Hidden Gems: Long Beach Vacation Guide
Roller rinks that pop up in the middle of malls, art accessed by pushing through a door darkly, and secret gardens – Long Beach is home to a lot of great places off the beaten path. The kind of places you have to know where you’re going. Allow us to shine a light on these hidden gems paired with some dining and drinking options that are equally out of sight.
Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden
Located on the bustling campus of Cal State Long Beach, in the shadow of its big, blue pyramid, this quiet oasis remains unknown to many who rush by its wooden doors, unaware of the respite that lies within. Buffered by trees, the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden (Earl Warren Dr.) revolves around a koi pond fed by small waterfalls. Though the garden is small, it offers a number of nooks allowing visitors the headspace to observe, meditate or simply catch their breath. Since the garden is sometimes closed when hosting campus events, and weddings, it is strongly suggested you check-in online.
Pigeon's Roller Rink
Pigeon’s Roller Skate Shop on Fourth Street has long been a hub for Long Beach’s considerable and enthusiastic roller skating community. Owner Shayna ‘Pigeon” Meikle has extended that hub to Pigeon’s Roller Rink located in the 2nd & PCH retail center (6400 Pacific Coast Hwy.) From the outside, it looks like just another fashionable boutique in the fashionable structure, but behind the stylish wooden slats, lies a sizable rink offering a wide range of activities, from all-ages free skates to 18–and-older sessions. They offer lessons as well as a slew of themed music nights–jazz to disco to emo to ‘80s hair band–to special nights for moms, teachers and anyone who likes to skate in their pajamas.
Dark Art Emporium
Perhaps the most unique art collection in the city, Dark Art Emporium also inhabits a most unique space – the speakeasy-like gallery is accessible only by pushing through a door at the back of The 4th Horseman (121 W. Fourth St.) pizza restaurant. Once there, you’ll find that Dark Art offers an eclectic and ever-evolving mix of fine art and oddities, from surrealism to contemporary in the way of paintings, sculpture, human skulls and taxidermy. The emporium contains pieces rarely found in most galleries and is dedicated to showcasing artists and creators that often are ignored or challenge people’s perception of fine art.
Claire's at the Museum
With unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean, Queen Mary and Catalina Island, Claire’s at the Museum has one of the best views in the city. Tucked away from view behind the Long Beach Museum of Art (2300 E. Ocean Blvd.), Claire's is a popular destination for brunch or a glass of wine, with an incredibly varied menu, from short rib benedict, lemon ricotta pancakes, a salmon BLT and even a fried chicken sandwich. And, notably, it's arguable that no restaurant in the city has as many champagne-infused cocktails as this place.
Even many locals are unaware that the bluffside 1900 Ocean Beach Club apartment building is home to one of the city’s most interesting restaurants. Plunge (1900 E. Ocean Blvd.) has unique, near-panaromic view of the Pacific from its very California-cool dining room – think loungey beach club. It is open to the public as well as its residents for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner as well as a little bit of affordable heaven called “Golden Hour” from 3-5 p.m. Among the wide range of offerings is a highly prized breakfast burrito, pulled pork tacos, steaks and seafood. Did we mention Golden Hour?
This charming gem is located just a half block off Second Street, but so many pass by without knowing what they’re missing. Some describe it as “tiny,” some “comfortable,” others “cozy”, the one thing everyone agrees on is that serves some of the best food in the city. Cafe Gazelle (191 La Verne Ave.) is all of one, small dining room, the kind of snug, homey place that you get your waiter’s attention just by making eye contact. You’ll enjoy such great Italian fare such as pasta Carbonara, chicken Milanese and wonderful bruschetta.
The Exhibition Room
Of all the locations on this list, this one probably does the most to stay hidden. In true speakeasy fashion, The Exhibition Room is located in the back of Roxanne’s Bar (1115 E. Wardlow Rd.) in the historic California Heights neighborhood. Patrons access the speakeasy through a false wall in a retro phone booth, using a password they obtain when making reservations. Once in, the 40-seat bar serves up classic and craft cocktails. On the weekends, there’s live music and sometimes burlesque and comedy. Given it’s old timey, speakeasy feel, the place is adorned appropriately, with some of its items courtesy of the Long Beach Historical Society, giving it an authentic look and feel.
Access Secret Island (209 Pine Ave.) by descending a flight of stairs under Shannon's on Pine in Downtown Long Beach, hanging two quick rights to be met by a wall of tropical plants and fog accompanied by sounds of thunder and flashes of lightning. All that before you step inside. Once there, you’ll be welcomed by a long bar where bartenders make Tiki favorites like Mai Tai and Planter’s Punch, Zombies and Navy Grog. The food is equally on point, whether its poke, ahi or the class Loco Moco.
The Blind Donkey
Given its star turn in “La La Land,” its well-earned reputation as one of the area’s best whiskey bars and the fact that it’s just a lot of fun – video games, pool tables, Skee-Ball, karaoke nights – Blind Donkey (149 Linden Ave.) is certainly well-known, it’s just not easily seen. Find the bar by descending a staircase located under the Broadlind Hotel in the East Village Arts District. The experience of descending under the street level puts you in the perfect mood for the cool you’re about to inhabit. Oh, and they serve just one of the best Old Fashioneds around. If you’re not into whiskey, no worries, they have a full slate of beer, wine and cocktails.