Gems and Treasures in Newport Beach
Hollywood is not the only famous city that boasts celebrities and stars. Just 44 miles south of Los Angeles, the city of Newport Beach, California, has attracted the rich and famous for years to reside in one of the wealthiest areas on the coast. From legends to modern day film stars, the list includes Rock Hudson, Shirley Temple, Nicholas Cage, Jay Leno, Kobe Bryant, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Candace Bergen. Reasons are simple: sunny weather almost all year round, oceanfront living, a sense of privacy, and luxurious island lifestyle without leaving the mainland. But there’s more to Newport Beach than meets the eye.
As a coastline commuter from my residence in Long Beach to my day job in Newport Beach, I’ve learned to love going to work every day. Traveling south on Pacific Coast Highway I pass morning surfers, crashing waves, cyclists, dog walkers, palm trees lining the road, and the sun rising over sandy shores before I reach my destination. The coastal city is known for some of the most expensive and luxurious living in Southern California with multi-million dollar homes overlooking the Pacific Ocean, upscale dining, and high fashion shopping.
But put aside slick magazine images and brochures, and take a closer look. How about Irish pubs, bargain shopping, cove walking, ferry boat riding, or incredible Mexican-inspired cuisine? I have enjoyed some of Newport Beach’s gems and treasures for more than 30 years, and I keep coming back for more!
Whether you are arriving to the sunny city for a luxurious destination vacation in a fancy resort or seeking beach-y, sarong-wearing, sandal-sporting leisure, it’s worth driving into town and onto the coast for a day, a week, or—as many visitors decide—to live! Here are some of my favorite ways to experience the Newport Beach coastal life and enjoy some island living right here on the mainland.
This little village was established in the early 1900s and is home to a traditional main street, Marine Avenue, lined with shops, restaurants, and quaint boutiques. The famous ice cream Balboa Bar was invented here, and I never miss a chance to indulge in my favorite, the frozen banana, which is dipped in chocolate with a sprinkling of peanuts. Lovely homes and cottages line the streets enticing walkers to heed a slower pace and stroll along the boardwalk that surrounds the island with spectacular views in all directions.
I rarely take a trip to Balboa Island without ending with my favorite little excursion: traveling on the Balboa Island Ferry. Established in 1919, the ferry provides service between Balboa Island (Park Avenue) and the Balboa Peninsula. Guests can hop on the ferry, with a bike or car in tow, and enjoy the six-minute ride across the main channel where there is a Fun Zone, Pavilion, and museum. Rain or shine, day or night, this traveling treasure runs all year round, seven days a week.
New this year, the Balboa Island Wine Walk is a wine and culinary event that will take place annually in the spring and fall. Participants can enjoy fine wines from world-class to small, local boutique wineries poured in various designated wine bar tasting locations on Marine Avenue. A portion of the event proceeds benefits the Balboa Island Merchant’s Association. Marine Avenue shops and restaurants are open to the general public of all ages during the wine walk. Those under 21 may attend with adult supervision to sample cuisine.
Welcome to Southern California whale watching at its finest! Newport Landing provides multiple whale-watching trips departing from Newport Beach daily and offers whale-watching tours year round. December through April is the prime gray whale migration period, which brings hundreds of gray whales along the Laguna Beach coastline within minutes of Newport Harbor. May through November brings warmer waters and the opportunity to view blue whales up to 80 feet long, finback whales, huge dolphin pods that number in the thousands, seals, killer whales, sharks, and many other marine creatures. You can join Newport Landing’s general public cruises or privately charter one of their boats for your own party.
If you have never sailed the skies along the California coastline, you are in for a ride you will never forget. The Newport Beach Tour takes you over the Newport Back Bay, University of California Irvine, San Joaquin Hills, Fashion Island, China Cove Beach, Pirate’s Cove Beach, Corona del Mar Beach, Balboa Peninsula, the Wedge, the United States Coast Guard Station, Little Balboa Island, Balboa Island, Collins Island, Peninsula Park, Balboa Pier, Balboa Pavilion, Balboa Island Ferry, Bay Island, Harbor Island, Linda Island, Bay Shores, Lido Isle, Newport Pier, and the River Jetties. Want more? Check out their helicopter scuba diving, golf ball drops, and helicopter parachuting!
Every year, the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach sponsors the much-awaited Newport Beach Jazz Festival. Showcasing some of the best musicians in the jazz circuit, the lineup has included favorites Mindi Abair, Rick Braun, Norman Brown, Boney James, Dave Koz, Jeffrey Osborne, Kirk Whalum, and more. The Back Bay Amphitheater, located inside the hotel, hosts the festivities. An intimate venue, the amphitheater allows fans to get up-close and personal with their favorite musicians.
