Long Beach, California is known by some for its edgy punk and skate culture (made famous by the band Sublime in the '90s), but as a growing cruise port, it's exceedingly family friendly. Located just over 20 miles from LAX, Long Beach has a highly diverse yet welcoming small-town feel that flies under the radar of most tourists and Angelenos. For this reason, it has established a reputation as one of California's most underrated cities.
Carnival Cruise Line has exclusive rights to the Long Beach Cruise Terminal, which has operated passenger cruises out of its unique facility since 2003. At 115 feet high and 400 feet wide, the massive white geodesic dome where cruisers embark and disembark is hard to miss. It first opened to the public in 1983 as a place to house Howard Hughes' famous Spruce Goose plane (which made its only flight in 1947) and has served as the film set for many blockbusters since then, such as "Batman Forever" and the first installment of "Pirates of the Caribbean."
In 2018, Carnival completely renovated the Long Beach terminal, expanding to full use of the dome for an improved embarkation process. Since that time, the cruise line has also expanded offerings from the port, naming Long Beach as the homeport for its newly built ship Carnival Panorama in December 2019. Cruisers can expect to see about six Carnival ships rotating in and out of the port on short itineraries, such as a Long Beach to Ensenada cruise with Catalina Island, or weeklong sailings to the Mexican Riviera.
This boom in Long Beach cruising welcomes West Coasters who are able to drive in for a sailing, along with curious cruisers who fly out for the experience. But, what to do in Long Beach once you arrive? Regardless if you've come in early to spend time at Disneyland (only 30 minutes away in Anaheim) or you only have an extra day to explore, there are plenty of fun things to do in Long Beach -- including things to do in Long Beach with kids-- in just 24 hours before or after your cruise.
If your hotel breakfast isn't all that appetizing or you're itching to get out and experience what's on the menu in town, options range from laid-back egg dishes to Champagne and drag brunches.
For stellar views: If the excitement of your cruise vacation is too much to bear, book breakfast or brunch with views of the port (including the historic Queen Mary). Just 3 miles from the cruise terminal, Fuego at Hotel Maya (700 Queensway Drive) offers gorgeous outdoor vistas across the Queensway Bay and a yummy Latin-influenced menu with items such as chilaquiles, huevos rancheros and a breakfast burrito. (A full breakfast buffet is also offered, with a discount for kids ages 5 to 11.)
If you're spending a Sunday in town, be sure to attend a brunch; our recommendation is just across the street from Hotel Maya at Reef (880 South Harbor Scenic Drive) -- voted one of the best brunches in America by OpenTable.
Closer to downtown: Our pick is Breakfast Bar (70 Atlantic Ave.), which feels less like a restaurant and more like you got invited to someone's kitchen for a meal. This cozy and local spot serves up family recipes, such as an egg casserole with all the fixins'.
For more homestyle eats -- a specialty in Long Beach and a hit with families -- Jongewaard's Bake n Broil (3697 Atlantic Ave.) is a staple just south of Bixby Knolls known for homemade muffins, pies and other baked goodies. Bonus: If the wait is just too long, there are dozens of cute cafes in the area to discover -- just use your TripAdvisor app or Google Maps.
Party in the a.m.: On a friend's trip and looking for a show with your first meal of the day? Hamburger Mary's (330 Pine Ave.) is a local joint offering diner classics with a steamy side of drag brunch. The city has a thriving LGBTQ community, and this burger chain started in 1972 to honor that heritage.
There are options galore to kick off your fabulous day in Long Beach, so decide what kind of mood you're in before setting out.
Crowd-pleasing and close by: You can't go wrong with the Aquarium of the Pacific (100 Aquarium Way), open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. This complex houses nearly 500 species across 100 exhibits of Pacific Ocean fish, amphibians and birds, such as penguins, as well as special exhibits, art shows and touch tanks. A 29,000-square-foot expansion called Pacific Visions debuted in 2019; it added, among other features, a state-of-the-art theater and multimedia space.
Next door is the ShoreLine Aquatic Park, a beautiful greenspace on Rainbow Bay, featuring the Lions Lighthouse. The 10-story structure was built and dedicated to creating awareness about ending blindness. Ambling around the park is one of the best free things to do in Long Beach; be on the lookout for dolphins in the bay.
