“It’s . . . it’s nice,” our shuttle driver said, his hesitation heavy with those sorts of loose secrets that all the locals know. “As long as you don’t go too far north, Long Beach is OK.”
They’d done a lot of work to improve the reputation of the second-largest city in Greater Los Angeles: that brightly painted shoreline village we’d passed on the right, the extra tram routes added a few blocks to the left, and straight ahead, a stretch of sand surprisingly empty of trash and people.
“How far north?” I asked, just in case.
“You should be fine here.” Our budget hotel at the corner of 1st Street – booked for its proximity to this very very long beach – received his safety approval.
Accommodation, shuttle, entire stopover in Long Beach had been picked just 20-some hours before, when other plans were destroyed by West Coast traffic and the baby car seat we’d been forced to fly with.
The elephantine gear in question had, naturally, not been needed upon arrival at LAX (nullifying our panic the night before); grime and empties littered the hotel pool; a kids’ portacot was no longer included in the room rate; and our Southern Hemisphere skin gushed sweat and sunburn in the Southern Cali heat.
But he was right, we would be fine: because we had nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no expectations to fit all this nothing into.
It was our first international trip with one-year-old daughter Aila and a five-week attempt to mimic our previous free-styling, non-parent lives. But as the four pillows on our hotel king size quickly proved, we underestimated how tiring family travel can be.
We needed sleep, and lots of it.
We also needed cheap and filling Mexican food, with America’s blessed bottomless bowls of chips and salsa. We needed nearby attractions, inviting public spaces and locals that would cheerfully answer questions about the state’s 100-year-drought, and where to find the best walking tacos.
“20 years ago, I never would have come here on a vacation. But things are changing, and now it’s a good place to spend a few days,” a San Diego visitor told us.
Long Beach, with its vague dangers and idyllic palms, was the perfect 48-hour stopover; not because it was a perfect place, but because it placed us perfectly for a quick break in the itinerary.
Somewhere that encourages ambling and aimless wandering.
Somewhere with things to do, but not so many as to make you feel guilty when you miss out on most of them.
With lots of public spaces for sitting, observing, napping, nothing.
With unfamiliar foods and corner groceries for edible exploration.
And finally, a place that’s comfortable and easy, but not so easy that we’d forget the joyful challenges of traveling, entirely.
Do you make stopovers? What qualities does a destination need to be worth stopping at?