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Explore Unique Spots In Newport Beach

Explore Unique Spots In Newport Beach

Explore Unique Spots In Newport Beach

Our route through Newport Beach, California will guide you to unique places not included in traditional travel guides.

There are a bunch of things to see and do in Newport Beach, California, even if you want to stay away from crowds. Sure the beaches are great, but there are a couple of other sights and expriences that you might not know of. We've made sure to discreetly include the best places for car-spotting, without it getting in the way for potentially not-so-car-interested-passengers.

The LACar Routes are day-trip excursions in the Greater Los Angeles Area. When you head out on one of these trips, remember to obey all traffic laws - and use common sense... Have a designated map/route-reader and a designated driver.

Also, make sure to check availability and opening hours of any places you intend to check out - for your convenience we've tried to include links to everything.

Photos by Roy Nakano and Susie Ling.

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Starting Position

Our first waypoint is actually in Costa Mesa, by Triangle Square, just as the 55 freeway ends and turns into Newport Boulevard. If you want to see any fish at Dory Fleet Fish Market (weekends) you'll need to start here early, otherwise around 9AM will do fine.

Entering Newport Beach, California

The 55 Freeway - aka Costa Mesa Freeway - end in Costa Mesa and turns into Newport Boulevard. Keep going stroight, heading down towards the peninsula. As you pass Hoag Hospital you’ll see over the rooftops of Bayfront homes, beyond which the ocean spreads out. On a clear day you might catch a glimpse of Catalina. Continue straight - up on the bridge - over Pacific Coast Highway and over onto The Peninsula. As you do, make sure to - safely - look in either direction, as there are usually plenty of spectacular boats to admire during the ten seconds it takes to cross the bridge.

Newport Pier

Head down the peninsula, and just after merging with Balboa Boulevard (joining you from your right) turn right at the red light onto 21st St. and into the parking lots surrounding Newport Pier. If you’re early you should have no problem finding parking, but these lots fill up before lunch during the summer months. Park your car and head towards to pier.

Surrounding the plaza at the base of the pier is a myriad of shops and restaurants. Some have been there forever, like Sharkeez, but not all are open early in the morning. However, Newport Coffee Company opens at 6:30AM, so if you’re in need of a morning cup this would be a great place for it. However, breakfast is served at your next stop, so leave some room.

Dory Fleet Fish Market

Kitty-corner across the plaza is the historic Dory Fleet Fish Market. This fish market (since 1891) is open Wednesdays through Sundays, but most of the fishermen are only there on the weekends. On weekends they open at 5:30, staying open until 12pm, or whenever they run out of fish. Even if you’re not in the market for some fresh fish, it’s always fun to check out the local fishermen and their catch.

If fresh fish ain’t your thing, then a morning stroll to the tip of Newport Pier - fresh coffee in hand - probably is. Either way, whenever you're ready, hop back into your car and make your way out from the Newport Pier parking lot.

Marina Park & The Lighthouse

Continue south, further down Newport Peninsula. A couple of blocks past Newport Pier - between 18th and 16th Street - Marina Park opens up between the boulevard and the bay (on your left). The park itself is great for any family visiting Newport, with a traditional playground as well as “Mother’s Beach” serving as an extension of the playground. Mother’s Beach is so named because this is the safe side of the peninsula, even for small kids, as there is no surf here at all. 

The Lighthouse shares the parking lot with the playground. Here you can enjoy a breakfast (or brunch) while overlooking the bay and a sea of parked boats (pun intended). The bottomless Mimosas on their weekend brunch menu are, of course, for the passengers. Someone still has a lot of driving to do.

Mornings In Newport Beach

Heading further south, down Newport Peninsula, you’ll notice the boulevard taper and an interesting mix of houses on either side of the road. Among the classic beach shacks you'll see a modern residence with its contemporary artistry and maximized usage of the tiny plots of land. In fact, the homes are so close that neighboring houses can often be touched simultaneously.

Cruising down Balboa Boulevard in the mornings you’ll see the true surfing aficionados sprinting across the boulevard from the beach on your right to their houses or cars on the left. They’ve rode that “last wave” a couple of times too many, and now they’re running late. Some will wash off a little at one of the public beach showers, not really getting all the sand out, and guaranteeing that their hair will still be damp when they sit down in their cubicle. Some don’t have time for that and will leave a faint white trail of salt wherever they go.

Newport Elementary

Recess on the beach?!

