Buzzy Belmont Shore is a rare place in Southern California – a place where you can stay and walk (not drive) to local cafes and shops. It’s a beachside enclave with quirky architecture, great food, and better shopping, and it’s the perfect place to get out.
Long Beach, a city built around the second busiest container port in the United States, has long lived in the shadow of neighboring Los Angeles (only a half-hour drive away). While Long Beach offers a pleasant enough California waterfront – plus four artificial islands offshore that were built to cover oil wells – its charm has been denied to some of its communities by many.
The Belmont Coast and the neighbourhood of super-rich Naples are upscale islands in their own right. At the southern end of Long Beach, a left turn off Pacific Coast Highway onto Second Street will take you across a bridge, across the inland waterway on both sides of the beach, and into the palm-tree divided main street of Belmont Shores.
Belmont Shore’s bright and bustling high street is an eclectic blend of dive bar and gourmet cheese shop, clothing boutique and ice cream bar. Second Street is a shopping paradise with fine restaurants and gourmet pizzerias to keep your energy up. Following a path away from the bustle of commerce, you enter streets full of charming cabins (which appear small because they’re long and not very wide), where locals shiver as they ride the sea breeze in front of their doors, rustling the leaves of banana and eucalyptus trees.
If you keep going, the beach you’ll arrive at – Long Beach, named for its name – is wide and flat and often windy, and the best way to enjoy it is to walk/skate/bike along the promenade, or head north into the heart of the city, or to the taverns and galleries of the Fourth Street Arts District and Vintage Street along the way. But as the sun sinks behind the silhouettes of the rocky breakwaters and container ships stacked in the harbor, the bustle of the Belmont Coast remains. The street side tables were quickly filled, accordion vendors packed up, and neon signs shone to life.
The Renaissance Long Beach Hotel (111 E Ocean Blvd) is located in the heart of downtown and offers a comfortable business hotel stay (no breakfast) for the convention market in the nearby convention center, with numerous restaurants and bars (restaurants are available but expensive at the hotel). It’s a half-hour walk from Belmont Shore, but rent a bike from Long Beach Bike Share and you can quickly ride along the beach and be in the thick of things in less than 15 minutes.
One of the main attractions along the waterfront is the retired RMS Queen Mary (1126 Queen Mary Highway) – the former flagship of Kuna Shipping. Today, this museum ship is a hub for a variety of events, including the annual Halloween party, as well as an Art Deco floating hotel. From the porthole, a smoky Southern California sunset can be seen, enjoying the warmth of the wood paneling in the mid-century wood cabin. There are restaurants on board – B&B packages are available – or you can walk five minutes into the city after disembarking in the evening.
The Beachrunners’ Inn B&B (231 Kennebunk Avenue) is a quaint B&B about a half-hour walk from the Belmont Shore.The Beachrunners’ Inn is a family-run, craftsman-style B&B that also offers a complimentary “extended continental breakfast” of eggs, bacon, oatmeal, fruit and pastries (commonly referred to as “delicious”). The B&B lacks air conditioning, but is close enough to the beach to enjoy the benefits of the sea breeze. Comfortable and convenient public transport or taxis, and if you don’t like to walk, you can take a cab.
Restaurants, bars and cafes
Domenico’s (5339 E. 2nd Street) is like a gangster in a heavy double-breasted suit on a hot summer day, and the store is surprisingly dimly lit as you walk in from the bright sidewalk. But once your eyes get used to it, you can clearly see the intimate booths and the pizzas hovering over the tables. As the oldest restaurant in Long Beach, Domenico’s has laid down its long history with friendly service and delicious pizzas, as well as quite unique pizzas. It’s a family gathering place, as evidenced by the lollipop bucket at the entrance, but anyone can come here and hide in the baghouse for pizza and specialty salads (they make a memorable garlic dressing). It’s like a sensory deprivation jar, only with incredible pizza.
This has been the main drag on Second Street since 1976, and you’re more likely to smell Polly’s Gourmet Coffee (4606 E. Second Street) before you arrive. And what’s one sniff away. They are serious about their coffee here, roasted on site, and they serve up a wonderful cup of coffee. Warning: your shirt will be impregnated with scents for the next day or so, but consider it free.
If there’s a place in Moulin Rouge that serves crepes, it might look a bit like La Crêperie Café (4911 E. 2nd Street). The interior here is baroque, with gilded mirrors and heavy red curtains. The menu is as you’d expect: there are delicious and sweet crepes, as well as some other dishes like waffles and omelets served for breakfast. Sit outside under the red awning with a bottle of pink sparkling wine with a “Latin Lover” (Nutella and fresh banana coleslaw) and you’ll feel the mood.
Although Simmzy’s Pub (5271 East 2nd Street) has quickly grown into a chain with six SoCal locations, it still feels like it’s unique. Its lively, open-air atmosphere is perfectly in keeping with that of the Belmont Coast, and it’s usually packed at lunch and dinner time. There’s a wide variety of craft beers to choose from, and the food on the plate is “luxury casual dining”. Think caramelized sprouts, pepper popcorn with mango sauce, burgers, campfire fish tacos, bacon date pizza with mascarpone and balsamic vinegar, all good choices, but once you’ve had it, you can’t resist ordering it again, just in case.
Combining casualness and elegance is Nick’s on 2nd (4901 E. Second St.), and your Belmont Shores choice is a special evening (or an indulgent brunch). Serves American/California classics (maple spiced meatloaf or lobster burrito). Red meat is also a specialty at Nick’s, so take a serious look at the short rib benedict or fillet steak mignon, and if you just want a drink, Nick’s is always buzzing at the bar on the weekends. People here are having a great time.
There are several shops on 2nd Street that bring together the best of local Long Beach artisans, but Luna (4928 East 2nd Street) stands out for its eclectic style. It’s a bazaar curiosity/gift shop dream (for those willing to spend a little more), offering everything from a children’s wall clock to an authentic Day of the Dead DIORAM (an authentic DIORAM from the southern border). If you’re in Long Beach around Christmas, Luna’s windows are lit up with gorgeous Christmas decorations and don’t miss them.
Pussy and Pooch (4818 E. 2nd Street) has only two storefronts: one at the Pack Dog Center in downtown Los Angeles and the other on 2nd Street. If you’re a dog or cat owner, this boutique offers a variety of accessories for your pet, from bow ties to boots. For those who are dismissive of these necessities, Pussy and Pooch still enhances the diversity of the sidewalks: bringing a group of hardcore pet lovers into the subdivisions of the Belmont Coast who seem to be clamoring for an overdressed pet to follow suit. Seeing a double stroller turn around and display two puppies sitting inside will make your soul swoon.
For many, America’s artisanal cheese renaissance may have rubbed shoulders with you, but rest assured, it’s happened and continues to grow rapidly. A great place to go is Cheese Addiction (195 Claremont Avenue), which is just off Second Street. There is a wide range of national and international cheeses for you to taste, and the staff are helpful and happy to point you in the right direction. You can also buy a T-shirt with the words “Cheese Addiction” printed on it, which for many people is an accurate self-label. The purchase also comes with a very useful receipt that prints out the details and tasting notes of the cheese you have purchased.
Sweet Threads (4812 2nd Street) is a distinctive children’s clothing and toy boutique (for children under 7) and a great place to pick up distinctive gifts for the little ones you know. The store has a vintage section for hip youngsters, a stock of trendy brands (while the iron is hot) for parents with low eye skills, and owner Shella has a clothing line called Pausch. It’s not cheap, but if you’re a know-it-all and think toddlers can look sweet in an old potato sack, stop by and see that the books and toys here are as carefully selected as the clothes are well sewn.