When I previously lived in So-Cal, I didn’t spend much time in Long Beach; and although it is a beachfront town—(who wouldn’t love that); it is located a mere 45 minutes from Los Angeles and is part of L.A. county. I was decidedly biased against anything L.A.’ish; from the necessity of needing a car to navigate the congested freeways to the necessity of needing a name and pedigree to navigate the congested social strata. However, as I spend a weekend in Long Beach, I discover that much like Oakland is to San Francisco; Long Beach is to L.A.; a surprisingly cool outpost of Bohemia.
Staying at my friend’s house, ocean air breezing in, I decided to take a day and explore this city that like the Black Sheep of a family is striking out from under the shadow of its much larger and notorious counterpart, Los Angeles, and creating something unique and wonderful. I start the day, walking towards the beach and stop at The Birdcage Coffee House, along the way. Nestled among trees, I was immediately in love with the vintage chic decor of this funky space. Over-sized paintings of Frida Kahlo hang from the wooden walls, an array of books line shelves while alligators dance among the gently purring fans overhead. The day started with great coffee and a chill vibe. Although it is cash only, which I am never prepared for, I was glad I had stopped at the ATM beforehand.
I continue my walk towards the beach, and a short while later arrive at white sands and stunning views. The average June temperature of Long Beach is 69, but today there are huge gusts of wind and a slight rain coming down. As a kid growing up on Indian land with no internet, television or electricity; I spent a lot of time reading. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I put my eyeballs to a lot of classic literature; Faulkner, Poe, Melville, Twain, Hemingway, etc.…through adventures with these masters, I learned many things; and one lesson, in particular, comes to me as I stand in the elements, overlooking the beach, waves crashing to the shore. There is no such thing as bad weather; the weather does not master us. The sun is delicious, snow exhilarating, wind strengthening and my favorite is rain, which is refreshing and renews the spirit. To travel joyfully, we must embrace the weather and seize the day, as it is presented to us. (Thank you Horace; that is another story though.)
As I stroll along the beach, on my quest for postcards, I pass the Queen Mary, which is a permanently docked ocean liner and remains a testament to refinement, luxury, and old-world charm. Her first voyage was in 1936, from Southampton, England. Hollywood celebrities and world dignitaries like Winston Churchill, Clark Gable, Bob Hope and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, made transatlantic travels in the lap of luxury. Today the Queen Mary offers fun history tours and plays host to a variety of events; live music, fireworks, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It has beautifully appointed rooms that you can rent and a lovely bar for a cocktail on the water and great dining. For me, the wind and rain, have driven most people indoors, so I am able to stand at the bough of this beautiful vessel and let my imagination wander to other times and places, where the sounds of Big Band music dances in my ears.
Next, I wander to Shoreline Village, a boardwalk filled with all the trappings of a tourist destination; funnel cakes and overpriced shot glasses; t-shirts and seashells. There is a whimsical carousel complete with plastic horses. There is a lighthouse sitting on the hill overlooking the port. Following the boardwalk, for about ten minutes, away from Shoreline Village, a winding road leads around the Aquarium of the Pacific and leads you to the top of the hill. From this vantage point of the lighthouse, you can see the ocean, palms, grass, and city-scape. On the other side, there is a path with a few bikers, braving the rain.
After grabbing some photos, I descend the hilltop, where—(fortunately)—there are clean public restrooms. When I emerged from the Aquatic Park area, I was greeted with a lovely bridge. I have always loved bridges; they speak to me both symbolically and artistically. It is called the Gerald Desmond Bridge. It is a beautiful bridge, over half a century old; which has become outdated for the modern world. The new bridge, which will is currently replacing the old one, is sure to be an amazing site and feat. Here is a little one minute video about the process. You can also follow @newgdbridge on Twitter, to watch the progress.
As I wander towards the more modern shopping center of the Pike Outlets, I come upon a Ferris Wheel, etching the sky. For four dollars—exact change—you can ride it into the tranquil sky, and catch another beautiful side of Long Beach. After leaving the downtown area, I wander through some tree-lined neighborhoods with names like Belmont Heights and East Village.
Once back at my friend’s house, I make a cocktail and spend time with my other friend, Netflix. Tomorrow, I will head to L.A., but for now, I spend time with my other friend, Netflix and binge-watch WhatIf. (I had to find a place to insert this!) WhatIf, is an addictive drama, one in which Renee Zellwegger purrs her way to a twisty conclusion: think, Damages Meets Indecent Proposal, with a smattering of Hannibal vibe thrown on top. (Highly recommend.)
As I walk through cities, neighborhoods, places I have never been, I often imagine what it would be like walking down the rock-strewn steps and going to the local coffee house or bar; or if I would make friends on the block. Would I have a favorite hangout or would I join a health club? Could I picture myself living here or there and Long Beach surprised me? I could imagine settling here for a bit; walking the Promenade, burying my toes in the sand, discovering the hidden local bars. This is a city that is striking the perfect balance of big-city urbanity and beach town fun. Thank you Long Beach…..I look forward to visiting you soon….