With a gay mayor (Robert Garcia), 345 days of California sunshine a year, beaches, bays, and the RMS Queen Mary docked here, the city of Long Beach is a hot vacation destination. Just a 45-minute drive from Los Angeles, yet a heart-and-soul distance from its red carpets, it’s a “place that’s real and down to earth,” according to John, a New Jersey transplant and member of the local gay soccer team. It’s also blessed with very cool indoor and outdoor eating spots, top hotels, and what’s more… three memorable and original places to propose marriage to your one and only.
One great choice, unless you have a fear of heights, is the spectacular Ferris wheel on East Bay Avenue in the heart of town. Views of the world by day, lit like an illustration in a book of fairy tales at night, imagine popping the question at the top; it’s your magic moment. Can you beat that for four dollars each for the ride?
Another creative scenario is aboard the Queen Mary (1126 Queens Hwy., Tel: 877- 342-0738. www.queenmary.com). This was the largest passenger ship of its day, christened by that queen in 1934. It was originally designed for the millionaire class as a vacation-voyage vessel that could accommodate 2,000 passengers and a crew of a thousand. During WWII, it became a troop ship with 16,000 squeezed aboard. Today, ticket prices for visitors vary between $30 to $40 per person, but there’s plenty to see.
Check out the Engine Room, its most comprehensive exhibit. The ship is pretty much as it was then, with original design and woodwork, looking sea- worthy and ready to set sail again. It is also a hotel, with rooms ranging from $99 to $500 a night, updated but still retro in atmosphere. Although said to be haunted, with legless ladies appearing out of nowhere and disappearing through walls, this should not be a worry. If the room you’re in suddenly turns cold, it might only be the thermostat. (There’s also a special tour of the paranormal hot spots if you’re interested.)
The ghost-free place to propose aboard, Long Beach although you could easily find other desirable spots fore and aft, might just be the Tea Room. Check out the fancy table service while you munch on Queen Mum’s shortbread or an English buttermilk crumpet and sip your oolong, or perhaps, raise a glass of bubbly ”Strawberry Passion Kiss” to your new husband or wife to be.
The Tea Room is adjacent to the elaborate “Diana: Legacy of a Princess,” featuring her glamorous evening gowns, china and glassware, travel alarm clock, photos of her psychic, handwritten notes, and among other personal items, her itemized hairdressing appointment schedule (she had the coiffeur on her calendar every 24 or 48 hours). There’s a Tree Wall of faces of the Royals to remind you who’s who, too. Of course, there is a Princess Diana gift shop. Need a Christmas tree ornament in the shape of her engagement ring? A “diamond” tiara? She said, “I’m a product that sells well. They’ll keep using me.” Amen.
The third wedding-proposal option calls for some prep work. A gondolier dressed in the Venetian style takes you and your dear one out on the waterways of Naples Island. Gondola Getaway (5437 E. Ocean Blvd., Tel: 562-433- 9595. www.gondolagetawayinc.com).
Possibly you’ve taken along a bottle of Champagne and a few hors d’oeuvres. As you float along, admiring the architectural mix of posh homes left and right, the gondolier sings Italian songs to set the mood. It’s a bit kitschy but when there is a golden sunset it’s the best time to go—and there are small bridges en route. It’s good luck to kiss just as the gondola cruises beneath them. Then, lo and behold, you spot a bottle bob- bing in the water nearby, planted courtesy of the gondolier. Into it you’ve put your message. It says something like, “Let’s do it,” or “For God’s sake, what are we waiting for?”
Popping the question may give you a big appetite, so off you go to dinner. So many choices in this diverse city of half a million. For celebrating, try Boathouse on the Bay (190 N. Marina Dr., Tel: 562-493-1100. www.boathouseonthebay.com) and reserve a window table. At night, twinkling lights from the cottages on the shore glimmer in the distance. At lunch, watch the cruisers and rowers, stand-up paddle boarders, Sir Scoter black ducks, and the sun sparkling on the water. The chilled seafood tower for two is $48 or, remembering that avocados are “the lifeblood of Southern California,” you might go for the crab Louie cobb or the Japanese sushi option, also available on the menu.
