Other transport options available from Long Beach are attractive too. Water taxis and ferries ply the inner harbor and go out east to Alamitos Bay about five miles away. In Rainbow Harbor, situated right downtown, you can catch a fast catamaran to Santa Catalina Island about 30 miles out in the Pacific – a wonderful place to visit in the summer for a day or weekend.
Additionally, the terminus of the Los Angeles Metro’s Blue Line is located on First Street in downtown Long Beach. In a matter of half an hour or so you can be at Union Station in central Los Angeles, from where the Blue Line connects with other Metro lines which lead to other well-known parts of the vast metropolis, such as Hollywood, Pasadena, El Segundo and even Fullerton out in Orange County (where there is an excellent British pub).
I can’t pretend I’ve tried even a significant fraction of the restaurants in Long Beach. But I do know that the downtown area around the Long Beach Convention Center and nearby Arena – which, incidentally, boasts the world’s two largest outdoor murals, the larger of the two being on the building’s roof – is extremely well-off for restaurants.
Long Beach tourism officials are keen to tell visitors that Long Beach has at least 32 restaurants which look directly out on to the shoreline. They also boast that, counting the seafront Shoreline Village and Rainbow Harbor areas as well as the downtown area, there are more than 100 restaurants within an eight-block area round the Convention Center. One pedestrianized street has so many restaurants together that it is known as ‘Restaurant Row’.
Within this eight-block area near the Convention Center, as in the rest of the city, you can choose from dozens of different kinds of cuisines. I managed to try three, all of which are well worth visiting. First I have to mention L’Opera Ristorante, regularly an award-winner among California’s food writers as being among the best Italian restaurants in the huge state.
When I visited this sizable but gorgeously appointed and very elegant restaurant for lunch with a small group of other reporters, we were lucky enough to have Enzo DeMuro – a native of Rome who is one of L’Opera’s two co-owners – choose for us a selection of the restaurant’s typical dishes, along with accompanying (and hard to find outside Italy) white and red wines.
The resulting six-course marvel was probably the best Italian meal I have ever eaten (with the possible exception of one magical evening, complete with strings of little outdoor lights, at a rural restaurant a friend and I once chanced upon in the Colli Euganei near Padova, overlooking a terraced hillside vineyard on a gorgeous summer evening).
Everything was superb, some courses far better than that. The wines at L’Opera were phenomenal too. My brain insisted I make sure I finished everything, even though I knew we would be dining out fairly substantially that evening.
I metaphorically took my hat off to L’Opera’s Executive Chef, Walter Cotta, a native of El Salvador who is also Chef for Alegria Cocina Latina, located near its sister restaurant L’Opera on Pine Avenue in downtown Long Beach.
If I went again to L’Opera as an individual with my wife, I realize, we probably wouldn’t be offered quite the same selection – though you can ask the almost ever-present Enzo to choose your meal for you and he will be very happy to do so. (I would certainly request the house’s assistance in choosing wines.) I’d particularly like to try L’Opera for dinner, because I’m told it often has opera singers providing musical entertainment in the evening.
Not far from L’Opera is Beachwood Brewing & BBQ, which couldn’t be more different in style from L’Opera but is an excellent dining and imbibing experience. All of Beachwood’s barbecue meats are dry-rubbed and slow-smoked with applewood, almond and oak and all preparation is performed on the premises.
Beachwood says this means you can wait a little while before you get your dinner. But the food tastes really authentic and really good when you do. We sampled various appetizers (all good) and I had the barbecued beef short ribs, which were very tender and very good.