Newport Beach, famous for its thunderous waves and impressive pier, attracts millions of visitors each year. While a trek to the Newport Beach Pier is an essential part of experiencing the city, it counts as only one attraction of many on a trip to this California beach town. Humpback whales, sea wolves, and the Bard are all part of the eclectic collage of activities that remind visitors to embrace their visit with an artful zest.
Depending on luck and timing, your first sight of Newport Beach’s whales may not be their fins and tails. Your first sighting will probably be their spouts tickling the heavens in the afternoon sun. However, with a little patience and an even better pair of binoculars, you’ll not only catch sight of the magnificent mammals from nose to tail but possibly the glisten of a shark’s fin too.
Newport Beach offers the culinary treasures you’d expect from a seaside town, with the after-dinner cruise to go with it. Head to the oceanside for a plate of fish tacos and some fruity cocktails. Afterward, board one of the cruises that set sail from the docks or, if you’d like to be land-bound for a bit longer, find a restaurant with an outdoor fire pit and enjoy the view.
With its Ferris wheel and boardwalk, the city’s constructed island, Balboa, would feel right at home on the New Jersey shore. Exploring the island is loads of fun and guaranteed to spark your appetite. Satisfy your craving for the simpler times of a bygone era and food by stopping at the famous Balboa Beach Treats for a frozen banana.
Bunnyhenge, a circle of stone rabbit sculptures, is Civic Center Park’s most whimsical sculpture but certainly not the only one. This park stretches out over 500,000 acres. If you’re an urban sketcher, the public art here makes for excellent sketching. Most of the sculptures only stay for two years, which means you can draw something new on almost every visit.
In Newport Beach, two kinds of islands exist fashionable or sandy. It’s the chic kind of isle that concerns us here, namely Fashion Island. At FI, you’ll hit the fashion bullseye at stores like Dolce & Gabbana and Nordstrom. But, while the clothes hang inside, the hip hang outside this mall. They’re only outdone in the cool department by a cone from the Atomic Creamery and a seat by the Fashion Island fountain.
A visit to the Environmental Nature Center will convince you that transformation comes to the most unlikely places imaginable. What was once a bus garage dump spot and a weed eater’s paradise is today one of the city’s most stunning natural areas. It’s an outdoor classroom where high school students and naturalists alike watch things grow. The most fun, of course, are the year-round camps where students of all ages call forth their inner Grizzly Adams.
Newport Beach certainly fits the California stereotype of sun, surf, and sea. But in this city, the triple-S equation should include a fourth “S”: Shakespeare. Shakespeare by the Sea introduces young and old to the world’s most famous writer. Best of all, the madcap madness of characters like Falstaff, Henry V, and Puck is free to see. Your only cost to attend is the time you spend listening to Will’s stunning iambic pentameter.
Crystal Cove State Park includes more than three miles of beaches filled with rugged rocks, walkable beaches, and 46 cottages from the 1930s and 1940s. With their aquamarine paint and ocean-facing porches, these Historic District homes are perfect for a slumber party if sleeping on the beach isn’t your thing. But don’t wait until the last minute to make reservations. A night in this 20th-century hotspot goes fast.
Take one look at the Wedge, and you’ll understand why this beach is the best thing since Point Break. Word has it that the waves here get as high as 30 feet on a good day. Veteran surfers love to experience the Wedge on a board, and novices get a thrill through the camera lens. However you take it in, it’s one ride you won’t soon forget.
It’s unlikely you’ll meet pirates on any of the numerous cruises you can take around Newport Beach. However, if you’re strolling in the neighborhood around the Sherman Library and Garden, you’ll find life-sized ceramic pirates climbing the walls of an otherwise unassuming private house. It’s a place that Captain Hook himself would love.
A wise person once said that nature is God’s lesson book, and the idea comes together beautifully at the Sherman Library and Gardens. The grounds here explode with spiny cacti, fragrant florals, and fountains that bring bubbles of optimism to an afternoon. However, if the flora and cobbled walking paths can’t keep your attention, the 15,000-plus books inside the library surely will.
Little Corona Beach might as well be called Fairy Tale Row. Blue ocean waters, cliff-side homes that look like castles—turrets included—and little squirrels that eat snacks from your hands all contribute to the Snow White vibe of the place. But for creative sand architects, it’s Little Corona Beach’s thick sand and rugged, unpredictable shorelines that inspire next-level castle building.
With artwork that includes masterpieces made of buttons and bottle caps as well as wistful watercolors, a trip to the Coastline Art Gallery feels both whimsical and contemplative. Housed on the campus of Coastline College, this Ode to Art routinely earns accolades as one of the top campus-based galleries in the region. Art workshops and community events mean the gallery teems with as much life as the ocean waters that lie just a stone’s throw away.
The Pelican Hill experience parallels some of the best resort experiences in Europe on this side of the pond. Four-hundred-acre golfing greens, scrumptious dining options, and a leave-nothing-out spa package infuse your soul with peace and luxury. Should you miss the beach during your stay, a dip in the 136-foot circular pool will tide you over until you can make a proper return to the waves.
If you must visit the Newport Pier but crave a different experience, pull out your pochade box and head down to the pier. Lapping waves, giggling children, and lazy seabirds count among the reasons that so many artists love this spot for plein air painting. With a box full of paints and a portable easel in tow, it’s impossible not to see the sea with new eyes.