Long Beach is often described as a small-big town: with half of a million people living here, it can feel massive, but its charm, combined with it Manhattan-itis—the fact that Long Beachers tend to never leave the city—sometimes make the city we all love, well, stifling.
But there are ways to escape Long Beach without leaving Long Beach—and they require nothing more than a bit of exploration with your feet or bike.
Dominguez Gap Wetlands [pictured above]
Hidden on the eastern edge of the Los Angeles River Bike Path, shoved between Wardlow on the south and Del Amo at the north, sits one of Long Beach’s most underrated natural wonders: the Dominguez Gap Wetlands, 30 acres of nature at its best, complete with common sightings of birds, a plethora of native plants and flowers, and places to picnic.
Since it opened in 2008, creatures have come in droves to make the wetlands their home—not just ducks, blackbirds, hawks and cormorants, but butterflies, rabbits and other wildlife.
Fun fact for the nerds: This manmade wetlands has an entirely unseen quality—a full-on water-cleansing system that uses the wetlands plants to clean the water before pumping it back into the ground.
The South Shore
I honestly don’t ascribe to any “official” name of this area, home to the Queen Mary and Hotel Maya, because South Shore, bluntly put, sounds much more glamorous than “Pier J” and unlike “Queensway Bay,” lets people know there is more than just the Queen in the area.
So I go with the the South Shore, which offers unparalleled views of DTLB without the need for a boat or a plane, some decent grub—Fuego at Maya and The Reef are classic Long Beach restaurants—and incredible ambiance.
If you really want to escape and you’re willing to throw down a few dimes, you can get a room at the Queen Mary, which offers a historic feel, or Hotel Maya, which comes with modern comforts including a heated pool with a bar and cabanas, a mini-beach equipped with fire pits (and s’mores if you call the front desk), and downright full escapism. (And if you want to throw down even more, the fourth night is free during the summer.)
Even if you don’t get a room, meandering this part of Long Beach is nothing short of awesome.
Earl Miller Japanese Garden at CSULB
It is arguably one of Long Beach’s most underrated spaces, but for those that know and love this little 1.3 acre of land, it is a genuine Long Beach wonder that’s been home to wedding shoots, parties and simple escapes from the hubbub of urban living.
Dedicated in April of 1981, the garden was built through the donation of Loraine Miller Collins via the Miller Foundation. Created in memory of her late husband, Earl Burns Miller, three years of planning brought Long Beach landscape architect Ed Lovell to design the garden. Lovell traveled Japan for months in search for a synergy he could use to transport those in Long Beach to the countless gardens he visited.
Japanese black pines, maples, and ginkgoes pruned in the ueki style provide visitors one of the most relaxing and unique experiences in Long Beach.
The Peninsula (East of Ocean Boulevard at Bayshore Ave.)
The Long Beach Peninsula—an often forgotten part of town because of its more popular neighboring Belmont Shore and Naples—is a quiet gem. And by quiet, I mean quiet.
Removed from the cacophony of Ocean Boulevard and Alamitos Beach, the Peninsula could be seen as ho-hum—and that’s precisely what makes it a great escape. Walk along the long stretches of either the Seaside Walk or the Bayshore Walk, viewing the facades of beachside homes while either taking in a view of the Pacific or Alamitos Bay. Upon reaching the tip of the Peninsula, hang out at Alamitos Park, say hi to the lifeguards at their station and walk back to the Shore for some drinks ‘n’ grub.
Rancho Los Cerritos (4600 Virginia Road)
National, state and city historic landmark Rancho Los Cerritos is a Long Beach treasure nestled in the center of Virginia Country Club amongst 27,000 acres of rancho estate founded in the 1880s.
Three years ago, the Rancho completed its California native garden after several years of planning and design that is in line with the site’s 25-year restoration plan.
Visitors can take self-guided tours on weekdays or guided tours on the hour every weekend, and stroll the historic gardens at their leisure. Students, scholars and amateur historians can also use the California history research library during public hours.
The Long Beach Bike & Pedestrian Path
Initially, the path along the shoreline of Long Beach that ran from the edge where Belmont Shore meets the Peninsula toward the heart of DTLB was one that co-mingled bicyclists and pedestrians. The result was a frustrating experiencing regardless of which side of the handlebars you were on: If biking, pedestrians would meander without looking, and on the other hand, if walking, bicyclists would whiz dangerously past you.
That’s why, in 2015, the City decided to create a separate pathway along the 3.1-mile stretch.
The use of the path, despite some dissenters in City Hall meetings calling the use of Tidelands Funds for the project a waste of money, has seen a dramatic increase: 1,109,270 bicyclists and pedestrians used the path in 2017 alone.
El Dorado Park
El Dorado is—considering its worth in nature and activities spread across its massive acreage—vastly underrated.
You can fish for bass, bluegills, catfish and other swimming wonders thanks to three fishing lakes and a pond. The bird watching is some of the best in the region thanks to the protected, 105-acre Nature Center that includes two lakes and hiking trails. There’s a disc-golf course. There’s an archery range (that has been around since the 1984 Summer Olympics). There is an airfield for your model plane and a body of water for your model boat. Camp Fire hosts, a climbing wall and seven acres filled with other activities. There’s also bike paths and hiking trails.
Oh, and there’s the El Dorado Express, a train that is fun for everyone. (No, seriously: an 18-gauge train on a track. In the middle of the park. In the middle of our city. And that’s just cool. Even better? The space inside the track will be converted into a mini-theme park.)
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