As traveling parents like me creep back out on the road with our kids in 2020, our priorities are worlds away from what they were when we were planning trips in 2019. Why? Because the pandemic isn’t over, folks. The only reason travel is even at all feasible right now is just how many huge accommodations hotels, restaurants, and other local businesses have begun making to ensure safety, cleanliness and social distancing. And the little laid-back city of Long Beach, CA — 30 minutes from Los Angeles on a good day and with a population the size of Kansas City — is among the best of them.
After all, many of us are still uncomfortable with the idea of flying mid-pandemic, especially with kids in tow. That’s why, as we mentioned when re-launching our Mom Voyage series with The Mom’s Guide to the Hudson Valley this summer, we’re focusing on drivable destinations for the moment — ones with plenty of outdoor options that allow folks to keep their distance while still enjoying local food, drinks and in the case of Long Beach, sand and surf. Although hey, if you do choose to fly, Long Beach Airport now has dedicated staff disinfecting the space on an hourly basis.
Despite its closeness to L.A., Long Beach is no suburb; this is a city, albeit small and beach-lined. It’s the best of both worlds, truly, with a walkable downtown, great (often outdoor) eats, and chances for kids to spot dolphins and sea lions. My son and I were both pleasantly surprised by our pre-pandemic trip to Long Beach, and these days as the air quality in Southern California begins to show (slight) signs of improvement, it’s prime time to plan a last-minute fall getaway with your family — especially if you’re escaping the harsher conditions in Northern California.
Plus, cost-wise, accessibility-wise, and certainly traffic-wise, Long Beach has L.A. beat any day. So much so that whenever my son and I find ourselves in L.A. in the future, I’m pretty certain you’ll find us leaving the North Hollywood family gathering early to head back to our rental in Long Beach. Why give up a good thing?
Where to stay
My son and I loved staying at the Courtyard Marriott Downtown for its cleanliness and pure walkability to the city center as well as the beach. Plus, three words that light up my kid’s eyes every time: heated outdoor pool. The hotel’s restaurant, James Republic, serves a mean burger for kiddos and adults alike — and quality cocktails for us big “kids.” It’s temporarily closed during COVID-19, but here’s hoping for a warm and safe reopening.
Of course, plenty of parents prefer a vacation rental to a hotel, particularly if you’re wanting to stay isolated for safety, and/or spread out with a larger family and cook some meals. VRBO has some great options in Long Beach — plenty of which have their own pool, are within walking distance to the beach, or both.
Where to eat
Waterfront restaurant Fuego inside Hotel Maya is a must. They’ve taken extra precautions (reservations with limited outdoor seating capacity, minimum 6 feet between tables, face coverings required) to ensure you’re totally safe while you indulge in some of the best Latin cuisine around, all with open-air views of the Pacific. My kid loved the caramelized plantains; I loved the margaritas.
Downtown go-to Thai District is one of the local restaurants pivoting fast for COVID-19 safety; they just opened a new patio for outdoor dining and are ramping up their to-go options too. For fans of modern thai food, Chiang Mai native chef Ty Theara does not disappoint. Try the potak (mixed seafood soup) and Thai District shishito peppers for the grown ups; sa-tae chicken and fried rice are a hit with kids.
Another gorgeous waterfront location, Parker’s Lighthouse lets you grab a bite at the end of the Shoreline Village boardwalk, right out in the water. With seafood, sushi, a serious wine selection and a legit kids’ menu, this place is perfect for fall weather — for the whole family. Nearby Pelican Pavilion arcade and carousel are a kid favorite for the ages, but they’re temporarily closed; however, you can still enjoy a stroll along the shoreline and its shops.
Long Beach Creamery
A Long Beach weekend with kids would not be complete without dessert at this local handcrafted ice cream shop. Luckily, Long Beach Creamery — with its crowd-pleasing if questionably named flavors such as LB Crack — has remained open due to its delightful invention, the Pint Parade. Pick up a pint to go until the the old-school scoop-shop experience is safe again. But remember: No mask, no service.
Where to play
One of the most iconic Long Beach images — alongside the famous Long Beach lighthouse, that is — is that of The Queen Mary, a restored 1930s ocean liner that’s totally Titanic-esque and operates as a hotel and tour business. The Queen Mary has yet to reopen post-COVID closures, which is probably for the best, but we miss it so! It’s still worth taking kids to the foot of the ship for a photo opp and a chat about ocean liner history.
But you can still get kids out on a ship, just a smaller one — thanks to Harbor Breeze cruises, which are operating once again, but with new and improved social distancing and safety protocols in place. Getting out on the open water for fresh air and a stunning view of the harbor is in and of itself worth the ticket price; the chance to peep a dolphin or even an orca makes this a can’t-miss activity for marine biologist-wannabe kids and adults alike.
Another ideal outdoor activity for little ones to teens is bike rentals from Wheel Fun Rentals in Long Beach. You can nab a couple regular bikes, electric bikes, or a surrey to fit the whole fam. Cruise through Shoreline Village and more of the coastline, ogle at the kites, stop for ice cream…the beach is your oyster.
If you need some solo time and can leave the kids with a partner or co-traveler, escape to Yoga 108 for Long Beach’s very best yoga classes in a lovely outdoor courtyard space. I’m a big fan of the founder Madhuri and her wise, alignment-focused teaching — just the thing to unwind after you road-trip into town (or right before you roll out, too).
But perhaps the most notable activity of my trip to Long Beach was the “romantic” gondola evening I spent floating the city’s canals with my three-year-old, my friend/coworker, and our very own gondolier thanks to Gondola Getaways. Yep: He wore the stripes, the hat, and even stopped to serenade us with love songs. And honestly, it was the best time! We admired the ever-changing architecture down the canals, and my son stood at the prow of the boat pretending to be Captain. I mean, if the three of us could have such a delightful time, imagine how fun it would be for an actual romantic date!
Keep your family — and those around you — safe while traveling with these cute kids face masks by Black-owned brands.