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Up The Road: Newport Beach

Konrad Summers
The 1905 Balboa Pavilion, one of California’s last waterfront recreational pavilions, was once connected to LA by the Pacific Electric Railway.

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.

Ken Lund
Dad’s on Balboa Island, Newport Beach, home to the original Balboa Bar (and according to local legend, also the frozen chocolate covered banana on a stick)

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.

Ken Lund
Beach chairs, Newport Beach

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:

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Kim Weir is the founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project. She researches, writes, and hosts Up the Road, a radio show and mini-podcast about California co-produced by North State Public Radio. Kim got her start as a travel journalist in 1990 with the publication of the first and original Moon Handbooks Northern California, a surprise best-seller. Six other Moon books on California soon followed. She is a member, by invitation, of the venerable Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Kim earned a BA in environmental studies and analysis, with an emphasis on botany and ecology, and also holds an MFA in creative writing. She lives in Paradise.
Matt Fidler is a producer and sound designer with over 15 years’ experience producing nationally distributed public radio programs. He has worked for shows such as Freakonomics Radio, Selected Shorts, Studio 360, The New Yorker Radio Hour and The Takeaway. In 2017, Matt launched the language podcast Very Bad Words, hitting the #28 spot in the iTunes podcast charts.