COUSIN ARTY                                             LONG BEACH, CA (PART 3)

 



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Hey gang, this is Cousin Arty, contributor to JohnnyJet.com and long time resident of San Pedro, California. My close proximately to Long Beach (separated by two bridges) has given me a unique perspective on that city's evolution. Sit back, read and discover why I'm totally stoked about my neighboring town -- it's not your grandpa's Long Beach anymore.

As a child, I could remember sitting in my parents living room and staring out through the windows at Long Beachís sparkling skyline. Over the years, Iíve witnessed the rejuvenation of this dynamic urban playground and thoroughly enjoyed my visits across the bridges. With the addition of unique bars, museums and restaurants (from beach casual to Hollywood chic), Long Beach should be a serious consideration for those looking to have a great time in a completely walk able central district.

Rancho Los Alamitos
Lets jump back into time to one of Southern Californiaís longest-inhabited mesas and visit Rancho Los Alamitos. It seemed odd to me as we drove thru an upper class residential neighborhood in the Eastern portion of Long Beach that we were less than a block away from one Californiaís longest inhabited mesas. Upon entering the gate, I was immediately overcome by a sense of tranquility. The sights and sounds of encroaching urbanization are shielded by 4 acres of traditional California gardens that have been restored to their 19th and early 20th century non-flamboyant appeal. The Rancho Los Alamitos is an Island of early 20th century Southern California history that with public support continues to stand in defiance against a sea of change. The primary purpose of Rancho Los Alamitos is education, and it educates its visitors by directly connecting them to the lives of the families that made their home here. The historic Ranch House and gardens are living reflections of what Southern California life meant to them. By making a connection between their past and our present we can have a greater appreciation our ever-changing environment that defines Southern California living.

The Bixby Family was the last to call this historic ranch, "home", and their descendents in 1968 donated the ranch to the City of Long Beach. The City of Long Beach continues to develop and maintain Rancho Los Alamitos as a regional and historic facility. All visitors have the opportunity to enjoy the furnished adobe style home, six barns and historic gardens for free. It was Florence Bixby that started the gardens in 1906, and continued to influence their evolution through the 1940ís. Every garden is unique and is representative of the regional culture and environment. My favorite area of the gardens is the Oleander Walk. The oleanders were planted here in the 1920s to shield the eyes from the sight of advancing development of the time and continue to do so. I also liked the Geranium Walk and Gazebo.

From inside the gazebo, itís hard to believe that at one time visitors to the ranch could gaze out over fields of barley and off to the distant horizon where their eyes were met by the Pacific Ocean. It is definitely worth stopping by the visitorís center and picking up an interpretive guide to the historic gardens. The guide will give you a better understanding and a greater appreciation for the work that Florence Bixby put into them. With roughly 14 gardens in all, there are plenty of areas to relax and appreciate their beauty. As if the gardens werenít enough to appreciate, there are also five agricultural buildings, a blacksmith shop still in use, live animals (possibly the biggest horse Iíve ever seen), and an adobe ranch house built c.1800. Both my parents love antiques, consequently the house I grew up in could be considered a museum. My sister and I have come up with what we think is an accurate description "Blair witch meets ginger bread house". Anyway, as a result, both my sister and I have a fair appreciation for "used furniture". Meandering through the adobe ranch house, I pictured a big smile on my motherís face had she been in my place. In the kitchen at the ranch house I did see a stove that looked very similar to my parents stove. If you have never been inside an adobe house, there is distinct feeling to the environment. The adobe walls are very thick and apparent at the door jams. These walls help insulate the interior from exterior noise and heat or cold, and provide a very pleasing temperate environment.

The Rancho Los Alamitos is for all to enjoy Wednesday thru Sunday, 1-5 p.m. And as I said, admission is free. There are guided tours of the ranch house and barn area approximately every 30 minutes. Garden tours are self guided and it is recommended that you wear comfortable walking shoes. There are also monthly educational programs and special tours, classes and events on a number of topics related to the ranch and the surrounding region. Rancho Los Alamitos is located at 6400 Bixby Hill Road, Long Beach Ca. 90815; TEL: (562) 431-3541.

