In a way, it’s the perfect adventure: nearby, not too strenuous, involves terrific food, drink and company—and even gets you out on the water.
Just gather some friends or family, and set out in a charming, open-air electric boat from California Recreation Company for a delightful afternoon of cruising and dining at the many shoreline restaurants in Newport Harbor. Locals simply call it dock ’n’ dine.
To enjoy this festive outing, you need to know where to start and where to stop—and what, when and how you like to eat and drink.
A lot depends on your crew’s mood. Do they want to head straight for one of the Newport Beach restaurants, park at their private dock and head inside to dine? Or would they prefer to stop at several establishments along the way to eat and drink on their boat, a type of harbor “hop”?
Some cruisers set their course through the winding channels based on what they feel like eating and drinking. Choices range from beachy casual to waterfront elegant, with restaurants serving up everything from pizza, sliders and cheese platters to gourmet pasta, steak and seafood meals. Thirsty boaters can share dockside margaritas, sip trendy Moscow Mules or sample craft beers on tap.
Even as your crew debates where to head, it’s fun to check out the colorful and historic eateries along the way. Gliding past the iconic Balboa Island sights, celebrity homes and bustling watercraft, your happy entourage can chitchat, savor the salty sea air and enjoy the smooth, quiet ride.
Throughout the harbor, boaters can anchor or tie up to about 11 docks available to the public. Passengers are welcome to get out and walk around the area, and time limits are clearly posted at each public pier. Some are near popular restaurants and used as overflow docking for customers. These public docks are marked by blue-and-white finial-topped pilings.
If your group is hungry and wants plenty of delicious food choices-—and you would appreciate the convenience of one of the easiest places to dock —consider heading straight for The Cannery. This historic restaurant not only sports a 220-foot-long dock, but also provides dockhands to help guests tie up their boats and unload with ease. Guests also have the option to be served in their boats and even dine from a special menu designed for small groups. And of course, everyone is welcome to dine inside or on the all-weather patio.
From when it opened in 1923 until its conversion to a restaurant in the ’70s, The Cannery was a working cannery where local fishermen had their mackerel and sardines packed into cans. Today, the restaurant serves California fusion cuisine and is known for its sushi bar and daily happy hour. It’s also locally famous for its Moscow Mules, a mix of ginger beer and vodka. Besides being one of the most convenient restaurants for intrepid boaters, almost anything off their extensive menu is available on large platters for small groups. They recommend reservations, but can almost always accommodate everyone.
Perhaps most popular for its dockside fresh-fruit margaritas at the Balboa Marina, Sol also offers a dock ’n’ dine menu with different tasting packages with an eclectic twist on traditional Baja cuisine as a snack or light meal. The restaurant offers more than 70 artisan, premium and ultrapremium tequilas and mezcals that complement its focus on fresh, sustainable ingredients. Although dockhands are not available, the restaurant provides three slips for duffy boats: numbers 65, 66 and 74.
This restaurant is happy to outfit boaters with all types of food that travels well, including sandwiches, sliders, Thai calamari, blue-cheese stuffed dates and gourmet cheese and wine plates. You can also pick up wine and beer to go in plastic cups, or any of its fruity virgin cocktails, such as Mango Tango, Hawaii Five O and Spa Day.
It’s best to order ahead. Park in the same three slips offered by neighboring Sol: numbers 65, 66 and 74.
This new, duffy-friendly restaurant can accommodate up to 20 small boats along its 130-foot-long, easy-in, easy-out dock. Dockhands will help guide you in, bring menus and deliver your orders as well. Whether dining inside, on the outdoor patio or on your craft, guests can order hand-tossed, wood-fired pizzas, including portabello and pancetta bacon with caramelized onion, arugula prosciutto or pear Gorgonzola. Seafood and pasta dishes also are served. Many of the 16 craft beers, such as locally brewed Cismontane, Bear Republic or a six-pack of Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, and wines are also available to enjoy on the premises or bring along.
This seafood restaurant, which is like a New England-style fish house, offers “Duffy Platters,” which can include deli sandwiches, veggie and hummus, fruit and cheese and seafood platters, all set up “to go” (call ahead for platters). Those who dine inside enjoy the popular homemade chowders (both New England and Manhattan), lobster bisque, harpoon-caught swordfish, steaks and fun drinks, including Pilikia Margarita, Cucumber Mojito and Dark and Stormy. Their two slips can accommodate about a half-dozen electric boats. There is no dockside service, and boaters need to self-dock.
