Jaunt From Laguna: A Day In Newport Beach

The Real Newport Beach of Orange County


Like all residents lucky enough to call a vacation hotspot ‘home’, our native Newport Beach friends tend to grumble about the day that soapdish TV descended upon their happy little hamlet. Despite its unwitting starring role in many a plasticized melodrama, the ‘real’ Newport has a lot more going on upstairs, a cozy little beach town filled with longstanding local hangouts, and nooks and crannies that are the best kind of familiar. Beyond Fashion Island and a world away from the Ferrari dealership, here are some of our favorite ways to soak up this So Cal daytime hit… with nary a catfighting housewife in sight.

The Teaser: Escape to Lido Isle

This charming and historic neighborhood is having a bit of a moment right now as business owners and developers take to restoring its old buildings and relocating to its narrow streets. Bordered by the Newport Bay and oozing plenty of walkable appeal, there are more than a few morning-starters to watch for.


506 31st Street, Lido Village | (949) 675-0233

“Good food – good friends” proclaims the sign, and so Alta keeps it simple with coffees, pastries and good old fashioned Californian breakfasts. The living room-like patio is the seat to standby for… we promise it’s worth the wait.

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503 31st Street, Lido Village | (207) 967-3321

And speaking of killing time, you’ll want to do more than that in 503found across the street. The Isle’s definitive decor warehouse is packed with incredible home goods, expertly merchandised by the owners’ tasteful eagle eyes.  We instantly coveted patinaed daybeds and quirky Parisian flea market finds like a brass dental hutch and antique dough bowls. A ribbon-festooned chandelier and sleek velvet benches are still high atop our dream house wish list. With the ongoing Lido Marina Village renovation, we can’t wait to see what this perfect little pocket has in store next.

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251 Shipyard Way, Lido Peninsula | (949) 723-0621

Finally, let’s talk about the real sausage king of Chicago, Sabatino’s. (Bueller?) An Italian institution in the Lido Shipyard, this is a true Newport classic serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Italianate murals frame deli cases with giant sausage rounds ranging from spicy to regular… sausage fans will want to take the delicacies blended from a centuries-old recipe home.

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Act 1: Cruise On By

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Etc. Etc. Etc.

312 Marine Avenue, Balboa Island | (949) 673-5321

Balboa Candy

301 Marine Avenue, Balboa Island | (949) 723-6099


318 Marine Avenue, Balboa Island | (949) 673-8686

Sugar ‘N Spice

310 Marine Avenue, Balboa Island | (949) 673-8907

About halfway through the ferry ride across the water, you start hatching plans to finagle yourself a weekend stay at any one of the thousand too-cute Balboa Island homes staring back at you. Once on dry land, you’ll want to ditch your auto and explore the quaint streets as they were meant to be seen: by beach cruiser. Snag a ride from any one of the adjacent rental shops and let the island’s irresistible sweetness overtake you. Start down Marine Avenue, popping into a couple of the less touristy shops along the way (we’re partial to Etc. Etc. Etc., and Balboa Candy). Make sure to keep your energy up with the area delicacies, frozen bananas and Balboa Bars (a chocolate-dipped block of vanilla covered in your choice of tasty topping). There is debate over which of two neighboring sweet shoppes was first with the famous cold desserts, but we avoid controversy by sharing a chocolate-dipped banana at Dad’s before getting our ‘Bars at Sugar n’ Spice. From there, ride where the road takes you; there’s nothing like cruising up and down Balboa’s beguiling little town streets, beach house hunting and daydreaming to your heart’s content. Finally, bike on over to The Wedge to watch bodacious local surf gods take on the legendary swells.

