Hi everyone! Today I am going to be taking you on a tour of Newport Beach, California. It’s truly amazing how you can live next door to somewhere for years and barely scratch the surface of exploring all it has to offer. That is the thing I love most about this blog, it pushes me to constantly discover new things so that I can share them with all of you! Take a look below to hear about some of my go to spots, and some new places I recently discovered.
Balboa Island, Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Village
Balboa Island is a quaint little island community right in the heart of Newport Beach. It is joined to the mainland by a two lane bridge that becomes Marine Ave. in 1908 William Collins began to dredge a channel on the north side of Newport Bay and put the sand onto the tide lands. This became the beginning of Balboa Island. Today the island has about 1400 homes. The main street, Marine Ave, is filled with little shops and restaurants. It is also home to the Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society which is a must visit to learn more about the town and get a historical perspective. The best summer days are spent walking around Balboa with the island’s famous frozen bananas. (Is anyone here an Arrested Development fan?).
My husband and I recently found a family owned restaurant there that we love to stop by for lunch. It’s an interesting building, technically broken into two parts. The first is called Crockers “The Well Dressed Frank” and the second is Crockers Abundant Table. We spotted the unique looking place from down the street and knew we had to visit. We ended up learning that Crocker’s has a strong Balboa island connection dating back to 1927. The restaurant is named in honor of the owners grandfather who was Balboa Island’s first paid fire chief. The family feel is evident and it is a very warm, welcoming place that invites you to stay as long as you want. They focus is on comfort food ranging from biscuits & gravy, to their specialty hot dogs, to panini’s and quesadillas. You will find something for everyone here.
The next must visit spot is the Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society. The museum was founded in 2000 to preserve the history of the island. It is housed in a vintage cottage that was built in 1947 and displays photos and artifacts from the early days on the island. The museum tells the history of how Balboa Island became the “jewel of Newport Beach”. The exhibits focus on the prominent families that were integral to the development of the island, was well as movie stars who would frequent the island and there is a permanent exhibit showcasing the Balboa Island Yacht Club trophies. If you fall in love with Balboa and are interested in learning more about how it came to be, you absolutely must visit this museum.
Although I love walking in and out of the beautiful shops, my favorite part of the island is the homes. You will see some of the most beautiful beach cottages here with an incredibly impressive attention to detail. I love walking up and down Amethyst Ave, (many of the streets are named after gems) and taking in the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. Each home is perfectly maintained and you feel almost like you are visiting a movie set. Being a design buff, I really appreciate those details. Balboa Island has a boardwalk surrounding the island where you can look at the water and take in the sights of Newport Harbor. Many of the homes have small sandy beaches and boat slips. You can take the Balboa Island Ferry from the southwest end of the island over to Balboa Peninsula. The ferry holds three automobiles as well as pedestrians.
Balboa Peninsula, known more commonly as “the peninsula”, stretches for 3 miles and is anchored on one end by the Newport Pier and by the famous surf spot known as “the wedge” on the other end. The peninsula is know for its great restaurants and nightlife. There is no shortage of selections here. One of my favorites is The Blue Beet, a multi level bar with great rooftop views and live music.
Last but not least, Balboa Village is home to the Fun Zone, an old school arcade right on the water! This is Southern California’s oldest and last great coastal amusement area and a place that is fun for all ages. The Harborside Pavilion is a California State Historic Landmark built in 1906. They have a ferris wheel, nautical museum, whale watching, harbor cruises, restaurants and more. The best part is walking around the Bayfront boardwalk taking in all of the unique waterfront homes.
Lido Marina Village and Cannery Village
Cannery Village began as the center of a thriving fishing industry which reached its peak in the 1950s. At that time there were three canneries, the largest was known as Western Canners Co which today is the site of The Cannery Restaurant. You can actually pull your boat up and have dinner delivered to you, how cool is that? This area also offers somewhat of a mini design district with shops such as Cannery Paints, The South of France and Newport Sash and Door. My absolute favorite interior design store here is 503 Found. They always have an amazing selection of new and vintage decor perfect for any project.
My favorite part of this area is the Regency Lido Theater. This theater opened in 1938 and is the home to the Newport Beach Film Festival. The Lido is an architectural gem and if you love old movie theaters you absolutely must add this one to your list.
Right next to Cannery Village is the beautiful Lido Marina Village. Over the past two years this area has undergone some unbelievable renovations and is now arguably the best spot in Newport. Lido Marina Village is a luxury lifestyle center that offers strolling, shopping and eating on Newport Harbor. The design of this area is so beautiful with a trend of classic black and white flowing through all of the buildings, string lights stretched above the streets and cute Instagram worthy murals scattered about. It is amazing to see the transformation this village has made. If you love good design and love to shop, you really must check out this area.
