Up The Road: Newport Beach
A few miles south of laid-back Surf City is Southern California’s premier yacht harbor. Now a sometimes crass media symbol of spendy living, Newport Beach has been a rich-people’s playground since the 1920s, the preferred seaside escape for L.A.’s old money. (“Old” being relative in California.)
Also included were celebrities including John Wayne, Shirley Temple, George Burns and Gracie Allen, even Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
Newport Beach is still more residential area than a tourist destination, but just plain folks can find plenty to do.
First, a warning: Traffic and parking are summer and weekend nightmares, especially near Newport Pier and Balboa Island, where you won’t be able to park. Touring on foot or by bike is the wise alternative, and take the ferry to the island.
The first stop is the Balboa Peninsula, a long, arthritic finger of sand pointing south from Newport Boulevard. The Newport Pier—at the ocean end of McFadden Place, between 20th and 21st Streets—was originally McFadden’s Wharf, built-in 1888 to accommodate the train from Santa Ana, which delivered both produce and steamship passengers.
Newport Beach, the actual beach by that name, stretches both west and east from the pier. Most historic is the Newport Dory Fishing Fleet, adjacent. Hard at it since 1891, this fishing cooperative is the only surviving beachside dory fleet in the U.S. Get your fresh fish and lobster here.
Then stroll to the Balboa Pier, two miles east, which juts into the ocean from Balboa’s Main Street. With landscaped lawn, bandstand, and palm trees, Balboa’s pier is focal point for more placid pursuits. On most days even the beach is relatively quiet, especially the stretch toward the jetty. The ocean is quieter too.
The jetty is the rocky chin protecting the harbor mouth as it inhales and exhales sailboats. The angle formed between Balboa Beach and the jetty is called The Wedge, internationally famous for stupendous shore breaks, locally infamous for bone-breaking bodysurfing, surfing, and swimming. (Truly dangerous. Don’t even think about it.) Get the picture at Jetty View Park, at the tip of the peninsula.
Both Balboa Pier and the Balboa Pavilion at 400 Main were built in 1905 by Southern California developers working to attract home buyers to this otherwise desolate sandspit. Not to be missed amid the surrounding shops and schlock is the reconstructed Balboa Fun Zone promenade along the bay, with genuine arcade-era pinball machines.
Adjacent to the pavilion is the Balboa Ferry, for the very short trip to and from buffed, high-priced Balboa Island.
Appreciate the 1930 Spanish colonial Balboa Inn at the foot of the pier. Back toward Newport Pier, at W. Ocean Front and 13th Streets, is concrete Lovell Beach House, one of America’s finest examples of early modern architecture.
Until next time, when we visit the coastal home of Southern California Impressionism, this is Kim Weir for Up the Road.
Up the Road Encourages Responsible, Safe Travel
Here are previous Up the Road episodes that explore why we should travel, how to do it responsibly, and how to travel responsibly now, in the shadow of COVID-19. Not everyone should be traveling now, of course. But everyone who does travel needs to do so responsibly, to prevent viral spread. Take a listen:
- Up the Road: Why Travel?
- Up the Road: Why Travel in Northern California
- Up the Road: How to Travel
- Up the Road: Why Local Travel Matters
- Up the Road: Travel That’s Not About You
- Up the Road: Heading Up the Road Again—Responsibly
- Up the Road: 2020 Travel Strategy
- Up the Road: More on Responsible Travel 2020