Children are enchanted by divers and by fish at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Click to enlarge
FUN THINGS TO DO IN LONG BEACH The Aquarium of the Pacific
This Aquarium is a jewel for Long Beach and while visiting at “adult time” might be quieter, seeing the excitement of school children adds to its appeal. You’ll definitely want to pet the sharks, go on a behind the scenes tour, feed the creatures and marvel at the rare sea dragons. Ask about group rates and consider a reunion event among the fishes. Aquarium of the Pacific, 100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach CA 90802; 562-590-3100; www.aquariumofpacific.org.
Stroll along the boardwalk of Rainbow Harbor, with its panorama of luxury charter yachts, tall ships and pleasure crafts. Visit Dockside Boat & Bed (www.boatandbed.com), an “on-the-water” bed and breakfast where you can choose your accommodation of a yacht or Chinese junk. The Pike at Rainbow Harbor, a retail/restaurant entertainment center, is opening in Fall 2003.
Rancho Los Cerritos Historic Site
Glimpse California’s heritage in one of the last remaining two-story Spanish Colonial adobe houses in the state. The house and surrounding grounds echo Long Beach’s rich history, from sprawling ranch to a modern urban society. If you’re lucky, you’ll get Mary Tane Stine for your docent tour of the Rancho. Admission is free. Rancho Los Cerritos Historic Site, 4600 Virginia Rd, Long Beach CA 90807; 562-570-1755; www.visitlongbeach.com, type “rancho” into the site search box on the homepage.
Gondoliers pole authentic gondolas through the narrow canals of Long Beach’s Naples Islands, some of Southern California’s priciest real estate. Or choose an electric boat (with a cover for cold weather).
Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA)
I was blown away by the MOLAA, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, featuring cutting-edge modern art from Latin America. It is a fine facility and intriguing collection. Plan a leisurely margarita and meal at the adjacent Viva Restaurant which is also wonderful; a great combo. Both MOLAA and Viva offer rental space and catering for reunions. 628 Alamitos Av, Long Beach CA 90802; 562-437-1689; www.molaa.com.
The Queen Mary
You’ll want to take the Captain’s Tour behind the scenes on this great ship, once the fastest and most luxurious of the trans-Atlantic ocean liners. During World War II, the Queen Mary was pressed into service as a troop transport, and Winston Churchill made it his seaborne headquarters. A bounty was put on her by enemy subs but she always managed to out-maneuver would-be attackers and suffered no encounters. The last voyage of the Queen Mary brought her into Long Beach Harbor to be retired from active service in 1967. It is right next to the Carnival Cruise Lines Long Beach Terminal, the first cruise terminal ever built from scratch by a cruise line.
Transportation in Long Beach
Passport shuttles go between the Queen Mary and pick-up points along Ocean Blvd. The Pine Avenue Link shuttles Pine Avenue to the convention center, shoreline village and the Aquarium. Or take a water taxi. www.lbtransit.com.
The Real Deal in Teal
Long Beach’s downtown urban concierge force on foot and bike to answer questions and give direction. Look for the folks in teal shirts.
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.
Mystic Seaport and Aquarium
Eight years ago, David Bialoglow surprised his wife Jodi and daughter Lauren with a trip to Mystic, Connecticut, and the Inn at Mystic. When we pulled up I loved it, Jodi beamed, and she has been bringing family to the Inn ever since. It has become a tradition for a dozen or so family members to reunite at the Inn on Easter weekend and have brunch at the Inns Flood Tide restaurant.
A perfect place to gather with family and friends, the Inn at Mystic is about a mile from the famous Mystic Seaport and Aquarium and a brisk walk from downtown Mystics uncommon shops and famous pizza parlor (which made Americas darling, Julia Roberts, a star in her first film, Mystic Pizza). Choose one of five suites in the 1904 Colonial Inn (ask for the one where Bogey and Bacall honeymooned) or take over some or all of the Gate Houses five rooms. The Motor Inn, close to the pool and restaurant, boasts comfortable rooms individually decorated in Colonial style. During summers high season, rates range from $135 to $295, but start at $65 other times of year. Treat the family to proper tea and pastries (complimentary) every afternoon with accompanying views of Mystic Harbor and Long Island Sound. The Inn at Mystic offers free use of its boats, canoes, kayaks, tennis court, putting greens and walking trails. And you must dine at the awarding-winning Flood Tide restaurant. Old-fashioned tableside preparation of classics like rack of lamb and flaming bananas Flood Tide are memorable treats to top off a spectacular family reunion.
Connecticut boasts many picture-postcard towns with church steeples poking into the sky, charming inns and folks with thick Eastern accents. Mystic is not really a town with its own government, but a place packed with charm and history between its less famous neighbors, Stonington and Groton.
