Most southern Californian residents know Long Beach either for it’s spectacular aquarium or as the home of the famous Queen Mary. Situated on the coast, only 30 minutes from LAX or Downtown Los Angeles, Long Beach is an easy day trip destination for most SoCal families. However, as we recently found out, this cute harbor town also makes a great base for a staycation weekend of exploration. It is a hub for all kinds of outdoor activities making it perfect for outdoor families like ours.
What To Do in Long Beach with Kids
Given that my previous experience in Long Beach mostly consisted of visiting Rosie’s Dog Beach for a dog’s birthday party (yes this happens in LA!), meeting friends for dinner and frequent visits to the aquarium, I was surprised to find that there is even more to do than I thought. Actually, you would be hard pressed to fit it all in in one weekend..but I dare you, go ahead and give it try!
El Dorado Nature Center
The first stop on our weekend adventure was to the El Dorado Nature Center. It is not in the immediate downtown area where most of Long Beach’s attractions are, however it is well worth the drive. With several hiking trails for all abilities (1/4 mile, 1 mile & 2 mile), lakes, streams, animals and a variety of plants, it is the perfect place to get out into nature without driving far. We spotted turtles, rabbits, ducks and more on our stroll through the park. Stop in at the center museum to check out the hands on exhibits and to find out more information about the park. It is free to enter, however there is a small parking fee.
Aquarium of the Pacific
One of the big draws to Long Beach is the Aquarium of the Pacific. Having been members for a couple of years, we are well acquainted with it. If you haven’t been to the aquarium yet, this should be on the top on your list. The aquarium itself isn’t massive, but can easily fill an entire morning as you leisurely work your way through the various exhibits. There are scheduled feedings, tank cleanings and animal talks to fill your day. We particularly like the big tank feeding and the vet talks.
Make sure to pick up the kids scavenger hunt booklet upon entering to collect your embossed stamps along the way.
If you have been to the aquarium before, and have children above 7 years old, make this visit all about checking out what goes on behind the scenes. The Behind the Scenes tour takes visitors through the inner workings of the aquarium for a look at how the animals are fed, bred and cared for on a daily basis. This is a great addition to any visit, particularly for those who have visited often.
Ride Bikes at Shoreline Village
Shoreline Village is a colorful shopping and eating area directly across the water from the Queen Mary. With an assortment of great restaurants and fun shops, you will probably find yourself here at some point. Take advantage of your time here by renting a bike and heading out on the beautiful bike path that leads through the marina and along the beach to Alamitos Bay. The bike path is wide with two large lanes for bikes as well as a separate lane for pedestrians, making it perfect for new riders!
Relax with a Gondola Ride
Often looked upon as a romantic excursion, a gondola ride through the Naples Island canals is actually a wonderful activity for families as well. A relaxing hour long tour through multi-million dollar homes and waterways filled with the kayaks or stand up paddle boarders is the perfect way to unwind after a busy day. You might just be able to pretend you are in Italy for a few moments while being serenaded by your striped shirted guide just like in old Italy! Gondola Getaway should be booked in advance to secure the optimal trip. We highly recommend a sunset cruise to immerse yourself in all that embodies Southern California.
One of our favorite things to do while on the coast is to go whale watching. From December to early April, you can spot gray whales on their yearly migration. If you aren’t up for a half day cruise out to spot whales, Harbor Breeze also provides a wonderful 45 minute Long Beach coastal cruise providing riders a tour and history of Long Beach itself with a few animal sightings thrown in too!
[box]Tips: Getting around Long Beach by car is easy enough, but if you are staying near the water or downtown, considering using the AquaBus system to get across the water and the Passport bus system to get around town. While using these public transport options is fun, it will also help you avoid parking hassles![/box]
Where to Eat in Long Beach
There are so many wonderful mom and pop type places throughout Long Beach that you will not be short of choices. Some of our favorites are listed below. If your favorite isn’t listed, share it with me in the comments. We are always on the hunt for new places to try while there.
- James Republic was one of our favorite places in downtown Long Beach. A beautiful open air restaurant serving local, sustainable food. While all their offerings are delicious, we particularly like their breakfast options. You must try the habanero maple sausage.
- Breakfast Bar is a family owned diner across from the Courtyard Marriot. Serving breakfast and lunch all day, you can’t go wrong with this classic diner.
- Michael’s Pizzaria is a great little spot in a newly revitalized area of Long Beach. Kids get their own ‘make your own’ pizza dough for free with toppings other than cheese as the only charge. Sit at the bar so that kids can watch the pizza chef at work. I was won over by the carbonara pizza, which was amazing! Gluten free pizza and pastas are also available on request.
- Parker’s Lighthouse is a popular eatery in Shoreline Village. Known for it’s fish dishes, the Alsatian salad is also amazing! Grab a spot outside to enjoy the scenic harbor views.
- George’s Greek Cafe is one of two Mediterranean restaurants on this strip. With large portions, daily drink specials and traditional offerings this is a go to when in the area.
- Open Sesame is our other favorite for Mediterranean food. Open Sesame was so popular that the owners had to open a second location just a few doors down. The hummus here is my all time favorite and one I will willingly drive 30 minutes for!
I’m sure there are other amazing restaurants in Belmont Shore, but I cannot ever pull myself away from these two places to try anything else. Give me your favorites so I can attempt to try them next time!
After eating, take some time to explore the Belmont Shore area as it’s loaded with adorable shops selling their homemade and unique wares.
Where to Stay in Long Beach
There are a variety of great places to stay in Long Beach, depending on what you hope to get out of your visit. Our top three picks, for completely different reasons are the Queen Mary, the Hotel Maya and the Courtyard Marriott.
During our visit we stayed at the iconic Queen Mary. You don’t stay here for the latest in luxury, rather for it’s history and character. If you are into ghosts, unique accommodation and history, you will find staying on the ship fascinating even amid its quirks. We thought it was super cool to stay in such a historical hotel/boat, however sadly, it was not as well kept up as I would have hoped. It definitely feels a bit worn out, which I hear they are trying to change. My recommendation is to adjust your expectations before arriving, knowing that it is the experience you are after, not luxury!
For families looking for a higher end experience to relax and rejuvenate, the Hotel Maya is a great option. This waterfront resort is situated directly across from Downtown Long Beach and down the street from the Queen Mary. With firepits to make s’mores, the kids will definitely be happy to return to the hotel each night!
For a more centrally located hotel, the Courtyard Marriott downtown is a great choice. It is actually more convenient to most activities in the town, but doesn’t have the historical appeal like the Queen Mary or the opulence of Hotel Maya. The greatest benefit is its proximity to some of our favorite breakfast joints in town!
A weekend staycation in Long Beach will provide you with plenty of opportunities to get your body moving in the great outdoors as well as provide options to learn all about the animals of the sea. It’s a wonderful destination when you just need to get away, but don’t have the time or energy to go far. And thankfully it’s also so close that we can pop down for a day trip just to ride bikes on the amazingly kid friendly boardwalk and eat at our favorite restaurants!
Need more help in planning your trip? Head over to the Visit Long Beach site for even more information.
Have you explored Long Beach with kids? What are your favorite things to do?
If You Enjoyed This Post, Sign Up To Receive Posts By Email or...
- Join us on Facebook for regular updates and related articles
- Check us out on Instagram to see what we are up to in photos
- Follow us on Twitter for links to great travel articles curated just for you
- Or share this post with others by pinning on Pinterest!