Located in California’s Orange County, the coastal city of Newport Beach has long been a popular destination thanks to its sun-kissed sands, sophisticated charm, and wealth of water sports. Set just under an hour’s drive to the southeast of Los Angeles, it is a very pleasant place to visit and vacation and is particularly known for its lavish yet laidback lifestyle.
For just over a century now, holidaymakers have flocked to the city for its beautiful beaches, superb scenery, and stunning sunsets. While some parts of town are home to upscale boutiques, fine dining restaurants, and exclusive yacht clubs, other areas are dotted with charming cottages and lovely old historic tourist attractions. The city’s main draw however is undoubtedly its gorgeous swathes of golden sands and outstanding array of water activities. These water-related things to do in Newport Beach include everything from swimming and surfing to kayaking, sailing, and whale-watching.
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12. Balboa Fun Zone
Since opening in 1936 the Balboa Fun Zone has delighted countless generations and families with its enticing array of attractions. Set on the Balboa Peninsula, it has lots of arcades and amusement rides for guests to enjoy as well as a bustling boardwalk lined by shops, restaurants, and saloons.
Formerly a boat yard, it opens onto both the bay and Pacific and offers up fabulous views over each. As well as a rock climbing wall and bungee jump, the large amusement area has carnival-esque rides and an iconic Ferris wheel for you to go on with the famous Balboa Pavilion lying nearby.
From the Fun Zone you can take a scenic cruise around the harbor, hop on a ferry to the nearby Balboa Island, or arrange to go on a fishing excursion or whale-watching trip.
11. Crystal Cove State Park
Home to lots of stunning landscapes, scenery and nature, Crystal Cove State Park can be found just fifteen minutes’ drive south of Newport Beach. As well as pristine Pacific coastline, it has craggy canyons and cliffs for you to explore and offers up all kinds of excellent outdoor activities.
Protected as a park since 1979, its vast confines contain untouched woods, valleys, and hills and a startling array of animals and birds. Aside from hiking and mountain biking along its trails, you can also camp in its canyons or enjoy some wonderful wildlife watching.
Its beautiful beaches and secluded coves are just as alluring with swimming, surfing, and scuba diving all being popular. In addition, you can also stay in its charming coastal cottages and enjoy a delicious meal and incredible ocean views at its Beachcomber Cafe.
10. Catalina Island
Lying around an hour’s ferry ride off the scenic Southern Californian coastline you can find the idyllic Catalina Island. A very popular destination for a day trip or quiet weekend away, it has some spellbinding scenery for you to enjoy with countless outdoor activities and water sports on offer.
Originally inhabited by the Tongva people, it was later ruled by the Spanish Empire with smugglers, sea-otter hunters, and gold prospectors all using it at one time or another. It was only in the 1920s that the chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr developed it into a tourist destination.
Nowadays most of the isle acts as a nature preserve with its diverse landscapes being a treat to hike or cycle around. Aside from sunbathing on its gorgeous white-sand beaches or swimming and scuba diving offshore, there are also its two resort towns of Avalon and Two Harbors for you to explore.
9. Whale Watching
As Newport Beach lies alongside several important whale migration paths, it is well worth taking a sightseeing tour to see the majestic creatures when in town. From next to Balboa Pier a couple of companies run excursions with sightings of the massive marine mammals being almost guaranteed.
Over the course of a couple of hours, you plough the waves, keeping an eye out for any dorsal fins, water spouts or any sign of them breaching. Besides blue and grey whales, you can sometimes spot humpbacks and minkes as well as dolphins, seals, and sharks.
As whales are constantly swimming up and down the coast, you stand a good chance of seeing at least one of them up close and personal at almost any time of year.
8. Newport Beach Pier
Jutting out into the Pacific is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks – the Newport Beach Pier. Set towards the northern end of the Balboa Peninsula, it is very peaceful and picturesque to amble along with lovely views on offer over the ocean and beach.
While the current pier dates to 1940, it is set in the same spot as an earlier wharf that was destroyed during a hurricane. Originally used for shipping purposes, the 314-metre-long municipal pier is now primarily a place to go fishing or bask in breath-taking views and spectacular sunsets.
In addition to strolling along the pier and enjoying its phenomenal panoramas, numerous shops and cafes also lie nearby should you fancy a snack or drink before heading to the beach.
7. Sherman Library & Gardens
Located in the Corona del Mar part of town you can find the pretty flowers, plants, and trees of the Sherman Library & Gardens. A treat for the senses, its colorful and fragrant grounds are home to an impressive array of flora from all around the world.