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Primary Plot: The Afternoon Becomes Electric

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Duffy Electric Boat Company

2001 Coast Highway, Newport Beach | (949) 645-6812

Bear Flag

3421 Via Lido, Lido Village | (949) 673-3474

The Cannery

3010 Lafayette Road, Lido Village | (949) 566-0060

Bluewater Grill

630 Lido Park Drive, Lido Village | (949) 675-3474

Balboa Fun Zone

600 E. Bay Avenue, Balboa Peninsula | (949) 673-0408

There’s little that buoys the spirit more than an afternoon on the water, which brings us to our main event (and one of the coolest things to do in Newport – or anywhere else for that matter). Rent an electric Duffy® boat and pilot your own harbor course. For sustenance aboard, we recommend packing the essentials: beer, wine and Bear Flag (home to our favorite fish tacos, poke bowls and seafood burritos).  There’s also something fun and novel in the ‘dock and dine’ (or better yet, ‘dock and takeout’) scenario: The Cannery and Bluewater Grill both do it right. The real draw of your voyage however, is in boating to the Back Bay estuary. Some of the most beautiful wetlands in all of the west, this is a birdwatcher’s paradise that feels a million miles away. After you’ve disembarked, indulge a bit of yesteryear nostalgia with a ride on the Balboa Fun Zone Ferris Wheel – the ideal bookend to a day on the sea.

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Commercial Break: Happy As A Clam (Chowder)

The Crab Cooker

2200 Newport Boulevard, Balboa Peninsula | (949) 673-0100

A Newport Beach round-up wouldn’t be complete without paying due respect to the peerless The Crab Cooker. An old school fish market and seafood restaurant housed in a former bank vault, not a thing has changed here in the twenty-five years since we’ve been customers, which is just one of its many charms. ‘Eat Lots A Fish’ is the only rule, the long-tenured waitresses will be curtly efficient, and the wax paper-wrapped saltwater taffy at the hostess stand will help occupy the inevitably lengthy wait. Though the fresh seafood, tangy slaw and crazy-good mashed potatoes are well worth the queue, the clam chowder and sourdough croutons are the best we’ve ever had anywhere. We often bypass the table to order a cup from the counter and enjoy it on the spartan bench outdoors with a fresh-brewed iced tea (and we always order a chowder quart to take home)!

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Act II: Tai One On

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Billy’s At The Beach

2751 West Coast Highway | (949) 722-1100

A Market & A Restaurant

3400 & 3334 West Coast Highway | (949) 650-6505

Wherever you may find yourself at sunset, Newport certainly puts on a magical nature show. Watching from “The Lifeguard Tower” landmarks is a time-tested ritual (those at 56th, 48th and 15th Streets are all favorite sun or surf-watching spots). For a harborfront sunset with the best Mai Tai this side of Hawaii, belly up to Billy’s At The Beach, a Polynesia-inflected happy hour temple just across The Peninsula. Also worth a visit is A Restaurant (formerly The Arches) for its clever craft cocktails, and nearby favorite A Market, the most darling little one-stop shop for a breather between cocktails.

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End Tag: On A Bayside High

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900 Bayside Drive, Newport Beach | (949) 721-1222

The Village Inn

127 Marine Avenue, Balboa Island | (949) 675-8300

3-Thirty-3 Waterfront

333 Bayside Drive, Newport Beach | (949) 673-8464

We’ve both lived in and around Newport at different times in our lives, but neither of us had stumbled upon fine dining vestige Bayside until an in-the-know accomplice clued us in. An expansive, many-windowed restaurant with a broad patio overlooking The Promontory, it’s a place with a twinge of 90’s throwback that feels festive in the best possible way. Live music, revolving art exhibits and a stunning wine display complete the special occasion picture. If post-dinner finds you looking for a bit more revelry, plenty of opportunities for a nightcap await. The Village Inn is a longtime local hang, an alpine-esque lodge with beach-inspired cocktails and live music. For bars that fall more into the “dive-y but lovable” category, Blue Beet and Beach Ball are two old faithful favorites that have been home to many a fun night out. Finally, with its waterfront location and late night specials, 3-Thirty-3 makes a convincing play for your wee hours.

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Looking for more Laguna stories? See the full Gather collection.

Contributing Photography: Helen Brooks

© The Gather Guide to Newport Beach: What to do in Newport Beach, Newport Beach daytrip.