Rating Six Local Coffeehouses for Being Writer-and-Student Friendly

By Jon LeSage
THE LIBRARY at 3418 E. Broadway.

Alder & Sage is the new Portfolio? That’s what another local news source suggested in January. I don’t think so.

Alder & Sage, located on Cherry Ave. near 4th St. in Long Beach, is really more of a restaurant. Prices are fairly high, parking is tight and you may have to pay to park. And it’s not a good place to sit and type away on your article, homework, emails, etc. – you get the hint it would be better to move on. It used to be quite different nearby at Portfolio before it closed down last year – catching up on your readings, writing, studying, meeting with a friend or a small group of them, and perhaps hearing a musician play in the side room.

While Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf have worked for me at times, I’d like to support local businesses. So I did some research and made a list of six of them. One methodology for my list came from a search with ratings titled “Yelp: Best Study Cafe near me in Long Beach, California.” That, plus strong reviews and mentions from similar listings for travelers and locals looking for a good place to go and some of my own experiences and what I’ve heard from other regulars in Long Beach.

More on the methodology: I looked for internet access; the ability to get work done (you can be there up to three hours, it’s fairly quiet, and the staff is fine with you being there); accessible parking; decent prices; and a quality selection of coffee drinks and a bit of food. Top questions: Do I like being there, and do I want to go back?

Warning Alert #1: I only ordered lattes and Americanos at these coffeehouses, and some of these places have their own coffee beans (or small, local coffee brands) that you can buy in bags or as hot or iced coffees of the day; and there are also the tea drinks that I missed. You’ll have to try those out for yourself.

Warning Alert #2: At one of these coffeehouses, a mentally ill homeless man got into a minor confrontation with guests sitting at the outdoor tables. The police were called and they escorted him away, walking about a block with him before they parted ways. The guests, staff, police, and homeless man, all handled it pretty well. I’m not going to identify which coffeehouse this took place at, because I don’t want to bias readers; and, unfortunately, I’ve seen these types of incidents occur across Long Beach during the past decade, with even more of it happening in the past five years. I’ve seen similar incidents in other places, too, including Costa Mesa, by the way.

Warning Alert #3: Business hours – make sure you find out what they’re going to be. You might show up in the afternoon and find out the place will be closing soon. See the store info at the beginning of each listing for store hours and other information you should know. Another one to keep in mind – it ain’t cheap anymore. All of these places appear to have gone up in prices, at least when compared to pre-COVID trips to Starbucks and a local coffeehouse or two. It’s going to be about $6-$7 for a large latte and a side bakery item will be $4-$5. If you tip it’s going to be a total in the $11-$16 range. You can pay less than that with a coffee, or a smaller size latte, and no food items.

As for the six local coffeehouses in alphabetical order:

Recreational Coffee
237 Long Beach Blvd. Ste. A
Long Beach, CA 90802
4.5 from 682 Yelp reviews
Hours: 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. every day.

Recreational Coffee is relatively new (so to speak), having opened in 2015 as part of a renewal phase in the downtown. When you go inside, you’ll see a softly lit, classic coffeehouse look – bricked walls, wood floor, small tables with chairs, a coffeebar with highchairs, and music playing loud enough. The morning I was there, a Nirvana greatest hits collection played; which is different from other coffeebars playing their usual – a jazz legend, an electronica medley, or a softer acoustic sound. But I was a Nirvana fan, so it worked for me, and it was followed by electronica, which also worked for me.

I enjoyed my Americano coffee and bear claw pastry, and the cost was fine – $11.37 with a $2 tip. This place can work for a writer or college student needing to get some work done. It’s ideal for those who take Long Beach Transit, ride their bike, live close enough to walk, or take an Uber or Lyft ride. For car drivers looking for a place to park, make sure you look for a spot on 3rd St. right off Long Beach Blvd., preferably a free two-hour space. No other free parking here, and don’t go on a busy day like the weekend when the parking spots would surely be taken.

If you go to the website, you can get on an email list for coupons and other goodies. And there’s an ordering page. You can get a subscription for coffee such as Roaster’s Choice, but I can’t see what coffee brand it might be. And there are gift cards. They do have a unique offering: wholesale coffee for other shops. Perhaps they make their own?

Inside the store, they have a good list of coffee drinks, their flavors for the day, and side breakfast items.

My score: 4.2 out of 5.0

Rose Park Roasters
3044 E. 4th St.
Long Beach, CA 90814
4.5 on 462 reviews
Hours: 6 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day

Located on 4th near Freeman Ave., this coffeehouse is ideal for locals who’ve been loyally coming here a while on foot, bike, bus, Uber, etc. For the rest of us, it presents the classic Long Beach parking challenge. There is a Ralph’s on the next block but the parking lot is usually full – and what if they don’t like non-customers parking there and have a retribution in store? For car drivers, keep in mind that it would be best to go here when nearby residents are at work or school.

Rose Park Roasters offers a line of coffee beans under their own brand, and you can get them made into one of three offerings for the day for a cup of coffee. You can also scan a QR code for ordering ahead; and you can also order ahead on their website; or get a subscription. The business also offers bicycle delivery. You can also access two other store in their network – one on Pine Ave. and one on Ocean Blvd.

The music is a little bit louder than usual, but not bad. One thing I heard was a woman jazz singer from the 1950s/1960s, whose name escapes me. The caramel miso latte was very good, and had a heart-shaped foam surface. You can also get scones, cookies, bread, and donuts.

Seating inside and outside is a bit tight. Two tables and a bench outside, three small tables close together and one narrow wall-mounted shelf/table, where I sat on a barstool that took a few minutes to feel comfortable sitting in. But I did adapt to it.

My score: 4.0 out of 5.0.