Billy’s at the Beach
Most boaters head directly inside this festive seafood restaurant that features exotic cuisine from the Hawaiian Islands, since it doesn’t offer dockside dining. Guests are welcome to bring their food back to the boat, but most enjoy the harbor and sunset views from behind glass. The fresh opakapaka fish and steaks are popular, and the mai tais are standouts. Look for Billy’s two public slips marked by yellow signs.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year on the Balboa Peninsula, Woody’s does it all when it comes to boating guests, from helping them park at its expansive dock to waiters and waitresses serving guests on their own boats. Large groups are encouraged to call ahead, while some boaters just wait until a spot opens up on busy weekends. For those who enjoy people watching, it’s best to come at high tide to check out the harbor action from above the fray. The welcoming bar and comfort food offerings have been a draw for celebrities over the years as well. Popular meals are the paella, steaks, Bang Bang Shrimp, ahi tower and the Tuesday lobster special. Woody’s also offers a weekend brunch with bottomless Champagne and mimosas.
For those who enjoy the best “pours,” head straight to this hip restaurant for a cutting-edge dining experience. There is no dockside service, but about a dozen boat slips are available. The wine list offers diners a wide range of varietals from around the world. Guests can even tour the climate-controlled cellars, which hold 6,000 bottles. It’s best to make a dinner reservation and indicate when coming by boat so the dock tenant can reserve a slip.
Docking, Dockhands & Valets
Although pulling into almost any of the docks in a small electric boat is quite simple, many new captains prefer landings that offer assistance. Many harbor restaurants offer different levels of docking assistance. Some provide dockhands who can either park your boat for you, often called valets, or others who will direct you to a slip, help tie up your boat and assist your passengers to unload and board with ease. Others leave it up to you to read the signs, find a spot to tie up and disembark on your own.
More Dining Options
Picnic Baskets for Pelican Hill® Guests
Arrange a picnic on your electric boat with lunches provided by Pelican Hill. Select from themed options that includes different sides and snacks in one complete package. For more information or to order, please call 949.467.5296.
Coastal Catering From Island Hotel
Arrange for artisan sandwiches, locally sourced snacks, gourmet cheeses and a selection of beverages for a custom spread all arranged to be on your boat upon your arrival. For more information or to order, please call 949.760.4958.
Play the Electric Boat Name Game
While cruising the harbor, kids and the young at heart love to scour the marinas for other electric-powered boats. The tipoff is usually in the name. If the name has a play on words or electricity-related pun in the name painted on the back, chances are it’s an electric boat: Watt ‘Amping; Current Fun, Sparky, So Watt, Electra Cute and Charge It!, to name a few. You might be shocked by what you can find!
No matter what direction you set out in your electric boat, you will find scrumptious food and constant entertainment along the way. Make sure your captain also is your DD—designated driver—since drinking laws are enforced on the water. How long you spend in your boat depends on your plan—whether it’s an hour to reach one restaurant, dine and return, or several hours to loop through the various channels and “hop” along the various eateries.
If it’s your first time behind the wheel, steer for the restaurants with dockside services or those with the largest docks and slip openings—so you have plenty of room to maneuver. Worst case is, it might take you a few tries to back out.
It’s also a good idea to check on docking services in advance. Almost all offer first-come, first-serve boat docking during their normal hours of operation, but the level of service varies widely.
Although most of the dock ’n’ dine restaurants work to accommodate as many boaters as possible, it’s always best to call ahead to reserve a spot on their docks, and call in larger food orders in advance (especially during weekends).
Most boats are equipped with blankets and water, so bringing your own sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and music is a good idea. One of the best features of an electric boat ride is that the engine is completely quiet, the ride is smooth and the pace rarely exceeds 5mph.
The next sunny day you feel like a fun and relaxing outing, gather some of your favorite people and head to the harbor. It’s impossible not to have a merry and delicious day together.
Electric Boat Rentals:
To rent an electric boat, please call California Recreation Company at 949.721.0111 or visit greatslips.com.