Long Beach, California: Accessible Travel Tips

Long beach is about 40 miles south of Los Angeles. Long Beach is almost a child of L.A. with a much better location along the beach. From various hotels and skyscrapers in Long Beach, one can see downtown L.A. as long as the pollution level is moderately low. L.A. (Long Angeles) and L.B. (Long Beach) even fall in alphabetical order…

The biggest national event that takes place in Long Beach is the Toyota Grand Prix. Grandstands upon grandstands of people pour out for this event and spend big money. The majority of the track and grandstands remain setup year-round.

Long Beach has great public transportation for wheelchair users, including the LA Metro. If you happen to be driving then you should know that there parking structures and lots all over the downtown area and most of them are paid. Sometimes parking can be validated or the first half hour or so, but most of the time expect to pay. In other areas outside of downtown there is meter street parking, which is free if you have your handicapped placard displayed.

 

Downtown

The heaviest tourist area is downtown Long Beach with its ample amount of hotels. Often this part of town becomes a convention zone; not just one but a few large conventions, so downtown was built to hold, dine and entertain thousands. Pine Street was filled with all kinds of different restaurants, one of the best being King’s Fish House but there are many great places to choose from.

From 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM on Sundays at the Alamitos Bay Marina parking lot (next to Walmart) on E. Marina Drive, one-quarter mile south of E. 2nd S. is a weekly farmers market. Not only will you find things like fresh produce, breads, and flowers but also expect to find prepared hot food, cheap toys, clothes, jewelry and other trinkets and even an entertainer or two. Come for the food!  Besides Saturdays, there are farmers markets every other day in Long Beach. Find out where.

Right off Ocean Blvd. and the Hayatt Hotel downtown is a paved walkway that takes you to the harbor. The flat 0% incline is ideal for manual chair users; otherwise there is the sidewalk that runs along the road at a 7% incline for a couple hundred feet. The walkway is neat because you go over the road which is also used as the race course so you get a birds-eye-view. It was fun to imagine. At the end of this walkway was an elevator to take you to the ground floor where the harbor is. This is one of many harbors in Long Beach but by far is the most visited and is known as the Pike. It’s a strip of harbor side restaurants, bars, shops, two theaters and a few other tourist attractions, like whale watching, water taxis and most famously the Long Beach Aquarium.

 

The Pike and Shoreline Village

The Shoreline Village on the Pike has a few chain businesses mixed in with the unique. Every restaurant of café has waterfront seating, including the ice cream parlor and churro/funnel cake stand. It was hard for me to not get an ice cream cone with the small of waffle cones waffling through the air. If not in the mood for ice cream then how about some kinds of goodie from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, like a caramel apples, candles and of course chocolate. Two funny specialty stores I got a kick out of was one for Hot Sauce and another for Beef Jerky. Never had I seen so many flavors and brands of these two items.

If looking for a drink then the Yard House’s Patio offers the best setup on a nice day but this place gets really crowded. The food is American bar food with a few surprises but nothing that I would write home to mother about. I was pleasantly surprised to see two theaters. One was really tiny called and the other is the Off-Boardwalk Theater and the other is five times the size and is called the Long Beach Melodrama Theater. For the child in you, head to the arcade room located in the center of the Shoreline Village with a carousel in the middle of the room.

In the harbor of the Shoreline Village is also where you catch water taxis, Harbor Cruise for a narrated tour or Harbor Breeze for whale watching. The boats for the daily whale watch and harbor cruise are wheel chair accessible (both manual and power). Reservations are accepted for the whale watching Harbor Breeze Cruise and it is a good idea to tell them you are in a chair. You pay for this cruise on arrival. You don’t need a reservation for a 45 minute harbor tour and can buy tickets at the ticket booth the day you take the cruise. The cheapest way to see the harbor and skyline views is on a water taxi.

 

Long Beach Aquarium

The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific is a world-class aquarium. The exhibits can be found on the first and second floor and outside and are broken up into categories, like the Pacific North West or the Sea Otter Habitat that are layout on a map. The exhibits are well lit with plenty of maneuvering space and ramps to viewing areas. The only lacking issue was that there were not automatic doors.

