Blog · Los Angeles · Everything To Do in Long Beach for First-Timers

Everything To Do in Long Beach for First-Timers

April 4, 2023
Long Beach, CA

Long Beach is located about 20 miles south of Los Angeles, and while it is typically overshadowed by the bigger city, this beach town has an identity and charm of its own. 

On top of five miles of beaches, Long Beach is home to quite a few famous attractions worth visiting, great local breweries, and a booming food scene. Read more below to learn about Long Beach, what to do there, and why it’s a destination that should not be missed while visiting Southern California.

Getting to know Long Beach: History and location

Before Long Beach was settled by the Spanish, it was home to the native Tongva people who were eventually forced to relocate after European settlers arrived. In 1784, the area that is now Long Beach was given as part of a land grant to soldier Manuel Nieto. 

The city got its name in 1888 thanks to the long, wide beaches in the area. Long Beach is right on the water, about an hour south of LA.

Both Santa Fe Railroad and Pacific Electric Railway had a station in Long Beach, and the city grew rapidly during the turn of the 19th century. Between 1902 and 1910, Long Beach was actually the fastest growing city in the U.S., and a port was added in 1911.

While the growth declined in the mid 20th century, the city has undergone revitalization in the past couple of decades. From new businesses and restaurants, to an aquarium and other attractions, Long Beach is becoming a vibrant city that still keeps a relaxed California beach vibe.

The city is composed of many neighborhoods, the most famous of which include the Waterfront where most of the attractions are located, Naples with its canals, and Belmont Shores, which is known for its restaurants and shops. 

Things to do in Long Beach

There’s plenty to do in Long Beach, whether you’re looking for a laid-back trip, traveling with family, or want something more adventurous. Here are a few of the top attractions in Long Beach.

Downtown and Waterfront

Downtown and Waterfront, Long Beach, CA

Downtown and Waterfront Long Beach are typically visited on the same day since they are right next to one another. The Waterfront is home to many popular attractions, including Aquarium of the Pacific and the Queen Mary, which I’ll talk more about down below. 

In addition, there is the Shoreline Village with its colorful boardwalk shops and restaurants that overlook the Rainbow Harbor. Shoreline Village is also the meeting point for different activities like parasailing, bicycle rentals, and whale-watching cruises. 

Downtown blends historic and modern buildings that house a number of breweries, cocktail bars and restaurants. In downtown’s East Village Arts District, you’ll find three art museums, galleries and independent boutique shops. 

Learn all about the area’s rich history and what to see downtown and along the waterfront with our Long Beach Walking Tour

Pro tip: On the second Saturday of each month, the East Village Arts District hosts an art walk featuring live music, special pop-ups by local makers, food trucks, and more.

Aquarium of the Pacific

Aquarium of the Pacific

Sometimes more colloquially known as the Long Beach Aquarium, the Aquarium of the Pacific is actually the world’s largest ocean aquarium (though not to be confused as the largest non-ocean aquarium). 

While the aquarium is part of the waterfront area, it warrants its own entry as a destination as a visit here can easily take half a day. There are over 100 exhibits across the aquarium’s 19 major habitats including jellyfish, a penguin habitat, a shark lagoon, and a sea otter habitat. 

The Queen Mary

The Queen Mary

The Queen Mary is a legendary ocean liner that first sailed in 1936. During its active days, the Queen Mary hosted many famous passengers from Elizabeth Taylor to Clark Gable to Winston Churchill. 

The ship was retired in 1967, at which point it sailed to Long Beach and has been permanently moored there. Later in its life, the Queen Mary served as a hotel, restaurant, and tourist attraction, but it filed for bankruptcy in 2021. As of April 1, 2023, it has reopened for limited tours, and the hotel component will reopen in May of 2023. 

The Queen Mary offers a few different tours right now, including one that delves into the ship’s glory days, a steam and steel tour that takes guests down to explore the boiler rooms and generator, and a haunted tour for something a little spookier. 

Explore Naples

Naples CA

Built on three islands in the Alamitos Bay, Naples is an Italian-inspired neighborhood that is connected to the mainland by two bridges. 

It’s a great spot for a relaxing day of strolling or kayaking. The calm canal water is also perfect for standup paddleboarding. And just like in Italy, you can also enjoy a gondola ride and take in the sights of this picturesque neighborhood. 

In the center of Naples is La Bella Fontana, a large fountain surrounded by a park. Grab dinner at the highly rated Michael’s on Naples after spending your day exploring.

For families: Mother’s Beach on the northern side of Naples is a great beach to bring the little ones to due to the gentle waves. There’s also a playground and beach showers.

Hit the beaches

Long Beach CA beaches

With its five miles of sandy beaches, hitting one of the beaches is definitely one of the best things to do in Long Beach.

Alamitos Beach is one of the most popular thanks to its wide space and soft sand. Rosie’s Dog Beach, as the name suggests, allows owners to exercise their dogs on the beach from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. In fact, this is the only off-leash dog beach in Los Angeles County. 

Where to eat in Long Beach

The food scene in Long Beach has really come into its own in recent years, drawing from its diverse population. 

Long Beach has always had a vibrant Cambodian food scene. After all, Long Beach has the highest population of people with Cambodian ancestry outside of Cambodia. The family-run Sophy’s Restaurant has been around for over 20 years, serving Thai and Cambodian staples, and Phnom Penh Noodle Shack is known to have some of the best noodles around.

Looking for something else? Here are a few more recommendations.

  • For a special occasion meal, head to Heritage, pictured above. Perhaps the best fine dining restaurant in Long Beach, Heritage serves a farm-to-table tasting menu out of a converted Craftsman house.
  • Selva cooks up an upscale Colombian-inspired food that is hard to find even in Los Angeles.
  • If you just want something casual, grab a slice of New York-style pizza from the popular Little Coyote.

Long Beach: An underrated destination

Long Beach CA

While part of Los Angeles County, Long Beach has a much more laid-back vibe than LA, yet there is still plenty to do and explore here. There has been a lot of revitalization and new developments going on, making Long Beach an even more attractive destination to visit. Whether you want to spend the day exploring all the attractions or spend it doing nothing on a sandy beach, Long Beach is a destination that’s worth adding to your visit to LA.

To get a sense of the area, start your day with our Long Beach guided tour. It’s perfect if you’re doing Long Beach as a day trip from LA since you’ll make the most of your time by seeing so many sights. But it’s also helpful to orient you if you’re staying longer in town. Your guide has plenty more recommendations for things to do and eat here — just ask!