MUSUEM OF LATIN AMERICAN ART (MOLAA)
Gotta run because itís off to the MOLAA for some Latin American art and culture. The works of Latin American art inside the MOLAA are as diverse as the cultures and ethnicities outside their walls (Long Beach is the 5th largest city in California and the most diverse city in the US). With over 850 contemporary Latin American paintings, sculptures and drawings from 19 Latin American countries (by artist who have lived and worked in Latin America since WWII), it seems only fitting that the City of Long Beach is privileged to its location. MOLAA is a very unique resource, it is the only museum in the Western United States completely dedicated to Latin American fine art. It is therefore the mission of MOLAA to bridge the Americaís in an effort to allow the non-Latino public a greater appreciation and understanding for contemporary Latin American art. Also, for people such as myself of Latin American heritage, MOLAA allows us to take great pride in the artist of today representing this expressive cultural movement.

MOLAA accomplishes this task in many ways, and in many ways MOLAA is appreciated in the community as much more than a museum. MOLAA offers a range of educational experiences for school children through interactive art education programs. These programs are all designed to enhance the understanding of Latin American art and culture. There are programs such as "School Tours and Art Workshops" where K-12 students are taken through the galleries and also participate in hands-on art workshops. "Art for Lunch" allow visitors to bring a brown bag lunch and attend a lecture on a permanent collection piece or artist. Another interesting program is the "Annual Poster Contest". Every year, MOLAA host an in-school poster contest for middle and high school students from Los Angeles and Orange County. There are more than a1000 entries received each year, and 250 of them are placed on display for four weeks in a special Poster Contest Exhibition. These are just a few of the educational opportunities offered through the museum, and the museum itself is continuing to grow in an effort to provide more educational programming spaces. These new spaces will include an Educational Art Studio, a Research Library and a Film Screening Room. An appreciation of the artwork of Latin America can only be enhanced by a greater understanding of the cultures that exist there.

MOLAA also offers a wide variety of public programs and community events that entertain while promoting an appreciation for the Latin Culture. Events such as "Nights in Latin America" feature food, drink, song and dance of a highlighted Latin American country. An event that caught my immediate attention was the "Tasting and Culinary Events". Did someone say tequila shots? I am the perfect example of someone who has appreciated tequila (for lack of a better word) on a few occasions with no real understanding of the origins and cultural significance. Now I actually really appreciate tequila for more appropriate reasons. Also, the MOLAA offers many holiday celebrations for all to attend. Cinco de Mayo Celebrations and Dia de los Muertos are but a couple of annual celebrations that include lectures, art workshops, live music and dance. The best feature to these events is they take place outside in the newly created 15,000 square foot sculpture garden. The Sculpture Garden is terraced to allow more than 700 guest great views of the performance art stage and state of the art lighting systems.

Surrounded by monumental Latin American Sculpture and native plant species, the scene is set for a festive learning environment in a completely social atmosphere. Iím really interested in attending "Cuban Night Club Night" because I have a funny feeling "mojitos" may be involved. If you have a significant other like me that likes to dance, you might want to sign up for their Tuesday night salsa classes in December. They offer lessons from beginning to intermediate, and Iím told that after completing them youíll be ready for Mariposas on Pine Ave. After those exhausting salsa lessons check out the cafe "Viva MOLAA Museum Cafť" and their unique fusion dishes. There is a MOLAA museum store to browse through jewelry, pottery, exhibition posters, cards, catalogs and books. You never know what you might find in this exotic gift shop. Special events may cause museum hours to change so definitely call before coming down. I have a feeling that once you step inside the MOLAA and are surrounded by its walls you will feel a great sense of celebration as I did. After all, I learned from Museum Director, Gregorio Luke that a museum is a gathering place of the muses and MOLLA has done a great job of providing the public with just that! MOLAA is located at 628 Alamitos Avenue, Long Beach, Ca 90802; TEL: (562) 437-1689.

