nature Center, Long Beach, California
 Jennifer Arrow/Flickr
Parks & Gardens
4.7

El Dorado Park Nature Center is a wildlife habitat that offers biking and hiking trails, fishing ponds, paddle boats, an archery field and train rides aboard the El Dorado Express

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Antiques and Collectibles Market

The Long Beach Antiques and Collectibles Market is a monthly, outdoor flea market with over 800 antiques and collectibles vendors from around the country. It takes place on the third Sunday of the month with a bonus market whenever there's a fifth Sunday in a month.

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The Bembridge House

The Bembridge House
Los Angeles/Wikimedia Commons
Historic Attractions
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The Bembridge House is a historic Victorian home in Drake Park. The house was built in 1906 and is operated by Long Beach Heritage, which conducts tours about once a week. 

The house is significant for the architectural integrity of both the exterior and interior, which includes a great deal of opulent detail.