Norcal or Socal Where Should You Live?

California.  It’s the most populous state in the nation, with more people arriving every day.  If you’ve never been to California before, you might not realize that there is a distinctive difference between life in Northern California versus Southern California.  So if you’re thinking of joining the ranks of 38 million other Californians, read on to figure out where you’d fit in best.

Southern California…

With the second largest city in the United States, SoCal is a busy, bustling metropolis. Cities like LA and San Diego offer fantastic restaurants, events, concerts, and thousands of things to do and see.  If you’re big on the idea of beach life, you aren’t alone.  People come during the winter to escape harsh winters elsewhere and end up staying for the mild year round temperatures.  Be prepared though—the Pacific Ocean doesn’t really warm up until late July and August, a fact that can sometimes give tourists quite shock when they’re expecting Mederterrian like water temps.

While beautiful people can be found everywhere, there seems to be an extremely high concentration of them in the south.  People work out, enjoy the sunshine, and spend thousands of dollars keeping themselves looking as fresh and youthful as possible.  Maybe it’s the presense of the movie industry or the major influx of young people Southern California seems to draw, but everyone wants to look good.

If you want to look good, but you’re short on cash, visit the Cali Loan Company. With a little extra cash, you can hire a personal trainer, get a spray tan, a new wardrobe, some hair extensions, and maybe even some minor work done. With some botox and other injectibles and fillers, plump out those lips and laugh lines. Smooth your complexion with some microdermabrasion and some laser treatments, you can complete your new SoCal look.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to keep yourself healthy and looking your best, but perhaps this is one of the strongest stereotypes about Southern California.  Fake, flakey, superficial—any way you slice it, Southern Californians sometimes get a bad rap.  Other bad things: smog, traffic, earthquakes, wildfires, and did I already mention traffic?  I did.  It’s that bad.

Or Northern California?

Disclaimer: The “Real” Northern California starts north of Sacramento and is quite rural.  And frankly, would like to stay that way.  Maybe that’s why so many people love living in Northern California—because of the wide open spaces, the gentle seasons, and easy access to nothing but clear, star-filled skies over places like Lake Tahoe or Lake Almanor.

NorCal’s biggest city, San Francisco, boasts an eclectic mix of buildings, bridges, waterways, and of course, the most eclectic thing of all—the people.  Quirky, opinionated, and progressive are words you could use to describe many Bay Area residents, though many parts of NorCal also thrive on agriculture, dusty cowboy boots, big trucks, and country music.  It’s not just San Francisco that has the hold on being the “weird one” in California—but you’ll find that same spirit mixed in all over the top half of this great state.

Great points aside, watch out for horrible traffic in the Bay Area, sweltering hot and long summers, a lack of shopping and restaurants—especially if you get out of the bigger hub cities like Sacramento and SF, and the ever-present danger of wildfires which can sometimes fill the valley with smoke.

Whether you think you’d fit in better in Northern California or Southern California is up to you, just be sure to pack your camera, your swimsuit, lots of money (for the outrageously high rents), and get ready to make the kinds of memories that last all through your life.  And if you don’t like it, you can always move.

Face to Face with the Diaz SistersBY LEONA JUNE CHRISTENSEN

She has strolled down the red carpet at the Oscars and turned heads around the globe, yet despite her international acclaim as one of Hollywood�s leading actresses, Cameron Diaz�s heart is never far from her Long Beach roots and her sister, Chimene Armstrong. Their bond transcends challenges ranging from a demanding celebrity lifestyle to juggling motherhood with �saving the world,� one child at a time
Throughout an exclusive interview with Long Beach Magazine, the Diaz sisters finished each other�s sentences and beamed with pride while praising each other�s accomplishments. This is the first time they have been publicly photographed together. Posing cheek to cheek, the women cracked jokes worthy of scene-stealing comedic actresses, while their proud mother, Billie Diaz of Seal Beach, looked on.

Daily telephone calls are the lifeline that maintains their close connection. �We talk every day,� said Armstrong, the mother of three. �I love her!��I love her, too,� Diaz cut in. �I don�t know what I would do without her. I have a lot of girlfriends who are close and like sisters, but I only have one sister.�

�We respect each other and what the other does,� added Armstrong, who is married to Robby Armstrong and stays active in various fundraising causes in Long Beach. �We are two incredibly different people. I went with her on her first photo shoot, and she was amazing the first time with the camera. I respect and admire what she does. I could never do it.�

Without missing a beat, Diaz expressed admiration for Armstrong as a wife and mother and for her work with Children Today, a comprehensive childcare and preschool program for Long Beach�s homeless children age 6 months to 6 years. Last year, the Armstrongs hosted a Halloween costume benefit featuring The Robby Armstrong Band, an alternative blues rock band, and raised $15,000, three times the expected outcome.

