Ocean Stop for the Beaches at Newport Beach
For the next stop on our 4 week West Coast trip, we took the longest route possible to travel the hour trip from Santa Monica to Newport Beach, continually leaving the main route to follow the water. We stopped at the Marine Street Cafe in Manhatten Beach to grab a coffee but surprised at the great selection of healthier food, we decided to have lunch. David had the weirdest sandwich I have ever seen – wrapped in rice paper instead of bread.
Rolling in about 4 hours later, we got checked into the Bay Shores On The Peninsula hotel right on the beaches at Newport Beach. The small family run hotel offered all the amenities of a great 3 star hotel, many of which we never saw in the luxury hotel we had just vacated. We even kept the first room they showed us, finding no fault with the bright room with a sorta view of the beach!
After being delayed a few minutes by the smell of warm chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven, we easily walked the one block to the long stretch of white beach and to yet one more pier. The water entry had a gentle slope and over the 3 days we were there we saw some small breaker activity but never enough to see surfers (although we did see lots of surfer dudes). We could see the beaches at Newport Beach for as far as we looked.
The pier was packed with people fishing, although all of the buckets we saw were empty and that didn’t seem to be dampening the interest.
The beaches at Newport Beach had some stores and restaurants (and a lot of beer bars) at our location but more could be found if you went to the far other end of the peninsula (not really walkable). We thought it would be easy to find dinner but we ultimately had to head off of the beach or wait in unbearably long lines.
The Crab Cooker looked like a local joint, filled mostly with families and workers. For some weird reason, all service was done on disposable plates, cups and cutlery. I got suckered into yet another “world famous chowder” but it was just ok. Not to miss the seafood platter this time, David’s crab was huge and he spent a long time finding every scrap of meat in every crevice. I much preferred to watch and have him feed me once he had done the work.
Returning to the hotel, we found that the rooftop patio was a great place to watch the sun set, although it set over the buildings and not the water.
We figured it might be a good place to sneak for for a nap late in the day (or for David to hide away eating the homemade chocolate chip cookies rather than the fruit that was available all day).
The next day we spent the day as beach bums, catching the sun until our pasty Canadian skin looked pink. Not only was the hotel only one block from the beach, it also provided a broad selection of beach stuff – chairs, towels, umbrellas and boogie boards. We looked like all the rest of the locals, hauling beach gear like turtles on our back.
That night for dinner we knew to go early for dinner and were successful this time at getting into the Flying Fish restaurant recommended by our hosts. The New Zealand green mussels were huge and the sauce required an order of bread so that not a drop was missed.
I have always avoided oysters because of a texture issue but David decided to try the fried oysters, but even frying did not cover the oyster texture. To help combat scurvy, I had a big salad that had a great variety with berries, apples, honey walnuts and chicken, tossed with a light pear dressing.
With salad for dinner, I felt virtuous enough to pounce on the homemade cookies when we got back to the hotel. We snuggled up in bed to stream some video to the hotel tv and decided on an early night. Unfortunately, the only negative about our great 3 star hotel was the paper thin walls that required a call downstairs when the neighbor’s movie was shaking the shared wall. I was sure the neighbour had picked the most obnoxiously loud movie from the free supply of DVDs at the front desk!
Day Trip to Laguna Beach via Balboa Island
On our final day in Newport Beach, we risked losing our hotel parking spot and took the car out for a day trip down the coast to Laguna Beach and Dana Point. Our host suggested we take the more interesting route so we got in line for the little 3 car ferry to Balboa Island for $3. It was a short wait to get over and even on the way back the wait was only about 20 minutes.
Balboa Island had a cute little Main Street with lots of shops and restaurants with golf carts as the predominant transportation on the island. The main street boasted two different “first” locations for frozen bananas but even that claim to fame did not tempt us to try this local treat.
We spent some time in a specialty store for oil and vinegar, drawn in by a window display of interesting glass oil and vinegar mixers. The proprietor (Mathew – originally from Italy, with a sister in Toronto at Yonge and Bloor close to where live) was easily engaged in discussion. He encouraged us to taste test a variety of high end oils and vinegars including an olive oil he claimed would extend our life (if you could deal with the bite it left in your mouth which is apparently a sign of its efficacy). Balboa Island looked like another option for a place to stay if we returned to the Newport Beach area (although it would likely mean a private rental).
We passed several “townlettes” on the way to Laguna Beach, each with typical beach town shops and large sandy public beaches. Entering the Laguna Beach area, we stopped at Heisler Park and meandered along the walkway above the beach.
Many families had moved in all but the kitchen sink for the day. The solo beach goers looked like turtles with backpack beach chairs, umbrellas with sling carriers and beach bags in hand.
This part of the beach had offshore rocks which had drawn scuba divers who hauled their gear up and down the long set of stairs (but David figured the rock and kelp forest would make the haul worth it).
The main beach in town was at road level so, no trek up and down a cliff. There were a couple of different beach access points and lots of parking but expect that you might have to walk, so plan accordingly with what you are bringing to your beach home away from home. We moved at slow gawker speed – the drivers watching the beachgoers and shoppers and the pedestrians watching the cars (including the bright yellow lambo!).
There were lots of places to eat in the town but I had one spot in mind. On my last trip to Laguna Beach with my son (10+ years ago), we ate at this really cool roadside diner called Ruby’s Diner. Driving slowly we finally spotted it in the south end, on the north side of Hwy 1. While there had been some updating done to add a rooftop patio, it remained an old fashioned diner with old classic cars parked as decoration out front.
There was a good, plentiful choice of basic diner food, complimented with the addition of an ice cream parlour (which we sampled as an introductory offer for free). 20+ summer students were being trained so customer service was slow, except for the trainer who knew just how to treat customers and to deal expeditiously with customer issues. Even though they say “you can’t go back”, this was just as I remembered it!
Continuing south on Hwy 1, we went as far as Dana Point and then headed back to avoid the other Sunday drivers. This gave us a chance to assess whether we might consider leaving the next day for Catalina Island from Dana Point instead of from Newport Beach. We would need to decide whether being that far south when we returned from Catalina on our way to San Diego was worth the extra drive before our early morning ferry.
The only dent in our lazy weekend was bad news from home (see blog on trip cancellation insurance). We spent a few hours assessing options to return, only to get a less distorted update on the situation at home and a strong recommendation that we did not yet need to return home. This would unfortunately hang over us, knowing that we may need to leave at a moments notice if things got worse.
What is your favourite thing about the beaches at Newport Beach and this part of California? We will definitely plan to come back. Has this made it to a favourite for you?