Where once Ocean Boulevard marked the line of the city’s shore, today the entire Rainbow Harbor, Rainbow Lagoon and Shoreline Village areas of Long Beach –among its top tourist draws, each being entertainment, dining and shopping complexes – were built on this landfill. Even more important, so were the Long Beach Convention Center, the Long Beach Arena and their associated theaters.
But while reclaimed land and modern development have done much to enhance the attractions and entertainment options Long Beach can offer visitors, the city wouldn’t be half as popular with tourists had it not worked hard to preserve significant parts of its historic downtown, East Village, Fourth Street and Bixby Knolls areas.
Although elsewhere along the Long Beach shoreline quite a few modern condo high-rises have sprung up, much of the original downtown – today beautifully preserved, pedestrian- and bike-friendly and teeming with restaurants and bars – remains. The city’s downtown area – along with various parts of its long shoreline, much of which is fronted by a very long beach – retain much of their original Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Spanish Mission-style charm.
So much charm do they retain that Hollywood uses Long Beach locations to shoot shows supposedly taking place in Miami or other coastal cities. TV shows such as Dexter and CSI Miami (both supposedly located in Miami) do much or all of their shooting in Long Beach.
Other TV series, among them NCIS Los Angeles, Criminal Minds and True Blood also film in the city. The famous giant ‘W’ of crossed-palm tree branches marking the spot where the treasure is buried in the epic 1960s comedy movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is located in Bluff Park on the city’s southeastern shore.
Hollywood favors Long Beach both because the city is film industry-friendly and because it is within the 30-mile radius within which film- and TV-industry unions permit studio personnel and actors to commute from home on a daily basis. This saves the studios a huge amount on accommodation costs.
Its status as a Hollywood favorite is also only fair to Long Beach, whose movie-industry history is so long that the city was the original Hollywood film business before Hollywood itself was.
From 1916 – when the world’s then-largest movie studio was established in the city – until 1923, Long Beach was the world center of the silent-movie business. Many of the major early movie stars lived in and around the city: Fatty Arbuckle’s mansion can still be seen on the eastern shore of Long Beach.
Arbuckle, Buster Keaton and other stars would promenade, basking in the public’s fond gaze, along the city’s original Rainbow Pier. This pier, due south of the center of downtown, formed a loop out into the sea from Ocean Boulevard.
The promenade, known as ‘The Pike’, is commemorated today by an entertainment complex built on reclaimed land where once the original pier stood. The area is known as ‘The Pike at Rainbow Harbor’ and – among its other attractions – it boasts a large Ferris wheel and a carousel, as did the Rainbow Pier.
Long Beach has worked hard to keep its citizens happy at the same time as encouraging tourists and business visitors. It encourages diversity: Long Beach is “the most diverse city, pound for pound, in the country,” Foster declares.
The city, which extends for at least a dozen miles inland, has a multitude of different communities and areas of business growth. Long Beach has the largest immigrant Cambodian community outside Southeast Asia, most living in an area called Cambodia Town along Anaheim Street between Atlantic and Junipero avenues.
Additionally, the city says it now has the third-largest LGBT community in the United States and that its annual Gay Pride parade is the nation’s second-largest after New York’s. (Its Gay Pride parade is the city’s second-largest event for visitors; only the annual Long Beach Grand Prix car race, held every April, attracts bigger crowds of visitors.)
Long Beach has been a U.S. pioneer in encouraging the use of bicycles in the urban environment and its council has voted to approve Long Beach becoming the most bike-friendly city in America. Its Bikestation, established as a demonstration facility in 1996, was the first bike transit facility in the United States.
By this summer Long Beach will begin operating (through a commercial franchisee) a city-wide network of bike-rental stations with automated machines and parking racks at which anyone can rent a bike from $6 per day. Within the past two and a half years the city has added some 60 miles of bike lanes and 400 whimsically shaped ‘fun’ bike racks.