Since the Queen Mary permanently docked in Long Beach’s marina in 1967, the city has been mainly associated with the giant ocean liner, at least to outsiders. And though tourists still come to see the ship, the downtown area’s growing crop of seaside attractions, bustling night life and burgeoning art scene are enticing an ever more hip crowd.
DON’T TELL CAPT. AHAB ABOUT THIS
February and March are the best months for whale watching, so start the day exploring the seas for dolphins and gray whales, the most common group seen off Southern California coasts. Pierpoint Landing (200 Aquarium Way,  983-9300) charters boats holding as many as 100 people twice a day on the weekends. For a more interactive experience, hunt for albacore or sea bass on a half-day (or if you have more time, two-day) fishing trip.
FINDING NEMO . . . AGAIN
If you prefer your sea creatures neatly displayed and out of harm’s way, the Aquarium of the Pacific (100 Aquarium Way,  590-3100), above, has more than 500 species indigenous to the Southern California/Baja, tropical Pacific and Northern Pacific regions. The indoor galleries light up with colorful fish, jellies and plant life, while the outdoor shark lagoon and ray pool allow even small children to touch the animals. Make sure they wash their hands before grabbing a snack at the aquarium’s Cafe Scuba.
DIGGING FOR TREASURE, STYLISHLY
After grabbing a savory Aegean crepe in La Muse Cafe’s lush garden (455 E. Ocean Blvd.,  432-1965), head toward the East Village Arts District for some shopping on Retro Row, the line of vintage clothing and furniture shops on East 4th Street between Cherry and Junipero avenues. Among the handful of clothing boutiques, Imonni (2106 E. 4th St.,  856-8154), pictured below, has a superbly edited, well-priced inventory of ‘60s- to ‘80s-style dresses and accessories. For furniture, the Vintage Collective (2122 E. 4th St.,  433-8699) houses the most variety, with more than 25 dealers of Art Deco and midcentury modern pieces in a spacious bazaar setting.
WHEREFORE ART THOU?
Load up on caffeine at Portfolio Coffeehouse (2300 E. 4th St.,  434-2486) before trekking to downtown’s art venues. The Museum of Latin American Art (628 Alamitos Ave.,  437-1689), pictured top right, specializes in contemporary works by Central and South American artists, with paintings by Brazilian artist Walter Goldfarb currently showing until May. More independent spirits can be found at the newly opened ISM:gallery inside the Koos Art Center (540 E. Broadway,  491-7584) and at C1D Gallery (441 E. 1st St.,  244-3142), which will exhibit a neon-based mixed media piece by Enrique Chiu on Feb. 9.
DINING INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE BOX
Though the point of exploring is to try something different, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the familiar, especially when it comes to food. Fans of Suzanne Tracht’s Jar can rely on the same roasts and chops at Tracht’s inside the Renaissance Hotel (111 E. Ocean Blvd.,  499-2533). Seafood is a best bet in Long Beach, particularly the spiny lobster and swordfish at King’s Fish House (100 W. Broadway,  432-7463), a relative of downtown L.A.'s Water Grill. But more adventurous palates should head northeast to Siem Reap in Cambodia Town (1810 E. Anaheim St.,  591-7414) for authentic Khmer dishes.
GET YOUR DRINK ON
Night life choices on Pine Avenue, downtown Long Beach’s main thoroughfare, run the gamut, from salsa clubs to bars teeming with Long Beach State frat boys. If shots at Hooters don’t strike your fancy, casually sip a Cabernet and listen to jazz at wine bar CasaVino (51 S. Pine Ave.,  216-1590). Those yearning for a hip, Hollywood vibe sans attitude can head away from Pine Avenue to Cheapshot’s (941 E. 4th St.,  912-4350), a sleek lounge that plays hip-hop, soul and reggae on most nights.