I often get asked what my favorite destination is and I usually answer “Anywhere in Europe!“. But truth be told one of my favorite places to visit is actually Orange County in California. Not only is it a mere 1.5 hour flight (or 5-6 hour drive) from Phoenix it’s also truly one of my favorite places to go. I love it so much that I try to go a few times a year. Laguna Beach used to be my favorite place to head to but this year Newport Beach has snuck in as my favorite place to hang out during a quick trip to Orange County. There’s just something about the long stretch of beach combined with the charm of Balboa Island that keeps drawing me back.
Since I had extra time over this holiday weekend I decided a day trip to Orange County was in order. I love that it’s so close to home and that I can do quick trips like this! I decided I wanted to walk along the beach and possibly bike so I choose Newport this time because I love the long stretch of path along the beach beach there. And since I was also able to take a quick ride over to Balboa Island while I was there in order to get a Balboa Bar the location was perfect!
I flew into one of my favorite airports – SNA (Santa Ana/Orange County) where it’s only a quick 20 minute drive to the beach. I can almost always find great deals on car rentals at SNA over the weekend and I usually get to drive a nicer vehicle than I get in other cities for the same price. Plus the car rentals are a 2 minute walk from the gate (yes, the gate, not the terminal). Of course I stopped at my favorite donut place in the entire world on my way down to Newport. I highly recommend stopping at Sidecar Doughnuts and buying a butter & salt donut if you go to visit! It’s worth waiting in line for. Plus there’s a Starbucks in the same parking lot.
After satisfying my sugar craving I headed straight for Balboa Peninsula and only had to drive around for a bit before snagging a free parking spot on one of the streets. Score! Usually I settle for a parking meter because they take cards but this day I got lucky! If you’re going to be hanging out for a while be sure to park in an all day lot ($15-20) as the meters will only let you pay for a couple of hours at a time, plus it’ll be more cost effective.
Before going I took a look at Visit Newport Beach’s list of things to do and almost booked a deal to go whale watching that afternoon. Because of taking a different flight than I originally planned I didn’t end up doing it but it’s now at the top of my list for my next visit. I’m officially in love with that list of things to do in Newport Beach because it has a great mix of high end and more budget things to do – Newport has a wide variety from posh to surfer dude cheap which is one of the things I love most about it. If I want to splurge I can do that or if I want to have a cheap afternoon enjoying the beach and strolling around I can do that too.
Some fun ideas for things to do in Newport Beach:
- Go whale watching
- Visit the Balboa fun zone
- Learn to paddle board
- Rent a bike
- Make a sand castle
- Go shopping (from the massive shopping malls to the charming shops on Balboa Island)
- Go hiking in Crystal Cove State Park
- Watch the fisherman on the on the pier reel in their catch
- Eat a Balboa Bar
- Watch the sunset from the beach
- Enjoy the wide variety of food options (more info here)
- Plus a TON more ideas here: Things To Do in Newport Beach (plus be sure to check for deals and special sales here)
Exploring Balboa Island
After parking my car I headed over to the ferry to take the short ride over to Balboa Island from Balboa Peninsula. This ferry used to be the only way to get a car over to the island but nowadays there’s a bridge on the north side of the island. I think it’s fun to think about how it used to be the only way to get a car over there! Plus everyone enjoys watching them load and unload the cars so it’s a fun experience for all.
The island itself is fairly small but I love walking around it. I always take the path around the outside of the island where on one side you have the water and views like these:
And on the other side you have stunning houses and adorable things like this:
This trip it was really fun to see how the houses were bringing the Christmas cheer:
There are lots of streets on the Island but one main one with all the shops. Most of them are small and locally owned and are absolutely adorable (although a Starbucks has managed to sneak in and that honestly doesn’t bother me much ;) ). It’s a fun area to shop and I always like to get a famous Balboa Bar (ice cream bar freshly dipped in chocolate and then a topping of your choice) from Dad’s but this time I opted for the frozen banana instead. Also yummy! Other food ideas here.
And on my way back from the main street I got to stop and watch this:
and then I saw this and my love of Balboa Island grew even more:
Balboa Fun Zone
After taking a ferry back to the peninsula I had fun walking along the fun zone. When I have kids someday this is one of the top places I want to take them to – perfect entertainment plus it’s a few blocks away from the beach!
The Beach Itself
Of course no trip to Newport Beach would be complete without a walk on the beach – or the “boardwalk” which is actually all cement and perfect for biking. There’s a huge long stretch of boardwalk that is perfect for renting a bike (I think I paid $10 for the day) and enjoying. I also just love to stroll along and watch the sunset. And of course, you have to get your toes in the sand and go down to the water (which by my standards is quite cold!). If you visit during the off season you can enjoy the beach minus the crowds!
After spending a perfect day shopping, eating (a lot), and just plain enjoying the view I was more than content. It was the perfect way to relax during the holiday weekend and as always, Orange County never disappoints me.
I’ve visited Newport Beach numerous times and the Visit Newport Beach website has become my go-to source for finding out what events are happening or finding great deals on things I want to do. I highly recommend checking out their visitor’s guide and special deals!