Through the years Long Beach has established its own unique identity despite having a megalopolis neighbor to the north. There are several factors for this. One is its key role as a major port city.
And only recently has it lost it role as a 'Navy' town. Historically it hosted major Navy installations for over a Century which added to a sense of being separate, different, unique from other Southern California cities.
But most important has been it continuing reputation as a destination for tourists. As a beach city with wonderful geography and location it has been a magnet for visitors, many famous and influential, from its earliest history.
Local pride and the sense of involvement and belonging of its citizens has created an atmosphere that has much to offer visitors. It has been 35 years since the Queen Mary made its final landfall in Long Beach. But much to attract visitors has come about since then and more still in the near future.
Anchored by a successful Convention Center there is the Aquarium of the Pacific and Shoreline village. The Convention Center has 2,000 hotel rooms with easy walking distance and ground has already been broken for a new Pikes Center which will include shopping, dining and theatres adjacent to Shoreline Village.
On our most recent visit to Long Beach we looked at some cultural offerings of the City visiting two art museums as well as making a return visit to the Aquarium.
We had heard that there had been a good many changes at the Aquarium since an earlier visit and we were not disappointed. Our small Press group was hosted by Marilyn Padilla, PR coordinator, who gave a tour of the inner workings of the Aquarium as well as the general exhibits.
Just two weeks before our visit the Aquarium opened Shark Lagoon. A new 90,000 gallon habitat brings visitors a pane of glass away from almost 100 sharks of several species and all sizes. And a special 10,000 square foot area allows visitors to actually touch and interact with bamboo, nurse, epaulette and zebra sharks in shallow pools. Needless to say kids love it and it has already become a crowd pleaser.
We also looked in on the Lorikeet Forest themed as a tropical island. Part of Explorers Cove it is a walk through, hands-on aviary filled with dozens of Australian lorikeets. These are friendly birds that will without hesitation land on your hand, arm or your head if you care for that sort of headwear. Also it is possible to purchase a cup of nectar which will further induce the Lorikeets to become part of your person. With children it is a sure winner. With this writer who recalls unfortunate encounters with seagulls and pigeons, not so.
The Aquarium of the Pacific is family education and entertainment at its best. There are ongoing education classes for all age groups and even a 'sleep-over' program for children where they bring their sleeping bags and spend the night in the Special Exhibits Gallery. The Aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day but December 25 and the weekend of the Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix.
It would be difficult to find a more picturesque setting for an art museum than that occupied by the Long Beach Museum of Art. Center place for the Museum is the Elisabeth Anderson Building, which was built in 1912 as a private residence on a bluff overlooking the sandy beaches the City was named for.
While sipping coffee and goodies at Spaghettini Jeri Vaughn, our hostess and guide, related the history of the Anderson residence and how it evolved into the Museum complex it has become. Spaghettini is the Museum's indoor-outdoor patio cafe offering wonderful ocean and harbor views. Besides its exhibits the Museum has become a center for many cultural events from free family workshops, an art Gallery showing the work of school children, as well as a Seaside Jazz series presented on the grounds of the Museum every Thursday during the summer.
On our tour of the Museum special exhibits included one of decorated British and European Pewter dating from 1600 to 1800. The pewter is an excellent look backward to every day life in the 17th and 18th centuries. Another exhibit shows the Spiritual Abstractions of Alexej Jawlensky considered a leader in the evolution of modern abstract art.
This writer was enthralled with the landscapes of the late George Henry Melcher, a Southern California artist for most of his lifetime. The Museum has fifteen paintings of this artist on permanent exhibit. His paintings, mostly images of the Santa Monica Mountains, truly capture the unique beauty of the region.
The Long Beach Museum of Art is located at 2300 East Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The first Friday of every month is Free Day with complimentary admission. For more information call 562 439-2119 or log on at www.lbma.org. Founded in 1996 the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach has moved quickly to achieve nation wide fame as the only museum in the western U.S. to feature contemporary art from all the Latin American countries.
Our visit on a quiet Saturday afternoon enabled us to spend much time at the Museum including a long, if somewhat puzzled look, at the works of Jose Garcia Cordero. Currently 23 paintings of this artist are on exhibit at the museum. We left with the though that while the works were impressive, Jose Cordero certainly does not view life as a 'beach'.
The Museum, known at MOLAA, offers a full range of activities including symposiums, Saturday Cabaret performances, and sponsored travel trips.
The Museum is located at 628 Alamitos Avenue with off street free parking and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.and Sunday from Noon to 6 p.m., closed Mondays. Included in the Museum complex is a Gift Store and the VIVA Restaurant which features Latin American cuisine. For more information call 562 437-1689, on the web at www.molaa.com.
Our break from the cultural scene was a delightful visit to Alamitos Bay Landing. Here we boarded a small electric boat provided by Bay Boat Rentals. With Bob Maguglin of the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau at the helm we cruised the Canals of Naples Island while enjoying a lavish picnic luncheon. It was a typical Long Beach Saturday afternoon with full sunshine and a light cooling breeze off the water.
Some of our group relieved Bob at the helm to try their own talents as skipper. This writer preferred stuffing in goodies while sipping a 2000 vintage Zaca Mesa chardonnay.
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