Steelhead Coffee
1208 E. Wardlow Rd.
Long Beach, CA 90807
4.5 from 521 Yelp reviews
Hours: 6 a.m. – 5 p.m., except opens at 7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday

For a fairly small coffeehouse, I would give them points for using their floor space well with tables and chairs spread out well and good open space; and right-on house music playing just loud enough. Parking is plentiful in their roomy lot (with fascinating murals on the wall, including a tribute to Kobe Bryant). They do have a shelf display with coffee you can buy, but I couldn’t figure out the brands; nor does their website explain it. It seems to be supporting local brands. But you can order it and other coffee drinks from their site. I didn’t see any food on the menu or at the counter.

Another Steelhead Coffee location is on Long Beach Blvd., with large red signage with white lettering in 1940s/50s style, and which is part of Steelcraft Long Beach, a network of local eateries and drinkeries that share communal dining space in the Bixby Knolls neighborhood. The third Steelhouse location is at 3350 E Broadway in Long Beach.

The internet access at the Wardlow location took me a couple of tries, but then it went through and worked fine. The mood was good and we all stayed on task staring straight into our laptops. smartphones and tablets. The crowd is pretty much consistent with other parts of Long Beach, especially downtown, Bixby Knolls, and this section that’s called California Heights – Generation Z and Millennials mostly in their 20s and 30s. Generation X and Baby Boomers are also living and working in these neighborhoods, but are less likely to be hanging out at this place during a Thursday mid-afternoon. Maybe more GenX and Boomers show up on the weekends or later in the day?

My score: 4.4 out of 5.0

The Library
3418 E. Broadway
Long Beach, CA 90803
4.0 from 707 Yelp reviews; 4.5 from 667 Google reviews
Hours: 6 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday to Wednesday; 6 a.m. - 11 p.m. Thursday to Sunday

The Library, of course, is not part of the city’s library system; but it’s a pretty good name and reminds me of what I do like about being in a library. You’ll see book cases with books, brick walls and some of it covered by wood panels. Tanned and smooth concrete flooring with square designs. You get the key from the counter to use the bathroom – smart! You’ll see a number of old cabinets, and free water in a dispenser with plastic cups, and good, subtle lighting throughout.

There are two rooms here. The first room that you enter is big enough and more traditional – smaller tables and chairs that are fairly close together, a few outside and more inside the building. The second room is big and spacy. You can set up on a small round table or a larger one, some round and some rectangular; and have everything handy right in front of you.

Look in the alley behind the buildings for parking. You’ll probably find it, and there might be open street parking nearby. I’ve had meetings with friends here, and I saw one of them play in the bigger room in a jazz combo on a Saturday night; which seems to explain their late hours on Thursday through Sunday.

The Library has a great website with menu, pricing, gift cards, good photos, and answers to your questions. I can’t find out what year the coffeehouse opened, but it has been a long time. I do remember standing in line there for coffee behind actor Ted Danson, who I’d heard was living in Long Beach with actress wife Mary Steenburgen. A relationship timeline says they’ve been together since 1995. So let’s say The Library has been open a good 30 years. Impressive.

My score: 5.0 out of 5.0

The Merchant
4121 Long Beach Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90807
4.5 from 426 Yelp reviews
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day

You go inside the small converted house that has a couple of tables and chairs if you want to say inside, but several tables outside with some under umbrellas. The traffic goes by on LB Blvd., close to and south of San Antonio Dr., but you get used to it after five minutes. It’s got its own charm, in this Bixby Knolls section of town with plenty of restored and refurbished homes and commercial buildings; and a sense of civic pride among the locals.

You can buy bags of their whole bean coffee, which the website says is made by “Long Beach’s only zero-emission coffee roaster.”

There’s no internet access here, and I couldn’t figure out how to use another nearby business’ guest connection. There’s no parking lot, but I was able to find parking easily around the corner in front of a house. I would imagine this will get busier late in the day and on weekends.

The three staffers working the counter were great, friendly and helpful and one of them getting the front door open for me since I had a few items to carry to outdoor tables. I had a croissant with cream cheese – delicious. My drink was the London Smog – their London Fog latte with a shot of espresso. Excellent!

My score: 4.0 out of 5.0

Viento y Agua Coffeehouse
4007 E 4th St.
Long Beach, CA 90814
4.5 from 977 Yelp reviews
Hours: 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Thursday-Sunday

This coffeehouse is up there with The Library for offering a lot of open space, and several spots to set up and work. This place also offers several comfortable chairs and couches. No parking lot, so you park on the street. I was able to turn right on Termino Ave. and find a spot. That was on a Wednesday morning shortly before 10:00. I would be concerned about it on the weekend or late afternoon, when people come home from work. But once you go inside, you’ll forget about the parking situation.

I got the Mexican Mocha, which was very well made. The interior is fun to explore with its antique furniture and painting. One set of paintings features modern art with images of Batman (with Adam West from the 1960s TV show), Joker, Hans Solo, Freda Kahlo, and Marilyn Monroe; all of them with a background of images sometime similar to graffiti as artwork. A bit of Andy Warhol meets Dios de los Muertos.

The website is a bit thin – not much information about the coffeehouse and its offerings. But the Instagram page is good, and it does show the clever logo the business uses (speaking of Dios de los Muertos). The website also has an impressive link that takes you to “UNICEF: Children in Crossfire of Ukraine Crisis.”

Pricing at the store is not bad, the music is good and not too loud, and the overall environment is good for getting things done and chilling out a bit. You can phone in your orders, too. Another good one: The store does have clothing and jewlery on display, and possibly for sale, inside the coffeehouse.

My score: 4.8 out of 5.0



Jon LeSage is a resident of Long Beach and a veteran business media reporter and editor. You can reach him at jtlesage1@yahoo.com.


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