�Long Beach has such diverse economic span,� said Armstrong, who is often mistaken for her sister. Despite this, she maintained that �a lot of people are helping hands in Long Beach. Cameron: �I have a lot of girlfriends who are close and like sisters, but I only have one sister.� It�s a close-knit neighborhood.� Diaz�s world-famous blue eyes lit up as she flashed a heartfelt, milliondollar smile.

�Our lives are so different,� said Diaz, who in 2002 became the second actress, after Julia Roberts, to join the coveted $20 Million Club for the film �Charlie�s Angels: Full Throttle.� �I am in total awe and so proud of her. It is amazing what she accomplishes in her life and [with] her family. We have never been competitive or envious. Never.�

�Never,� echoed Armstrong.

The sisters credit their close relationship to their parents, who instilled values of cooperation and selflessness.

�We shared a bedroom for forever,� said Armstrong, who is two years older. �When we tried to split up, we ended up back in the same bedroom. When I was 14, I finally threw a fit and wanted my own room. It lasted six months and then we moved back in together. We shared a room until I was 18 and a senior in high school.�

�It was fun!� exclaimed the sisters simultaneously, recalling their youth in a culturally diverse working-class neighborhood near Wardlow and Magnolia, where the 710 and 405 freeways, Los Angeles River and train tracks converge. Playing football and riding their bikes with the other kids was more important than race, religion or ethnicity.

�I started traveling the world while I was at Poly (Long Beach Polytechnic High School),� said Diaz, who was a member of the drill team. �It was a huge lesson. I can go anywhere in the world and feel comfortable because of what I learned from the quad at Poly. We learned how to adapt and accept people for who they are.�

At 16, within a week of being discovered by photographer Jeff Dunas, Diaz signed with the Elite Modeling Agency. Her parents gave their blessing for the svelte beauty to globe trot and strut the catwalk for five years, accompanied only by another model.

�Our parents felt Cameron was prepared at 16 to go off because of our experiences growing up and not being sheltered,� said Armstrong, who shares her sister�s good looks and charisma. �They had respect for her and knew she would be responsible.�

Throughout their childhood, their father, Emilio, taught them to conserve and recycle. Those habits have continued as adults.

�We always recycled when we were growing up,� said Armstrong. �We did not do it for the Earth, we did it for the money. Our dad was always on us to turn off the lights and the water while we brushed our teeth. Looking back, we were doing what is right. Now, it�s not about affording it, it is about saving our environment.�

Diaz�s voice resonated with passion when she spoke of her efforts with friend and former vice president Al Gore on the benefit concert Save Our Selves (SOS)�The Campaign for a Climate in Crisis. This 24-hour concert slated for July 7 across seven continents will reach more than 2 billion people through attendance and live broadcasts. The concert features 100 of the world�s top musical acts, including former classmate Snoop Dogg.

�Cameron has always been a nature girl,� said Armstrong. �Her passion for the environment is not something that happened because she is a celebrity. She has always been this way since we were little kids.�

Chimene and Cameron are living proof; when it comes to motherhood or the environment, the two are real naturals.

Every day is Earth Day for Cameron Diaz.
The outspoken environmentalist and selfproclaimed �tree hugger� says simple habits can make a big difference and help the planet.

�People shy away from those funny little curlicue light bulbs, because they are not what they grew up with, but they last 13 times longer than conventional light bulbs,� said Diaz, who wears a gold globe pendant testifying her lifelong commitment to the environment. �They save a lot of money and our environment.�

In addition to her parents, Diaz credits her now-deceased grandmother and Al Gore as her role models in her crusade. She said now there is no other choice than to work as a team for environmental protection.

Consciously think of each resource you use and how you can use it more efficiently, advises Diaz. Her simple tips to help the Earth include

• turning off the lights when not in use, • not allowing the water to run when not being used, • recycling aluminum and steel cans, glass bottles, newspaper and corrugated cardboard and • not washing your car yourself, but visiting a commercial car wash that treats and recycles the wastewater and uses up to 60 percent less water.

�We all know fuel efficiency is important,� said Diaz, who drives only hybrid cars and grew up riding her bicycle or public transportation. �Buy cars that are either a hybrid or more fuel efficient, not ones that guzzle gas.�

Help for the homeless
Since June 15, 2000, Children Today has helped Long Beach�s most neglected segment of the homeless population�children.

Nationwide, more than 1 million children are homeless; in Long Beach alone, more than 20,000 children have nowhere to call home. In contrast to the stereotypical image of a single, substanceabusing male, the fact is that more than 40 percent of America�s homeless are struggling families with young children.

�One thing just broke my heart�that the kids are so excited about getting their own toothbrushes,� said Chimene Armstrong. �It�s the only thing that is theirs. Their toothbrush is the one thing they don�t have to share.�

The organization also helps parents take positive steps towards rebuilding their lives and providing a safe, nurturing environment for their children.

Children Today accepts donations of baby food, diapers, formula, clothing, books and toys. Financial contributions provide children�s meals.

