Long Beach: An undiscovered Southern California LGBT destination
When Christopher Wray decided to move from the San Fernando Valley almost five years ago, he considered several factors. His new home had to be gay-friendly, centrally located, relaxed and fun. And he chose Long Beach.
"There are a lot of things to do in Long Beach; rents are affordable and it's nice living by the ocean," Wray, 31, said.
Settled along more than five miles of sandy coastline, Long Beach offers LGBT residents and visitors a metropolitan haven with a hometown feel. It is the sixth largest city in the state, and Long Beach also as one of the largest LGBT populations in California.
"The diversity and dynamics of the city (sets Long Beach apart from other cities)," Megan Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. "You can go from an urban downtown to a quintessential Southern California beach community... There are so many different districts in town."
Roughly 500,000 residents live in Long Beach. And Caf? Seville, George's Greek Caf? and Alegria Cocina Latina Restaurant are among the more than 100 restaurants located within an eight block radius of downtown.
"I've lived here 10 years and I haven't even discovered half of the restaurants," resident Grant Patterson, who moved to Long Beach from Iowa, said. "It's always a great little adventure to walk on the street and discover a great new restaurant or coffee shop."
Nearby Shoreline Drive hosts a vibrant nightlife and scenery. Adjacent to movie theaters and the Yard House, Tequila Jack's and other eateries lays the reportedly haunted Queen Mary and the Long Beach Aquarium. The Long Beach Museum of Art and the Museum of Latin American Art combine with a variety of studios in the Art District and throughout the city to create a strong scene.
"(Long Beach) has the best of several worlds, from great restaurants to the university; a great young crowd as well as great older crowd" Patterson, a 27-year-old liberal arts student at California State University-Long Beach, noted.
Perhaps one of the city's biggest LGBT draws is its annual Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride celebration. More than 80,000 people attend each year. And it has become the third largest festival of its kind in the United States.
Those who come to Pride often parasail, kayak, windsurf, water and jet ski. The nearby canals of Naples Islands allow couples to spend romantic sunset on authentic Venetian gondolas.
The city's Belmont Shore district along the ocean contains a number of boutiques, dining and entertainment such as Eden, Yogurtland for a healthy treat, Open Sesame, which offers a variety of authentic Mediterranean cuisine, and Wiskers, featuring cute merchandise for dogs and their owners.
"Long Beach has a high gay population and businesses tend to respond to that by creating a friendly atmosphere," Wray said.
The Retro Row District, a funky shopping destination that features vintage stores where retailers often sell artistic curiosities, furniture and clothing to Hollywood designers and stylists. Nestled within Retro Row, the Broadway and Fourth Street corridors are progressive enclaves where gays and straights routinely mingle. The Center Long Beach, which advocates on behalf of the area's LGBT residents, is located here. Portfolio Coffee House and Hot Java are popular hang outs.
"(Long Beach) is still fun and fast growing without pretentiousness," Patterson said. "It's like a small community within a big city and everyone gets along; different ages and ethnicities."
Just 20 south of Los Angeles, Long Beach lays roughly half way between the uber-gay West Hollywood and suburban (and Republican) Orange County to the south. Wray, an audio visual technician who often travels from Laguna Beach to Thousand Oaks, said Long Beach is perfect for him.
"It's nice that all the freeways are located right outside your door step," he said.
"We are the undiscovered treasure of Southern California," she said. "We are often overshadowed by our big sister Los Angeles, or Orange County, but the wonderful thing about Long Beach is that it is located smack dab between Los Angeles and Orange County and it holds a personality of its own."
Log onto www.visitlongbeach.com for more information.