Lunch at Stefanoís DaVinciís Restaurant
Stefanoís DaVinciís is yet another fine dinning experience managed by the same individual who opened Crustaceanís in Las Vegas and also managed Madisonís on Pine Avenue for a number of years. Stefanoís DaVinciís is set in the perfect location inconspicuously perched on top of the Long Beach Airport. While sitting inside surrounded by DaVinciís flying inventions and watching jets role by on the tarmack, one canít help but appreciate the history of aviation. Even if youíre not an aviation aficionado, this restaurant has much more to offer then itís elegant tribute to one of historyís most creative inventors. Executive Chef, Stefano Colaiacomo is also a pretty creative guy himself. Stefano has utilized his talents to provide a truly inventive menu of fine Italian Cuisine and he did not stop there. Once you step foot into Da Viniciís, you will begin to realize that every other part of your dining experience will be just as creative.

Our group arrived for lunch and of course I opted for the calamari appetizer to start. This plate was the "Calamari e Gamberi Fritti" ($10.50) and consisted of prawns and calamari lightly deep-fried with a spicy tomato martini sauce on the side. The calamari was prepared just the way I like it (light and not greasy) and, the spicy tomato sauce gave it the perfect amount of kick. Stefanoís lunch menu offers about 8 appetizers with prices ranging from $9.25 to $11.95. There are also about 7 salads to choose from. The "Stefano" salad ($7.50) was really tasty. It consisted of baby spinach tossed with dried cranberries and Asian Apples with a strawberry balsamic dressing topped with candied almonds and grated dry ricotta cheese. Does that sound like desert or what?

The lunch menu offers 4 soups to choose from. The "Mona Lisa" ($6.95) caught my attention with itís homemade chicken broth, chopped carrots, sweet corn, red potatoes, zucchini, mixed bell peppers, chicken breast and baby pasta rings sprinkled with fresh parsley. I should have tried it, but I was eyeballing the entrees. The lunch menu offers "Low Carb Kitchen Dishes" as well as "Vegetarian Kitchen". I had the "Salmone E Avocado" ($15.50). I really enjoyed this dish. Itís just the right amount of food for the lunch hour. How can you go wrong with a six oz. pan-broiled salmon fillet, marinated in fresh citrus juices, served with avocado and vine-ripened tomato carpaccio. Those who prefer to power lunch on some beef, there are plenty of beef dishes to choose. Dishes range from a veal scalloppine ($16.95) to a pork loin chop ($16.50). Actually, Da Vinciís offers quite an impressive lunch menu now that I think about it. Iím waiting for just the right occasion to try their dinner dishes. If pasta is your fare, the dinner menu has a number of pasta dishes (all pasta is hand made here fresh daily) that represent a regional tour of classic Italy. Dinner prices range from $31.00 to $50.00.

So now you have a little idea about the food, but as I said, this is only part of the dinning experience that Stefano offers. Da Vinciís can accommodate private dinning up to 70 people. If you are planning a banquet, they will set up a state of the art private hanger to seat up to 1000 participants. They also offer a beautiful full service bar with a glass wine cellar located up top. Feel free to bring your favorite bottle, but be prepared to pay the corkage fee. They charge $15.00 per bottle and $25.00 if itís on their wine list. There is table dinning outside on the patio or dinning at the "Chefís Table". If you want to come down and lounge around, there is a lounge to kick back and relax and a cigar room to pick out your favorite smoke. Da Vinciís is a non-smoking restaurant, but has a smoking area. Walk in reservations are accepted, but you can also make your reservations online directly from their website.

