Revisit the Past in Long Beach

1. Where to Stay

Enjoy the polished guestrooms at AVIA. Photo: Courtesy of AVIA

Surround yourself with palm trees and tiki torches at Hotel Maya (from $135), where you can sip a Peruvian Kiss ($11), a citrusy blend of Pisco and Campari, on the waterfront patio. Inside, all 195 rooms feature eccentric design flourishes—lime-green shutters and stone mosaic headboards—that conjure up images of old Miami.

See a design mash-up of new and old at the 35-room Varden Hotel (from $119), which first opened its doors in 1929 and was reborn in 2008 as a European-style boutique property.

Pretend you never left New York at one-year-old AVIA (from $159), a sleek downtown lodging that evokes Gotham with modern, angular furniture and in-room snacks from Dean & Deluca. Still, the standout feature is completely California: a year-round outdoor rooftop pool with views across the bay.

2. Where to Eat

Pike Restaurant & Bar is known for its seafood and kitschy décor (left), while Starling Diner, a brunch hot spot, serves refined takes on diner classics (right).Photo: Freda Moon; Angie Stalker

Dine on California classics like lightly battered Baja-style fish tacos ($7.95) at Pike Restaurant & Bar, a former fifties diner now operating as a gourmet fish grill and live-music venue by night. The seafood-centric menu is served until midnight (1 a.m. on weekends), and the walls are crammed with local nautical memorabilia like a dried stingray carcass.

Line up during weekends outside Long Beach’s favorite brunch spot, the Starling Diner, housed in a former grocery store. Decorated with checkerboard linoleum and Tiffany-style lamps, this sweet little throwback specializes in comfort food like stuffed French toast with berries ($10.95) and potato polenta ($2.50). Don’t miss the Bloody Marys ($9.95), which come garnished with a crab claw and micro-greens in place of celery.

Make reservations a week in advance for At Last Cafe, a New American bistro considered one of the best restaurants in town, despite its strip-mall location. This tiny spot serves an eclectic menu, including a citrusy Thai beef salad ($9.75) and pork chops with apple-herb stuffing ($11.25), while the prices seem to come from another era. (The menu’s most extravagant entrée, a flat iron steak served with sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions, will set you back just $12.50.)

3. What to Do

Find Art Deco accessories from Europe at Deja Vu (top left), rent retro four-wheelers at Moxi Roller Skates (bottom left), or head to the Observation Bar for thirties splendor and cocktails (right).Photo: Courtesy of Deja Vu, Moxi Roller Skates, and the Observation Bar

Tackle three blocks of vintage boutiques on a strip known as Retro Row, where you can find items like a 1970 Pierre Cardin smoking set ($295) at mid-century-modern home store Deja Vu, and a range of alternative kids’ items, like leopard-print sneakers ($35) and vampire rubber duckies ($6), at Lil Devils Boutique. If you have time for just one stop, make it 4,000-square-foot The Vintage Collective, a 25-dealer consignment emporium of clothing, furniture, records, art, and more.

Pick up a pair of old-school four-wheelers ($10/hour or $20/day) at Moxi Roller Skates, or rent a beach cruiser ($8/hour or $32/day) at BikeStation, and spend the afternoon exploring the city’s namesake beach and boardwalk. Stop into Shelter Surf Shop, which sells gorgeous Paulownia wood boards ($600) crafted in vintage Hawaiian style.

Sip an Old Fashioned ($8.25) aboard a 1936 ocean liner at the Observation Bar, an Art Deco spot located in the former first-class lounge of the Queen Mary, docked across the bay from downtown. Then head to Joe Jost’s, an institution since the twenties, where you’ll find old wooden booths, schooners of beer ($5.75), and snacks like liverwurst sandwiches ($3.20) and pickled eggs ($1.10). After 9 p.m., head to Alex’s Bar, where black velvet paintings and lucha libre tchotchkes set the backdrop for live-music acts playing everything from country to punk, Thursday through Sunday nights.

4. Insider’s Tip

The Ice Cream Man gives out free treats at local music events.Photo: Dave Gooch

The Ice Cream Man travels the country handing out free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream from his Dodge Sprinter Van, but locals know him as a Long Beach native. Follow him on Twitter (@icecreamman) to see if you can find him handing out the goods on his home turf while you’re there, and prepare yourself to hear his philosophy of saving the world one corporate-sponsored cone at a time.

5. Oddball Day

Enjoy the six-acre Bluff Park overlooking the Pacific Ocean.Photo: Flickr/Ruth L

Start your day at Retro Row’s Porfolio Coffeehouse with a chocolate croissant ($2.25) and an ice-blended peanut butter mocha (from $3.20). Drive twenty minutes to Rancho Estates, a mid-century-modern subdivision, where all 700 Cliff May–designed homes offer a flash-frozen glimpse of fifties Southern California. Bordering the subdivision on two sides is El Dorado East Regional Park, where you’ll find miles of paved biking and hiking trails. Navigate back to 4th Street for lunch at Taqueria La Mexicana. Order choose-your-own-meat tacos with onion, cilantro, and hot sauce ($1.10 each) to go, then drive three minutes to Bluff Park and grab a bench to eat by the beach. Drive two miles to the Museum of Latin American Art, the country’s only museum devoted to modern and contemporary Latin American art, to see a permanent collection including work by more than 350 artists from twenty countries. Afterward, The Sky Room is just a few minutes away. Grab a sunset cocktail here with views of the city and out to Catalina Island. For dinner, head four miles south to Michael’s on Naples Ristorante, where Milanese chef Marco Cavuoto has designed a menu that’s authentic Italian with a touch of California. Highlights include roasted free-range-chicken roulade with roasted potatoes, chorizo piccante, and arugula salad ($23). Return to Retro Row for movie watching and wine sipping at the newly remodeled Art Theatre, which screens a mix of mainstream current releases, independent films, and art house classics.

6. Links

OC Weekly and LA Weekly—two of the country’s best alternative rags—cover Long Beach as well. Look to both for tips on live music, new restaurants, and a glimpse into local politics.

Long Beach Heritage leads monthly walking tours, but their website is also handy for DIY sightseeing.

Check the calendar of the Arts Council for Long Beach for a guide to what’s going on in the local visual and performing arts scenes.

Bike Long Beach has useful maps if you want to explore the city on wheels.

Revisit the Past in Long Beach