If you want a luxurious beginning or ending to your Newport Beach trip, consider a Newport Beach dinner cruise by Hornblower Cruises & Events. As soon as you board your evening will begin with a welcome glass of champagne. Then you’ll sit down to a four-course dinner crafted from local, seasonal ingredients at your private table. After dinner, enjoy the outdoor deck for music and dancing.
Speaking of dinner, here are some notable Newport Beach dining spots.
When our friend and award-winning Hawaiian singer/composer Henry Kapono tours the mainland, we join him at his favorite Italian hidden gem on Lido Isle. Our visit to Sabatino’s takes us back to old-fashioned ambiance, family-style. The restaurant is known for its unique sausage started by the Sabatino family in Sicily in 1864. This tasty signature sausage is blended with a special Sicilian goat milk cheese; the natural moisture from the cheese makes this lean meat juicy and flavorful. All the food is prepared Sicilian-style, fresh to order and including an award-winning Caesar salad and famous delicious Italian wedding soup.
Wilma’s Patio is located on Marine Avenue on Balboa Island, and I look forward to meeting friends at one of the friendliest diners in Newport Beach. For breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Wilma’s restaurant provides a cozy family atmosphere. The restaurant is surrounded by family—the Staudinger family owns and manages the restaurant and the cooks come from two families and are cousins. Most importantly, there is the family of loyal customers; many come regularly for their “Wilma fix,” ordering the same item and sitting in the same place every visit. For me, it’s the Huevos Rancheros breakfast.
Red O is a world-class restaurant that quickly became one of my favorites (it’s located at Fashion Island, just minutes from my work). Home of award-winning chef Rick Bayless, Red O delivers superior cuisine in a stunning atmosphere that parallels a luxury resort. I love appetizers and desserts so my favorite order here includes the beef short rib sopes, ahi tuna tostadita, and dark chocolate ganache. The restaurant specializes in prime steaks and seafood using authentic Mexican sauces prepared with ingredients primarily sourced from local farms that employ sustainable practices. Red O is known for its impressive bar and lounge, its specialty cocktails, and its extensive tequila and award-winning wine list.
Located at Fashion Island, Muldoon’s Irish Pub opened in 1974 and has grown to be one the city’s most frequented Irish pubs. We first discovered this authentic Irish pub while attending an after-party for the Newport Beach Film Festival. The pub’s list of libations goes on forever and, of course, boasts Guinness, Black & Tan, and a delicious Black Velvet (Guinness Stout and Veuve Clicquot Champagne) in addition to a gazillion Irish Whiskeys. Beyond the menu, which includes banger bites, corned beef and cabbage, and shepherd’s pie, the ambiance is what lures repeat customers to its Irish setting. Muldoon’s little ivy-covered brick building has won architectural awards because it is quite unique. The restaurant has four special spaces including two pubs: the Dublin Pub, the Celtic Bar, the Tavern dining room, and the open-air courtyard.
Of course, no visit to Newport Beach would be complete without enjoying some coastal shopping.
Shopping at Fashion Island, which is located just off Pacific Coast Highway and Newport Center Drive, is a dream experience with restaurants for every palate, entertainment and posh cocktail bars, shops galore, and great people (and dog) watching. The center is home to specialty designer stores including Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Bloomingdales, and there are shops for every age group. The entire outdoor mall is super dog friendly, sparkling clean, full of casual and formal summer wear and high-end and affordable beach home goods and gifts, and best of all, offers views of the ocean. Dine at indoor restaurants or on the patios of several outdoor cafés, sip coffee and enjoy desserts before more shopping, and catch a movie at the on-site theater.
Sometimes on my lunch break, I’ll stroll Balboa Island while snacking on a chocolate-covered frozen banana and browse the little boutiques. There is bargain shopping amongst the million-dollar residences (the opposite of what you would think), even stores where clothes and merchandise sell for $15 or less. My latest trip on Marine Avenue led me to a secret boutique called Tango Rose, famous for its “upscale at wholesale” prices on dresses, lingerie, swimwear, purses, accessories, and footwear. The day I dropped by, all the shoes were 50 percent off! I also like that the friendly staff greets you and then leaves you to browse and shop at leisure.
One of Newport Beach’s best qualities is the diverse people the seaside city attracts. Whether I am strolling the sandy coves among dog lovers and beach goers, meeting new residents that have emigrated from other countries, or munching on a Balboa Bar next to a tourist from Virginia, there is no end to the diverse array of individuals, personalities, and families here. The pleasing link we share is our love of “All Things Beach” among like-minded souls of surf, sea, and sand.
These are just a few reasons to live, work, and play in the beautiful city by the sea!
For more about Newport Beach and its other offerings, such as world-class resort hotels, golf courses, museums, art walks, nature strolls, historic landmarks, and more, check out the Newport Beach Visitor Center.