For more information or to make a donation, log on to


Most of us have dreamed about visiting some far-flung corner of the planet. Maybe the Taj Mahal in India. Or diving with sharks off Isla Guadalupe, Mexico. Or maybe you’ve thought of spending five days with a tribe in the Amazon jungle with no running water. Or eating a 15-course meal at a home nestled within an 800-year-old village in the Japanese countryside. These six Long Beach residents share their travel experiences and what motivates them to explore. We hope these stories inspire, enlighten, educate, and spark a desire to seek adventures that lie beyond Long Beach’s city limits. Enjoy the ride!
Surveying the World Landscape
For John Oberacker and Kasra Esteghamat, traveling takes precedence over virtually any other activity. The Long Beach couple has been to 28 countries and made the round-trip drive across the United States three times. They’ve hung out with the Achuar tribe in a remote Amazon jungle and explored an 800-year-old village in southern Japan.

For them, a place’s food, structures, and artifacts provide a path to the heart of a culture and its people.

“We work to be able to travel,” says Esteghamat, 34, who co-owns Eden For Your Home and Garden, a garden design and installation business, with Oberacker, 35. The two met in junior high school, attended Los Alamitos High, and became friends a few years later.

“We believe traveling is so important, a major part of life,” Esteghamat says. “We believe you have to experience traveling and not be stagnant. You immerse yourself in the people and their everyday routines.”

During five days in the Ecuadorian jungle in 2004, Oberacker and Esteghamat learned the medicinal qualities of plants, slept in huts where they could hear bats rustling in the walls, and shared a communal bowl of beer called chicha, which is started with saliva.

“I was hesitant,” admits Esteghamat. “I’m not that rustic. But within the first day, I fell in love with it.” Everything but the beer. Esteghamat says the beer was probably the worst food or drink he’s tried while traveling. But he says it would have been rude for them not to partake.

Of the best food, Esteghamat praised the steak and pommes frites (French fries) in Buenos Aires and wontons the size of tostadas found in a hole-in-the-wall cafe in Hoi An, Vietnam.

The two crave places that drip with history and often take cooking classes to help them immerse into the culture. In Mexico, Esteghamat and Oberacker spent three days in Cancun before taking two and a half weeks to explore the interior of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Oberacker handles the research for these trips. For three weeks, he’ll spend evenings on the computer, researching flights and hotels, booking rental cars, and/or reading material on future destinations. He enjoys the preparation.

“It’s like a puzzle,” says Oberacker, whose love of travel dates to his childhood. He remembers family road trips through the U.S. and Canada. He says his mother, father, brother, and grandparents all liked to travel. “Travel is in my genes,” says Oberacker, who enjoys Southeast Asia’s offerings. “Southeast Asia has everything: the spiritual aspect, beautiful scenery, beaches, food,” Oberacker says.

Ruins, old buildings, and devotional sites such as churches or mosques lure Oberacker and Esteghamat. Artifacts and decor, such as a fabric from France or pottery from Vietnam, also inspire Esteghamat. When they return home, they can pass certain knowledge to their clients.

Esteghamat and Oberacker both graduated from the University of Maryland. Oberacker has a degree in horticulture while Esteghamat’s is in art history/archaeology with a minor in architectural history.

They are going to Guatemala this fall and then visiting Laos. Esteghamat says it’s important to relax, but that’s not the main reason they travel.

“Travel expands your mind and horizons,” Esteghamat says. “It gets you out of your comfort zone to see things differently.”

It can also provide opportunities to touch an animal you might have only seen on television or in a painting.

Esteghamat and Oberacker flew on a private plane to Laguna San Ignacio, a bay of Baja California, to pet the newly born gray whales before the whales headed back to Alaska. Esteghamat recommends being flexible, staying positive, and acclimating to the culture. For example, pizza in Rome may not taste like what you’re used to in the U.S., he says, “so you have to be ready for that.” And be prepared for spit-laced beer in a communal bowl!


50-plus Countries in 10 Years
By the time you read this, Steve and Fran Conley will have completed a 41-day cruise around the world that started April 5 and ended May 15. The Long Beach couple flew from Los Angeles to Hong Kong and returned from Cairo, Egypt.

The Conleys met while students at Stanford University. In the last 10 years, they’ve visited more than 50 countries. “Every trip is memorable in its own way,” Steve Conley says. “It would be a mistake to try and rank them. We hope to take three trips a year until we run out of places to go.” The Conleys, both 70, expect to be traveling 75 days this year.

Steve’s passion is underwater photography, recording nearly every type of sea life. He’s touched baby gray whales and dived with great white sharks. A certified rescue diver, scientific diver, and volunteer diver at the Aquarium of the Pacific, he tries to take three international scuba trips a year. He was in the Galapagos Islands in January and is planning to go to Indonesia this fall.

Steve Conley is a Long Beach native while Fran grew up in Denver. They have three children and four grandchildren, who all live in the San Francisco Bay area.

