When we set up a trip to Southern California for our February vacation, Long Beach was one of the cities suggested to me by California tourism. I had no idea what I’d see in Long Beach, I only knew that the Queen Mary had been docked here since 1967, and that it might be a bit ghetto. Mary too, shared my view, we both weren’t sure, but we were willing to take a flyer.
After a day of dolphin watching (no whales, too much fog), strolling around Shoreline Village, having a top notch clam chowder at Parker’s Lighthouse, relaxing in the hot tub of the Renaissance hotel and walking the streets to get a feeling for the city, I’m a convert. There are so many great things about this beach front city of 460,000, we are very pleased to have discovered it. It’s one of my favorite things–loving a place that I had never thought of visiting.
If we lived in LA, we could take a commuter train all the way down here, and enjoy the six miles of beaches and strolling the busy boulevards and people watching. We walked up to the top of a hill where there is a lighthouse, and around its base we looked at photos of the glory days of Long Beach, when it was the quintessential navy town. Thousands of sailors and ship builders were here until the base was moved to Pearl Harbor in 1941. In 1994, the final nail was driven in the coffin when the base and all of the jobs left the city.
Bob Maguglin, who was born and raised in Long Beach, remembers when much of the city was more blue collar, more navy, and less wealthy. His father was a navy man, and Bob once worked at the Catalina ferry and on the Queen Mary. “After the navy base closed down in 1994, the town had to do something to recover. So they went for the TTT—Trade, Technology and Tourism,” he told us as we had an al fresco breakfast on Rainbow Harbor. Long Beach lost 50,000 jobs after the navy left and McDonnell Douglas downsized after being taken over by Boeing. The navy base became Terminal Island, a container port that is among the busiest ports on the west coast.
To recover the massive amount of revenue lost by the base closing they spent $1.8 billion to rebuild the city. The famous Pike amusement park became a shopping area with many outlet shops, and many apartments have been built that have encouraged young professionals to move here. Combined with convenient light rail that makes commuting easy, the city is now a magnet for the kinds of citizens most cities fight for.
Today, Long Beach is an upscale tourist destination. We had our first meal here at Bo Beau Kitchen and Roof Tap, a French country inspired huge restaurant on Pine Street. Bob said that the restaurant scene has really improved and in classic fashion, one good joint begat others. The malls that sucked a lot of shoppers away in the 1990s now have competition with the outlet shops here and many downtown stores.