We have set sail on cruises from Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Ensenada, Mexico. And for our pre- and post-cruise accommodations, we always choose Long Beach, California. Even though it is in Los Angeles County and only about 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, it is a world away in terms of the ambiance. Don't get me wrong, it's still very much a southern California town and clearly part of a larger metropolis, but it is just so pleasant and inviting, we return there year after year.
We have always stayed at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel for its convenient location and excellent service. This puts us right in the middle of a one-mile square with everything we want to see and do. A stroll up and down Ocean Blvd. is always a pleasant way to spend an hour people watching and checking out the colorful architecture. And we have favorite restaurants and sights to the north and east of this area.
But it's the walk that includes Ocean Blvd and Shoreline Drive, where I spend a lot of my time, especially as a photographer. With views to the south, the waterfront of Long Beach provides stunning sunset and sunrise images. I usually try to time it, so I end up at Shoreline Village Drive along the water for both sunrises and sunsets.
This tour begins at the corner of Ocean and Pine, just outside the entrance to the hotel. No matter what time of day or night, I will always get one more shot of the clock tower up Pine Avenue. Then we head east down Ocean past Promenade and Long Beach Blvd to shoot the colorful condos and apartments that line both sides of the street and the beautiful Westin hotel, which also has a great location. A couple more blocks down, I'll stop for a cup of coffee at the old Long Beach Cafe tucked among the towering offices and condos.
Then, it's time to head south down Shoreline. There's not much of a view for a bit as you pass the beach, although if you are lucky, a beach volleyball game may be in full swing. Across the massive parking lot on your right, you can see the "Wyland Whaling Wall" at the Long Beach, California Convention Center. It is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest mural! You might think this round arena painted with whales is an aquarium, but it is just part of the massive convention center and hosts the Long Beach Jazz Festival. The aquarium is actually on the other side of the harbor, past the lighthouse we will visit soon.
Next, you pass the Rainbow Lagoon Park with paddle boats for the kids and the massive blue glass Hyatt Regency on the right. Turn left down Shoreline Village Drive, then right to walk along the huge marina, hosting over 1,000 boats. Turn left again along the seawall that protects the marina and watch the skaters, bikers, runners, and walkers past the people fishing off the piers.
At the end, you will see the strange lights and architecture of Grissom, the closest and largest of the 'Astronaut Islands' which house the local oil operations. But it is the view to the south we came this way for. Across Queensway Bay and the mouth of the Los Angeles River, you will see the old Queen Mary permanently docked. There may also be a Carnival Cruise ship in port. With careful timing and location, you can capture the sunrise or sunset behind the old ocean liner.
Come back up the seawall and around Parker's Lighthouse for a view of the Lion's Lighthouse across the harbor. This is the best view of and place to take pictures of the lighthouse. Try to be there at dawn or dusk for the best colors. You can walk along Rainbow Harbor on the backside of Shoreline Village for some nice views as well as food or refreshment.
When you get back to Shoreline, turn left and walk toward the spiral staircase in front of you. This will take you up to the Shoreline Pedestrian Bridge, where you can cross the busy blvd in safety over the lagoon with views of the Pike Ferris Wheel. This deposits you on the front side of the huge convention center. You can stick to the elevated sidewalk for the best views or head down to Pine Avenue for food and shopping. Two blocks later, you are back at the start on Ocean Blvd.
While there are many restaurants and attractions north of Ocean Blvd that we visit, it's this small area toward the waterfront where you can easily spend several days visiting. However, if you need to stay in the greater Los Angeles area for any time, I highly recommend Long Beach, California, as your destination.