RECOMMENDED DIVE: Maldives in the Indian Ocean

Swimming With Sharks
One of Luke Tipple’s earliest memories is being thrown into the water by his father and coming up laughing, this began a life long love of the ocean and all of the wonders it holds.

The 28-year-old Australian has turned a love of the ocean into a Marine Biology degree from James Cook University and a life long career in diving, scientific research, and educating the world about his favorite Apex predators, sharks.

Having logged over 1,500 dives with many species of shark, Luke found his calling to educate drawing him from research stations and dive boats to an international stage. One of his recent posts on You Tube about a Great White attack he witnessed at Guadalupe Island has to date netted over 1.2 million viewers.

“I loved sharks and always wanted to work with them,” says Tipple, who is based out of his management companies offices, 689 Design of Long Beach, CA. “A shark is the perfect machine, evolved to the stage where it has a critical role in the environment.”

For five months a year, Tipple conducts offshore dive operations for He brings clients into the underwater home of Great Whites off Isla Guadalupe, Mexico, and Tiger Sharks in the Bahamas. Tipple’s job is to ensure the clients’ safety. As he puts it, he makes “sure everyone comes home in one piece”

“I realize that a shark can have me for lunch any time they want to,” Tipple says. “To me, it’s a humbling experience every time I work with sharks. I’m privileged to be able to spend a large amount of time in their environment. Myself and my crew use our education and experience to control these experiences in such a way that it is safe for our clients and extremely non-invasive for the sharks.”

For Tipple, it’s an ideal lifestyle. He believes traveling is “inherent” to evolving as a person. Although he does admit the traveling lifestyle is not conducive to some of life’s more conventional goals like relationships, “I am sure I will either find a girl who keeps up with me, or some day maybe I will slow down a bit, but settling down has never been my top priority,” says Tipple.

He’s going to be featured on the Discovery Channel’s “MythBusters” Shark Week Special scheduled to air in late July or early August 2008. Tipple says the myths relate to attracting and repelling sharks, but will not reveal the specifics before the air date.

“Sharks don’t want to eat us,” Tipple says. “Humans have never been a major component of their diet.” He says many sharks need a tremendous amount of calories, more than a human could provide. “A shark attack is usually a case of mistaken identity,” says Tipple, who classifies sharks as opportunistic feeders.

Since the MythBusters shoot Luke has been filming a series with the French Documentary company Ushuaia , and has several projects in the works for Shark Week 2009. You can learn more about Luke, or follow his adventures on his online journal at


Traveling Connects Teacher to World
For Debbie Whittaker, traveling is about lessons learned that she can pass on to her students. Whether it’s relaying insights such as “people are good” or “I’m capable of more than I thought,” the 50-year-old lifelong Long Beach resident is ready to share.

She could also tell of the unexpected surprises just waiting to be found with the next adventure. Whittaker, who teaches philosophy at Long Beach City College and California State Long Beach, has an affinity for Asia. She’s stood in awe of the “massiveness” of the Taj Mahal in India and met an English-speaking monk in a Buddhist temple in Cambodia who asked if Whittaker would be his godmother.

This month (from June 1 to June 20), she’s in Cambodia with a group of her students. She’ll help educate them on the country and its past, which includes the genocide under Pol Pot in the 1970s. Pot headed the Khmer Rouge regime, which combined extremist ideology with ethnic animosity and a diabolical disregard for human life. Yale University’s Cambodia Genocide Program Web site reports that 1.7 million people lost their lives in the genocide.

Whittaker believes it’s important to educate people about what happened and hopes bringing them to Cambodia will make it more meaningful. “There are so many holocausts that aren’t talked about,” Whittaker says. She’s been to Cambodia before, by herself, in 2005. It was then she walked into the Buddhist temple and met the aforementioned monk. “It’s an honor to have been asked to be his godmother,” Whittaker says.

Whittaker has had many positive encounters in the places she’s visited. “So many are willing to help and welcome me to the country,” says Whittaker, who estimates she’s been to 10 nations.

At age 18, she saw a picture of the Portola Palace in Tibet, the Dalai Lama’s former residence. At the time, she thought, “I have to go there.” Opportunity came 22 years later. At age 40, she realized that dream and her travels began.

She’s also been to Thailand, Holland, and Japan. She stays in guest houses or hotels. She says guest houses in Thailand can go for as little as $5 per night. For the food, she says India tops them all thus far. This summer, she’ll travel to Canada with her two children and has her eyes set on Laos as a possible future destination.

She hopes traveling will help her relate to her students. “I try to tie in what I’ve experienced in travels to what I teach,” Whittaker says. “Travel helps me connect with students.There are so many groups of people (from different backgrounds) in Southern California, so when you travel to their homelands, you feel more connected.”

Her advice to those curious about exploring the world: Pack light and always be open to new adventures.


