Things to Do in Newport Beach - for a Day or a Weekend

Fun and Sun on the Newport Beach Coast

Newport Beach Harbor

2016 Betsy Malloy Photography

Newport Beach's real charm lies along the coast. Where the upscale city meets the Pacific Ocean, the Balboa Peninsula reaches out like a skinny finger from the mainland. It creates a natural harbor that's said to be one of the world's largest harbors for small yachts. That harbor is dotted with seven small, manmade islands.

Coastal Newport Beach is a quiet, relaxed place where you're more likely to meet the harbor patrol than the highway patrol, and you may hear more birds than automobiles.

Reasons to Visit Newport Beach

When people get off Pacific Coast Highway onto Newport Beach's Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island, they're always surprised and delighted. This little pocket of old-fashioned charm has managed to persist just blocks from the busy city nearby. It's a place where the kids still run around in summer like they did in the 50s and everyone seems laid-back and calm. In fact, they're so relaxed that it's infectious, and a couple of days here can do wonders for a bedraggled spirit.

The Newport Beach coast is a great place for water play. Everyone seems to enjoy the harbor tour and a stroll around tiny Balboa Island.

Best Time to Go to Newport Beach

Newport Beach is great almost any time of year, but like most of the California coast is susceptible to "June gloom," when the sun may not come out for days on end.​ It can start as early as "May Gray", sometimes lingering into "No Sky July". To find out more about and what causes June Gloom check out this guide.

Newport is also lots of fun at Christmas time when you can watch the affluent oceanfront community's version of a small town Christmas parade, featuring lighted boats in the harbor.

Balboa Pier in Orange County, California at sunset
Ron_Thomas/Getty Images

Whatever You Do, Don't Miss This

Park your car either on the peninsula or Balboa Island and go for a walk. Stroll along the waterfront. Walk onto the little ferry that crosses the harbor, have dinner at a local restaurant. You'll wish you could afford to live here instead of just visiting.

A couple kayak in the Back Bay of Newport Beach.
Kevin Steele/Getty Images

More Great Things to Do in Newport Beach

Balboa Island: You can drive to Balboa Island directly, but if you 're on the peninsula, take the ferry to Balboa Island. Once planned to be a racetrack, Balboa Island now teems with cottages arranged in neat rows. Marine Avenue, the island's only shopping area, offers a variety of wares, from handmade kites to resort wear.

Balboa Beach: Some people think Balboa Peninsula's beach is one of the urban beaches in the country. Should you spend your time on the ocean side or harbor side? It could be the most difficult decision of your day. The Wedge, at the ocean side tip of Balboa Peninsula, is famous for bodysurfing. Nearby, Corona del Mar State Beach sits below protective cliffs; the sand littered with beachgoers.

Take a Walk on the Pier: Newport Beach has two piers. The Balboa Pier is near the Fun Zone on Balboa Island, and the Newport Beach Pier is just a little north. If you're an early riser, the Dory Fleet Fish Market near the Newport Pier is a fun sight. It opens at 6:30 a.m. when the fishermen bring in their catch.

Take a Harbor Cruise: Get acquainted with Newport Beach Harbor. Float past waterfront homes, each with a private boat dock, and listen to the gossip-column stories of today and yesterday. You'll pass cottages so small you'd have to go outside just to change your mind and million dollar mansions divided by sibling squabbles. The Fun Zone Boat Company is the best one in my opinion. You can also take a sunset dinner cruise with Hornblower Cruises.

Get wet - or not: Go parasailing with Balboa Parasail. Or rent a water toy, jetski or stand up paddleboard from Balboa Watersports. The Wedge at the end of the Balboa Peninsula is popular for bodysurfing, while traditional surfers cluster near the Balboa Pier. 

Sherman Library and Gardens: Don't let the name fool you - it has more plants than books. This little jewel box of a garden is the perfect place for a relaxing stroll.

For an only-in-Newport-Beach experience, rent an electric Duffy Boat. Invented in Newport Beach, these cute little boats were designed to be quiet and ecologically friendly. They're easy to drive in the calm water. Duffy of Newport Beach is the original company, but you can also find them for rent along the Balboa Fun Zone or on the island.

Annual Events in Newport Beach

    Ferris Wheel at Balboa Fun Zone
    Richard Cummons/Getty Images 

    Isn't Newport Beach Romantic?

    Newport Beach is a relaxing place filled with simple pleasures. Watch the sunrise on the beach, and then have breakfast nearby. Stroll hand-in-hand along Marine Avenue on Balboa Island. Take the little walk-on ferry over to the Balboa Fun Zone and win your sweetheart a stuffed animal.

    Go on a romantic gondola ride. Some locals don't even know about Newport Beach's canals, but they make a perfect place for a sunset ride. You can take your romantic ride with Gondola Adventures or Gondola Co. of Newport.

    A Duffy boat ride for two is extremely private, and a great idea for a marriage proposal. Or for a romantic evening out, use your Duffy to enjoy a Dock and Dine experience at these restaurants.

    Ferris wheel along the boardwalk at the Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach, California on Saturday, October 6, 2012.
    Sandy Huffaker/Corbis via Getty Images 

    Newport Beach With the Kids

    Your kids will love Newport Beach. One of the easiest things to do with them is to take the little ferry from Balboa Island to the peninsula. It's just long enough to be fun. When you get to the peninsula, they'll enjoy the Ferris wheel and amusement at the Balboa Fun Zone.

    The whole family can rent bicycles, family cruisers, or electric bikes and enjoy riding around town.

    The playground at Marina Park is also lots of fun. And the Lighthouse Bayview Cafe there is super casual, with outdoor seating with a view of the harbor.

    Local Treats

    Newport Beach is the home of the Balboa Bar. That's an ice cream bar on a stick, dipped in chocolate on demand and rolled in crunchy coatings to order. Two competing stands sell them on Balboa Island. Both of them also claim to be the home of the "original" frozen banana. 

    Where to Stay

    Not every hotel in Newport Beach is right on the sand. Before you run off to search for a hotel on one of those online booking sites, find out how to find your perfect hotel in Newport Beach.

    Where is Newport Beach?

    Newport Beach is located in southern Orange County, south of the John Wayne/Orange County Airport. It's 44 miles from downtown Los Angeles, 428 from San Francisco, 430 miles from Sacramento, 90 miles from San Diego and 277 miles from Las Vegas.

    To get Balboa Island, set your navigation to 124 Marine Ave, Newport Beach, which is the local fire station on the main street. To get to the peninsula, set it to Balboa Pier.