Twenty miles from Los Angeles sits Long Beach California. Long Beach, or “strong beach” as some locals call it, is a diverse and lively city with plenty to offer its guests and residents. No matter your tastes in cuisine, attire, or events, Long Beach has you covered. Each neighborhood has its own identity, but one section in particular, 4th Street, also known as Retro Row, carries a certain flare. The portion nicknamed “Retro Row” by Chris Reece, a former drummer of a punk rock band and owner of the Pike Restaurant on 4th Avenue, consists of an abundance of antique stores, restaurants, niche establishments, and residential homes.
My initial landing in California as a resident was in the Retro Row area. When asked where I lived, I usually answered “near 4th and Cherry” or “near The Pike” and everyone seemed to know my coordinates. The blocks that make up 4th Street are a journey and a destination that I still enjoy exploring. Here are nine hidden gems on 4th street — not in any particular order of location or importance — that I believe you will enjoy discovering too.
This African-American-owned film photography camera shop is the epitome of hidden gems. The building looks like a business office with small lettered signage on the door. It is the first black-owned analog photography store in Long Beach. This film camera store offers cameras and accessories both online and in store, but it’s new to this location. In fact, the company started as an online retailer and grew to a brick-and-mortar operation. From the Polaroid to the underwater camera, you can find what you need here. For the photographer who prefers working with film versus digital devices, this store is a must-visit. For those who have never seen a camera in use outside of the cell phone, this store is a must-visit for you as well.
2. #9 To Go
Something truly hidden, this gem on 4th Street is located inside Eddie’s Market and has some of the best Vietnamese food Long Beach offers. In a corner just as you enter behind the display of adult beverages and adjacent to the display of beef jerky, sits the bright counter where you’ll order your deliciousness. The menu, which is nicely illustrated on the wall overhead, shows the carry-out choices for meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans. #9 to Go serves the customary Vietnamese-style rice noodle soup, pho, plus bun (a noodle dish), and the Vietnamese-style bahn mi sandwich. It’s closed on Tuesdays, so if you love these flavors, on Monday, you may want to order two meals instead of one.
3. Taqueria La Mexicana
This gem is not hidden as you will always see a line formed at the corner of 4th and Coronado Ave. Right there on the corner lives authentic Mexican food in what some have described as a joint or hole in the wall. You can smell what is cooking as soon as you reach the opening in the ordering window. You won’t find this establishment on social media or via their website — they don’t have one. It is a local favorite and may be Long Beach’s best-kept insider secret. The menu includes taquitos, enchiladas, tacos, tortas, sopas, and other Mexican dishes served in generous portions. Your order is picked up in the enclosed area to the right of the ordering window.
Taqueria La Mexicana is distinguishable by the rodeo scene painted on its wall. It’s open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Bring your cash, your patience — there’s no phone in or online ordering — and your appetite. You’ll need all three.
4. Prime By Shenandoah
Located just blocks from the section of 4th Street known as Retro Row, this location can be easily passed by. It looks like a home where the owners are entertaining several friends in its back yard. The mood is always lively with what sounds like a big family dinner taking place when you walk by. Overhead string lighting adds to the ambiance and casual atmosphere. While the restaurant appears very casual and laid back, it is not. Every aspect is well thought out and delivered with the neighborhood, the environment, and the customer in mind. The restaurant uses locally sourced foods and environmentally conscious products. The menu is concise and includes the famous Granny’s Fried Chicken (GFC) Sandwich that’s well known in its parent restaurant, Shenandoah at the Arbor in Los Alamitos, California.
Prime is a perfect choice if you are searching for an intimate, non-pretentious, quality night out for a date, with friends, or just to pop by for Southern comfort foods with a SoCal twist. Prime is open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday with brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays.
5. Hug Life
The neon sign outside says Anti-Dairy Ice Creme, but the flavors inside scream “Come and get it!” Hug Life is one of 4th Street’s prized possessions and a plant-based eater’s wildest dream come true. It is not unusual to see a line formed outside its doors daily between the hours of noon and 10 p.m. All 22 flavors of ice cream are plant-based and made in house at the Orange County Chapman location. Delivered to the Long Beach shop, it can be scooped onto a cone, into a cup, between two chocolate chip cookies, or as a crucial ingredient in a decadent milkshake. You have several choices of toppings. The Cookie Butter is swoon-worthy ice cream on one of the best blocks in Long Beach. One customer or group is allowed in the shop at a time. This is the perfect time to decide your order before reaching the counter as it speeds things along for the next person.