Making a Difference

We Love Long Beach

With the wide variety of neighborhoods that make up Long Beach, full of families whose histories are as likely to reach back to a move from the Midwest to Iowa-by-the-sea as they are to have arrived in the 1970s having fled the Khmer Rouge, its nearly impossible for any one resident to know the city as a whole. But the breadth and diversity of the city hasn’t kept siblings and founders of We Love Long Beach, Robin and Scott Jones, from working to know all of the place they’ve called home for the twenty-something years of their lives — neighbor by neighbor, neighborhood by neighborhood.

Founded in 2008, We Love Long Beach is a non-profit community organization that grew out of a breakfast for fifty of Robin and Scott’s neighbors, organized around the simple goal of having everyone get to know each other. Scott recalls on their website ( that “After that first event, one of my neighbors actually hugged me goodbye. I was surprised and couldn’t stop thinking about how little I knew about each of them; who they are, what they do, what makes them happy and what their needs might be.” Through that experience, the impetus for We Love Long Beach was born.

We Love Long Beach has gone on to have many more neighborhood breakfasts and dinner parties, as well as larger community barbecues with entertainment provided by local bands and artists. The non-profit also runs a club at Wilson High School, geared towards fostering the development of student volunteers.

Director Scott Jones describes their diverse and communityminded programs as having the goal of wanting “to allow people the opportunity to get to know one another/build a relationship with one another, so that we can share ourselves with each other. Whatever that might be (a skill, an idea, a craft, wisdom, a story, or pure compassion), that is what we are about.” And with a booth at what seems to be every event around town, from Stroll and Savor to car shows, We Love Long Beach is constantly reaching out into the community themselves, meeting new people and coming to understand the niche cultures that exist within the city.

Just over a year old, the organization is in what they describe as a getting-to-know-each-other phase with Long Beach. And as they begin to better understand the people, the neighborhoods, their interests and needs, We Love Long Beach will be able to organize events and offer resources that best respond to the city.

Says Scott, “We want to know the people and the things that are going well in our city, and encourage and celebrate those things. We want to know the needs of people and neighborhoods in the city in order to begin to think of new ways to fix those things. Some are easy fixes, others will take a lifetime to begin to address, but We Love Long Beach is designed, we hope, for the long haul.”

Having witnessed the good they’ve done so far, we hope they’re around for the long haul too.

Male Academy and Male Math Academy

Stop by any Male Academy class and you will see high school student leaders at work. You’ll see peer tutoring and exercises to build selfesteem, as well as discussions on the admission requirements to LBCC or CSULB.

The program also includes positive learning activities, such as field trips to the Museum of Tolerance and the UCLA college fair followed by a football game — empowering moments for students who may have never before left home.

Now in its first full year, the Male Academy is a Long Beach Unified School District program that works to increase the graduation rate of 200 underrepresented, promising male students, allowing them to develop strong academic and leadership skills.

Based on a similar program in Chicago, the Male Academy was created by school principals and Superintendent Maggie Webster to address the widening achievement gap faced by some African-American and Latino male students.

Its middle school counterpart, the Male Math Academy, develops algebra skills and prepares students for high school and college. It was established as part of Superintendent Chris Steinhauser’s Academic and Career Success Initiative, under the direction of Dr. Gwendolyn Mathews, Assistant Superintendent of Middle and K-8 Schools, and Frank Gutierrez, Gear Up Program Administrator.

Both programs are collaborations between CSULB, district administrators, counselors, and curriculum leaders. While all six Long Beach high schools have Male Academy programs, Millikan and Jordan High Schools have built the Male Academy into their class schedules. Other schools structure the program as lunch-time or after-school clubs.

For middle schools, the Male Math Academy has 220 student participants across 11 campuses, and meets twice a week after school. The emphasis is on algebra-readiness, guest speakers who are outstanding role models, and family outreach. “One of the studies we had looked at was how boys learn differently, and specifically, that they benefit tremendously from hands-on learning experiences,” says Sam Platis, Administrative Assistant to the LBUSD Middle and K-8 Schools. “We knew we had to get them ready for college in greater numbers because the state is requiring algebra proficiency.”

And the program has delivered success. “I think it had a great impact and it encouraged him to go to college and be more educated,” said Anna Jordan-Wade, parent of a Male Math Academy student. Another student attributed his progress in math, “…from an F to a B…” to participating in the Male Math Academy.

The high school Male Academy program has seen marked success in its pilot year, with increases in school attendance and test scores, including students whose GPAs have gone from less than 1.0 to 2.5 and higher.

The program even has impacted other areas on campus. “Students have changed the culture at some school sites so at lunch time you don’t have that racial tension we had before,” says Quentin Brown, LBUSD Male Academy Facilitator. “Now you see them eating lunch together, supporting each other and saying, ‘No, this guy is cool.’ So when other students see African-American and Latinos together, they are now the leaders saying, ‘We are here to be educated so that we can better our lives and make our contribution to our community’.”