Founded in 1955 by businessman Arnold D. Haskell, the gorgeous gardens have since grown and grown with succulents and orchids now on show next to a fern grotto, desert area, and rose garden. Amidst all this lush vegetation you can also come across fountains, koi ponds, and hidden waterfalls.
While the beautiful botanical gardens are certainly its standout sight, Sherman Library is also worth checking out for its interesting collection of old books and extensive photos focusing on the history of the local area and Los Angeles.
6. The Wedge
Simply a must for avid surfers, the Wedge is a popular beach area that boasts some of the largest waves in Southern California. Lying at the eastern end of the Balboa Peninsula, it attracts all kinds of water sport aficionados as well as people who just want to watch the action and take photos of the massive waves.
For almost a century, surfers have flocked to the Wedge to try out its challenging and unpredictable swells with waves sometimes towering to over nine meters in height. These dramatic conditions are a by-product of alterations that were made to Newport Harbor in the 1930s.
While swimming here is certainly not a good idea, you can enjoy bodyboarding, skim boarding, or surfing. Alternatively, visitors can simply lounge on the beach, snap photos of the waves, and watch skillful surfers ride atop of them.
5. Balboa Pier
A very picturesque place, Balboa Pier lies further down the peninsula from the city’s other pier and is set right next to the Balboa Fun Zone. As well as some fantastic fishing and viewpoints, it has a delightful diner for you to try out with whale watching excursions departing from nearby.
Erected in 1906 at the same time as the Balboa Pavilion, the two projects played an important role in attracting investors and real estate buyers to the area. Since then the historic pier and pavilion have been very popular with locals and tourists alike.
Aside from simply strolling peacefully along the pier, you can fish for mackerel and flounders, enjoy a meal at the 1940s themed Ruby’s Diner, or bask in stupendous sunsets over the ocean.
4. Corona Del Mar State Beach
Located at the east entrance to Newport Harbor, you can find the picture-perfect sands and scenery of Corona Del Mar State Beach. Overlooked by craggy cliffs topped by colorful condominiums, it is a wonderful place to enjoy some sun, sea, and sand.
Once a very popular surfing spot, alternations and extensions to the Newport Harbor jetty put paid to its swells, instead creating the legendary waves and breaks of the Wedge. As such, its waters are now perfect for paddling about or swimming with scuba diving also being on offer.
Besides sunbathing and swimming, you can also enjoy a picnic on the beach or play volleyball with some fine views to be had from atop of the cliffs. Due to its scenic splendour, Corona Del Mar State Beach has appeared in numerous films and TV shows over the years.
3. Fashion Island
If it is instead high-end shopping and delicious dining that you are after, then you can’t beat the enormous open-air mall of Fashion Island. Set in eastern Newport, its sprawling site has almost two hundred shops and restaurants for you to peruse with a massive multiplex cinema also on offer.
Opened in 1967, the huge complex has a delightful Mediterranean look and feel to it with fountains, flowers, and green spaces dotted about its breezy walkways. As you amble about, you’ll come across lots of unique boutiques and big brands such as Armani, Bloomindale’s, Chanel, and Gucci.
In addition, the mall is home to countless excellent restaurants and eateries that cater to every palate with many also offering up beautiful views over the Pacific from their terraces and tables.
2. Balboa Island
A completely different kind of isle to visit is the charming harborside community of Balboa Island. Lying in the middle of Newport Harbor, the artificial island feels untouched by time with quaint restaurants and chic shops to be found alongside lovely little cottages that date to the 20s and 30s.
Easily reachable either by a short car journey or scenic ferry ride, the island was built in the early 1900s when the bay was drenched. In the following decades, it became a popular summer holiday destination for those looking to escape LA’s sweltering heat.
Besides strolling along its strip or the pretty pedestrian walkway that encircles the island, guests can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and sailboats and explore its waters. Before heading off, make sure to try its two signature desserts – the delectable Balboa Bar and topping-loaded Frozen Banana.
1. Newport Beach
Since the Pacific Electric Railway first started running in 1905, holidaymakers and beachgoers have flocked to Newport Beach for its vast swathes of golden sands. Aside from its sublime scenery and resplendent sunshine, the main municipal beach has countless water sports and activities for you to enjoy as well as its boardwalk and piers.
Stretching over 7 miles, the city’s beaches reach right from the Santa Ana River to the tip of the Balboa Peninsula and also include those of Corona Del Mar and Crystal Cove State Park. While walking, running, or cycling along the city’s long boardwalk is always very pleasant and picturesque, it is also worth venturing out along its two prominent piers.
On top of sunbathing and swimming, Newport Beach has everything from volleyball and kayaking to fishing, surfing, and sailing for you to enjoy with fabulous views over the ocean wherever you go.