Mariner’s Mile and Westcliff
Mariners Mile is a 1.3 mile stretch along Pacific Coast Highway that is home to the marine business in Newport Beach. There are boatyards with places to rent electric boats, yacht dealerships and car dealerships mixed in with eateries and shopping. If you are traveling north on PCH you will pass right through Mariner’s Mile, an important part of the nautical aspect of Newport.
Westcliff is another fantastic shopping area with home decor, clothing and accessories. I have to mention this area because another one of my all time favorite design stores, Heirloom, is located here in Westcliff. Heirloom does an amazing job of mixing new items with vintage treasures and I always find what I’m looking for when I visit.
Upper Newport Bay
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve and Ecological Preserve, known by locals as Back Bay, is 1,000 acres of preserved wetlands right in the bustling area of Newport. This is one of the largest coastal wetlands in Southern California where you will find thousands of different bird species. There are so many activities in Back Bay, you can paddle board, boat, swim, hike, bike and kayak. My husband and I love to kayak here with our two dogs, we rent kayaks from Newport Aquatic Center throughout the summer and our dogs love exploring the area and swimming. We have kayaked many different places in Orange County, but this one is my favorite. Also in this area you will find Newport Dunes, a beachfront waterpark, RV park and marina. This past summer I went to see Israel Vibration live in concert at Newport Dunes and it was so much fun, right on the beach. If you love being outdoors, I highly recommend a stop in Back Bay.
Corona Del Mar
Corona Del Mar, Crown of the Sea, is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Southern California. This stretch of Pacific Coast Highway offers a gorgeous downtown area with shops, restaurants and small businesses. Running parallel to downtown is a spectacular waterfront neighborhood with breathtaking homes that must be seen. The two most well known beaches here are Big Corona and Little Corona. Big Corona is known for surfing, Little Corona is more of a laid back, relaxed beach.
Perhaps the most unique part of town is the New Port Theater. The Port was first opened in 1949 and was a thriving part of Newport until the early 1990s. The theater closed in 1998 and was scheduled for demolition. Miraculously an investor saved the Port from demolition and it underwent a renovation and reopening in 2012. Today it is a fully functioning theater which you can also rent out for special events. My favorite memory here is when The Great Gatsby premiered in May of 2013, my husband and I went to see it at the Port where guests dressed up in costume and the venue offered a bar with themed drinks. It was an extremely unique movie experience that we never forgot. If you love movies, I would definitely plan a visit to the Port.
Corona Del Mar manages to be extremely glamorous while maintaining a small town atmosphere which is a unique quality these days and makes it a real gem of Orange County.
Fashion Island and Newport Center
Fashion Island is a must visit for people who love to shop. It is an elevated outdoor mall experience with lots of high end shops and beautiful eateries. A local favorite is Fig & Olive known as much for the beautiful design as for the delicious food. Next door in the Corona Del Mar Plaza you will find even more shopping with favorites such as Bristol Farms, Sur La Table, McKee & Co and Blue Mercury. This area really is a shoppers paradise.
My favorite spot in this area is the Newport Big 6 movie theater. (With this being my third movie theater mention in this post, I’m sure you can tell I have a love for movie theaters, especially those with vintage charm). Newport Big 6 has managed to combine the retro charm of old movie theaters with the modern conveniences of new theaters, and for that reason, it is my favorite place to go. The theater was opening in 1969 with 1,130 seats and was considered the flagship of the Edwards chain. In the 1970s and 1980s two theaters were added on each side of the original building and in 1996 three stadium auditoriums were added. The cool thing is, “The Big Newport” main theater has gone against the trends and never changed to the now popular stadium style seating. Despite this, they have continued to have major success. The neon signs and patterned carpet details remind me of the classic movie theaters of my youth but the reclining armchair style seats give it the update of todays amenities. I think it is important to support our local theaters and I hope this one is around for many years to come.
Newport Coast and Crystal Cove
The Crystal Cove area of Newport Beach is so amazing, it really deserves its own post. I will do my best to try and condense the history and beauty of this place as much as I can. Crystal Cove Historic District has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979 and is comprised of waterfront cottages and walking paths. (The history of this area is very extensive, if you are interested in reading about it dating back to the 1700s, check out this post). I am going to focus more on the recent history of the area since the early 1900s. In the early 1900s the area started gaining popularity with both visitors and filmmakers. In 1920 Treasure Island was the first commercial movie filmed at Crystal Cove. Many more would follow including The Sea Wolf (1920), Stormswept (1923), White Shadows in the South Seas (1928), Half a Bridge (1928), and Sadie Thompson (1928). Also in the 1920s many people began to build small cottages along the beach for weekend and summer homes. Many more visitors arrived in 1926 when Pacific Coast Highway was opened through Laguna Beach. The area was described by The Los Angeles Examiner in 1927 was “a bathing resort that has the atmosphere of a South Sea atoll with thatched huts and long-fronded palms.” Every summer from the 1920s through the 1960s families would camp on the beach creating a “tent town”. This tent town became a very tight knit community which existed until the 1960s when beachfront camping was abolished.
