Pass though Seal Beach today and you will find yourself experiencing the small-town sleepy atmosphere. However, Seal Beach was once more bustling and lively, its history probably unable to cross your mind.
In the 1800s, long before becoming incorporated as Seal Beach, the area was known as Anaheim Landing, important for its shipping port . However, with the rise of the Pacific Electric Red Car, Anaheim Landing faded to Bay City, transforming into a recreational area. Bay City was incorporated on October 27, 1910, but due to confusion with San Francisco, Bay City was renamed Seal Beach in 1916. Joy Zone, an amusement park was built right on the beach, and the pier was home to the Jewel Cafe, famous for its dining, dancing, and games. However, with the Great Depression, the fun and loud era of Seal Beach ended, and Seal Beach transformed into a “Sin City.” After World War II though, Seal Beach transformed into a place to raise a family, leaving us with the quieter Seal Beach that we know of today.
Today, you can get a taste of Seal Beach’s past with its Old Town Historic District on Main Street, starting from the PCH and ending at the pier.
I visited Old Town Seal Beach a little over two week ago on a Sunday afternoon. Since I arrived a few minutes after 4 P.M., I parked on Main Street because the two hour parking limit ends at 6 P.M. On a normal day, you can probably find parking somewhere along Main Street. If not, there is one hour parking available in the nearby residential neighborhood until 6 P.M. when the limit ends. If you are unable to find free parking, there is metered parking on Main Street by the intersection of Electric Avenue, but that also has a two hour limit. However, there is all day parking available by the pier for $3 for two hours or $6 until 10 P.M.
Turning from the PCH, the first sight that catches your eyes is the Bay Theatre, a single-screen movie theater built in 1947 which today screens independent, foreign, and classic films. I never really thought about how the Bay Theatre got its name or why some stores have the word “Bay” in their names, but after learning a little about the history of Seal Beach, it seems that the names are derived from the city’s former name.
Continue along Main Street and you will notice a variety of unique shops and as well as the usual businesses such as nail salons, real estate offices, and law offices. However, a little bit past the Bay Theatre on both sides of the street are two surf shops, expected sights in a beach city.
Past the surf shop across from the theater is Linne’s Boutique which I browsed though. Talking to an employee there, I found out that the store has been opened in Seal Beach for five to six years, but the original store is located in Long Beach. It has a nice selection of everyday clothes, but it was a bit on the pricey side for my budget.
Continue along and you will pass Griffith Enterprises. From a distance you will notice it to be a shop that is closed. If curiosity draws you to peek through the window, you will see that Griffith Enterprise is not your usual shop. It is a shop that never opens or sell anything. Rather, it houses the owner’s interests and draws the attention of curious passersby.
If you are in the mood for sushi, you will notice Waki Sushi on your left. I have not tried the food there before, but it did seem pretty busy when I passed by, and I did take note of their happy hour from 2:30 P.M.-5:30 P.M.
Keep walking and you will hit the intersection of Main Street and Electric Avenue. There, you will notice at a short distance is a Pacific Electric Railway Red Car. It is not a replica, and it is home to the Red Car Museum, open on the second and forth Saturdays of the month. Unfortunately, like all my past visits, I once again failed to come on a day the museum is opened. However, it was nice to see the Red Car for once during the daytime.
Cross the street and then go right on Electric Avenue and you will immediate see a little white building, home to Back Porch Designs, a home and garden shop where you can find unique gifts, and the Fairy Tea Cottage, which was closed so I was unable to take a look at what they offered.
Go back on Main Street and continue walking towards the pier. Picture Show Gallery and Brita’s Old Town Garden next door will catch your eye. Out of curiosity and my interest in gardening, I entered the garden store and discovered an antique shop called The Antique Gallery located in the back. According to the employee I talked to, the shop opened in October and many, like me, did not know of the shop’s existence due to how hidden from view it is. However, it is an interesting shop if you are interested in antiques or are looking for a unique gift.
Continue along Main Street and you will past the Post Office, Bay Hardware Store—its name a reminder of Seal Beach’s former name, the office of Sun Newspapers, and a few unique shops. Soon you will reach the intersection of Main Street and Central Avenue and you will notice a vintage looking sign that says “Main Street Square” at the corner of Javatinis Espresso, reminding you of the “old town” feeling.
Keep walking towards the pier and you will notice the bars and grills, such as Hennessey’s Grill or O’Malley’s, an Irish pub. There is a variety of food as you reach the pier, from Vietnamese, Thai, to Mexican. Another place that caught my eye was Sweet Jill Bakery. I did walk inside since the bakery seemed a little cramped and there were a lot of people. However, even from afar, the baked goods looked quite delicious. Also, because my visit was during the late afternoon, a few of the cafes were already closed.
Aside from food, you will also pass a few more clothing stores. Visit Imagine if you want to shop clothes for only $10 or Heavenly Couture for $15 or less items daily.
And of course, you will continue to pass by a few art places. I stopped inside Old Town Gallery and spoke to the employee there whose daughter is the owner of half of the shop. It is a shop with unique gifts with new items always coming. On the other half is a man who sells paintings, boxes, and other goods.
Continue getting closer to the beach and you will catch sight of a souvenir shop painted with waves and an underwater design on the outside. Of course, it is a good place to buy souvenirs, such as a bag of shells for $5.
A little bit further is a music shop, but it was closed so I was unable to visit it. A little bit more and you will see the only liquor store on Main Street.
Across the street, at the intersection of Main Street and Ocean Avenue are Tropical Juice and then a Cold Stone. By this point, after walking around Main Street for over an hour, I wanted something cold to cool me off from the heat so I walked into Tropical Jice. Immediately upon walking in, a customer in the store remarked that I did not walk into Cold Stone instead. I guess the younger people of my age range prefer ice cream over smoothies. I admit, I was tempted at first to go for Cold Stone’s ice cream instead, but decided to try something new. I wanted a surprise so I told the owner to “surprise me,” and I ended up with a mango smoothie, which was a little on the sour side, but it was good overall. I chatted with the owner a bit and learned that the store has been opened for six to seven years, and before that, there was probably a hair salon there. It’s unavoidable that shops come and go due to change over time.
Across from Cold Stone is Beachwood BBQ, another tavern. However, next to it on Ocean Avenue is Bogart’s Coffee House, proud for its beach view and the variety of events they host, such as their musical entertainment nights and astronomy nights.
By then I had reached the pier, but decided to visit the pier at night after watching the 6:00 screening of “The Shining,” which would mean I was going to miss seeing the sunset, but it was worth it to be able to see a classic film at the Bay Theatre.
The Bay Theatre had an amazing turnout that night. By 5:47 P.M., when I got there, there were already ten people in line. It was a completely different atmosphere from my last visit. There were people of all ages, and the turnout was around sixty people, which is a very excellent turnout according to the employee I spoke to. For the 8:30 showing of “The Devil’s Double,” there was also a line of around ten people when I left the theater.
After my visit to the theater, I walked to the pier to enjoy the night and end my visit.
Old Town Seal Beach is a charming place with its sleepy atmosphere which sets it apart from its other beach neighbors. There is so much more about Old Town that this article cannot cover. Hearing or reading can never be the same as actually experiencing. Take a visit to Seal Beach, alone or with friends.
Personally, I enjoy the alone time browsing through all the shops and taking in the peacefulness of the area. It is nice to get a feel of the history as well as the constant changes and diversity of Seal Beach, and it seems that Old Town Seal Beach is getting its first tattoo parlor soon, raising a bit of controversy. We can only wait and see how Seal Beach continues to change.
What is your favorite place in Old Town Seal Beach?