A June 2004 trip
to Long Beach by SFPhotocraft
Quote: I was voted a delegate for the Unitarian General Assembly this year. I wasn't thrilled with the convention city - Long Beach. I only knew it as a grimy, slightly seedy harbor town - boy, was I wrong!
I lived in L.A. (okay, 20 years ago), but Long Beach was a city I stayed clear of. It was old and full of decay. Its heyday was during the war, and, since that time, it has just gone downhill. I even sailed out of Long Beach recently, and did what I could to avoid downtown to just get on the ship.
Where I have been all these years? Why didn't anyone tell me? Long Beach is GREAT! First off, the convention center was top rate, the hotels were world class, and there was so much to see and do. It was hard to attend the convention with so many fun things just outside our doors.
Everyone agrees that the Queen Mary started it. She was brought here, and, once again, people had a reason to come to Long Beach. Then they built the convention center, The Aquariam of the Pacific and Rainbow Harbor. Today, Long Beach is clean and active.
I was happy I got to come to Long Beach. I made a new friend. Oh yeah, the convention went well too!
Of course you have to check out the Queen Mary if you have never seen her. She is a grand ol' dame!
In Long Beach, the boats depart for Catalina Island. If you have some time, I suggest a day trip to the island. You can leave in the morning and return in the evening.
One day, when Chris and Breana went to the beach, they had to take a taxi and it cost them less than . They said it was easy. A city bus also runs the route, but nobody was feeling that adventurous that day!
The next choice was the Westin. I guess I was on the "B" list, as I got into the Westin. However, I was actually quite glad, as I am a huge Westin fan.
First off, all the maps show the Westin just across the street from the Convention Center. It looked very simple. Our airport van let us off at the Convention Center and the Hyatt people went a few feet, but we found we had to walk around the Convention Center and up a steep hill, and it was several blocks away, as you can not enter and exit the area that is indeed across the street.
However, once we got in, I was very happy with the hotel. It has a large, open, and clean lobby. The check-in staff was Westin quality: helpful, professional, and friendly. My room was ready and waiting.
My room was on the 5th floor and faced Ocean Boulevard, but I could not see the ocean from my room. The room was a little beyond average size and had a nice full window. The bathroom was large and well stocked, as I had a robe and lots of space. However, best of all, was the bed. All Westins have what is called a heavenly bed. If you have not stayed in a Westin, I urge you to book one - the beds are truly heaven. They are soft and come with an extra thick duvet cover. You literally sink into the bed. It's hard to get up in the morning because they are SO darn comfortable. There it was my heavenly bed - I was one happy conventioneer!
The Westin has a nice pool - it's a bit small, but it has a hot tub and plenty of chairs. Fresh beach towels are stocked by the pool. The pool is just off a very nice health club. Both the pool and the health club were on the fifth floor, the same floor I was on. The hotel also offers features like a great concierge and 24-hour room service.
The Westin is a great choice. It's a little walk to the doors of the convention center, and it does not have an ocean view. However, I think it's far more comfortable and luxurious than the Hyatt that everyone was hoping for.
I stayed here a whole week and the staff was friendly and helpful. I got a newspaper each morning, and the room was always kept clean (I get a bit sloppy in hotel rooms). However, what I love are those beds. My stay in Long Beach was truly heavenly.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 6, 2004
The Westin Long Beach
333 E OCEAN BLVD
Long Beach, California 90802
Hotel | "Hyatt Regency"
is by far the nearest hotel to the Convention Center. It connects to it via a small walkway and is only a few feet away. The airport van let all of us off at the convention center. Those at the Hyatt were already home, while we Westin folk had to walk a fair distance to our hotel.
The Hyatt is indeed just across the street from the harbor and overlooks Shoreline Village and the Queen Mary in the distance. The entire front of the hotel is glass and the views from these rooms are what folks hope for.
The hotel is a new steel and glass structure. At sunset, it catches the colors and is gorgeous. The hotel has 522 rooms, so is a fairly large hotel.
It has a nice, heated pool on the ground level and seemed to be a popular spot with our convention-goers. The lobby is busy.
I felt our staff at the Westin was a bit more polished and more professional. Several people had run-ins with the Hyatt staff over missed phone calls, wake-up calls, or bad information. A group of us tried to eat on Sunday at the Tides. We were placed at a makeshift table and never even saw a waiter. We left for some place that seemed to have it more together.
I was told the rooms were nice. They were a bit on the small size and pretty much the standard Hyatt room. The rooms with a view were desired, while the back rooms had a view of the roof of the convention center.
In comparing the pros and the cons of the two major convention hotels, I have to say the Hyatt does have the better location. It's only a few steps from the center and is a bridge walk away from Shoreline Village. However, I feel the Westin offers a more luxurious feel, has larger rooms, and the staff is more professional. Overall, the feel of the Westin was calmer and more sophisticated.
