Recently we moved from Irvine to Newport Beach. Specifically we moved to Balboa Peninsula, a small section of the city wedged between the Pacific Ocean and Newport Harbor. Since we are working from home, and our travels have been very limited, we thought moving to a seaside location would be fun. So for the past few months we’ve been exploring our new home.
Parking on the peninsula is hard to find, so once we park our cars, we try not to move them unless it’s absolutely necessary. For shorter trips we opt for our bikes. Jason and I often go for a ride on the weekends, and recently we opted to explore the nearby Balboa Island.
Originally a sandbar, Balboa Island was built between 1905 and 1913 by developer William S. Collins. It’s a small community with just 3,000 residents, but on weekends and holidays it comes alive as a day trip destination for Southern Californians. With abundant boutiques and restaurants, there are plenty of things to do on Balboa Island.
Take The Ferry To Balboa Island
If you’re wondering how to get to Balboa Island, there are two options; by road or ferry. Personally, I think the whole experience is much better arriving by ferry. To do this, drive along the peninsula on Balboa Ave., turn left on Palm Street, then cross over on the ferry. Once on the island head to the main street, Marine Ave. You can reverse this on the way home, or simply drive along Marine Ave. until it becomes Jamboree, which will definitely save time.
The ferry permits cars, pedestrians, and bicycles. If you’re coming on a weekend, I recommend arriving early to avoid long lines. Since the ferry carries just three cars on each crossing, the wait to board can be long. However, the view of the harbor is worth it. You’ll see dozens of boats and yachts gliding through the water. Look back and admire the colorful Balboa Fun Zone, or look forward to see the approaching island. The cost is less than $2 each way, and is one of my favorites sights in Orange County.
Another option is to bike to the island like we did. If you live locally and have bikes, load your bikes into the car, park on the peninsula side and ride your bikes over to the island. If you don’t own bikes, many shops in the area rent them including Balboa Beach and Bicycles.
Local tip: If you're biking on the island, you are not permitted on the pedestrian walkways--they are too narrow. Instead, the alley is the permitted bike path.
Rent A Duffy Boat
If you’ve ever been to Newport Harbor, you’ve likely seen small, electric Duffy boats moving around the water. This is a popular activity with people throughout Orange County, and something I’ve done many times. Bring a picnic--or even a bottle of wine--and ride through the channels gawking at the mega yachts and large mansions. No experience is needed and the boats are very easy to maneuver.
There’s one boat rental shop on the island, conveniently located next to the ferry, Voyagers Rentals. Be sure to make a reservation in advance since these can be sold out during summers and weekends. To make the most of your time on the boat bring a picnic and a bottle of wine. An optimal time for the ride is around sunset.
Stroll Marine Ave.
It won’t take long to stroll Marine Ave., unless you’re like me and you want to pop into every cute boutique. There’s a nice variety of clothing and home decor stores which I explored. However, Jason and I discovered a relatively new food store called AmeriCannery, selling Balboette, a French fish spread. The shopkeeper, Florence, allowed us to sample a couple of the savory spreads while describing them in her delightful French accent. We purchased the crab spread which we thoroughly enjoyed later the same day. For even more food finds, head to Olive Oil & Beyond, a specialty food store selling olive oils, balsamic vinegars, pasta, and much more. During a recent visit I sampled and then purchased honey vinegar which I plan to use for salad dressings.
I’m also a fan of old fashioned candy stores, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to browse Balboa Candy. This place is a walk down memory lane with oodles of pastel colored salt water taffy, Pop Rocks,Tootsie Pops, and many more vintage candies.
Visit The Museum
I love museums, but I’ll be honest, I typically avoid the tiny ones. But after a year of not stepping inside a museum I was so excited to see that the Balboa Island Museum was actually open! Located in the middle of Marine Ave., this place was certainly small, but as a local, I found the displays very interesting. Exhibits cover the creation of the island and the ferry, the celebrities that have lived here, and much more. Shirley Temple and her family used to spend summer vacations on the island, and John Wayne sailed his famous, Wild Goose, in the surrounding waters. Admission to the museum is free, so I definitely recommend taking the time to peruse it.
Balboa Island Restaurants
There are about half a dozen restaurants on the island, and so far we've been to four. Fortunately, I'd highly recommend all of them depending on your appetite and personal preferences.
During our first ride to Balboa Island we arrived on Marine Ave. at noon and I was starving. As my family will tell you, this is hardly unusual. Fortunately the first restaurant we saw was the Village Inn and they were able to seat us right away on the front patio. They also have a charming garden area for seating in the back, but that was full. We ordered a couple of beers, and simply sat back and admired the setting. Jason said, “This feels like vacation.” He was right. Riding our bikes on a sunny day, sitting on the ferry while crossing the harbor, and drinking at noon all qualified for a vacation-like experience. Eventually we ordered food and were impressed by the quality. If you ever go, I highly recommend the baked brie salad.
More recently we had lunch at Snipe Island Crafthouse. This time we sat in the front window counter. Since the weather was warm the large windows over the front counter were rolled up, giving us a great view of all the shops and visitors on Marine Ave. Once again we started with beer. Then we ordered an eggplant pizza and ahi sandwich, both of which were delicious. Adorning the walls are vintage photos from Balboa Island and Newport Beach, which fit in perfectly with our recent trip to the museum across the street.
Probably the best known restaurant on the island is Wilma's Patio. This family-owned establishment has been here for over 35 years. If you're craving comfort food classics and large portions, then this is the place. I recently met a friend for lunch here and we enjoyed the tasty food and the attentive service.
While not a restaurant, I also recommend getting a Balboa Bar at either Dad’s or Sugar ‘n Spice. This ice cream bar, dipped in chocolate and rolled in your choice of toppings, is a classic island treat. If you’d prefer a frozen banana, both places offer those as well. However, if it's a cinnamon roll you're craving, definitely try one at Balboa Island Baking Company. I dare you to walk in, smell the warm cinnamon, and not buy one.
Things To Do On Balboa Island And Nearby
Balboa Island is pretty small, so it can be explored in half a day. If you have a full day, consider heading over to the peninsula to explore the Balboa Fun Zone. For Jason and I this is a walk down memory lane since we came here while dating in high school (yes, that was a very long time ago!). Enjoy the arcades, rides and junk food. The Fun Zone ferris wheel has been providing lovely views of the harbor and Pacific Ocean since 1936, so definitely take the time for this ride. A stroll through this area will make you feel like a kid again!
If you want to continue to explore beach cities of Orange County, head to Laguna Beach next.