Easy Getaways: Long Beach’s Belmont Shore Boasts La Verne Connection

July 15, 2009
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0193One of the coolest things about strolling and browsing Long Beach’s Belmont Shore along Second St. is you are immediately familiar with many of the names of the 15 intersecting side streets – La Verne, Glendora, Covina, Claremont – that make up the business district.

Obviously, one of ‘the Shore’s’ early developers must have had a soft spot for his inland cousins and wanted them to feel welcome along this boulevard of beachside boutiques.

But unlike other beach communities to the south – Seal Beach, Huntington Beach or Newport Beach – Belmont Shore has a grittier, more urban feel. Many locals actually stick around for the summer and run errands to the post office, hardware store and cleaners instead of renting out their homes and apartments to valley residents looking to escape the July and August heat.

Many from La Verne also will be familiar with Belmont Shore simply because it boasts the Belmont Plaza Pool, site of many of Bonita High School’s greatest water polo triumphs. Yet, despite the pool, beach and strand along which you can walk, bike and roller-blade on for miles, the beach here is not the main attraction. It’s Second Street. The street scene, not the surf (of which there is very little because of the lengthy breakwater two to three miles out to sea), creates the buzz.

Between roughly Bay Shore to the east and Roycroft to the west, Second Street is home to more than 250 businesses. To experience the Shore at its best, come as hungry as a litter of puppies that haven’t seen their mom all day. While there are dozens of shops selling everything from apparel and fine jewelry to beauty, body and health products, it’s the eateries, breweries and cupcakeries that rule the Rue (French for street). Without an appetite, you will not fully taste the Second Street experience.0283

At Venissimo Cheese, at 195 Claremont Ave, you can sample cheeses from Great Britain, Spain, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Wisconsin and even California. The store manager offers slices of harder cheeses on paper and scoops of softer varieties in small plastic spoons.  If you want to stand out at your next party, bring some stinking bishop from England. On your receipt will be suggested food and wine pairings to complement your order.

If you’re still in grazing mode, try We Olive at 4725 E. Second St. In the tasting room, owners Phil Brooks or Debby Glasgow will pour you a shot of olive oil to swish, slurp and savor as if you were sipping and sampling a vintage Napa wine. Samples start at $1 an ounce and reach $44 a bottle. A medium-priced bottle is $25. That’s the price of owning the good stuff. Extra virgin olive oil, according to California state regulations, must be bottled within 12 hours of the olives being pressed. True olive oil tasters take their libations without bread, which can alter the taste. The shop has many customers who drop in for a daily shot, owing to the reputed health benefits of olive oil which is rich in mono unsaturated fat and antioxidants.

If you prefer taking your meals sitting down, you’ll have an equally difficult time narrowing down your list of choices. Luring you from their tables spilling out café-style onto the street are Thai, Italian, Indian, Greek, Lebanese, Japanese and, of course, classic and contemporary coastal restaurants.

George’s ‘Greek Café, at 5316 Second St, is a bustling neighborhood hangout that serves lamb kabobs, spiced chicken skewers, beef gyros, Avgolemon (chicken lemon soup), and Saganaki, a fried goat cheese appetizer your waiter lights on fire, to which everyone at your table yells,  “OPA!” or “good times.” When in Greece do as the Greeks do.

La Creperie Café, at 4911 Second Street, is difficult to pass up if only because all bottles of wine are half price on Mondays and Tuesdays. During the week, it also features happy hour between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Martinis at $3 a pop definitely go down more gently.

0383A crepe is really France’s answer to the tortilla, only with a more delicate touch. The Jambalaya Crepe was full of sausage, chicken, jumbo shrimp, and caramelized onions covered in a spicy Louisiana sauce. The Chicken Forestiere, a chicken filet with creamy Sherry mushroom sauce was rich but not cloying. My pistou soup was a great excuse to dunk several slices of crispy French bread into a steamy and stewy broth of white beans, carrots, potatoes and zucchini. Large gilded mirrors hang on brick walls and there’s a piano player to transport you back to that cozy, homey bistro in Paris you have tucked away in your mind.

Well, I think you’re beginning to get the idea of Second Street. The fusion of chain stores and mom and pops feels right here. The streets are filled with young, old and on-the-go alike. Sweet Jill’s (cinnamon buns), the Frosted Cupcakery, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Yogurtland and Pinkberry will help satisfy your sweetest culinary cravings and a gaggle of coffeehouses, including Peets, Polly’s, Starbucks, It’s a Grind, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, will keep you buzzing.

Pubs and taverns are just as ubiquitous. Murphy’s, Quinn’s and Shannon’s are just a few. Legends and Panama Joe’s attract a more raucous, rowdy and testosterone -charged crowd.0362

Despite the crowded neighborhood of Spanish style homes from the 1920s and 30s as well as the charming beach bungalows wedged into this 15-block area, parking on the side streets is usually doable, a positive development I haven’t quite figured out. From La Verne, the best way to reach Belmont Shore is to head south on the 605 freeway to the CA-22 W toward Long Beach/7th Street. Take exit 1 for Studebaker Rd. Make a slight left at College Park Dr (signs for Studebaker Rd.) Turn left at N. Studebaker Rd. Turn right at E. 2nd. Street and follow into Belmont Shore.

P.S. Noticed many for-rent signs and heard they were month to month, so why not consider a beach house in Long Beach and get into the street vibe at a fraction of Newport Beach prices?03320393

2 Responses to “Easy Getaways: Long Beach’s Belmont Shore Boasts La Verne Connection”

  1. Belmont Shores is one of the most underatted beach communities in the LA/OC area, great article! Bay Shore beach in belmont shores is actually a mile closer (driving dist)to La Verne than the grossly more popular Newport, Huntington, and Seal Beaches…So you could also call Belmont, “La Verne’s closest beach”

  2. Great article!

    It’s been said that Los Angeles has several different neighborhoods that are like little pockets unto their own. Larchmont comes to mind and certainly Belmont Shore. You drive one or two blocks and suddenly it’s like you’re in a different world. There are lots of little shops and restaurants and the sidewalk is filled with people milling about.

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