If you find yourself in Long Beach for a convention and you have the two hotel choices, you will have to decide if location or service is the more important feature for you and make your pick from there.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 14, 2004
Hyatt Regency Long Beach
200 South Pine Avenue
Long Beach, California 90802
Restaurant | "Islands"
The inside tries to play up a beach-bar theme. It has surfboards hung on the walls, thatched roofs over the bar, and TV screens that play surf videos. The wait staff is all young and beachy. They wear bright-colored Hawaiian shirts and try to present a hip, laid-back, beach feel. It sounds a bit contrived, but, in reality, it seems to work. The place is fun and spirited, and you soon slip into a-day-at-the-beach feel.
I ordered a mai tai (I know, lunch - a mai tai!!! I confess - I did). The mai tai was very large and very, very good. Most mai tais on the mainland are sugary and very watered down. This was a GOOD mai tai and reminded me of the ones in the back of the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki. YUM!
I then got fish tacos, and they too were great. The fish was fresh and they were flash-fried and not greasy. They tasted great.
The service was good; my waitress was friendly and even a bit chatty for the restaurant being so busy. I became a fan. We hit Island several times during the convention. I always got the fish tacos and a mai tai (hey, why fix it, if it's not broken?). I even ordered take out late one night and brought it back to the Westin.
I was hooked. This is a great chain. I soon learned that Islands are all over Southern California and even Arizona. I now seek them out when I am in a new city; it's one meal I know what to expect and I have yet to be disappointed.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 5, 2004
Islands Fine Burgers & Drinks
Long Beach, California 90802
I walked up Pine Avenue and came to a kind of hip, cool-looking sushi joint called Wasabi. On the outside of the building, they were advertising sushi, Teppan Yaki Tables, and karaoke. WOW, this place had it ALL going on!
This was slightly after the lunch rush and things seemed to be winding down. The main floor is a large, open room with a sushi bar on one side and drink bar crossing the front. A motorcycle hung from the ceiling. The hostess sat me at what seemed like a strange table; it was off the main floor and alone in a tiny alcove in the back. Was my breath really that bad?
So there I was, sitting in the hinterlands. The restaurant had two wait people on duty and neither wanted to venture out to the back 40 to take my lunch order. I was so lost in the bushes, I couldn't even be seen to flag them down. I got up and went back to the hostess and asked her to send a waiter.
Once my waiter showed up, everything went uphill. I still wonder why, in a nearly empty restaurant, I was given the most remote and undesirable table in the place?
The waiter was extremely apologetic. From that point forward, he went out of his way to make sure I had his full attention.
I ordered some tuna and salmon and a roll he had recommended. The sushi and sashimi were very fresh.
I picked up a flyer on the table and saw that this was one happening place. They had specials, happy hours, and karaoke nights. This place seemed popular and fun, just not at 2pm in the afternoon on a weekday. The one special that caught my eye was a daily Happy Hour special only at the sushi bar. It ran daily from 4pm to 6pm and was all the sushi you could stuff in yourself for just $17.50. I am sure I could have made them lose some money on me if only I was here one more day to partake. It seemed like a great price for a whole lot of sushi!
When leaving, I looked at all the pictures of fun nights at Wasabi. It looked like this place rocks in the evening. It also looked like it had a young crowd and was lively.
My experience was good, once my waiter found me. However, it was very quiet and calm; my guess is that this is an evening spot and things really pick up around dinner time. I still want to come back for the all-you-can-eat sushi Happy Hour!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 12, 2004
200 Pine Ave.
Long Beach, California
We walked over to the Aquariam area, which is fairly new and polished. There it was, Bubba Gumps, all new and shiny with a huge, red neon sign.
We went in and found out the wait for a table was about 2 hours! Yes, 2 hours! We decided to move the pack somewhere else, when the hostess told us we could order at the bar tables from the same menu. We scouted out the bar and saw that there were at least three empty tables, so I ask who is waiting 2 hours, when you can eat in the bar - now?
Our waiter came up and was friendly and funny. The wait staff here tries to be familar and funny to the guests. He started out by asking us some Forrest Gump trivia. Okay, here it goes, I saw the movie, and I was one of the few people in this country who was not hooked into the cult. I just wasn't a fan of it. So everyone else was getting into the trivia and laughing at the "Gump-isms" all over the place, on the walls, on the menu, on the table, and even in the bathroom. I guess if you are a fan, this is the Forrest Gump mecca.
We all started with the peel-and-eat chilly shrimp, which I have to admit were pretty good. I then had to continue on the shrimp theme and ordered Shrimpin' Dippn Broth. This is hot shrimp served with broth and french bread to dip. It too was very good. I was stuffed, but several at our table saved room for some outrageous desserts.
