Whiling away a lazy afternoon or sniffing out new adventure makes for wonderful activity options in Southern California. But sometimes we yearn for the tried and true: the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of home. Out-of-towners may be passing through or we may want to share a few favorites with new friends or family. Either way, the itinerary that follows is the day-trip equivalent of comfort food. No matter how often we visit these iconic fun spots, eateries and natural marvels, we seem to walk away with a renewed appreciation for, and inspiration from, our beloved swath of SoCal coast.
Throwbacks to the quintessential California beach communities of the 1900s, Balboa Island and Peninsula offer inspiration for sightseers, shoppers and the scientifically curious. You’ll quickly forget whether you’re 50 years old or five. Modes of transportation for the day include an electric boat, a ferry, beach cruisers and your own two feet. Suitable for the explorer in all of us, this unforgettable day will be best enjoyed on weekdays to avoid the crowds.
8:30 – 9:00 a.m.
Begin your day with a stop at Corona del Mar’s Rose Bakery Café to collect the fixings for a breakfast picnic. A morning favorite for locals and their dogs, Rose’s serves savory breakfast burritos, fresh juices, delicious pastries and more.
9:00 – 11:00 a.m.
Head over to Bayside Marina with your advanced reservation for a two-hour Duffy Electric Boat rental from California Recreation Company. Park your car for the day at the marina and skipper your boat around Newport Harbor, admiring waterfront mansions and bungalows and yachts both moored and meandering. Note the old-fashioned Ferris wheel and historic Balboa Pavilion, but resist the temptation to dock; we’ll get you back there soon enough. Unwrap your picnic and enjoy a floating al fresco breakfast aboard your Duffy.
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
After cruising around Newport Harbor, return the Duffy to the marina and head off on foot. With several hours of exploration ahead, we recommend packing a tote or backpack with sunscreen, hats, water and other warm weather essentials. Crossing the Balboa Bridge you’ll find yourself on Marine Avenue in the heart of the island. Kids and adults alike will have trouble resisting Balboa Candy, where barrels are filled to overflowing with sweet classics like Bit-O-Honey and Charleston Chew. Check out Island Tales, a quaint, local-owned children’s bookstore. Get cozy with California casualwear in beachy shops like Persimmon Tree, and pick up keepsakes at themed accessory boutiques like Island Home and Heart of the Island. Stop for lunch at Picante Martin’s Mexican Restaurant; neither fancy nor expensive, it’s simply delicious. For sit-down service try the burgers and sandwiches at Wilma’s Patio. The most popular stops on Balboa Island may be the two frozen banana stands: Dad’s and Sugar ‘n Spice. We’ll leave it to you to weigh in on the never-ending battle over which one is best. Whether you choose a banana or a Balboa Bar—a solid block of vanilla ice cream on a stick—they’ll hand dip your dessert in sublime melted chocolate and smother it with the topping of your choice.
12:30 – 1:00 p.m.
Continuing your stroll along Marine Avenue toward the south end of the island, you will see the mission-style Newport Beach Fire Station #4 on the left. Open doors are an invitation to visitors to don a firefighter’s helmet and check out the 1920-era American LaFrance Pumper, still driven in the Balboa Island Parade each June. Historic photos and paraphernalia are also on display in the station, which was reconstructed in 1993.
1:00 – 1:30 p.m.
Exiting the station, continue to the South Bay Front and take a right. Walk along the waterfront path until you reach the Balboa Island Ferry. The iconic ferry has transported cars, bikes and pedestrians for nearly 100 years, covering the 800 feet between Balboa Island and Balboa Peninsula in minutes. It’s an astounding $1 for pedestrian adults and 50¢ for kids ages 5 to 11. Keep an eye out for sea lions clinging to buoys!
1:30 – 4:30 p.m.
Once you arrive at the Balboa Fun Zone, which harkens back to simpler times, hitch a ride on the traditional Ferris wheel and enjoy sweeping views of all you will soon explore. Next, head over to one of the newer attractions, ExplorOcean, an experiential marine science museum for visitors of all ages. Start at the touch tank and get a feel for sea stars, urchins, slugs and other creatures. During Feeding Frenzy on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2, kids can do the feeding. ExplorOcean uses games and exhibits to illustrate threats and dangers to marine life and educate us about ocean preservation. The Bay Arcade has been around since the 1950s, so join generations of fun seekers and try your hand at Skee Ball and other games both classic and new. Kids will jump at the chance to collect tickets from completed games and cash them in for prizes. As an alternate activity, select one of the bike shops offering beach cruisers for rent. They’re perfect for tooling along the paved boardwalk beside the beach. From the starting point near the Balboa Pier, it’s two scenic miles north to the Newport Pier and back again. (Cost varies, from $10 – $24)
4:30 – 5:30 p.m.
Back on your feet again, head to the ferry for your return trip. On the island, you’ll pass Dad’s and Sugar ‘n Spice on your way to the car. If you can’t resist the temptation to stop again, we promise not to tell.
Activities and Shops
Bayside Marina: Located at 1137 Bayside Dr., Corona del Mar. Extended-day parking for Duffy rental customers when available. 949.721.0111 or greatslips.com
Balboa Candy: Famous for its selection of saltwater taffy and candy for all ages, including all the old-time favorites! balboacandy.com
Island Tales: Filled with children’s literature; both new titles and the classics. islandtalesbookshop.com
Persimmon Tree: Offers a great selection of beach apparel for the whole family. thepersimmontreestore.com
Island Home: Find home items and gifts at this quaint little shop, 949.673.1133.
Heart of the Island: Art gallery featuring over 25 local artists and all types of media. heartoftheisland.net
Newport Beach Fire Station #4: Located at 124 Marine Ave., Newport Beach, 949.644.3355.
Balboa Island Ferry: Continuous service between Balboa Island and Balboa Peninsula for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians who want to enjoy a scenic crossing with historic charm. balboaislandferry.com
Balboa Fun Zone: Feel like a kid again with rides, games, museums and more. thebalboafunzone.com
The Bay Arcade: This old-time arcade has been providing fun and friendly entertainment since the 1950s. thebayarcade.com
ExplorOcean: An experiential marine science museum for visitors of all ages. Check the website for seasonal hours of operation. explorocean.org