Less than an hour drive from Orange County lies the port city of Long Beach, CA. The city is so much more than just a port city for freight and cruise ships. It has really grown over the last 20 years with a newly renovated shoreline area packed with museums, restaurants, and attractions for a whole weekend of fun. Long Beach is also the home of the Long Beach Grand Prix every April.
Aquarium of the Pacific
Aquarium of the Pacific is conveniently located right off of Shoreline Drive in Long Beach. The building itself takes the shapes of the waves and sea in the architecture. Once you enter, the main hall greets you with entrances to the various exhibit areas and a 3-story window view into the Blue Cavern. In the morning, divers clean the glass and rocks inside the exhibits as the groupers and other fish curiously swim around them.
Travel tip for the kids: The Aquarium guide book has a scavenger hunt in it. In each gallery and exhibit, the kids can collect stamps. It’s a great educational souvenir.
Jellies are fascinating and they have their own experience at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Moon Jellies are a favorite. You can even touch these in a special touch pool inside the exhibit. Other jellies you might see are Umbrella Jelly, Japanese Sea Nettle, Unside-down Jelly, Comb Jelly, Purple-striped Jelly, Lagoon Jelly, Pacific Sea Nettle, Indonesian Sea Nettle, and Flower Hat Jelly.
Southern California / Baja Gallery has 18 exhibits featuring animals ranging from Oregon to Mexico. Sea lions and seals can be seen both below and above water, swimming and playing. One of the younger sea lions can actually see through the underwater plexiglass and will come up to the glass to check you out. The Ray Touch Pool is available for adults and children alike. Using the two-finger touch method, you can touch rays and small sharks in these shallow pools. They feel like slimy velvet. Shorebird Sanctuary has a few wetland birds like Black-necked Stilts, Black-bellied Plovers, Western Snowy Plovers, Killdeer, and Ruddy Ducks.
A new exhibit is the Southern California Steelhead Story. The Southern California Steelhead is part of the salmon family and reproduces in Southern California streams. Just like other salmon, they travel up and down the local rivers to spawn and return to the ocean. In 1997, this fish was listed on the endangered species list. The Southern California Steelhead is also an indicator fish, meaning that their survival depends on a healthy ecosystem. The exhibit shows the growth process of the steelhead and how we can help to maintain a healthy ecosystem for all of us.
June Keyes Penguin Habitat is outside near the Shorebird Sanctuary. The penguins love to play and a few of them will swim right up to you along the glass and pose for some awesome photos.
Northern Pacific Gallery explores the habitats found in Alaska, Siberia, the Bering Strait, and the Aleutian Islands. You can view more jellies along with puffins, and a touch pool with starfish, sea anemones, and sea urchins. If you time it just right, you can watch the trainers work with the sea otters. Some of it is playing but a lot of it has meaning behind it, like checking eye health and general health examinations. They are so cute and playful. After the trainers left, they were all rolling around and crunching on ice piles inside the enclosure.
By now, it was lunch time so Café Scuba was the next stop. They have a nice selection of salads, pizza, sandwiches, soups, and hot items. Look for the special sustainable menu item to do your part to keep our seafood thriving by eating sustainably.
The Sustainable Special of the Day was Parmesan Crusted Salmon served with market vegetables, roasted potatoes, and lemon compound butter. The salmon was cooked to a requested rare. The parmesan crust was flavorful adding a salty tone. The addition of sautéed vegetables and roasted potatoes made it a meal without it being not too heavy and just right for lunch. Rating: 5/5
Half Sandwich and Soup Special is your choice of sandwich and a bowl of soup. Tuna Salad on Pumpernickel was okay. The tuna salad was your average run-of-the-mill offering with mayo and such. The pumpernickel bread could have been softer. The addition of provolone, lettuce, and tomato gave it some texture and made it refreshing. The clam chowder was rich, thick, hearty, and creamy. It contained a healthy amount of clams and bacon added a salty, smoky flavor. It also had a nice mix of vegetables – potatoes, red bell peppers, and onions. Rating: 3.8/5
The Brownies are more cake-like than brownie. It was moist with a rich chocolate flavor. The chocolate chips were a nice textural and flavor surprise. Rating: 5/5
Bellies full, it was time to press on. The Tropical Pacific Gallery is home to over a thousand colorful fish and sea turtles. If you happen upon the Mandarin Fish, it will take a liking to your camera lens and pose for you. There is also an observation tube that passes through the Aquarium’s large 350,000 gallon tank. You can see sharks, sea turtles, and the underbelly of large rays as they swim over you. Iridescent anemones that look like night lights set the exhibit aglow along with more jellies whirling around in circles.
If you have time before your hotel check-in, take a short walk over to Shoreline Village. Along the way, you can take beautiful photos of the majestic Queen Mary without obstructions. You’ll pass a marina along the way as you view the picturesque Shoreline Village with brightly colored buildings and Parker’s Lighthouse on the point.