The peak years of Crystal Cove happened after World War II when a small restaurant and store were added and there were forty six cottages on the beach. Around 1962 the area developed more as a year round occupied community. Although residents did not technically own the land they lived on or the cottages they built, they were offered leases by the Irvine company to be able to stay there for 10 years at a time. The people who lived here were referred to as “coveites”. The area became somewhat of a lively scene with resident Stella Hiatt referring to living here as: “every night was Saturday night, and every night was New Year’s Eve”. One of the most famous stories from the cove, is told in the book Crystal Cove Cottages, “Every Saturday at four o’clock… tenter Doc Shearer gathered a group of campers around the flagpole outside his cabana. Everyone saluted as Doc blew taps on his bugle and raised the flag his wife, Babe, had sewn; the black background bore the sharp white outline of a Martini glass”. You can read more about this inconic time in California’s history here.
In 1979 the Irvine Company sold the land to the State of California and the state signed a 60 year concession contract with private developers to convert the cottages into a luxury resort. This began an intense legal battle that eventually ended with residents being forced from their homes in 2001. During this time many people were also fighting against the development of the luxury resort and eventually the California Coastal Conservancy gave State Parks $2 million to buy out the concession contract from resort developers. This began an era of renovation on the area beginning with phase one in 2003 which restored 13 cottages into rentals and nine for operations and food concession use. Phase two began in 2009 renovating seven additional cottages and finally the project wrapped with phase three in 2013 which renovated the remaining 17 cottages. (The amount of research and dedication to historical accuracy when renovating these cottages was truly amazing. You can read more about how this came about here). When staying in these cottages today, you will find no tv’s and no telephones. The point is to transform you back in time away from todays distractions. They are currently working on raising the funds for the final phase of the renovation which will update the last sixteen cottages.
Even as a day visitor, there is so much to see and experience at Crystal Cove. The best way to get there is to park your car at the lot on Los Trancos and take the shuttle down to the historic district. You can start your day by wandering around looking at the cottages taking in all of the historic details. There is a visitor center and a shop as well. You will also find the Beachcomber restaurant which is right on the sand offering unparalleled views. While you’re there you can explore the beach taking in the beauty of Crystal Cove State Park.
Your day in Crystal Cove isn’t complete without a stop at Crystal Cove Shake Shack. To get here you will need to take the shuttle back to your car and drive a short distance down PCH until you see a bright yellow shack on the side of the road with incredible views overlooking Crystal Cove State Park. They have some of the best hot dogs around, I highly recommend the cove dog and the cajun fries. They are also famous for their shakes. Although this spot gets extremely busy, it is worth the wait if you can get a table here at sunset.
Newport Coast has one of the most beautiful views you will find along Pacific Coast Highway paired with lots of high end shops, restaurants and a large gated community. My third and final favorite design store in Newport Beach is Juxtaposition home. I always come here to source for my design projects because they have the most unique selection of home goods, gift items and apparel. Finally, if you are looking for a luxurious place to spend the night, look no further than Pelican Hill Resort. This five star resort features spectacular bungalows, villas and amenities offering you a one of a kind luxury stay.
Newport Shores is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Newport Beach. When traveling on PCH it is in the northernmost section of town before you reach Huntington Beach. Newport Shores has approximately 440 homes and is located directly across the street from the beach. I discovered this neighborhood because it is located right behind one of my favorite restaurants, Eat Chow. Eat Chow is elevated comfort food with three locations in Southern California. If you visit, I highly recommend the chopped fried chicken salad, it’s delicious! My husband and I discovered Newport Shores when we were walking around one evening after dinner. The neighborhood stuck with me because of the unique architecture. There is a definite retro feel to many of the homes here with a lot of A frame elements throughout the neighborhood. I am so curious about the history of these homes and who originally built them but I haven’t been able to find any information online. If you have any details for me, please let me know in the comments below! This neighborhood is also surrounded by a canal and the area is in many ways a bird sanctuary with great blue herons, white herons, ducks, seagulls and pelicans living here. If you are an architecture fan, I highly recommend a stop in Newport Shores.
There you have it, my guide to Newport Beach. This city has so much to offer, I did my best to give you a sampling of everything but there is truly so much to explore. Did I cover your favorite spots? Let me know in the comments below!