“We love the numbers we keep track of — GPAs and attendance,” Brown continues. “But I think when you see a student who inside has made a decision to stop being involved in negative activities and start being involved in positive activities, it really has an effect. It not only helps the school and the community, but also the city.”

Thanksgiving Dinner at Mayra ’s Drive-Thru

It will be a busy day at Mayra’s Drive-Thru on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The market’s parking lot will be filled with tables, chairs, and turkey balloons, as owners Ramon and Martha Serrano host 600 of their neighbors for a free homemade Thanksgiving dinner.

Located on Martin Luther King Blvd., this will be the sixth year the Serranos have extended the invitation to everyone in the neighborhood.

“We started doing this because we found out a lot of families didn’t have money for a turkey dinner,” says Serrano. “A lot of people here live by government stamps and benefits.”

Mayra’s holiday celebration is known for the quality of the food as well as the generosity of its owners, and the entire neighborhood looks forward to the meal. “Everybody knows about the dinner, but we remind them anyway,” he says. “We put up a little sign that we’ll be serving Thanksgiving traditional dinner plates, and we tell them too, ‘Don’t forget Sunday!’ and that usually gets a big laugh.”

Originally from Mexico, the Serranos met in Long Beach and, for the past 15 years, have owned Mayra’s Drive-Thru, named after their daughter. They knew they wanted to give back to the neighborhood in some way, but didn’t exactly know how. So six years ago, they decided on a Thanksgiving feast, originally serving 250 plates of turkey with all of the trimmings, and each year the number of dinners has steadily grown.

Mayra’s dished out 550 turkey dinners last year, with the line extending from the parking lot on Martin Luther King Blvd., around the market, then continuing down 20th Street.

This year they plan to prepare 16 turkeys, all cooked at a local bakery. Martha and her sisters, Leticia and Irene, will make four huge trays of three different side dishes — macaroni and cheese, vegetables, and a fruit jam.

Irene and her husband Salvador Davalos, a professional chef, also prepare the mashed potatoes and gravy. The Davalos family will peel and cook 100 pounds of potatoes to make the day’s most popular side dish, along with homemade gravy.

With the help of a neighbor who cooks the greens, all of the food is prepared fresh, meaning the Serranos are up most of the night before. But they say it’s well worth the effort.

“Everybody says the food is excellent, mainly because everything is made from scratch,” says Serrano, of the meal that is served to their guests buffet-style by family members, including daughter, Mayra, and son, Raymond.

For the Serranos, this yearly Thanksgiving dinner is more than keeping up good business relations with the neighborhood. “A lot of people don’t have the money to enjoy a plate at this time,” he says. “But number one for us is to give back to the community. It’s for the neighborhood, because they support us every year — that’s the main thing — because we believe in giving back.”


Make Life More Abundant
In measuring our abundance, we often describe luxury elements, a fabulous home, an illustrious car. We tend to overlok abundance as inspiration in the routine details of our existence. When it comes to dining and entertaining, the term abundant should not only be applied to celebrations but also used in executing routine activities.
In our ever-expanding busy lives, the act of conjuring up another idea for dinner when the new neighbors will be over for martinis on the patio in an hour can take more creative energy than anyone is willing to sacrifice. Few people can count event planner, chef extraordinaire, and sommelier among their list of talents. So why is it when it comes to planning, we take on so many responsibilities? Madness, I tell you, it is madness. With so many professional resources available today, embrace your catered life.

Personal chef services and event staging specialists not only offer culinary and party services but also make your life literally more abundant. Many make the assumption that personal chefs are only hired to cater special events—oh, how wrong thou art! A personal chef will come into your home at your requested time and create your desired meal(s), lovingly packaged and labeled and placed in your refrigerator ready to serve when and wherever you want to eat.

Personal chefs are hired to use the full range of their expertise, not only in cooking elaborate meals but also in creating daily/weekly/ monthly balanced menus, selecting the freshest and best ingredients at the market, stocking your cabinets with enchanting condiments, and “The time you spend considering what you will make for dinner knowing that you don’t even want to cook could be better spent honoring yourself with an activity you truly enjoy and savor.” have everything positioned so you can easily have dinner served and ready on Monday night in under twenty minutes.

Becky Trowbridge, owner of Marvelous Meals, says that “the number-one reason people use my personal chef service is shared by two grievances: people are tired of going out or they don’t like to cook.” Or both. The time you spend considering what you will make for dinner knowing that you don’t even want to cook could be better spent honoring yourself with an activity you truly enjoy and savor.

Trowbridge also says that the objective of her scope of services is to meet the lifestyle desires of her clients.

“My goal is to provide my clients with what they really want that best suits their preferences—whatever that means to them,” she says. Dream abundantly of what you want to eat and your personal chef will make it happen.

In addition to routine dinner, there may be an evening during which you want the personal chef to prepare a more elegant dinner in your home for your associates. A true professional will design the menu and create an appropriate serving presentation for you to make it as comfortable as you would like.

