A Day on Balboa Peninsula, Newport Beach
Close to 45 million people visit Orange County each year; most will spend at least part of their visit enjoying the Beach Cities.
Sandwiched between the artsy Laguna Beach to its south, and the surfers' mecca of Huntington Beach to its north, Newport Beach somehow gets overlooked by many tourists. Those who venture off the beaten path to Newport Beach will be met with all the fun and sun of other Beach Cities, but with lesser crowds and hassles.
And there is no better place to spend a day in Newport Beach than on Balboa Peninsula. Check out our family's favorite activities when revisiting our old neighborhood:
Check out the surf at "The Wedge."
Look virtually anywhere along the California coastline, and you will see surfers in the water, particularly in the early morning hours. Conditions vary from beach to beach, but no spot has more unique surf conditions than The Wedge at the far end of Balboa Peninsula. Featured in the 1964 cult classic "Endless Summer," The Wedge can see waves up to 20 feet high, breaking in a distinct U-formation, thanks to the angle of the West Jetty, built to protect the entrance to Newport Harbor.
Depending on the day, there are likely to be far more body boarders than surfers in the water. These are generally the most skilled body boarders in the country, as the break and backwash here are not for the novice water enthusiast.
To find The Wedge, take Balboa Boulevard all the way to the end of Balboa Peninsula. Find street parking in the neighborhood at that end of the peninsula, as near to the harbor entrance channel and/or ocean as you can find. Walk to the beach and look left. When you see the last jetty, you've found The Wedge.
To get an idea of surf conditions before heading out, check out Surfline's live Wedge Cam.
Or try a surf lesson.
If watching surfers just doesn't cut it, why not try a lesson? Balboa Peninsula has several great spots for surf, with rental boards available, and lessons by appointment.
For beginning surfers, we love the stretch of water between Newport Pier and the jetty to its northwest. (If you're looking for parking on W. Balboa Blvd, this roughly corresponds to the cross-streets of 22nd through 28th Streets.) The waves are generally small, and the water is not too crowded with boards, particularly nearer the jetty; the pier area gets slightly busier.
For beginner surf lessons, check out Newport Beach Surfing Lessons. The only surf school in Orange County founded and run by a former professional surfer (Sean Louden, Hawaii state champion surfer), NBSL provides wetsuits, surfboards, basic dry-land instruction, and extensive in-the-water support for a 2-hour experience that is likely to be the highlight of any trip to OC.
NBSL also rents boards and suits without lessons, as available, as well as offering GoPro camera rental (with surfboard mount) to record your awesome surf session.
Swimmers 4 years old and up can participate in surf lessons. (Sorry, non-swimmers and under 3's.) Lessons can be scheduled by calling 949-554-7512.
Have breakfast at Cappy's Cafe.
Whether you were up early to watch some surfing, or actually got out there and got salt in your hair, you're sure to be hungry after a morning surf session. Our favorite spot for breakfast on this little stretch of coastline is Cappy's Cafe. A fixture along Pacific Coast Highway since 1957, this almost exclusively locals' hangout is worth leaving the peninsula for (although with its location at 5930 West Coast Highway, it is just barely off the peninsula). Large portions, laid back -but efficient- service, and patrons with wetsuit tan lines and flip-flopped feet all give this diner a true California vibe.
Cappy's opens at 6:00 a.m. Serves until 3:00 p.m. most days.
Then take a boat tour of Newport Harbor.
One of our favorite, but surprisingly little-known pastimes on the peninsula is a boat tour of Newport Harbor. The Fun Zone Boat Company, with its fleet of quirky vessels, offers several options in guided tours, ranging from 45-minute sea lion cruises, to 90-minute sunset tours. The most economical option is a 90-minute narrated cruise that tours past yachts and mansions of the rich and famous, points of historical interest, and iconic filming locations, plus a quick trip out of the harbor and into the Pacific Ocean to see the sea lions of Bell Buoy, a mile offshore.
If you're traveling with children, it is important to note that the boats do not have restroom facilities onboard. However, the 90-minute cruise returns to the dock after the first 45 minutes for a 15 minute intermission, giving plenty of time to race over to the public (and usually clean) restrooms, less than half a block away.
Food and beverages are allowed onboard, as well as alcohol, subject to captain's approval. Tipping is encouraged, and has been well merited on each of our several excursions.