There are many ways to get down here. If you have a jet or helicopter, fly on down and parking on the rear tarmac is free as long as you buy some fuel. As far as getting down to DaVinciís, if you feel safe traveling by bus the Long Beach Metro will drop you off at the doorstep. If you prefer to drive your own car Stefanoís Da Vinci Ristorante is located on the 3rd floor at 2801 East Spring Street, Long Beach, Ca. 90806; TEL: (562) 685-8111.

Signal Hill and "Hilltop Park" for a panoramic view of Southern CA
Signal Hill is actually a city completely surrounded by the City of Long Beach. There are views from "Hilltop Park" of Long Beach, Palos Verdes, Downtown Los Angeles, Huntington Beach, the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island. In my opinion this is one of the best views in Los Angeles. The "Smoke Signal" monument (actually smoking) is a tribute to the history and itís namesake. Around the year 1500, Puvuvitam Indians used the hill to communicate via smoke signals 26 miles away to the Gabrieleno Indians living on Santa Catalina Island. Signal Hill and Hilltop Park is a great area for a picnic, but be forewarned that the summertime westerly wind can get cranking up here, so things can get a little breezy. If you want to make the drive up to Hilltop Park and check out the views you can find it at 2351 Dawson, Signal Hill, Ca. 90755.

Madison Restaurant
I have a thing for old buildings. I also have a thing for romantic settings. Combine the two with great food and amazing service and you have Madisonís. My Kim (my girlfriend) and I absolutely love Madisonís and let me tell you why. First off, lets start with the building. You donít have to be Mike Brady to appreciate the architecture. The Madison is an old bank built in the early 20th century. The original vault is actually still intact. Mahogany walls and columns run vertical lengths to reach impossibly high painted ceilings. Antique chandeliers light the restaurant. The interior is illuminated just enough to give the atmosphere of Madisonís a warm glow of reflecting dark woods. I really enjoy the booth seating. The booths are those with old fashioned high back seats that sort of wrap around you creating an intimate dining environment.

Madisonís is primarily a steakhouse serving prime cuts of beef, chops, fowl and also fresh seafood. For me, I definitely classify Madisonís as fine dinning with plates averaging $31.00 to $50.00. The dress is business casual, so there is really no need to go overboard, but if you have a special date planned, this is a great opportunity to class it up without looking overdressed. As Iíve stated before, Iím not the carnivore coinsurer, but I have had the "Chateaubriand" ($29.95) and it was delicious. Itís a center cut Tenderloin carved at your tableside served with a Bearnaise sauce. There are about 15 other dishes on their menu, not to mention seafood selections. Madisonís has a lot to offer the palette. Kim and I have been a couple of times "late night" for desert. They have a desert sampler called "The Chocolate Sampler" ($14.95) that is worth a try along with some other tasty creations. If you want to swing by for a drink and soak up some atmosphere, pony up to the beautiful mahogany bar and check out the faces painted on the mural towards the back of the restaurant. The interior lighting cast an eerie glow over their faces and if you have a couple of "Long Beach Ice Teas" you might get one to wink at you! There is also live entertainment, but this changes on various days of the week so contact the restaurant for up dated information (right now Fri-Sat 2 7:30 PM). The Madison has a banquet area that will seat 20 to 450 people. They will also take private parties of 15 or more. There is valet parking ($7.00) as well as private parking and the Long Beach Metro stops right across the street, How convenient!!! Madisonís can be found at 102 Pine Ave, Long Beach, Ca. 90802; TEL: (562) 628-8866.




*Please tell us what you think of Cousin Arty's review!

Arty's Pics

 

Cousin Arty

 

Los Alamitos House

 

Home

 

Ranch House

 

Adobe Style

 

Gardens

 

Huge Horse

 

Sculpture Garden

 

Sculpture

 

Mojito

 

Find

 

Tarmac

 

Step Into

 

Dining Experience

 

Bar

 

Wine Cellar

 

Signal Hill View

 

Hilltop Park View

 

Smoke Signal

 

Arty and Kim

 

Mike Brady

 

Dessert

 

Long Beach Ice Tea

 



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