Newport Beach and its environs have been called California’s Riviera and the Gold Coast. Sandy beaches and bougainvillea are the backdrop to yachts and dream homes, from quaint cottages to some of the nation’s most expensive real estate.
The city’s retail center is Newport Center, near Jamboree Road, East Coast Highway and MacArthur Boulevard. Fashion Island is among the most relaxed and elegant shopping destinations anywhere. Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s are anchors. C. Wonder boutique and a stunning Whole Foods Market with tavern and tearoom-café opened recently; plans are underway for Fig & Olive restaurant. Super-stylish electric-vehicle maker Tesla occupies an Apple-esque showroom. Island Cinema offers leather seats and wine service.
Also in Newport Center is the Orange County Museum of Art, which focuses on 20th century California artists. The museum throws hip fetes: Orange Crush is an after-hours event featuring indie bands and local deejays on the third Thursday of the month.
Nearby is Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve, also known as the Back Bay, boasting some 160 species of birds, including the great egret. Hike, bike or jog along 10 miles of trails. Rowing and kayaking are popular; rent equipment from the Newport Aquatic Center (North Star County Beach, 1 Whitecliffs Drive, 949.646.7725).
Moe B’s Watersports (949.729.1150) offers sailboats, kayaks, pedal boats, wind-surfing and electric boat rentals. Moe B’s guided kayak tour through the marshlands departs Sundays at 10 am ($15 includes kayak rental). There are also Segway tours of the Back Bay ($75).
Newport Beach boasts the largest small-boat harbor in the world. North on Coast Highway from the Back Bay area is a stretch known as Mariner’s Mile, which is lined with restaurants, luxury-car showrooms and yacht clubs.
Private charters and narrated harbor cruises, aboard vessels including luxury dining cruisers and romantic gondolas, depart from Mariner’s Mile as well as from Balboa Pavilion (see Balboa, next page), and pass huge luxury abodes. All manner of boat rentals are possible, from canoes and kayaks to motorboats and surrey-fringed electric boats.
The “beach” in Newport Beach includes two piers, Balboa and Newport, great sandy expanses and one of the cleanest and most colorful bike paths and boardwalks anywhere.
The action never stops around Newport Pier, off Newport Boulevard on McFadden Square. The Dory Fishing Fleet leaves soon after the bars close in the wee hours of the morn; you can visit the open-air fish market after the sun comes up. The fleet, begun in 1889, is the last beach-side fishing cooperative of its kind in the United States.
To reach the Balboa Pier, continue southeast on Newport Boulevard (its name changes to Balboa Boulevard at 22nd Street), turn right on Palm Street and park in the metered lot.
The Wedge, where the peninsula meets the harbor jetty, is one of the world’s most famous bodysurfing and bodyboarding spots. Currents and riptides can be dangerous, so don’t go in the water unless you really know what you’re doing. Watching is fun enough.
On the harbor side of Balboa Peninsula are the Balboa Pavilion and a Fun Zone, marking 75 years, whose few remaining rides include a Ferris wheel. Try a custom-dipped Balboa Bar or frozen banana. Take advantage of the Balboa Bay Front Webcam at the Harbour House coffee shop; find a sunny seat outside, call your friends in snowbound or humid states, have them log on to talesofbalboa.com and gloat! The relocated Newport Harbor Nautical Museum is transforming itself into ExplorOcean; the exhibit Sea of Adventure is ongoing.
The Balboa Pavilion, a 1905 gabled, cupola-topped structure, is the depot for boat excursions: harbor tours, whale-watching trips and Santa Catalina cruises. As the lyrics to a classic pop song attest, Catalina is “26 miles across the sea”; it’s known for its beaches, buffalo and glass-bottom boats. The city of Avalon is a 75-minute cruise from the Pavilion aboard the catamaran Catalina Flyer.
The Balboa Island Ferry is a three-car shuttle between docks on the Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island, a tightknit community featuring charming cottages, shops, galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Marine Avenue is the island’s only nonresidential street.
Corona del Mar
Heading south along Coast Highway takes you past Corona del Mar Plaza, where upscale destinations include Gail Jewelers, Savory Spice Shop and Antonia, A Shoe Boutique as well as Ergonique Salon & Spa.
Corona del Mar, whose streets are named for flowers, has expansive beaches and some of the country’s most expensive real estate.
On East Coast Highway, just south of
MacArthur Boulevard, is Sherman Library & Gardens, offering 2,000 plant species on two landscaped acres. Consider a repast at Café Jardin or the Tea Garden Crêperie. Coast Highway is lined with elegant design showrooms, rug dealers and boutiques.
To find Corona del Mar State Beach, head south on Marguerite from Coast Highway, turn right on Ocean Boulevard, then follow signs to the parking lot below. You’ll find bodysurfing, volleyball, fire pits and facilities. Picturesque Little Corona Beach is just south.
South of Corona del Mar is Newport Coast. Crystal Cove Promenade offers boutiques such as Jenny Lee, Novecento and La Diva and Mastro’s Ocean Club, Bluefin, Javier’s and Tamarind restaurants.
Nearby are Crystal Cove State Park, with miles of sandy coves and miles and miles of hiking, and gorgeous Pelican Hill Golf Club.
Surf City USA has gotten more sophisticated since 1963, when the Jan and Dean hit Surf City topped charts. Though Huntington Beach retains some of its sand-in-the-cracks, beach-town personality, shops along Main Street, fine-dining options and luxury hotels have resulted in a dramatic transformation.
As the moniker “Surf City” suggests, the action is near the water. Main Street is a promenade with lots of surf-wear and beachwear shops, a Surfing Walk of Fame and the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum. The Strand, at Pacific Coast Highway and Fifth Street, is a multi-story development whose tenants include Forever 21, Active Ride, Rip Curl and RA Sushi.
Adjacent to Huntington Beach Pier Plaza are restaurants including Duke’s and Sandy’s Beach Grill; the plaza often hosts street performers, art shows and live bands. A statue of a surfer at Coast Highway and Huntington Street captures the town’s spirit.
The area offers three beaches: Huntington City Beach, Huntington State Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach are popular for surfing and volleyball as well as for fire rings and nighttime weenie roasts. Bolsa Chica State Ecological Reserve (714.840.1575), near Warner Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway, offers 200 species of migratory birds in a salt-marsh setting with a 1.5-mile loop trail.
Inland, at Talbert Avenue and Goldenwest Street, is 350-acre Huntington Central Park; the park encompasses Shipley Nature Center (714.842.4772), an equestrian center, a Frisbee golf course, two “lakes” and the city’s Central Library (714.842.4481)—which has the largest children’s library in the state.
Bella Terra is a Tuscan-themed shopping destination with cobblestone walkways. Draws include outdoor sports specialist REI and a 20-screen cineplex.
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