If you're planning on exploring this area, consider stopping by Wheel Fun Rentals in Shoreline Village, which rents every type of bike under the sun, including surreys. Less than a mile from Shoreline Village, The Pike Outlets (95 S. Pine Ave.) is a dining, shopping and entertainment center guaranteed to eat up some of your time.
Shopping and strolling: Fourth Street's Retro Row spans four neighborhoods (from Walnut to Temple Avenue) and is a pleasant -- if not slightly offbeat -- way to spend a morning stretching your legs in Long Beach. Grab a coffee from one of the many shops along this route serving up artisanal cups, and brace yourself for as much browsing as you -- or your travel companions -- can handle.
One of our favorite vintage shops on Fourth Street is Past & Present/Retroda (2001 E. Fourth St. at Cherry Avenue), a wonderland of hodgepodge treasures and wish-you-were-here souvenirs.
For active families: Our recommendation -- easier if you have your own vehicle -- is heading 30 minutes outside of town to Palos Verdes. An abundance of parks, reserves and canyons makes it a great spot for hiking. Make a plan before you leave so you know which park is best suited to your group based on time, interest and activity level. Abalone Cove Shoreline Park and Forrestal Reserve are sure to be scenic, just double-check park websites before you head out to verify which trails are open.
The homespun, diner-style Americana continues to please for lunch. Otherwise, don't be afraid to try a neighborhood restaurant serving ethnic cuisine, depending on where your afternoon takes you.
Comfort classics: Sometimes kids will only eat chicken fingers (and a few adults we know, too). For the pickiest of eaters, Crooked Duck (5096 Route 1) is a reliable source of burgers, sandwiches, pasta and more. Potholder Cafe (four locations; two on Broadway) also doesn't disappoint with "downhome American" eats, vegan options and breakfast served all day.
Near Alamitos: If you're peckish before exploring the museums or after shopping on Fourth Street, Lola's Mexican Cuisine (2030 E. Fourth St. #1049) will satisfy with cheery decor and lunch options such as Jalisco tacos or a Keto Mole Verde bowl. Recipes are inspired by the culinary traditions of the owners' grandmother in Guadalajara, and influenced by many regions throughout Mexico and the seasonal produce of California.
In Cambodia Town: There are tempting lunch options on every corner of Cambodia Town, but you can't go wrong with local standard Phnom Penh Noodle Shack (1644 Cherry Ave.). Here, your family can experience what comfort food is to Cambodians -- a piping hot bowl of noodle soup, made to order, in a range of flavors and combinations. We like that they offer "kid"-sized bowls at a wallet-friendly price.
Long Beach is surprisingly international and is not shy about flaunting its diversity. Take your pick of five regions, from Long Beach's most famous attraction to one you'll have to sail to believe.
Great Britain: Perhaps no ship offers as much history and British maritime significance as Queen Mary (1126 Queens Highway). This ship no longer sails, but is open and operating as a tourist attraction and hotel just steps from the Long Beach Cruise Terminal. Tours range from historical to supernatural (it's widely believed to be haunted) and everything in between; we recommend booking your preferred tours in advance to avoid disappointment. (You can also book a stay in its Art Deco rooms.)
Latin America and the Pacific Islands: Head to the Alamitos neighborhood for two stellar museums across the street from one another. MOLAA or the Museum of Latin American Art (628 Alamitos Ave.) offers a contemporary look at Latin American artists in a gorgeous space -- and is the only museum in the United States dedicated to that end.
Down the block is the PIEAM, or the Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum (695 Alamitos), a smaller museum with art and artifacts from the Pacific Islands, with a focus on Micronesia. Both museums offer free admission for children under 12 and are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Cambodia: Many cities have Chinatowns, but Long Beach boasts a Cambodia Town, also known as Little Phnom Penh. Long Beach is home to the largest Cambodian population outside of Cambodia, at about 486,000 residents. Spanning a 1-mile corridor along Anaheim Street, this neighborhood provides an authentic opportunity to try local delicacies, visit temples and shop the wares of this Southeast Asian nation.
Italy: What would you say if we told you generations of gondoliers make their living in Long Beach, California? Gondola Getaway (5437 E. Ocean Blvd.) has been operating the oldest and largest fleet of gondolas in the U.S. for nearly 40 years. Naples, California -- where they're located -- is a friendship city to Venice and you will forget where you are as you sail around the canals in Alamitos Bay.
