I spent my University days in Newport Beach, California. School was nearby and I teamed up with about 500 students to share a three-bedroom flat on the Newport peninsula. I cleverly arranged all my classes for Tuesdays and Thursdays – so I had a 4-day weekend and a day off in between! I loved it … and managed to fit in earning a degree too.
If you’ve ever visited Newport Beach, you’ll know exactly how its sun, sand and surf can draw you in. Newport is addictive – and it keeps you wanting to come back. I remember riding my beach cruiser along the miles of paved beach boardwalk and looking at the crisp beachfront holiday rentals with sand toys sprawled out front, and thinking it would be nice to visit one day with a family.
It’s been about 25 years since I lived on the Newport peninsula (on 32nd Street, right behind what was Lucky’s). We visited this summer on our tour of the Southern California beach cities and it was a pleasure reuniting myself with the beach town, and introducing my girls to its intoxicating culture.
Newport Beach for families: What to do
I was pleased to find that my daughters enjoyed many of activities I enjoyed as a college student! (well, minus the Woody’s Wharf happy hour). I’ve tailored this list a bit, but it should give you some ideas for families over a long weekend.
- Explore Balboa Island and get a frozen banana. You can access the “island” from a small bridge. Balboa has a Nantucket feel to it – with lots of shops, cafes, pastel-coloured homes and a view from every corner! Make sure you get a frozen banana. This treat is dipped in chocolate and smothered in your favourite topping. Not to be missed!
- Take the ferry from Balboa Island to Newport Pier. We did this several times. The ferry takes about 5 minutes and runs continuously. It’s a fun way to see the harbour too. There’s something about a water ferry that makes you feel you’re on holiday.
- Go to Ruby’s on Newport Pier. Don’t even think of ordering anything other than a classic cheeseburger and chocolate shake. Unless of course you get a date shake. I used to ride my bike here when I was at uni. So. Much. Fun.
- Ride the ferris wheel at the fun zone. It’s small and cute and has great views.
- Hangout at the beach at Corona del Mar. This beach is just a few minutes north and has gentler waves for kids so they can play safely in the water.
- Visit the Wedge. Named for the large wedge-shaped waves that make this a popular spot with surfers. Due to often hazardous conditions, I would only have kids get their feet wet in the waves here, but it’s fun to take a picnic and watch the professionals at work.
- Ride bikes on the boardwalk. Rent a beach cruiser and you can ride for miles.
- Take a Duffy boat ride on the harbour. These electric boats are for hire and are a great way to explore Newport Harbour. Bring a picnic and ogle the yachts and million dollars homes on Lido Isle.
- Eat at the Crab Cooker and Spaghetti Factory. Two of my favourites. The Crab Cooker for fresh seafood and the best Manhattan-style clam chowder (served in paper bowls). The Spaghetti Factory for the buzzing atmosphere and filling pasta (get 1/2 rich meat sauce and 1/2 Mizithra cheese). This place hasn’t changed since I worked there 25 years ago!
Where we stayed: The Balboa Bay Resort
We stayed at the Balboa Bay Resort, which is adjacent to the prestigious members-only Balboa Bay Club. I had only been there once before – on a date as a 21-year-old collegiate with a fraternity boy to meet his father! My date’s dad was a pilot, and I remember thinking that was really exotic.
Our premier Bay View Double queen room gave us access to the Balboa Bay Club facilities, which included a private beach with a really cool slide that went right into the harbour. We could also go to the member swimming pool and ladies changing room which had a steam room, sauna and jacuzzi. Our room had gorgeous plantation shutters that opened onto a secluded balcony with harbour views and comfy chaise lounge chairs. The beds had crisp duvets and feather-toppers – the type of thing you really notice when you crawl into bed at night after a long day at the beach). It is a great place for families and you can really feel the Newport luxury.
I loved the Balboa Bay Resort! There was a mini beach with sand and lounge chairs the parents can relax in while the kids play in the water. The bay water was really nice and warm and easy to get used to. The best part was a big slide that went right into the bay! There aren’t any waves in the bay which makes it really fun to swim in. You can swim or walk along a pier to the slide that goes into the water. It’s totally entertaining and enjoyable.
Frozen bananas are soooooooooo good! They tasted amazing. We got ours at Sugar N’ Spice. First she got out the frozen bananas and took off the cling film and dipped it in melted chocolate and covered it in a topping that I chose! (sprinkles). I could tell mum was in a good mood because she let us get one for breakfast!
We went on a Duffy electric boat in Newport Harbour. We saw a sea-lion, lots of boats, a heron, paddle boards and it was fun going through the water. My dad drove the boat. We also got to fill in an activity book and got a prize!
IF YOU GO:
Visit Newport Beach visitnewportbeach.com The official tourist site and your first port of call for visiting the Newport Beach area.
Balboa Bay Resort 1221 West Coast Hwy, Newport Beach, CA 92663 +1 (888) 445-7153 balboabayresort.com Part of the Meritage luxury resort collection, the Balboa Bay Resort is adjacent to the prestigious members-only Balboa Bay Club. It sprawls 15 waterfront acres and is the only waterfront resort in Newport. Kids will love the private beach that has a slide that goes right into the harbour! Stuck for something to do? Patrick the concierge is full of suggestions and resources for families. And Sylvia gives a fantastic massage.
A&O Kitchen+Bar 1221 West Coast Hwy, Newport Beach, CA 92663 +1 (888) 445-7153 balboabayresort.com The hotel’s gastropub, with stunning harbour views. All items are designed to be shared. We had Heirloom Tomatoes, Burratta Cheese, Temecula Olive Oil, Balsamic and Arugula (aka Rocket).
Ruby’s Diner 1 Balboa Pier, Newport Beach, CA 92661 +1 (949) 675-7829 rubys.com American diner at the tip of Balboa Pier. Don’t even think of ordering anything other than a classic burger and a chocolate shake. Well, maybe I’ll let you try a date shake too. If you’re nice. 😀
The Old Spaghetti Factory 2110 Newport Blvd, Newport Beach, CA 92663 +1 (949) 675-8654 www.osf.com A Newport institution. Pasta, salad, garlic bread and spumoni ice cream for a tenner. Full of families wiping sand off their feet after a day at the beach. They don’t take reservations, and you will have a wait, but it’s so worth it.
Sugar ‘n Spice 310 Marine Ave, Newport Beach, CA 92662 +1 (949) 673-8907 You absolutely MUST come here and order a frozen banana. They are dipped in chocolate and then coated in a topping of your choice (I picked roasted almonds and my daughters picked coconut and sprinkles).
The Crab Cooker 2200 Newport Blvd, Newport Beach, CA 92663 +1 (949) 673-0100 crabcooker.com Looking for the world’s best clam chowder? It’s in this tiny fish restaurant/market. It’s tomato-based Manhattan style and served in paper bowls with oversized oyster crackers. Perfect.
Duffy Electric Boat Company 2001 West Coast Hwy, Newport Beach, CA 91913 +1(949) 645-6812 duffyofnewportbeach.com These charming electric boats are everywhere. They go 5 miles an hour and are perfect for cruising Newport Harbour and checking out the yachts, homes and wild life (we saw herons and sea lions).