Now when it comes to abundantly arranging the other elements of a more formal dinner, a staging specialist is also your new best friend. A staging specialist is the joyful talent that comes into your home and sets your table, arranges your fresh flowers, selects your music, lights the candles, creates a beautiful presentation on your buffet, and then hightails it out when your guests arrive so you can take all the credit for making the evening fabulous.

While you shower and pamper yourself in preparation for your guests to arrive, a wizard is working magic in your home, making sure that you have delicate orchids in the bathroom and that the cocktail napkins are perfectly fanned on the coffee table. All the details you fret over in the past fall under the auspicious eye of your staging specialist, Kim Porche of Soiree Specialists. Porche educates her clients to know that they are responsible for creating an experience for guests and also to be part of that experience—not being too busy making sure there is enough ice, for instance.

“Once guests arrive, the host has a responsibility to set the tone for the evening—one that is welcoming, relaxed, inviting, and not preoccupied with details,” she says.

True abundance means being in bliss not only when the flowers arrive and the Cristal is being poured, but also in finding ways to make planning and creating the event easy. Determine which part of the creating you enjoy participating in, and leave the rest to a professional you trust.

Becky Trowbridge of Marvelous Meals is now based in Pasadena, but she still creates special events for clients in Long Beach. She can be reached at She recommends using and as wonderful resources to locate a personal chef.

Kim Porche is a Long Beach-based staging and event specialist who produces imaginative events and accommodates intimate affairs. She can be reached at (310) 968-3550.

2007 Dining AwardsBY JACKSON MORRIS

Long Beach Magazine Voted Restaurants
At a time when candidates are vying for our votes, we at Long Beach Magazine held an election of much greater importance… where to eat. The votes came by fax, email, phone, and word of mouth to create Long Beach Magazine’s first annual Dining Awards. The flurry of ballots produced 166 candidates here in the state’s fifth-largest food court. We could not list them all; however, we have served up your favorites.

Twelve local refectories took the top honors of feeding the 562, satisfying taste buds with flavors inspired by Frenchmen, Greeks, Italians, and, yes, even Americans. So grab a chair and cleanse your palate as we recognize the restaurateurs that treat their customers as “specials” and owners who celebrate the word “yummy” every day.
The Complete List of Winners
After Hours: Shorehouse Café Japanese: Kinokawa, Sushi of Naples
American: Lasher’s Mexican: Super Mex, Baha Senora
Appetizers: Tantalüm, Casa Vino Patio Dining: Claire’s, Yard House
Barbecue: Johnny Rebs Pizzeria: NY Upper Crust, Buono’s
Breakfast: Coffee Cup Café, Two Umbrellas Rest. w/ View: Skyroom, Claire’s
Brewery: Belmont Brewing Company Romantic: Café Piccolo, Four Olives
Burgers: Cicsco’s Burgers, In-N-Out Seafood: King’s Fish House
Chinese: PF Changs Sports Bar: Smooth’s
Coffee Shop: It’s A Grind, Portfolio Café Southwestern: Chipotle, Lucille’s
Comfort Food: Bake & Broil Steakhouse: 555 Steakhouse
Continental: Holiday Inn Airport Thai: Tantalum, Phuket Thai
Deli: Modica’s, Angelo’s Vegetarian: Open Sesame, Enrique’s
Dessert: La Creperie Wine Bar: Casa Vino, Delius
Eclectic: Bono’s Business Meeting: Daily Grill
Family: Hof’s Hut Celebration: Wasabi
French: Frenchy’s Bistro Happy Hour: Panama Joe’s
Greek: George’s Greek Cafe Ladies Lunch: Vintage Tea Leaf
Indian: Kamal Palace Sunday Brunch: Queen Mary
Italian: Nino’s, Café Piccolo

Continental Crowns

George’s Greek
With two locations, George’s even has a bus to pick people up! My editor likes the Pine Street venue better, while my best friend likes the 2nd Street location. Either way, we’ve got a winner! The “in crowd” loves George’s (especially the ladies), and even though there is no order to our list, I listed George’s first because so did you! Big smiles deliver big taste at both ends of town with patio dining and authentic flavors that satisfy Greek gods and Long Beach locals alike. If you have to wait for a table, have a Greek beer (or three, like I did). Congrats!

Frenchy’s Bistro
Talk about a well-kept secret. The building it sits in is anything but flattering. But once inside, you will forget what country you’re in, let alone the building. The décor and the top-notch service in this “loger avec aucune vue” make Frenchy’s a class act. And for you oenophiles, you will be splashing around Riviera style in rich cuisine and wine from a menu as proud as the French themselves. Start with a bottle of Pommard En Brescul Jean-Luc Joillot Bordeaux and end with a crème brule so you can truly experience “Viva La France.”

