Long Beach now!

I’m not sure whether to emphasize Long Beach, California, as a great military or family reunion destination. It would certainly be a nostalgic destination for many thousands of veterans who called Long Beach homeport or traversed the area in the past.

Long Beach has a long and illustrious history as a haven for movie stars and moguls over the years and a bittersweet history as a proud Navy town. It is a comfortable city close to major attractions such as Disneyland and Universal Studios, but a substantive step away from congestion and high prices. Perfect for reunions.

I’ve discovered that cities on the sunny side (never the shadows) of megalopolises are often much better for reunions than their larger neighbors. Long Beach is California’s fifth largest city, which blends urban amenities with a surprising variety of waterside and waterborne attractions and activities. Long Beach boasts 345 days of sunshine a year and five and a half miles of uninterrupted beaches.

Varied accommodations are excellent. Having a choice to actually stay on (the real) Queen Mary (www.queenmary.com) is a bonus: what a lovely, charming breath of the past. I’d visited her right after she opened in Long Beach thirty some years ago and was fascinated then, so staying aboard was great fun. I was delighted to see how well used she is today. Long Beach Marriott is an oasis in the shadow and convenience of Long Beach Airport. Renaissance Long Beach Hotel provides a convenient downtown location.

Long Beach eateries are plentiful and superb. Restaurants with views so often fall short when it comes to the food but both The Reef (www.calendarlive.com/thereef), overlooking picturesque Queensway Bay, and The Sky Room (www.theskyroom.com), atop the historic Breakers Building, were as outstanding as their views of Long Beach. Breakfast at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel is outstanding as is lunch at Viva at the Latin American Art Museum. The Yard House (www.yardhouse.com) in Shoreline Village boasts the largest number of beers on tap in the world and delicious food. Dessert at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach should last several days with laps between servings! And, finally, the not to be missed Sunday brunch in the Grand Salon on the Queen Mary is plentiful and sumptuous.

Second Street is the quintessential southern California street lined with shops, more restaurants and lots of people walking to see and be seen. Closer to the center of downtown Long Beach lies Pine Avenue where you’ll find an assortment of specialty retail shops and more than a dozen restaurants (Mums, www.mumsrestaurant.com, is a great choice) to satisfy every craving. Nightlife is just as abundant where you can dance the night away in any number of establishments.

Just 22 miles off shore and not to be missed is Santa Catalina Island. While you’re this close it’s a shame to not consider an easy hop to Avalon on Santa Catalina Island on the Catalina Express (ww.catalinaexpress.com), a high speed catamaran. Even a short visit is long enough for some of the island’s unique attractions. The Undersea Tour (45 minutes) takes you five feet under the water to explore Lover’s Cove Marine Preserve and view the magnificent marine life that thrives in Catalina’s enchanted kelp forests. And do not miss the Avalon Scenic Tour, a nine-mile narrated journey along the beachfront, up hillsides, and through the heart of Avalon. On your own, any water sport imaginable can be enjoyed, as can golf, mountain biking, camping, tennis and hiking.

In 1919 William Wrigley, Jr. bought Catalina Island and brought his Chicago Cubs baseball team to the island for spring training. Their clubhouse is now the Catalina Island Country Club where you can enjoy dinner (does not require membership), and, where, if you’re lucky, you’ll have the delightful Daniel as your waiter. The nearby Hotel Metropole is an excellent choice for over-nighting. And in the best of all possible worlds you’ll want to return to the mainland by helicopter (www.islandexpress.com) – a rare and wonderful treat!

When you want the proximity to Los Angeles but the comfort of nearby, choose Long Beach.

About the author
Edith Wagner is editor of Reunions magazine.