Cruises depart on the hour, beginning at 11:00 a.m., from the Balboa Fun Zone. (Official address is 700 E. Edgewater Blvd, Newport Beach; however GoogleMaps and GPS might find it more easily with 600 E. Bay Ave, Newport Beach.)
Or kayak the harbor.
One look at the calm waters of Newport Harbor might have some visitors itching for a more active option. Several stands on the peninsula offer rental kayaks and stand-up paddle boards. For the most kid-friendly introduction to kayaking, we recommend Southwind Kayak Rentals. Located off the peninsula, where Newport Harbor meets "the Back Bay," there is minimal water traffic here, and rarely a sea lion spotting, so paddlers can get their bearings on the water before navigating the many obstacles of this active harbor.
Kids of any age may paddle, but must be 13 or older to take out their own kayak or SUP; under 13 will paddle in a tandem kayak or on a SUP with an adult.
Southwind is located at 100 N. Bayside Dr., Newport Beach. To park, turn off Bayside Drive onto a sandy road toward Bayside Village Marina. Park under the bridge. (That's PCH overhead.) Parking is free.
Rentals begin at 9:00 a.m. Last boats go out at 4:00 p.m., to be returned by 5:00.
Ride the famous Fun Zone Ferris wheel.
Since 1936, the Fun Zone on Balboa Boulevard has been amusing area visitors along the harbor side of the peninsula. Today, almost 80 years later, an afternoon at the Fun Zone feels like a trip back in time, to when tourism was made up of simple amusements, like the Ferris wheel, open-air arcade, caricature artists, and old-fashioned beach treats.
A ride on the original (but refurbished) Fun Zone Ferris wheel gives views of the Pacific Ocean (all the way to Catalina Island, on a good day), Newport Harbor, and Newport Hills, and is one of the longest Ferris wheel rides around, close to 10 minutes.
Ferris wheel rides are $4. Value bands with no expiration date are available.
The Fun Zone is located at 600 E. Bay Ave., directly across the peninsula from Balboa Pier, steps away from Fun Zone Boat Comapny (above).
Then rent a bike and cruise the peninsula.
With skies that are sunny almost 300 days a year, and a bike trail extending around most of the peninsula, a cruise around Balboa is almost compulsory. Bike rental shops are scattered around the peninsula, with rental prices only negligibly different. Our favorite shop is Seaside Bicycle Company.
Seaside offers men's and women's bikes, kids' bikes, and tandem bikes, plus the ultimate in vacation style: the Surrey bike, which can accommodate up to 6 adults and 2 small children, or a smaller Surrey for a party of 3. Helmets and bike locks are included with the rental.
Located at 105 Main St., Seaside is steps away from Balboa Pier, and a block from the Balboa Fun Zone. Also very close to those usually clean public restrooms.
Have dinner at Ruby's on Balboa Pier.
Thirty-five years ago, the original Ruby's Diner was an old abandoned bait shop, slowly dilapidating on the end of Balboa Pier with little hope for restoration. What began as a long-shot vision of a Nantucket restaurateur has become an iconic dining venue around the SoCal Beach Cities.
While our favorite Ruby's location is on the end of Huntington Beach Pier, dining at the original Ruby's is a delectable chance to embrace the revitalization of the Balboa Pier neighborhood.
The burgers are juicy, fries are refillable, malts are enormous, and the service is entertaining. Plus, seats on the rooftop deck offer unforgettable sunset views.
A quick walk from Seaside Bicycle Company (above), Ruby's official address is #1 Balboa Pier.
End the day with an outdoor movie.
Just off the peninsula, on the Back Bay of Newport Harbor, is Newport Dunes RV Resort and Marina. Every Friday and Saturday night at dusk, from Memorial Day through Labor Day (then Saturdays only through September), the Dunes shows family-friendly movies on their beach. Movies are open to resort guests and day-use visitors.
Movies are free, but day-use visitors pay to park. Parking is currently $12 per car for up to 3 hours.
Call ahead (949-729-3863) to find out each night's movie. Be sure to bring movie snacks, plus a beach blanket or beach chairs, and arrive early to get a good spot. Warmer clothing or extra layers are advised, as the temps can get chilly once the sun sets.
Newport Dunes is located at 101 N. Bayside Dr., Newport Beach.
Have you had a great day on Balboa Peninsula? Tell us about it!
Share your favorite moments around the peninsula in the comments below.
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