If you ever find yourself with a couple of days with no plans and an itch to get out of town, then pack your bags and head to Long Beach for an adventure that is one part staycation, one part getaway and 100% fun for the whole family. A good idea any time of year, scroll below for the best eats, treats and things to do with kids in Long Beach, CA.
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Tour the Queen Mary
A technological and engineering feat, the Queen Mary set the standard for luxury liners in 1936. For the next 90 years, she transported dignitaries, celebrities and royalty from the UK to California and back again until her retirement in 1967. Nowadays she resides in Long Beach, celebrating her 50th year here this year! You can tour the boat at your own pace or take a tour with a docent, like the "The Steam and Steel" tour that takes you below the waterline to see the engine room and propeller box—parts of the ship one doesn't normally get to see.
Good to Know: Parking is $18 for the day but if you eat at one of the dining establishments, they'll validate your parking ticket for either a reduced fee or if you eat at Sir Winston's, it will be free. Most tours start around 11 a.m. so hit this spot first thing in the morning on your way into town, before it gets crowded or the parking lot too full. There's also free admission after 6 p.m. in case you want to come here at night.
1126 Queens Hwy.
Long Beach, CA
The Shipyard at the Queen Mary
Of course no trip to the Queen Mary is complete without tracking down the world's Largest LEGO Brick Model Ship located in The Shipyard. The 26-foot, 250,000 LEGO brick replica of the luxurious ship is a sight to behold. It weighs over 600 pounds and took around 600 hours to make and may just inspire you and your family to do something as grand with all those LEGOS you have at home.
Insider Tip: A fun game of hide-n-seek: There's a white LEGO cat that moves around the ship—see if you can spot it!
Lunch at Michael's Downtown
For authentic Italian fare that will have your kids singing, "That's amore," head to Michael's Downtown. This homage to the old country not only has a heavenly list of appetizers, and pastas, this must-visit spot also boasts some of the best pizza west of the East River.
Our tip? Order a bunch of plates to share—from the meatballs and prosciutto and burrata with pear to pizzas and pasta bolognese, you might find yourselves driving down to Michael's on a regular basis get your Italian fix.
Insider Tip: If the kids want to "make" their own pizza, ask the staff for dough. They'll bring out a ball and your little ones can pound it out into any shape they want, add the toppings and they'll toss it into the wood-fire oven just for them.
210 E 3rd St.
Head to the Hotel
If you need some downtown, head to your hotel to check-in. The Residence Inn Marriott is located just a few minutes from the Queen Mary and is easily accessible to downtown Long Beach. The hotel has suites available so you can book a one or two-bedroom suite—optimal for families that also include a kitchenette with refrigerator.
Of course, for the kids, the pool is the main attraction and overlooks the harbor so even if you don't get in with your kids, you're guaranteed a lovely view.
Breakfast is included with your stay and offers everything a family might want in the morning—from strong coffee to DIY waffles with a toppings bar.
Cost: Rooms start at $350 per night
600 Queensway Dr.
Ride a Gondola
In case you didn't know, Long Beach has a set of canals that rival those in Venice Beach and that other boot-shaped country. For a little tour of the town, old-world style, head over to Gondola Getaway for a 60-minute ride around the waterways that make up Naples Island. If you find yourself here during Christmas time, you just may see Santa riding around as well.
Insider Tip: Bring your own beverages, some handy snacks, and a cozy sweater and jacket.
Cost: Private cruise for four is $160
5437 E. Ocean Blvd.
George's Greek Cafe
If you are looking for a good way to introduce Greek food to your kids, then George's is the way to do it. The kid-friendly menu has an assortment of options that goes beyond burgers and fries (like rice and chicken kabobs) and the main menu is diverse enough that you are bound to find something that even picky eaters will like.
The vegetarian combo appetizer was enough to feed one adult and two children and included vegetarian dolmathes, falafel, spanakopites and kalamata olives. It also came with a side of Tzantziki sauce, humus, and pita bread.