Various group sizes are accommodated and special packages are offered, but if you're there in December, don't miss the holiday lights displays at night. A great activity by day or night, Gondola Getaway operates from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily and allows BYO food and drink for impromptu gondola picnics.
There are heaps of family-friendly breweries in Long Beach, especially along the Promenade, a six-block-long thoroughfare downtown (also perfect for bar crawling with or without tots/teens in tow).
Cheers for beer: Try craft brews in a comfortable space with an extensive menu that also features gluten-sensitive options at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery (1 Pine Ave.). About two-dozen breweries dot Long Beach, so do a little research if you're serious about where you sip your suds. Most places you'll see recommended for dinner also offer a formidable draught list.
Just the two of you: Parents -- or cruisers of any age -- on a date night should head to upscale locale The Federal (102 Pine Ave.), also on the Promenade. Located in a former bank building, this gastropub and cocktail bar wows as soon as you enter, with chandeliers dangling from elevated ceilings and a bar menu to match. Try one of the punches.
Authentic Long Beach: There's no mistaking the California, devil-may-care attitude at Pike Restaurant and Bar (1836 E. Fourth St.). The dive-- and we mean that in the best sense -- is owned by the drummer of punk rock legends Social Distortion. Outside of the Promenade hub and along the Fourth Street Corridor, Pike attracts visitors and locals with live music and casual food and drink.
Sticking to the Promenade: Make it easy on yourself with this concentrated downtown core of bars and restaurants. We recommend The Ordinarie (210 The Promenade N.) for tavern-style dining that is especially well decorated during the holidays (reserve ahead).
Next door you'll find plenty to pique your palate at Beachwood & Brewing (210 . Third St.), which features appetizing barbecue -- along with interesting sides and salads. Its large outdoor seating section along the Promenade is the place to people-watch and maybe snag the chance to pet someone else's dog at a nearby table.
A fancy night out: Surf, turf and live music make for a true night on the town -- or in this case a lighthouse-- at Parkers' Lighthouse (435 Shoreline Village Drive). Fresh seafood, incredible harbor views (not a bad table in the house) and a Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence make this a romantic and indulgent dining choice ahead of your Carnival cruise.
Dinner theater for everyone: A half-hour away in Buena Park, you have a choice of several dinner-theater venues. Pirates Dinner Adventure (7600 Beach Blvd.) is a swashbuckling supper aboard a replica of an 18th-century pirate ship. Within the same complex, Teatro Martini is an adults-only burlesque and cabaret show mixed with comedy and magic. Cheer on your knight in a jousting contest at Medieval Times, next door at 7662 Beach Blvd. All shows come with a four-course meal.
Entertainment options don't dwindle with the daylight. There are plenty of things to do in Long Beach at night, and much of it is within minutes of the cruise terminal.
Amusements: If the family is looking for nighttime attractions, check out The Pike Ferris wheel (60 Bay St.), located at The Pike Outlets complex. Bring $4 cash for each person that wants to ride; the Ferris wheel is open every day from 3 to 9 p.m. and offers great views of the bay, the city and the cruise port.
Looff's Lite-A-Line Amusements (2500 Long Beach Blvd.) is a quirky and nostalgic mix of arcade games, pinball and casino games. Charles Looff was famous for building the first carousel in 1876 for Coney Island, but settled in Long Beach in 1910 where he continued to design and build amusement rides until his death eight years later.
Theater: You don't need to cruise out of Manhattan for a quality stage performance. The P3 Theatre celebrated its inaugural season at the historic Ernest Borgnine Theatre (855 Elm Ave.) in 2019/2020. They perform well-known productions, such as "Evita," along with more modern plays, such as "Next to Normal," and original offerings, such as "Day After Day" about the life and music of Doris Day. All ages welcome.
Sweet finish: Is there any better way to end a long day vacationing than going out for ice cream? Long Beach is one of the biggest consumers of ice cream in the entire country, according to a 2013 study. Long Beach Creamery does the city proud scooping organic ice cream in a variety of flavors at locations in Bixby Knolls (4141 Long Beach ) and downtown (222 East Broadway Ave.). Experimental flavors include whiskey vanilla, midnight oolong, cashew fennel chip and burnt caramel. Closed on Mondays.