The most impressive display was the Shark Lagoon located outside. At first my eye was drawn to a small pool with people reaching over it, their fingers disappearing into the water. Such a design, as seen at other aquariums, resembles a tide pool where you can touch crustaceans like starfish and sea anemones. Instead to my utter delight, I saw two giant black spotted sting rays swimming about. Then the exhibit’s attendant directed our attention to the walls of the pool. I looked over the cement wall to see a dozen baby sharks; one on top of each other. Most were just laying there but a few got up from their resting spots to swim a couple of feet only to nestle with another bunch of baby sharks. I saw people reaching out to touch them, “Whaaaat?” I thought and pulled up my sleeves. “Two fingers” said the exhibit attendant while she motioned how to gently pet the shark. I reached in and touched the closest one. It felt like soft, squishy sandpaper. It was awesome and gave me an adrenaline rush. I touched another and another. Then my eye went to the sting ray again, however, despite my best effort and patience I never did get to touch it.

Just when I thought I couldn’t have any more shark fun, I noticed an even bigger tank behind the baby one. I rushed over to larger sting rays and a few different kinds of sharks, even white ones. I watched the sharks circle for a while and saw there was an underwater viewing area. I quickly rolled over there which got the sharks attention cause they all started to swimming at me, getting as close to the glass as possible and then aggressively jerking away. Perhaps I looked good enough to eat? Or they were just checking me out.

The sharks are definitely a huge attraction for the aquarium but it’s not just for the public’s entertainment. Scientist are carefully studying them behind the scenes to understand this species and encourage its survival. Something that I have never seen at an aquarium but was displayed beautifully at the one in Long Beach was a shark egg and not just one but a few; all in different stages of development.

The shark eggs were certainly unexpected but a display of birds next to the Shark Lagoon also threw me through a loop. ‘Birds? Really? Can these birds breathe under water?’ The answer to that is no but these Australian Lorikeets make a cute but random addition to the aquarium. There were two set of doors at both the entrance and exit and were not automatic. However, there is an attendant at each door that can assist if needed. The design is to keep the birds in the exhibit. You can feed the colorful birds a small cup of nectar which you purchase at the stand near the front entrance. These little guys love this stuff and will gobble it up quickly. Sometimes this sugar-packed substance cause little fights between the birds. Overall these guys had a lot of personality but don’t let them sass you.

The more personality the better when it comes to watching animals and the sea otters were certainly oozing with it. These guys are related to badgers which are horribly mean and aggressive but this was so hard to believe as I watched them play, dive and nibble food from their paws while floating on their backs, bellies all exposed. Another delight to watch are the puffins, sea birds that kind of look like penguins with attitude. These guys are so cute and so energetic.

Besides the sea otters and puffins the other exhibits that I loved were the seashores and jellyfish. These are always a favorite and I am always amazed how diverse they are; some microscopic and other resembling floating seaweed. I even saw an up-side-down jellyfish for the first time at the Long Beach Aquarium. One fish that took my breath away was this small yellow guy, which looked like a slug from outer space with tiny fins. It just floated around and cracked me up.

Handicapped restrooms were on the 2nd floor. Right across the street from the aquarium is a parking structure, which will only charge a maximum of $8 with validation from the aquarium. Take advantage of this; go get something to eat or cruise around.

 

Parks & Trails

Continuing around the Pike from the Long Beach Aquarium you will run into Shoreline Aquatic Park. From the park are picturesque views of the waterfront and city. It’s a great place to relax for a moment and watch the sunset. A lighthouse stands on a small hill in the middle of the park, which has become kind of a symbol for Long Beach.

Shoreline Aquatic Park is one of many parks in Long Beach. Another good one is Bluff Park right along Ocean Boulevard in an upscale neighborhood on a small hill. A huge lawn encompasses most of the park with a few trees and paved walkway overlooking the ocean. Lots of people like to chill here, read a book or go for a stroll. From the walkway you can view the Shoreline Pedestrian Bikeway on the beach below. The Shoreline Pedestrian Bikeway is 17 feet across and runs approximately 4.5 miles long from the Shoreline Village at the Pike to the intersection of Ocean Blvd and 54th Place in Belmont Shore.  It’s completely flat and is idea for a wheelchairs and hand-cycles.

