Newport Beach is a great representation of the luxurious side of the SoCal lifestyle. Buttressed against the Pacific Ocean and wedged between Los Angeles (55 miles to the north) and San Diego (90 miles to the south), this coastal Orange County town draws locals and travelers alike with its beautiful coastline setting and popular beach scene. But Newport Beach is also home to every indulgent SoCal life experience that one could possibly wish for, from fine dining and upscale shopping to glamorous nightlife and top leisure pursuits.
For Southern California residents, the best way to travel here is to cruise along the coastline via the legendary Pacific Coast Highway. If you fly in from elswhere, we recommend landing at John Wayne Airport (SNA). You can also fly into Long Beach Airport (LGB) or Los Angeles International Airport (LAX); if you do, just be prepared to be in your rented car for at least an hour (or longer, depending on traffic). Renting a car upon arrival is crucial, as public transportation in Orange County is essentially not an option.
The city of Newport Beach is made up of several smaller villages and communities; most notably Balboa, Corona del Mar and Newport Coast. A healthy chunk of these communities are built around the coastline; as a result, virtually all of Newport Beach's oceanfront property is occupied by upscale private residences, which makes for a shortage of hotels that lead directly onto the sand.
Of course, this minor quibble hardly detracts from Newport Beach's hotel scene. The historic Balboa Bay Resort is a former private club that overlooks Newport Harbor from its exclusive spot on a stretch of Pacific Coast Highway dubbed Mariner's Mile. Down the road in the midst of the opulent Newport Coast area is The Resort at Pelican Hill, the city's lone mega-luxury resort and home to the Pelican Hill Golf Club, featuring two courses created by renowned golf course architect Tom Fazio.
The Island Hotel Newport Beach, located directly across from the famed outdoor shopping mall Fashion Island, provides posh digs for the jet setting crowd, replete with acclaimed cuisine and happening entertainment. Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa is also adjacent to Fashion Island. It offers up a swanky modern motif as well as breathtaking views of the ocean and the meticulously groomed Newport Beach Country Club golf course. Those looking to mix business with pleasure will note that the Fairmont Newport Beach, while not near the water, is located directly across from John Wayne Airport and within close proximity to one of Orange County's major business hubs. If you insist on staying at a place just steps from the sand, the Newport Beach Hotel on the Balboa Peninsula boasts a pleasant modern ambience, deep soaking tubs, fireplaces and easy access to the bustling Balboa boardwalk as well as the beach.
Try your hand at the RV experience, Newport Beach style, at the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina — a locally popular 110-acre upscale mobile home park that sits at the mouth of the Newport Back Bay and offers space rental by the night. The resort also has family-style cottages for the RV-free crowd, as well as a small market, a boat launch and the casually elegant Back Bay Bistro.
NEWPORT BEACH DAY
1: BALBOA ISLAND, NEWPORT HARBOR DINING AND LIDO LIVE
Nothing epitomizes Newport Beach better than Newport Harbor. As such, it needs to be the first stop on your sightseeing journey regardless of where your hotel is located. To properly start this excursion, head south on Jamboree Boulevard and keep going until you land on Balboa Island. Lovely million-dollar cottages and gorgeous multi-million dollar mansions abound on the tiny, man-made island, making it worth your while to drive around its small surface area. When you are done cruising, park your car and take a leisurely stroll along Marine Avenue, the island's main drag, which is filled with charming restaurants and colorful boutiques selling everything from quaint home décor to sophisticated fashion. Early risers who come to the island flock to the iconic Wilma's Patio to take in its pastoral setting and American breakfast fare.
Once you hop back into your car, drive your ride onto the Balboa Island Auto Ferry. For just $2, you can relax and take in a spectacular view of the harbor and nearby hills during the boat's three-minute journey toward the Balboa Peninsula and its famed Fun Zone. The Balboa Ferris Wheel and Midway games are still around to provide a glimpse of old-time harbor-side revelry. Those who missed out on a Balboa Island breakfast can take a jaunt to the end of Balboa Pier and grab American-style cuisine at the retro-styled Ruby's Balboa Pier, located at the dock's edge.
The best way to experience Newport Harbor is to be in the water. Fortunately, Balboa Boat Rentals is conveniently located on the Balboa Peninsula right next to the Auto Ferry landing. An impressive fleet of vessels are available for hourly rentals, from self-propelled boats and kayaks to self-enclosed Duffy boats that come equipped with a dining table, iPod jacks and room for seven of your closest friends to picnic and party. The rental shop also provides makeshift sea captains with a rather detailed map of the harbor's landmarks, public piers and restaurants. Lovebirds can experience the harbor in a more romantic setting with an intimate boat ride offered by Gondola Adventures or through a larger dinner cruise via Hornblower's convoy of party vessels.
Hungry skippers can dock and dine at various venues at the marina. At Bluewater Grill, don't be surprised if owner Jimmy "U" comes down to the dock and literally shows you the ropes in securing your craft. Once you are inside, treat yourself to the venue's ever-changing menu of contemporary and classic New England seafood dishes. The chef will be happy to explain what fresh fish was caught that day or the nuances of the oysters being served upon request. Another dockside selection is Cannery Seafood of the Pacific, a landmark waterfront venue that serves choice seafood, sushi and other classic California-inspired fare.
After a day on the water, get yourself reacquainted with the land by embarking on a long stroll down Balboa Boardwalk; a bustling strip of concrete that links Balboa Pier to Newport Pier. Along the pathway, you will saunter past the on-the-sand playground of 15th Street Beach, surf and snack shops, and a thriving bar and restaurant scene that is quite lively at either end. The Newport terminus is marked by the continental cuisine served up at 21 Oceanfront, housed in one of the city's most historic and romantic venues. Couples can even turn their dinner date here into an overnight adventure, as the antique-festooned Victorian Doryman's Oceanfront Inn is located above the eatery.
Since Newport Harbor takes up a sizeable amount of the city's coastline, beach space in Newport Beach is not as abundant as it is in some of the neighboring towns. Still, the lack of quantity is more than made up in quality. The Balboa Peninsula's shore is the most famous segment of coastline here. Marked by the two piers and several small beaches, this stretch of sand is capped off by the presence of The Wedge — a legendary surfing spot where geometry and harbor jetty conspire to produce powerful waves whose height routinely reaches double digits in summer. For those who venture further south, Newport Coast, Corona Del Mar and Crystal Cove offer larger sandy areas with fewer crowds, solid facilities, and a more exotic vibe made possible through adjacent cliffs, rocky outcroppings and tide pools.
For dinnertime, Newport Beach boasts a host of dining venues that virtually minted the concept of "upscale casual." Indeed, fine dining establishments such as Bayside, Rusty Pelican, Wildfish Seafood Grille and A Restaurant terrifically straddle the line between providing a fine dining experience and adhering to a more casual ambience to appease the locals.
For an evening filled with old-style Hollywood glamour, be sure to catch a performance or independent film at the Lido Live venue. This historic Art Deco movie house has been pristinely preserved to retain the velvet-infused elegance it boasted when it first opened in 1938. Film buffs that plan their trip at the right time can also head to this theater to enjoy the city's annual Newport Beach Film Festival.
Because Newport Beach is more suburban hideaway than happening beach town, the city does have a tendency to roll up its sidewalks a little early. Still, there are some establishments that you can go to if you desire to keep the party going into the wee hours. Venues, such as 3-Thirty-3 Waterfront, transform from restaurants to nightclubs after the traditional dining time passes, while other eateries such as Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, Mastro's Ocean Club and Yard House provide a happening post-dinner bar scene.
Continue to Day 2