Your first stop should be Mystic Seaport, which is not only the nations largest maritime museum, but also holds the largest collection of boats and ships (500) and maritime photography in the world. A re-created 19th century whaling village complete with historians, musicians, craftspeople and storytellers, makes the Seaport worthy of exploration for all ages. Visitors can help set the sails on a tall ship, take a steamboat ride on the Sabino and hop aboard the Charles W. Morgan, the last American-built wooden whaling ship on the planet and a National Historic Landmark. Little cruisers head over to the Childrens Museum to swab the deck, dress-up as grizzled seafarers and cook in the galley. Learn to tie proper knots and sing a sea shanty at the Discovery Barn and visit Mystic Seaports Planetarium that explains celestial navigation basics. Other noteworthy stops include Voyage to Freedom, an exhibit about the Amistad (watch Speilbergs movie before your trip) and Voyages: Stories of America and the Sea which explains the seas role in our national identity. Call 888-973-2767 or cruise over to www.mysticseaport.org for details.
The American characteristic of exploration and discovery continues at the fabulous Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration. Dr. Robert Ballard, the oceanographer who found the Titanics wreckage in 1985 and most recently discovered the remains of JFKs PT-109, makes his research home right here. Ballards research and the exhibits help us understand sea life and the rigors of searching the ocean floor. The Aquarium is a delight with beluga whales, walruses and more than 6,000 fish and sea creatures www.mysticaquarium.org.
Stonington Borough, jutting into Long Island Sound, is awash with history and attractive for family and military reunions. Check out Cannon Square and its memorial to locals who fought off the British twice with the towns two cannons. At the end of Tony Water Street, the states oldest lighthouse (1823) is now a museum illustrating the townsfolks spirit and bravery. You can also visit the home of Captain Nathaniel Palmer, the gallant captain who discovered Antarctica in 1820. And see the impressive Mashantucket Pequot Museum that traces the tribes history (the states first residents more than 10,000 years ago) through interactive exhibits, a re-created Pequot village and dioramas. Gamers will want to know that two casinos are within a 20-minute drive of the Inn.
Jodi Bialoglow, Ridgefield, New Jersey, escorts family members new to the Mystic experience to the aquarium and seaport as well as quaint shops in town replete with twinkling streetlights. There are cute restaurants in town, a small-town movie theater with two screens and, of course, you have to have a slice of Mystic Pizza, she explained. She gathers family and friends at the Inn at Mystic two to three times every year. Its cozy, with beautiful floors so spotlessly clean, each room is decorated with different florals and we love the white bedspreads fringed with fabric balls you havent seen since you were a kid, she laughed. You feel like youre actually in a house, not a hotel, and prices are so reasonable. During one family trip, Bialoglows sister-in-law had to bring her dog and the Inn at Mystic welcomed the pooch, too. Although they have visited Mystic in all seasons, Bialoglow is a self-described cold-weather girl and enjoys the cooler months at the Inn. We were there one New Years Eve, I love the winter there and fall is just magnificent with the cool air coming off the water, she explained. Ive been fortunate to have traveled to all 50 states, but I love Mystic its our place. They have the right name for it because theres something really wonderful and different about it.
Rocky Mountain high Donna Talabock, Loveland, Colorado, leader for the Cochran Family Reunion first visited the YMCA of the Rockies by happenstance when she passed it on her way into Rocky Mountain National Park. Her small detour introduced her to the Estes Park Center YMCA where she was amazed by the number of options available. Considering the interests of her diverse family, this seemed like a match made in heaven for the Cochran reunion. It was close to the Front Range and offered lodge rooms, facilities, dining choices, activities, proximity to the city of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. Donna reserved space at YMCA of the Rockies three years ahead and began planning her family reunion. Working with the guidance of Sara Kleiber, Assistant Group Sales Director, Talabock was able to customize her family reunion to accommodate the needs of 165 different people of all different ages.
Family from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, California, and Idaho drove, flew, and rented cars to meet near Estes Park, Colorado. They reserved forty-three lodge rooms and Donna arranged a meal plan. She could also have chosen reunion cabins with the option to cook their own meals. Donna said, " It was nice not to have to cook and clean up." The Continental plan permitted them free time during the day to explore. Dinner brought the family together for evening activities.
They had the freedom to plan their own activities and included such things as a reunion Olympics, a golf tournament and talent night. The family used a conference building to host most of their gatherings. During scheduled free time members took advantage of the many different activities at the YMCA including the indoor swimming pool, craft shop, library and horseback riding. Other adventurous family members took advantage of shopping in Estes Park and rock climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park.
When asked what was the most memorable part of the reunion, Donna said, "it was just being together with my family . . . it just made it extra special to be in a place that had such nice facilities and that was so beautiful." Donna and her family's wonderful experience at YMCA of the Rockies is just one result of a mission geared towards the guests who visit here.
YMCA of the Rockies accommodates groups of all sizes. The YMCA of the Rockies is located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. It is made up of Estes Park Center, near Estes Park, Colorado and Snow Mountain Ranch near Winter Park, Colorado. Contact 800-777-9622; email@example.com; www.ymcarockies.org.