Real restaurateurs never quit! Just ask Nino, who has been running his family-owned restaurant with his culinary trained father since July 1958. The menu covers all of Italy, but without a doubt celebrates the Neapolita style in its pizzas, raviolis, and, in Nino’s own words, “the best lasagna ever.” Located in the 3800 block of Atlantic Avenue, this unpretentious, reasonably priced, and satisfying ristorante came in under the radar to surprise us all…except Nino.

American Splendor
…“like being invited to a friend’s comfortable home for dinner.” That is the motto Ray and Lynn Lasher live by as they nightly transform their home on Broadway to serve regional American cuisine. Cranberry glazed meatloaf, prime steak, Atlantic salmon, and even award-winning New England clam chowder are establishment favorites. A VIP club, private room, parking, catering, parties, gift certificates…they have and do it all. Why? Because this is America!

The Sky Room
There is no better restaurant with a view in all of 562! When you dine here, you are dining in the same room as Hollywood royalty. Established in the 1930s, this art deco space in the sky has catered to Liz Taylor, Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, and Clark Gable. So live it up and bring a date because in addition to making our list of favorites, The Sky Room was also voted one of the most romantic restaurants in the United States.

555 East
Locals, including myself, simply refer to it as “the 5.” This is a true blue American steakhouse! Relax at the rich wood bar for a cocktail or sit near the piano and order from the 800+ wine list as you wait for your filet “black & blue Pittsburgh style.” Let’s face it, the 5 is Steak City, and you are the mayor! In my “never humble” opinion, by steaks alone, the 5 has no competition within our city limits. If any of you want to challenge that by buying me dinner somewhere else, save your money. Mine’s on the 5.

Casual Cool
I never watch sports, and yet I have been to Smooth’s a dozen times. The chairs in the bar are super comfortable in case you have a big athletic butt like mine. The prices are great, the girls are hot, the beer is cold, and you won’t miss a game on one of the innumerable flat screens. Unlike most divey sports joints, this place is clean with class and style, but still remains true to the sports fanatic with greasy finger foods. So bring your crew, come downtown, chill with a cold one, and find out what makes this place so smooth.

Belmont Brewing Company
What is the one thing Adulfis Busch and Pete Coors don’t have? A brewery on the beach! But we do! The BBC brews and serves its own beer right on site. The beer snob, the patio snob, and even the appetizer snob will all be in heaven at this flavor-rich beer joint. Sitting on a slight bluff with a view of the pier (some days Catalina), you are reminded with one sip and one glance why you live in Southern California. Cheers!

King’s Fish House
A downtown darling with seafood fit for royalty is King’s. The fresh crab is as good as you can get on the wharf in San Francisco – I know, I lived there! The smiley, energetic staff is ultra welcoming and greets both the locals and the tourists with the same convivial flare. King’s has a full bar, two outside patios, and a menu with everything that swims or crawls under the sea. Sam and Jeff King truly made this place “tutto mare” and deserve this honor.

La Dolce Vita
The food here is great, but who cares with a patio that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Don’t worry if you get cold. A waiter will bring you a cozy blanket to wrap yourself in as you are wrapped in panoramic views of the coast, wispy palm trees, lazy beachgoers, and the historical museum that houses this hotspot. This is a great date spot, meeting place, or breakfast getaway. There is something oh so soothing about dining above the water, surrounded by art and culture. See for yourself.

Jongwaard’s Bake & Broil
I have been eating at this “other well-kept secret” since 1985, when my then-wife worked here as a waitress. This local favorite has been a leader in serving YUM for 42 years and counting! Daily cakes and pies like coconut, German chocolate, and even old-fashioned numbers like “red velvet” are just for starters (or finishers). The only reason you should not eat here is because you will be so full it will hurt. Salads, sandwiches, omelets, and much more leave me singing, “Yum, yum, yum in my tum, tum, tum!”

Le Creperie
You knew this would make the list. How can you argue with a place that has a mob so big waiting to get in that it blocks me from walking my dog past the front door? This award winner will tickle your taste buds and, if not, the Veuve Clicquot will! As you consume your crepes (and they’re not just for dessert), you are surrounded by colorful French murals, ornate décor, clinking silverware, and background music. The service is not pretentious nor hurried, and you might even see Patrick, the avantgarde owner sitting outside noshing on his own fare. Yeah, he’s French too.

So if I were a restauranteur reading this article, I would ask two questions: 1) Was my establishment mentioned? And 2), if not, how can I get my restaurant mentioned next year?

You will never see an eatery appraisal in any other Long Beach publication like our Dining Awards because this is not about advertising dollars; it is about the public. The public has voted, without persuasion or prejudice or a gun to their heads, and have come up with the best of the best that Long Beach has to offer in 2007.

So, to those restaurateurs who don’t see their names here today, you have one year to win, woo, and wow the mouths that explore the Long Beach dining scene. And if you can do that, when the public speaks through us next year, I will have no choice but to write about your restaurant. For now, this list of winners has done what every chef and restaurant owner aspires to do—leave a good taste in our mouths.