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It’s the area in between star-studded Los Angeles and ultra-elite Orange County. This is the city that people just drive past on the 405 freeway, or don’t bother mentioning in conversations covering Southern California. But why should they — it’s just Long Beach right?

I grew up in Los Angeles and Orange County. My only thoughts of Long Beach consisted of Sublime, Warren G or Snoop Dogg’s lyrics. But after college, I found myself living here and discovering its story.

From 1918 to 1923, Long Beach was the hub of the motion picture industry before Hollywood stepped into its film days. The main street, Pine Avenue, was commonly called the “Walk of a Thousand Lights” due to an ongoing amusement park atmosphere filled with arcades, live bands and more: millikanalumni.com/Pike/PikeHistory.html.

Sadly, that high-rolling life came crashing down, replaced with vacant buildings and dodgy adult shops lining the same main street. But today’s Long Beach is on the rise again. Cruising from Naples Island to Belmont Shores to Belmont Heights and continuing into downtown Long Beach, a visitor can feel a Newport Beach, Marina del Rey, Venice and LA within walking distance. Passing through an area like Belmont Heights, a visitor might be impressed with the varied walks of life – straight, gay, black, white, red, green – living comfortably together. People saying “Hello” to one another on the sidewalk at ease — this is something many places can’t boast of.

Downtown is packed with clubs and restaurants and hosts a metro system. The still-present Pine Street spills toward the ocean; at Pine Street’s end is The Pike entertainment center, Hyatt’s monster hotel complete with a world-scale convention center, Southern California’s largest aquarium at Aquarium of the Pacific, and the touristy Shoreline Village offering more restaurants, bars and a wooden boardwalk hugging a quaint sailboat harbor.

Oh yeah, Long Beach is the home of the famed Queen Mary ocean liner. And this pictured landmark is just that: in the background.

Eats. If you are a fan of Mexican food, Enrique’s Mexican Restaurant, 6210 E Pacific Coast Highway, cannot be passed up. Check out some others’ comments at Yelp.com: yelp.com/biz/enriques-mexican-restaurant-long-beach.

Directions. Take the 5N to the 405N and exit 7th St/Long Beach; take a left at Redondo Ave. and arrive at a cliff overlooking Long Beach and its harbor. At about 110 miles, the drive will last a bit under two hours.

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