The aquarium in Long Beach, California, is one of the largest aquariums in the United States, with more than 12,000 ocean animals and nearly 50 exhibits requiring more than a million gallons of Pacific seawater. With its sweeping, curving, wave-like architecture, the Aquarium of the Pacific is designed to emulate the ocean. It is the only aquarium in the world to focus solely on the Pacific Ocean.
An adventure to this west coast aquarium gives you a chance to come face-to-face with and touch the ocean’s ultimate predators in Shark Lagoon, hand-feed colorful lorikeet birds and watch Magellanic penguins play. You’ll get closer to animals than ever before at the bonnethead shark and cownose ray touchpool, the horseshoe crab touch lab, and tidepool touch lab.
I suggest if you plan on visiting the aquarium and the surrounding area, just pay for the all day parking at the aquarium. It’s very easy in and out and provides access to Rainbow Harbor and The Pike. The aquarium is an excellent way to spend the morning, but depending on your pace, or if you have children with you it doesn’t take very long to get through all of the exhibits. I went at opening and was finished within an hour, hour and a half.
It’s a good thing that the aquarium isn’t the only attraction in the area, as it is anchor to the Pike at Rainbow Harbor, the largest waterfront development in California history.
It’s safe to say that a more distinctive pier never adorned the Southern California shore. Unlike the many pleasure piers that stretched beyond the breakers only to dead-end above the ocean’s swells, the Rainbow Pier in Long Beach extended more than a quarter-mile into the cold Pacific before arcing back to shore. The 3,800-foot-long structure resembled a giant horseshoe, or a rainbow — hence its name.
By the 1960s, however, wave action and tidal forces had begun to undermine the pier, and Long Beach, flush with oil royalties, eyed Rainbow Lagoon as potential real estate. By 1966, a massive land reclamation project created the area home today to the Long Beach Convention Center and the Aquarium of the Pacific, while Shoreline Drive — a six-lane thoroughfare linking the 710 freeway to Alamitos Avenue — had replaced the city’s graceful Rainbow Pier.
Set within beautiful palm trees, meticulous landscaping, and serene views of Rainbow Harbor characterize this Cape Cod style village. Shoreline is home to 14 restaurants, including my favorite of the area: Tequila Jacks, but most restaurants offer scenic waterfront seating, excellent happy hour specials, great food, and a modern lively vibe. Shopping includes a selection of jewelry, clothing, candy, and tourist shops. My favorite shop was Pirate’s Cove, a unique gem offering pirate and Long Beach themed souvenirs.
The Pike at Rainbow Harbor is excellent for dining, entertainment, and shopping. There are 16 restaurants, including popular chains like PF Chang’s and Chili’s provide familiar choices for tourists. However, these aren’t your boring everyday chains. All provide outdoor patios, complete with lush landscaping and amazing views of the harbor. With scenic views and world-class amenities, the Pike at Rainbow Harbor is one of Long Beach’s premier destinations for locals and visitors. The 369,000 square-foot waterfront entertainment district is located in the heart of downtown Long Beach.
Be sure to make your way to the Rainbow Harbor Marina Lighthouse for breathtaking views of the city. The three-story, monolithic structure rests on a base of six columns and was built of concrete to withstand earthquakes and seismic tidal waves.
The Guy F. Atkinson Company built the lighthouse structure at a cost of $82,000, while Chief Electrician’s Mate John T Hendix, designed and built most of the station’s equipment with the help of civilian electrician Chester Shey.
From the lighthouse you will also experience great views of the Queen Mary and harbor. The path leading around the harbor is flat, not overly crowded, and very scenic. The path is ideal for early morning jogs and walks as well.
Queen Mary – The legendary ocean liner is now open as a hotel with a variety of rooms and special packages available. Several tours are offered, including a variety of paranormal tours (Queen Mary has been rated one of the top 10 haunted places by Time Magazine). Check the Queen Mary website for more details, including hotel reservations, special promotions, and annual events.
Long Beach is a filming hot spot. Hundreds of movies and TV shows have filmed at various locations throughout town. A few notable movies and shows include: Ferris Buellers Day Off, American Pie, Coach Carter, Glee, and Dexter.
Have you ever visited Long Beach? What are some of your favorite attractions in the area?