When it comes to Southern California beach destinations, most folks might think of San Diego or Santa Monica. But what if we told you there was a suburban locale within 20 minutes of LAX that offered exciting beachfront adventures, fine food and an amazing family getaway? That’s what Long Beach, California is all about.

The beachfront urban oasis of Long Beach is located just south of LA and north of Anaheim. Downtown Long Beach is clean, bike friendly and feels like an escape from the crowded, traffic-infested gnarl associated with the LA area.

The perfect Long Beach family hotel: Courtyard by Marriott

For our trip, our home base was The Courtyard by Marriott is right in the heart of downtown and features a welcoming lobby with hues of green and blue that reflect the ocean and create relaxation at the same time.

We had two rooms, one with a king bed and the other with two queens. The rooms were clean, large and homey. The king room had a stand-up shower while the queen bedroom had a bath – so if you’re particular about having a bath, you’ll want to reserve the room that’s right for you.

A catered gondola evening escape via Getaway Gondolas

During our first evening in Long Beach, we were able to experience Getaway Gondolas on the water, just west of downtown. Thanks to catering provided by Long Beach restaurant Delfino’s, we enjoyed dinner while taking in all the sights of Naples Island. We had two gondoliers on the dinner cruise, one who propelled and navigated the boat and one who took care of us from a dining perspective. It’s the perfect escape for a family and the dinner cruise can accommodate parties up to 15. As a part of the package, you select a salad, pizza and pasta dish to enjoy. It’s the perfect way to celebrate a special occasion – in this case, it was my wife’s birthday and she felt like a queen.

Fabio, one our gondoliers, taught our family of five to sing the birthday girl “Happy Birthday” in Italian (his native language) and doing so under one of the many bridges was quite enjoyable. If you want a perfect family gondola cruise, Getaway Gondolas should be at the top of your list.

Family Carnival time at Shoreline Village

Woke up early our first full day in Long Beach and had a wonderful breakfast at Louisiana Charlie’s, which is a part of Shoreline Village on the water in Long Beach Harbor. Shoreline Village is a fun collection of restaurants, shops and a retro arcade that has an antique carousel inside. Part boardwalk, part shopping destination, Shoreline Village welcomes visitors with festivals and activities year-round. From Mardi Gras to a pirate celebration in May,  Shoreline Village brings visitors down to Long Beach’s waterfront.

To take in the Long Beach beaches in full effect, we experienced a full-on family ride in a 6-person surrey bike from Wheel Fun Rentals. For a reasonable fee, you can rent a bike for an hour, which is plenty to ride down and grab a snack one of the beachfront shacks that sell ice cream, sodas and light fare. It was sunny and 74 with only a light breeze on the day we rode, which was perfect.

One note – the surrey bike is a little heavy and if you have three small children like we do, it might be hard for the adults to propel the bike along. Surrey bikes would most definitely not be hill-friendly. 😃

Let’s go see dolphins and whales on Harbor Breeze!

Definitely, the highlight of our first full day in Long Beach was our whale and dolphin cruise on Harbor Breeze’s fleet of vessels. We set out at 3:00 PM with a staff of naturalists and volunteer educators from the nearby Aquarium of the Pacific. The three-hour cruise departs and heads out to the open Pacific ocean that’s home to whales such as grey, minke, orcas, blue and more. Apparently, marine wildlife love the channel between the mainland and Catalina Island, which is 22 miles away.

We were blessed to see an adolescent grey whale for about 20 minutes as it came up for air and flapped its fins in the beautiful blue waters.

Shortly after our whale encounter, we came upon a pod of about 300 short-beaked common dolphins. They swam alongside the boat, under the keel and frolicked in the wake. In fact, as the boat sped up and completed a turn, the dolphins surfed in the wake – it was quite a sight! The naturalists said that this pod of 300 is on the smaller side – and they’ve seen pods of as many as 3,000 on cruises before. I can’t imagine!

Having fine cuisine and yummy beers at Beechwood BBQ in downtown Long Beach

In the evening, we were able to take in some amazing barbecue and beer at Beachwood BBQ and Brewery in downtown Long Beach. This brewery also has locations in Seal Beach and Huntington Beach. I had a taster flight that featured an IPA, a quad Belgian, a German Pilsner and a sour. Each was amazing and I was impressed with the variety in the tap list, many of which had World Beer Cups and Great American Beer Festival fame to their name. Very cool! The kids and we parents all loved our meals that featured BBQ and southern treats such as hush puppies and fried green tomatoes. I’ll definitely be hauling our crew back when we visit Long Beach next time.

Taking in Southern California’s finest aquarium: Aquarium of the Pacific

Our last day in Long Beach was dedicated to a hosted visit to the Aquarium of the Pacific. This amazing aquarium welcomes visitors to Long Beach and aims to entertain, educate and raise awareness of marine animals from all over the world. As southern California and Catalina are home to a lush set of marine wildlife, the aquarium brings these creatures to the forefront for kids of all ages.

The aquarium features displays, videos and an astonishing number of interactive experiences including rays, sharks, tidal pools and many more. The Aquarium is actually a non-profit that studies the health and biodiversity of the Long Beach Harbor, Pacific Ocean and beyond. The organization supports school programs, beach cleanups and more. Our children were able to pet Astaire, a Magellanic penguin.

Wrapping up

Long Beach, California is a beach-side city that is dense with family-focused fun. Whether you want to see wildlife in their native habitat, have a fancy beach-side meal or have a chill day at the beach – Long Beach is perfect. We thoroughly enjoy enjoyed our days by the Pacific Ocean and we’re confident you will too.

Disclosure: Visit Long Beach hosted our family in Long Beach and facilitated the hotel stay, meals and experiences. While we’re very thankful and want you to know we were hosted, our opinion can never be bought and we stand behind the recommendations in this blog post. We owe Visit Long Beach and their partners for facilitating a special family visit to Long Beach.