There are so many things for families to do in Long Beach that you may have to take several trips to take it all in. Our family has taken many day trips to visit this fun harbor town, located just outside the Orange County border.
Aquarium of the Pacific
When my son was five he said he wanted to be a diver when he grew up, so I took him to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. He stood in awe at the two-story aquarium filled with large tropical fish in the main lobby. We timed it right to watch two divers swim with the fish, feed them and use their microphones to talk to the audience outside the glass. The diver swam down to eye level with the kids and put his hand on the glass and my son held up his hand to match. The delight on his face was palpable.
Visiting the Aquarium of the Pacific is best done in the morning when kids are fresh and excited. Plan on spending about 4 hours discovering all the rooms, watching the seals play in the tunnel and touching the sharks in the shark tank. Eat lunch in the cafeteria, or have a picnic by the fountain in front of the aquarium or next to the lighthouse in Shoreline Aquatic Park.
Whale Watching with Harbor Breeze Cruises
Don't settle for just viewing the large whale replica in the lobby of the Aquarium of the Pacific. Get out on the water with Harbor Breeze Cruises for a two-hour whale-watching trip for the chance to see a live one! My kids loved hearing about whales from the Aquarium of the Pacific biologist who narrated throughout the trip. They saw models of whales, samples of krill (whale food) and learned about how whales filter their food through baleen (of which she had samples as well). Bring binoculars, warm layers of clothing and enjoy watching the wildlife of the Pacific Ocean! Our favorite thing was watching the super-pod of 1,000 dolphins that swam along the boat and playfully jumped and dived as we skimmed across the ocean.
The Queen Mary
Brief History: The Queen Mary sits in a protected harbor and is a noticeable landmark of the Long Beach area. The iconic ship has a glorious history of carrying cruise passengers across the Atlantic since 1936. As the fastest and largest troopship to sail, the Queen Mary also played a crucial role in transporting American troops to Europe during World War II.
We spent an hour and a half taking a private tour by Commodore Everette, who helped us understand his love for this special ship. The Queen Mary’s interior was beautiful with amazing wood paneling, Art Deco lobbies and majestic art in the salon and first class dining room. The World War II tour we took later in the afternoon filled us in on the important role the ship played during the war. It was surprising to hear how soldiers were packed into tight bunks (and any space they could find on board) in order to get as many troops to Europe as possible! And hearing the story of how Winston Churchill filled his bathtub with dirt in order to plan the invasion of Normandy was fascinating.
The Queen Mary offers a variety of tours (some guided and some self-guided), including “Her Finest Hour: A WWII Tour,” “Ghosts & Legends” and “The Glory Days.” Plan on staying for an hour and a half to three hours, depending on the length of the tour you choose.
Dining at Rainbow Harbor
To round out any day trip to Long Beach, enjoy great dining at one of the many fun establishments around Rainbow Harbor such as Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Famous Dave's BBQ or Islands.
Extend your day trip by taking the 24-mile boat ride to Catalina Island aboard the Catalina Express. The island’s main town of Avalon has fun shopping, dining and entertainment options such as zip lining, kayaking, snorkeling, glass bottom boat tours and mini golf that make Catalina a fantastic place to visit. For more ideas on what to do at Catalina Island, click here.
Long Beach is a great place to visit as a family, and it is worth including as a day trip during your next Orange County visit.