The Funnel House is a great place to stop for a snack. Funnel Sundae is a funnel cake topped with your choice of ice cream and toppings. We went with vanilla ice cream with strawberries, bananas, and whipped cream. It’s a healthy (large) serving so it is great for sharing. The funnel cake was fried to perfection with a crispy outside and fluffy inside. The vanilla ice cream was perfect as a cold treat on a warm day. The strawberries and bananas just made it like a “sundae”. For a true sundae, the only thing missing was a cherry on top. Rating: 4.5/5
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is irresistible to the sweet tooth. Of course, they have chocolate, but they also offer candy apples, fudge, brittles, and more. Dark Chocolate Rocky Road was calling my mom’s name. The dark chocolate enrobed marshmallows and almonds for a decadent treat. We would have saved it for later but it would have melted on the walk back to the car.
It was check-in time and a hop, skip, and jump later, we were driving into the parking lot of the majestic Queen Mary. Even though modern cruise ships are much larger, the Queen Mary still has a larger than life personality when you are up close. The best part about this cruise ship is that you will never get sea sick. The registration desk is manned by a most courteous crew. They will check you in and help you with any question you have whether it’s about the Queen Mary or surround Long Beach area. Walking down the hall to your room is just like being on a standard cruise ship with the almost infinite hallway to the bow and to the stern. The Queen Mary crew has done a fantastic job of keeping the ship just like it was back in the 1930’s through the 1950’s, from authentic polished wood paneling, original artwork, Art Deco style, and operable portholes.
The Deluxe Stateroom (with either a king bed or two twin beds) was once the preferred choice for first-class travelers when the ship was in operation. Starboard side rooms have a view of Rainbow Harbor. Standard amenities include: operable portholes, 32” LCD flat screen TV with satellite and Pay-Per-View movies, Wi-Fi, hairdryer, iron/ironing board, authentic Art Deco mirror and original built-in storage/closets. The bathroom, with its original fixtures, is much roomier than a standard cruise ship.
After some relaxation and cooling off in the room, it was time to freshen up for dinner at my namesake, Chelsea Chowder House & Bar. When the Queen Mary arrived in Long Beach in 1967, it was decided to partition the Starboard side of the glass enclosed Promenade Deck to make way for the restaurants since the original dining areas did not have a beautiful view of Rainbow Harbor and the Long Beach skyline. In recent years, Chelsea has been given an authentic British chowder house makeover with subway-tiled walls, tables covered with butcher block paper, and decorative tin ceilings.
Singapore Sling (origins early 1900’s) is made with Bombay Sapphire Gin, BOLS Cherry Brandy, B&B, Cointreau, pineapple juice, fresh lime juice, and dash of Angostura bitters. This has been one of my favorite cocktails since the early 1990s and it just tasted so much better aboard the Queen Mary. The hurricane-shaped glass gave the feel of sailing away and the tropical flavors of the drink itself puts you in full relaxation mode. Rating: 5/5
Fried Calamari is served with lemon aioli and spicy tomato sauce. The calamari was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The batter was unexpectedly peppery. It would be better with a lighter batter. Both dipping sauces work well so experiment to your taste. Rating: 4.8/5
Miso Glazed Grouper is braised grouper with miso, bok choy, leek, scallion, peppers, shiitake mushrooms, daikon, and carrots. This had a great combination of Asian flavors. The grouper was meaty and succulent. But the bell pepper flavor was a little too strong for the dish. Being a little heavier on the miso would be an improvement as well. Since there is a lot of broth on the bottom, rice or soba noodles would be a nice touch. Rating: 4.3/5
Blackboard Daily Special was blackened salmon, scallops, and shrimp topped with lemon caper sauce. The salmon was tender, succulent, and just melts in the mouth like butter. The scallops and shrimp were cooked to perfection. The lemon caper sauce was subtle and let the seafood be the star of the dish. The asparagus and potatoes were the perfect accompaniment. Rating: 5/5
Flourless Chocolate Cake was light with pudding-like texture. It had a rich chocolate flavor and the ganache coating was velvety and smooth. Rating: 5/5
After dinner, it was time to explore the ship. It’s a great time to do some window shopping and get some great pictures without the crowds of tourists. As night fell, the fog started to roll in, providing that eerie, haunting feeling that many come to experience at the Queen Mary. From the sun deck, you can see the Rainbow Bridge in the harbor lit up as well as the Long Beach skyline. One beautiful day in Long Beach has come to an end and the start of a new day is just a slumber away.
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For more information:
Aquarium of the Pacific
100 Aquarium Way
Long Beach, CA 90802, United States
Hours: Daily from 9am to 6pm (except December 25 and during the Grand Prix of Long Beach)
Admission: $28.95 for adults, $14.95 for children ages 3-11, $25.95 for seniors (62+)
Parking: Garage, bring your parking ticket with you for validation. The validation gives you a special parking rate for the whole day.
The Queen Mary
1126 Queens Highway
Long Beach, CA 90802, United States
+1.877.342.0738 (information), +1.877.342.0742 (reservations)
Chelsea Chowder House & Bar (aboard the Queen Mary)
Hours: Saturday and Sunday from 12pm to 10pm, Monday through Friday from 5pm to 10pm
Reservations recommended: +1.562.499.1685 or reserve online