Between 14th and 13th Street, on your right, you’ll pass Newport Elementary. From the street, this may seem like a normal elementary school, but we think that this is one of the nation’s few schools that actually has its playground on the beach. During recess the kids cross the boardwalk and play on the schoolyard located on the beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Whale and dolphin sightings can occur during a lunch-break, which we think is pretty special.

Continuing down Balboa Boulevard you’ll soon pass the Balboa Branch of the Newport Beach Public Library, located on your left, just next to the fire station. If you’re into old beach-style libraries this might be of interest (you should make a quick stop, it's a tiny quaint library) - if not, no worries, we’ll be at the at main branch later today…

Soon after the library and the fire station, you’ll pass by the “Fun Zone" (on your left) and the Balboa Pier on your right. This is a peninsula, and you’re heading down a dead-end street, so we’ll be back here shortly, don’t worry. After the stoplight at Balboa Pier you’ll notice that the boulevard tapers again. If you peer right and left while crossing C St., D St., and E St., you’ll see why - you are now at the most narrow section of the peninsula. All that’s separating you from the ocean on the right and the bay to the left is one house on either side of the boulevard.

The Balboa Harbor in Newport Beach, California
Newport Beach, California

Balboa Peninsula

After just a few blocks, the peninsula widens again (no, not the road, but trust us, the peninsula got a whole lot wider again). Hang a right in the Y-intersection, and then either choose to drive down the first road to the left (E. Ocean Blvd.) or in the alley right behind it (E. Oceanfront). From the alley you’ll see some really huge estate-like beach-front properties, but you’ll be driving in a narrow alley and might get stuck waiting for other traffic. On E. Ocean Blvd. you’ll enjoy the classic beach-house-lined picturesque road towards The Wedge.

The Wedge

World Famous Surf Spot

Both E. Ocean Blvd. and E. Oceanfront end at Channel Road, which in turn ends at The Wedge, to your right. Park somewhere - street parking is free and often plentiful - and on foot make your way to the end of Channel Rd and up on the beach. You are now at the end of Balboa Peninsula, your feet in the sand at a world-famous surfing spot - The Wedge. If you happen to be here on a day when “The Wedge is going off”, you’ll see camera crews and emergency services lined up, and you’ll probably have a hard time finding parking. If it’s a really calm day there won’t be much commotion, but you should still head out to see the jetty and the ocean. If nothing else, you can stand there and imagine an ocean breeze spraying you with salt water as the waves crash onto the shore.

If there aren’t any waves when you’re there, you should check out the multiple YouTube clips of people surfing The Wedge instead. It’s pretty awesome. The waves bounce off of the jetty and create a massively tall, yet surprisingly narrow, wall of water that hurdles towards shore. To make this even more spectacular, The Wedge - along with most of the peninsula south of the Newport Pier - has what’s called a shore break - meaning that the waves crash really close to the shore. This makes for a great show for anyone on the beach wanting to see the action up close, but it also dramatically increases the strength of the water going back out to the ocean. If the waves are big, The Wedge is a really dangerous place to go swimming. Make sure to keep well away from the water - especially if you have little ones in tow. Even if the water is calm, it gets really deep quickly, and the current doesn’t care that you have more places to visit, it’ll take you out to sea.

Balboa Peninsula Point

When you’ve seen enough of the ocean (does that ever happen?), get back in your car and head down Channel Rd., away from The Wedge. As you circle the rounded tip of the peninsula, you can drool at the $10million+ estates on your right, and marvel at their view of both the bay and their yachts docked on their extended patios. Channel Road will - after changing names to E. Balboa Blvd. - take you back through the Y-intersection and back up the peninsula towards Balboa Fun Zone.

Balboa Fun Zone

The Balboa Fun Zone is on the bay-side of the peninsula, with the Balboa Pier jutting out in the ocean on the opposite side of the boulevard. During the summer season this area gets pretty crowded. However, this is such a classic beach destination that one just has to stop and look around. The ferris wheel, the multiple rides and activities - for young and old - and the varied assortment of classic old beach attractions mixed with contemporary “fusion-restaurants” are a sight to see. It ain’t time for lunch yet, so if you see something you just have to try, just nibble.

If you suspect you might not reach your goal of daily steps, take a quick stroll across the boulevard, to the ocean-side of the peninsula. Here you’ll see the Balboa Pier, and at the tip of it, the original Ruby’s Diner. It might not be the right time for a milkshake (who am I kidding?… is there ever a wrong time for a milkshake?), but a walk out on the pier will yield a nice mixture of the ocean breeze with a hint of french fries. Also, there is often a dozen or so people fishing, and you might see a mini-shark in one of their buckets.