After dinner, several of the guests had to stop in the large gift shop and get Forrest Gump hats, Bubba Gump shirts, and other movie trinkets. It seemed the gift shop was as big as a money-maker as the restaurant.
Okay, so not being a fan, I have to admit the food here pretty good. The cutsey wait staff with a lot of chatter and trivia questions was not my style, but others seemed to love it. The Long Beach location is in a great spot with a view of the ocean and the popular aquariam, so even if don't think life is like a box of chocolates (okay that is the only one I know), you will still be a fan of Bubba Gumps.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Company
100 Aquarium Way
Long Beach, California 90802
Having said all that, I am a fan of Outback
We have one near our house, and when I want to go and get a nice cold Fosters with a good steak that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, I head to Outback. So when a group from the convention suggested Outback, I was game to be included in the pack.
I always get the Outback sirloin. It's a tasty, nine-ounce sirloin that comes with bread, salad, and a potato. The best part is that the price is only $13.99, one of the best deals around.
We arrived early in the evening and were pleased to get a table right away. My usual experience is a fairly long wait for tables at Outback. The decor is always pretend Australian with kangaroo-crossing signs and boomarangs. It's a tad bit corny, but hey, you gotta have a gimmick!
Our waitress was there in a flash. She was a typical, pretty California blonde who probably spent her days on a surf board or playing beach volleyball. She was very friendly and very chatty (I might even say a bit too chatty). She asked a lot about our convention and what we were doing for fun in Long Beach, saying we should have invited her to sit down and have a beer with us!
What is unique about this Outback is that it's located on Rainbow Harbor. It has some great views of the water and is open. The bar has huge shutters that they open up for a fresh-air feel. They have a large patio. The bar quickly filled up with locals meeting to have a beer. It was a bit of a beach pick-up scene.
The steaks came and were indeed the same high-quality, tender meat I have come to expect from Outback. The waitress kept taking good care of us, and several more times, joined our conversation.
I have since gone back to our local Outback, and it now pales in comparison to this open-aire, on-the-beach Outback. The location and atmosphere make this one unique among this popular chain.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 14, 2004
20 West Shoreline
Long Beach, California
Restaurant | "King's Seafood"
Now what was I thinking NOT making reservations for a Saturday night? It was my fault, I know better than that. So when we walked in off the street, the hostess pretty much just glared at us. She seemed to be in the middle of a mid-Saturday night breakdown mode. The place was crawling with others waiting their turn, and the hostess let us know the wait would be around 90 minutes to get a table. Chaos seemed to be moving in and the vibe was not good. Oooops! I did it again. But then she said that if we wanted to eat on the patio and bar area, we could wander over and sit at any open table, and the menu was the same as the main dining room.
We took her advice and went to the patio, a kind of faux New Orleans patio right on Broadway. The patio is filled with live plants. There were three empty tables to choose from. I guess I don't get places that have an area where no reservations are required and have open seats, when the other part has a wait for over an hour? Naturally, we grabbed a cute table near the street.
We got some warm sourdough bread and our menus in a flash. I had a beer and we listened to the street band that was playing across the street. I was pitying those fools still waiting for a table.
We soon ordered an order of Hog Island Oysters, which are from Tomales Bay, near our home. They were delicious with a frosty beer. For dinner, I had the Linguini with mussels and Chris had Swordfish on a skewer. Breana is not a fish eater and she found a hamburger on the menu that tickled her fancy.
Our food was very good. The service was a bit hurried, but never rude. It was a beautiful summer night and eating outside was a treat. We enjoyed the music playing just across the street, and the people-watching was great. Broadway was a mix of all kinds of people, out on a Saturday night.
I quickly learned that King's Seafood is all over southern California, but to us, it never felt like a chain. It has a feel of an East Coast seafood restaurant. I know next time I should make reservations, but even without them, the patio was just fine with us!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 16, 2004
King's Fish House
100 West Broadway Avenue
Long Beach, California 90802
A lot of the convention-goers soon discovered the Auld Dubliner, and it became the popular lunch spot of our convention. The reviews were all good to great, and I decided I just might be missing something good. I was indeed!
Several of us went for lunch, and I have to admit that although this was a fairly new pub, it looked like an authentic old Irish pub somewhere in Ireland. It was dark, and there was a huge bar with lots of beers on tap (of course Guinness was one of them). Irish music was playing. Even our waiter was a true chap from County Cork and had a great Irish accent. I could almost believe I was in Ireland.
The menu had corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips and Irish stew. I ordered the corned and cabbage and a pint. Some other members tried the Irish stew and one person the fish and chips.