Of course you can't go to a Greek restaurant and not order saganaki—the flaming cheese—a fun (and delicious) spectacle that will have everyone shouting "Opa!"
135 Pine Ave.
Aquarium of the Pacific
The fourth busiest aquarium in the US, there are more than 11,000 animals and 50 exhibits for you to explore. With so much to see and do, we wrote an entire "Insider's Guide to the Aquarium of the Pacific." And while you can spend a whole day or two checking out every nook and cranny, a couple of can't miss exhibits include: Sammy & Ray 3D and Hurricane 3D playing in the Ocean Theater, and a visit to the new animals on view like the bigeye octopuses, spiny king crabs, and a sea slug now swimming around in the Deepwater exhibit in the Northern Pacific Gallery. And if it's an especially hot day, cool off at Our Water Future exhibit that shows how the LA basin gets and captures water.
Insider Tip: Knowing that this is a popular destination, we recommend getting here as early as possible (it opens at 9 a.m.).
100 Aquarium Way
Explore Pike Outlets at Rainbow Harbor
Long Beach's newest shopping destination, this waterfront area next to The Aquarium of the Pacific, has retail, dining and entertainment venues to satisfy everyone in the family. Check out the carousel (with its very own Zoltar wish-granting machine for any fans of the movie "Big") and a Ferris wheel that'll give you a bird's eye view of this lovely harbor town.
If you didn't grab something to eat at the aquarium, some lunch options include Bubby Gump Shrimp Co. (seems like it's a Tom Hanks movie-themed trip right?), Gladstones, and California Pizza Kitchen.
Good to Know: Park in the parking structure and take your ticket with you as most dining places will validate.
95 S. Pine St.
Shorline Aquatic Park
Burn off some energy after lunch, and walk along the harbor and head to Shorline Aquatic Park where a real lighthouse stands on a hill. Bonus points: Once you reach the lighthouse there is some interesting history about the area and the Queen Mary that you can read as you walk around it.
And while there is some sand, this park is more for running around the wide open spaces and checking out some of the best views of the Queen Mary, the new and improved exterior of the Aquarium of the Pacific and Shoreline Harbor Village.
308 Golden Shore
Take a Harbor Cruise
Now that everyone has had a good runaround, and watched the boats come in and out of the harbor, now's the time to jump on a Harbor Breeze boat tour for a 45-minute narrated tour of the harbor and its history. From the boat, you'll be able to see sea lions playing or lounging in the harbor, get a closer view of the outside of the Queen Mary, along with a cozy close-up of some massive cargo and container ships. If you have older kids, take the whale-watching tour where you can see migrating Pacific Gray Whales, Humpbacks and more as they migrate.
Insider Tip: While it may be tempting to sit on the upper deck, make sure you have adequate coats and sunscreen. It's both sunny and breezy cold up there. Of course you can retreat the hull of the ship. There are snacks and drinks on board for purchase.
Cost: Kids 5-11 $6; Adults $15; Under 5 are free
100 Aquarium Way, Dock #2
After the harbor boat tour, walk or drive to Shoreline Village where a colorful mash-up of restaurants, arcades, souvenir and sweet shops are built along the harbor. At the tip is Parker's Lighthouse, a dreamy seafood restaurant with enviable views and a two-story wine cellar that is the perfect ending to a long day. Here you can enjoy the sunset, a glass of wine, and all the fresh seafood you desire.
On the way out, don't forget to stop at Pirate's Cove for swashbuckling gear, Rocky Mountain Chocolate for some after-dinner sweets and the Pelican Pier Pavilion that houses an antique carousel along with arcade games.
401-435 Shoreline Village Dr.
The Logistics: Insider Tips
Getting to downtown Long Beach, CA is easy. The biggest hurdle will be traffic, so plan your timing accordingly, especially if you are getting there via the 405.
Parking is expensive. To mitigate the cost, make sure you take your parking ticket with you and get it validated wherever you can. There are also two local services, the AquaLink ($1 per ride) and AquaBus ($5 per ride) that run year round and stop at all the major tourist spots.
This trip was paid for by the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.
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