Balboa Car Show (Sundays)

If you happen to be here on a Sunday, you should try to schedule your visit so that you can see the tail end of the Balboa Car Show which starts at 7am (get there early for the doughnuts), and starts to taper off at 9am. Check out our video from the event, and then our calendar for more information.

Ferry to Balboa Island

When you feel that you’ve had enough of The Fun Zone, pop back into your car and find the end of the line for the Balboa Island Ferry, a quaint little three-car ferry that will whisk you over to Balboa Island in just a couple of minutes. During the off-season there is usually no line at all, whereas during summer weekends you’ll see quite a few cars lined up, sometimes around the corner and down the block. It's not expensive at all, but bring a few dollars to pay for your car and passengers.

Balboa Island

Once you get over to the other side of the bay, you’ll be on Balboa Island - follow the signs towards PCH, Pacific Coast Highway. This route will start with a right turn onto Park Avenue - a showcase of really new beach houses together with the remaining few beach shacks from the sixties. Turn left on Marine Avenue which is Balboa Island’s main street - lined with interesting mom’n’pop shops along with more established brands. A couple of blocks later you’ll find yourself crossing over to the mainland again. Look past the white picket fence and nice flowers and flags lining the bridge, and check out the boats and mansions lining the waterfront on both sides of the bridge.

Newport Beach Back Bay

Marine Avenue turns into Jamboree Road and - after climbing the steep hill - crosses Pacific Coast Highway. Keep going on Jamboree, and hang a left at the fourth stop-light - onto San Joaquin Hills Road. You’re now heading down to the Newport Beach Back Bay. When the road ends, and given that it’s possible, turn right onto Back Bay Dr. *SEE NOTE* If it’s open for driving slowly cruise along the perimeter of the bay on Back Bay Drive - checking out the bird sanctuary and protected tide-pools.

If you’re into aviation, note the airplanes taking off from John Wayne Airport directly overhead. They make an incredibly sharp accent immediately after take-off, and then level off and throttle back as they pass over the bay - all in accordance with the noise abatement takeoff procedures set in place for the birds.

Back Bay Drive comes back up from the bay onto Eastbluff Drive, take a right. In a couple of blocks it changes names into Ford Road.

*NOTE: Google Maps doesn’t recognize this part of Back Bay Drive as a road - which is somewhat understandable since it’s a one-way road shared with walkers and bicyclists. If Back Bay Drive isn’t open for driving, or you don’t want to co-mingle with walkers and bikers with your Suburban, just turn around and head back up the hill and turn left on Jamboree. At the next big intersection, turn right on Ford Road, and you'll be back on the route.

Quick Turn In Irvine

Ford Road is only named Ford for a block, after which it changes into Bonita Canyon Drive. When you pass under the 73 Freeway you'll be in Irvine, albeit only for a minute.. Turn right on Newport Coast Dr. - you'll pass under the 73 again and Viola! you're in Newport Beach again, heading towards the beach.

Newport Coast

You're now driving through an area with one of the highest luxury car densities in Southern California - maybe in the world. You will most likely be sharing the road with Maseratis, Porches, and maybe Lamborghinis - along with the standard Mercedes and BMWs. And as you start down the swooping descent towards the ocean, you can enjoy a view of the Pacific in all its marvel.

Crystal Cove State Park

Newport Coast Drive ends on Pacific Coast Highway (aka PCH) at the Pelican Point entrance to Crystal Cove State Park. Hang a right on PCH, but make a mental note that Crystal Cove is a great beach for you to visit some other day...

Corona Del Mar

With the ocean on your left and the hills of Newport Coast on your right, you’ll soon be entering Corona Del Mar. PCH slows down and narrows, and suddenly you are cruising down the "main street" of CDM - Corona Del Mar. Still technically Pacific Coast Highway, but instead of ocean cliffs its now lined with shops on either side. Corona Del Mar - a part of Newport Beach - is a community within a community with this short stretch of PCH acting as its main street.

overview of Newport Beach
The sunsets over the ocean are mesmerizing from anywhere in Newport Beach.

Just as the road widens turn right onto Avocado Avenue, and then the first right into the parking lot of the Newport Beach Public Library and Corona Del Mar Plaza - park in either parking lot, we'll visit both.