It didn't take long for the place to fill up as sessions at the convention adjourned. This was the popular spot and everyone was waiting for tables. There were only two waitpeople working the whole pub and at that point service got a bit shabby. It was not the wait staff’s fault; they were indeed working their butts off and running between tables, bar and kitchen. It did not seem like they had a very organized system. The management also knew a major convention (5,000 people) was going on across the street, and you would have hoped they would have scheduled their staffing better. At this point, it took a very long time for our food to arrive.
Once it did arrive, it was very good. The corned beef and cabbage was authentic and very tasty. It was like having St. Patrick's Day in June. The Irish stew also looked thick and full of large cubes of beef. The fish and chips were not greasy. We all were very happy with our meals and quickly understood why this place was attracting the crowds.
We finally flagged a server down for our bill and paid it. We handed it to one server and waited for a long time for our change. Finally we asked her for it and she couldn't recall taking it. There was a lot of confusion about where the money or the bill was. It took some scrambling, and she found the bill and our cash and provided us with change and an apology. It just was another example of the disorganization at this cute pub.
This was a favorite hangout. People often went here after sessions for a pint of Guinness. I enjoyed this authentic little pub and hope they work a bit on their service problems.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 17, 2004
The Auld Dubliner
71 Pine Ave
Long Beach, California 90802
Restaurant | "The Grill in the Westin Hotel"
We had breakfast here most mornings during the convention. The Grill is open daily from 6:30am until 10:30pm each evening.
I enjoyed breakfasts here. The service had a formal feel to it, yet it was still very casual and friendly. The waiters wear black tuxedos and the tables are set with crisp white linens, yet people can eat here in shorts and the waitstaff is friendly and chatty. It's a nice compromise between formal and casual.
Breakfast consists of two choices - you can either order from the menu and have your entree brought hot from the kitchen, or you can sample from the large buffet. We always seemed to pick the buffet.
The buffet was loaded with fresh eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles and oatmeal. Sometimes I find buffets seem a little stale; the food has been sitting out all morning. This, however, all seemed very fresh. There were also a large variety of fresh squeezed juices to pick from.
Breakfast at the Grill was a great way to start a day. The coffee cups were always filled to the brim and the food was fresh by buffet standards.
Although this is a hotel restaurant, the guests were not limited to hotel guests. Coming in and out, we saw a lot of people in suits and ties coming over from the office complexes that are all around the hotel. This seemed to be a popular spot for a quick business breakfast or lunch meeting. The Grill also has a separate entrance so you don't have to walk through the lobby.
We missed the Sunday brunch at the Grill, but I was told by members of the convention who made it that it was a great Sunday brunch.
Even if I were not staying at the Westin, I would consider coming back to the Grill for breakfast or lunch. It was clean, the food was very good and the waitstaff was friendly. Thumbs up!
Westin Hotel Grill
333 East Ocean Blvd
Long Beach, California
Attraction | "Rainbow Rocket"
Its claim is that it starts out in the harbor and then goes out into the open sea, where it BLASTS OFF and rides on top of the waves at high speeds. It looked like fun, so we decided to do it.
The boat is a open speedboat that seats about 40 people. It's a big boy. You leave Dock 7, pass Shoreline Village, and go near the Queen Mary. I have to admit, the slow part of the harbor tour was by far my favorite part.
Suddenly, you are in open water, away from the harbor. The crew then cranks up the RAINBOW ROCKET and you blast off. You fly over the waves and bounce, up and down, hitting hard. The water sprays up and you get soaked. The crowd screams with delight as you fly across the waves.
It's a lot of fun. If you don't get soaked enough from the Pacific Ocean, the crew comes running out with Super Soaker water guns and drenches the passengers. Okay, it was really funny the first time they did it, but less so the second, third, fourth, and fifth times.
The bumps are pretty severe, so if you have back problems, this may not be the ride for you. Also, it's considered safe for all ages, but it does not have safety belts. I found myself hanging on to Breana, so a 50-pound girl wouldn't go flying out to become shark bait. They swear it's safe, although as a parent, it's my job not to trust their word!
Breana loved it and kept urging them to go faster, faster, and faster. I was a little worried that if we kept going, I was going to lose my lunch. I have to admit I was happy once we got back into the harbor and went back to a nice civilized cruise.
The whole ride only takes about 20 minutes. The kids aboard seemed to all love it. There was a lot of screams and laughter the entire time we were onboard. The crew is full of energy and keeps it fun. I was not fond of getting soaked with the water guns, but others seemed to love it. After the ride they shamelessly try to sell you Rainbow Rocket t-shirts.
This was a fun way to spend 20 minutes. We had different degrees of like for the Rainbow Rocket, but as long as Breana thought it was a cool way to spend part of her day, it made her dad happy!
Rainbow Rocket Inc
200 Aquarium Way
Long Beach, California 90802