 

Belmont Shore

2nd Street in Belmont Shore is trendy neighborhood in Long Beach. The most happening strip is 2nd Street which is filled with an array shops, restaurants, cafes, bar and services. During the weekends this area is buzzing with people but throughout the week it’s slower. Get groceries, a manicure, home accessories, a haircut, car parts and a tequila shot all on the same stretch. If you are a chocolate lover and enjoy having a drink then you must try the chocolate Port at La Creperie Café. The crepes and other food on the menu were delicious and worth experiencing (another location exist on Pine Street in Downtown Long Beach).  There are no parking structures in this area but there are meter spots. The Long Beach Museum of Art is also located in this neighborhood.

 

Long Beach Museum of Art

Right next to Bluff Park in the Belmont Shore neighborhood is the Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA). The museum’s permanent collection consists of 3,000 pieces: paintings, drawings, sculptures, works on paper as well as home furnishings and accessories that are primarily focused on early 20th century European art, California Modernism, and contemporary art of California. What keeps people coming back are the new exhibits, which usually run for about 6 months.

Claire’s at the Museum Restaurant is a popular place to eat, especially on Saturday and Sunday for breakfast. On Thursday evenings enjoy Happy Hour with discounted drinks and appetizers. Claire’s take advantage of the pristine views and offers outdoor seating on the patio, under umbrellas but there is inside seating as well. To get into the restaurant follow the ramp around to the side door where there will be a door bell if closed but on nice the restaurant staff likes to keep it open and the air flowing. There is also an accessible restroom in the restaurant.

Both LBMA and Claire’s are open Thursday-Sunday. There is a bus stop directly in front of the museum. Handicap parking is located on the east side of the campus. It is normally used for unloading and loading, but is marked with a sign. There is a remote control gate so the attendee has to contact the receptionist.  There is a ramp in the same area to lead into the facility. There are no automatic doors to the museum but there is an elevator and accessible restrooms.

 

Queen Mary

The Queen Mary is a historical cruise ship that has made a permanent home in the Long Beach Harbor. It’s easily visible from Shoreline Village and Park. Today it is a full-on tourist attraction and has been made wheelchair accessible with ramps and elevators everywhere. Every day about a dozen tours of ship are offered and although parts of the tour require going down a few stairs, one can easily take an alternative accessible route. On board you can even catch a show if something is playing, from Jazz and the Blues to musicals and plays. The Queen Mary makes for a memorable dining experience too whether it be at the award-winning restaurant or something more casual. Just having a drink on the Queen Mary too is a fun outing. Commonly accompanied with eating and drinking is shopping, which is why you will also find a few unique shops on board. If feeling tense, then how about making an appointment at the spa for a massage or some other pampering service?

Besides being a tourist attraction the Queen Mary is also a hotel with a room a handicapped room, but no roll-in shower. There is a bench that can be provided and there is a hand-held shower nozzle. In addition there are grab-bars and a roll-up sink. This room is a little bigger than average but still on smaller side, especially for a power wheelchair.

 

Japanese Garden at University of Long Beach

Inspired by the Imperial Gardens in Tokyo, the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden at the University of Long Beach is a small but lovely garden to visit for an hour or so. The whole space is a little over one acre with a short accessible loop around the perimeter of the koi pond.  Along the walkway are Japanese inspired statues, delicately placed amongst the brush as if it belonged there. Pass over a bridge to an area that is used as shrine with a tinkling, tranquil water fountain. Then discover a traditional Zen Garden, every rock combed into place to form a united design. The most freeing thing about this feng-shui garden is that admission is free. It is a part the public university and does not cost a penny to view but donations are accepted.

 

Beach Towns near Long Beach

Just past the big city of Long Beach are a few happening and charming Southern California Beach towns worth checking out on a day trip. The closest is Seal Beach, followed by Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and finally Laguna Beach.  Plus, the Port of Long Beach in located downtown where you can catch the Catalina Express to Catalina Island. Many who travel to Southern California visit this famous island but it’s also a popular get-a-way for locals too.

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