Gladstone’s (330 S. Pine Ave., Tel: 562-432-8588. www.gladstoneslongbeach.com), a casual seafood place with TV screens on all sides, has “fish so fresh it has to be slapped.” The most popular dish is Parmesan-crusted halibut you might wash down with a mai tai or a mojito. Take a walk along the pier after dinner for a sexy moonlight-on-the-water interlude.
Even more casual is Michael’s Pizzeria (210 E. 3rd St., Tel: 562-491-2100. www.michaelspizzeria.com), “quality food from local sources” considered the best pizza in town. There are more Italian choices and yes, the best gelato, which is served in a silver chalice. Outside tables are de rigeur here and everywhere in Long Beach people dress casual, so T-shirts, polos, jeans, and smart accessories are all you need.
But, don’t forget your bathing suit. Five- and-a-half miles of beaches to choose from, and the recommendation from locals is to check out “Horny Corners” (48-98 54th St.), the Alamitos Bay beach where there’s the “scene,” not only of beau bodies and exposed skin but general hoopla, and also hoops, handball, kayaking. It’s at 54th Place and Bay Shore Avenue, in Belmont Shore. Be warned, parking is difficult.
When it’s time to shop, head for The Pike Outlets, (95 S. Pine Ave., www.facebook.com/ThePike-Outlets). Here, you find Forever 21, Gap, and a huge two-story Restoration Hardware Outlet store, with beds and chests and all type of home-furnishing stuff at 25% off retail. For vintage furniture, Retro Row (www.4thstreetlongbeach.com) goes on for about three or four streets in the 2200 block along East Fourth Street. Serendipity is what it’s about, shopping as entertainment. Vintage chairs are here and so is vintage smut. An original Robert Crumb comic book at In Retrospect (2122 E. 4th St., Tel: 562-433-6600. www.inretrospect.co) is $800, but 60’s to 80’s clothing are cheaper. Check out the dressing rooms, whose doors were once attached to ancient refrigerators.
Additional choices here include: Moxi (2132 E. 4th St., Tel: 562-434-8488. www.moxilongbeach.com), a roller skate shop complete with helmet and knee pads; and gay-owned Trebor Nevets (read backwards so you’ll remember it) has 20th- and 21st-century furniture. If you need a new hat or sunglasses that are old, try La Bomba (2222 E. 4th St., Tel: 562-433-9122. www.replayvintagesunglasses.com)
“Cold beers and hot shears” is the slogan of the very old-school Hawleywood’s Barbershop, (2234 E. 4th St., Tel: 562-434-5405. www.hawleywoods.com) at the end of Retro Row. The 20s through the 50s are replicated here, the barbers give classic or traditional haircuts, cigarettes and beers are welcome (women not so much), and there’s a gentlemen’s massage room in back.
Don’t even think of leaving Long Beach without visiting the Museum of Latin American Art (628 Alamitos Ave., Tel: 562-437-1689. www.molaa.org). Founded 20 years ago, it is filled with bright vibrant paintings and photographs, a Frieda Kahlo–centered gift shop and best of all, there’s a sculpture garden complete with fountains and a bench, a possible fourth option for a quiet, no-fuss “Will you marry me?”
Fortunately, if the answer is no, there are plenty of places to drown your sorrows or dance them away: The Federal Bar (102 Pine Ave., Tel: 562-435- 2000. www.thefederalbar.com) is woodpaneled, cozy, and serves food, The Gaslamp (6251 East Pacific Coast Hwy., Tel: 562-596-4718. www.gaslamplongbeach.com) is lively, with a focus on music, Up Lounge at the Sky Room (40 S. Locust Ave., Tel: 562-983-2703. www.skyroom.com) is a rooftop with views, The Falcon (1435 E. Broadway, Tel: 562-432-4146. www.falconbar.com) is a high-energy, smallish gay bar. Sgt. Peppers Dueling Pianos at the Pike Outlets is a popular spot with piano players vying for applause and a loud, rambunctious audience asking for requests. Closed Sundays.
If the answer is a yes, consider a Long Beach honeymoon in a five-star hotel like the newly spruced Hyatt Centris The Pike (285 Bay St., Tel: 562-432-1234. www.thepikelongbeach.centric.hyatt.com)
Sparkling, cutting-edge modern in a perfect central location, and suites are sumptuous. You will love the shower and the king-sized bed, big enough for two plus your dog, who is also more than welcome here.