Newport Beach Public Library

It’s not often that a public library makes it onto a list of things to see. However, it’s not often that a library has an ocean view either. It’s a public library, so feel free to head inside and see what - if any - mini-exhibition is going on in the lobby. Quietly head up the stairs to the second floor and then meander through the rows of books and readers to get to the windows. Many a students sit by these windows studying and dreaming of the ocean - hopefully with an emphasis on studying.

After your library visit head over to the other parking lot at the center of Corona Del Mar Plaza, just below the library. Really, you should walk it, but the library prefers that you don’t park your car on their lot when visiting the neighboring shops, so make sure to re-park as needed.

Corona Del Mar Plaza

Park your car and head into Bristol Farms. Again, a grocery store is yet another thing that usually isn’t found in a guide. But this place is special - for three reasons: Firstly, this ain’t no normal grocery store - this is the creme de la crop of grocery stores, with a really great selection of high-end foods, meats, and whatever else you might desire. Check out their cakes!

Secondly, Bristol Farms has a restaurant within the store - with tables both inside and outside by the parking lot. A favorite is the B.L.A.T (Bacon Lettuce Avocado Tomato) sandwich, but there is a great selection for those who might want something else… At least that’s what I’ve been told by those I’ve taken here - I’ve never had anything else (I come for the B.L.A.T, and I’m not about to trade it for something else).

Thirdly, and perhaps the most important for the car-lovers of LACar: the parking lot of Corona Del Mar Plaza is an ongoing car show. Not by design, it's just that this is where the luxury vehicles otherwise hidden behind the garage doors of the Orange County mansions come out for air. This is a parking lot where high-end vehicles - Mercedes, BMWs, Audi, etc - vastly outnumber the brands aimed at mere mortals. Furthermore, I would safely wager that there is at least one very exclusive car in this parking lot at any time on any given day… Whenever the plaza is open, of course.

After eating lunch at Bristol Farm’s you’ll need a walk - even if you've walked around the parking lot in search of "that one car". But instead of walking around on the beach - or something else typical for a coastal city guide - let’s head somewhere else unique to this area. Don’t worry, it’s just around the corner. 

Roger’s Gardens

Head out of the Corona Del Mar Plaza parking lot and go right (north) on Avocado Avenue. At the next big intersection turn right on San Miguel Drive. Stay in one of the right two lanes, as those are the two that go straight through the next intersection, across MacArthur Boulevard. After crossing MacArthur, get over to the left and make a left at the second available left-turn lane - before San Joaquin Hills Road. You'll head into the parking lot of Roger’s Gardens.

So, you may wonder what’s so cool about Roger’s Gardens? Well, not only is it a great place for a stroll through their gardens - with a lot of unique plants and flowers to check out - they also have a little shop full of interesting knick-knacks and - my favorite - a room full of Christmas decorations. I don’t even like Christmas, but many of the ornaments found in there are beyond most people’s imagination, so it’s definitely worth a visit. Also, I always leave Roger’s Gardens with new projects for my garden - as well as interior design ideas.

plant-wall at Rogers Gardens
Plant-wall at Roger's Gardens

After your stroll through Roger’s Gardens, get back in your car, head towards the parking lot exit that you came in through - turn right onto San Miguel Drive out of the parking lot, going back the way you came.

Fashion Island

This time, just keep going straight until you are in the parking lot of Fashion Island. This is also a great place for car-spotting, but the parking lot is a lot bigger than the one in Corona Del Mar Plaza, so the exclusive cars will be more spread out. However, if you're ever here during the evening, the valet parking of Canaletto Ristorante on the north-eastern edge of Fashion Island usually has an impressive line-up of customer's cars.

The sign at the southern entrance to Fashion Island in Newport Beach, CA
Fashion Island, Newport Beach, CA

I’ll leave you in Fashion Island. Either you’ll go for an ice cream and sit by the fountain outside of Macy’s - overlooking the ocean - or you’ll meander through the shops of this very Orange County-esque mall, staying late enough for dinner. If so, might I suggest P.F. Chang’s, as they have a really nice ocean view too.

For other fun things to do in the Greater Los Angeles Area - be sure to check out our other Discover L.A. Routes and our calendar of car events and shows.

About The Author

J-F Wright's profile picture

J-F Wright

John-Fredrik Wright was born in Sweden, but raised on both sides of the Atlantic. His experience in the automotive industry starts with a summer-job as a host at Volkswagen’s premier showroom in Stockholm. Later, he worked as an instructor at Swedish Active Driving, teaching safe driving (among other things the renowned "elk-avoidance maneuver") and advanced driving techniques.