6. Slice Of Jamaica
Jamaica is written all over this small shop sporting the Jamaican flag colors of red, yellow, and green on its awning lettering. Next door to a convenience store, you may not know what’s inside or be able to discern whether the store is a section of the convenience store (okay, maybe that was just me!). However, upon entry, you are musically teleported to Jamaica with the sounds of reggae playing throughout. “A slice of Jamaica” is an adequate description of what you get inside: Caribbean-themed short-sleeve shirts, various scents of incense sticks, island accessories, Jamaican foods and seasonings, and even custom woodwork. The owner makes each piece by inspiration and/or customer request. Here, you can bring the wood and the idea, or just the idea. When you enter this slice of Jamaica, you enter as a friend engaged in a friendly conversation with the owner. There is no pressure to purchase anything, but perhaps you’ll want to, and you might even and leave saying, “Everting is irie!” If you need a suggestion on purchases, the vanilla incense is lovely, and a cold Jamaican pineapple ginger soda is a cure for the thirst brought on by a long workday.
7. Casa De Luxe
Situated next door to a boxing club, this luxury house is a go-to for antique, high-quality home decor. It sits off of the street, making you almost miss it if you don’t know what you are looking for. It is both the professional designer and the serial redecorator’s secret weapon. All that lies inside is not clear when strolling by because the store is situated further back from the street. Venture to it to experience all there is to see. Almost anything for a home project can be found, from door frames to antique phones, mirrors and dishes to outdoor patio accessories. This is not a place you browse quickly but one in which you move at the pace of a museum-goer taking in each piece of art.
8. Page Against The Machine
This tall, slender, gray building with a white door appears to be an average book store. You could mistake it for an ordinary book-selling establishment if it wasn’t for the message displayed in the window: Fightin’ Words for Mass Defiance, Empowerment, and Self-Reliance! Page Against The Machine describes itself as a “fiercely independent, proudly progressive activist bookstore based in Long Beach, California.” They go on to say they “offer a hyper-curated selection of books and related material on activism and organizing, social and political movements, and socially-conscious living and sustainability.” It’s a treasure trove for those who love words and want to be moved into civic action by them. This book store sells books by Long Beach authors and autographed copies, too. It is indeed a local bookstore with a purpose — to make the world a better place.
9. The Hangout
This store is a jewel. It is a store true to its name, as this is a place you could spend several hours hanging out inside. The store defines itself as “a collective of businesses inside a small business.” The “hangout” begins before you enter the store as you peruse the window display of t-shirts, ceramic mugs, and vintage accessories. It exudes positivity and strength, which is the energy the three women entrepreneurs who make up the collaborative business transcend in their work. You can feel it as you pass by and are visually drawn into the space. There is more to this store than meets the eye, and you can get lost-with pleasure walking through the well-organized sections to find that perfect thing you didn’t know you needed or wanted until you saw it there. There is a bookstore, Bel Canto Books, which features best sellers and culturally uplifting children’s books. The location also includes a garden section, vintage furniture, textiles, self-care items, clothing, and market items that can also be purchased online. Bel Canto Books offers four free virtual monthly book clubs, which you can sign up for online. The vibe of the Hangout softly whispers, “Come on in and stay a while.”
10. Pow Wow Wall Murals
The artistic expressions of 4th Street are not exclusive to its stores and eateries but include street art as well. Local and nationally known artists painted many of the bold and colorful murals canvased on the sides or tops of buildings as a part of a citywide art project — Pow Wow. The murals add to the artistic undertones of the neighborhood. Notice the work above the entrance of The Center, on the corner of Rose Ave and 4th, and along the side of the Boxing Club next door to Casa de Luxe. They are worth taking in.
This corridor of Long Beach is culturally diverse and lifestyle inclusive. The New York Times once described 4th street as “the soul of Long Beach.” This is an accurate depiction of the neighborhood I fancy most in Long Beach. I hope you will enjoy it, too.
Pro Tip: Street parking is not plentiful. Read the signs regarding time limits and meter requirements. You may have to drive around to find parking.
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