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Seal Beach: A Downtown Steeped in Seaside Nostalgia

October 22, 2000|ALLISON COHEN

* Looking for a new neighborhood to explore? Here are a few suggestions, culled from recent stories. Complete articles can be read at


Seal Beach is simultaneously offbeat and gloriously nostalgic. Take, for example, this seaside community's Main Street. It has something to interest just about everybody, from hard-to-find brews to a Red Car museum.

The Bay Theatre (340 Main St., [562] 431-9988) is an old favorite. Built in the early '40s, it has stood the test of time and outlived the proliferation of cookie-cutter multiplexes. Catch a movie--or better yet a peek at the Wurlitzer, the sixth-largest organ in the country, according to theater owner Vic Loderhose. "It's a sound you just don't hear anymore," Loderhose says.

Check out the Red Car Museum (Electric Avenue west of Main Street, [562] 683-1874) for a snapshot history of Seal Beach. The famed Red Cars of the Pacific Electric Railway brought the crowds to the beach. As the automobile began to grow in popularity, the rail system languished, officially going kaput in 1961.

Stop by the Abbey (306 Main St., [562] 799-4246), made famous by home-run great Mark McGwire, who turned the modest eatery into an instant landmark when he started wearing the Abbey's gray baseball cap during his run to break Roger Maris' home-run record. The Orange County resident--that is when he's not in St. Louis playing for the Cardinals--frequents the beer joint for its jovial atmosphere and its traditional Caesar salad with blackened chicken ($8.25).

Ask owner Mike Burdick for a favorite on the menu and he immediately replies: "Beer!" The Abbey boasts 12 hard-to-find European beers and microbrews that flow from the tap.

If you like more grapes in your drink, try Walt's Wharf (201 Main St., [562] 598-4433) for one of its 200-plus varieties of wine. Selections range from $18 to $200.

Walt and Mona Babock have owned the place twice. In between they started a small winery with the family name in northern Santa Barbara County. Now the Babocks' wines are mainstays at Walt's Wharf, as well as the home-grown vegetables they ship weekly to the restaurant. Walt's claim to fame? The oak-grilled artichoke ($7.95).

Getting there: From the San Diego Freeway (405) take Seal Beach Boulevard south. Turn right on Bolsa Avenue, which bends left and becomes Main Street. Cross Pacific Coast Highway and you're downtown. Diagonal free parking is available along Main Street.

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