Insider's Guide to Balboa Island, California
When you're headed to Balboa Island, there's only one way to get there: the ferry. David Beek’s family has owned and operated the three-car Balboa Island Ferry for nearly 100 years, shuttling passengers to and from the resort town of Balboa Island in Newport Beach. The island is also accessible via a two-lane bridge, but a ferry ride from Balboa Peninsula into town is a can’t-miss experience. The man-made island charms visitors year-round with its quaint main street and colorful, multimillion-dollar cottages. Located near Disneyland, and a 15-minute drive from John Wayne Airport, the island offers a great family-friendly getaway for spring or summer.
For a local’s take on the best spots in town, read on to discover Beek's picks for everything from the best beachside family activities to locals’ happy hour hangout.
What to Do
Spend a day at Disneyland, then make your way to Newport Beach and Balboa Island. For family fun on the water, rent a paddleboard or kayak from Balboa Surf & Style, or take a motorboat out to tour the harbor. There are also whale-watching boat tours this spring, or Hollywood-themed cruises to view old movie stars’ seaside retreats.
On shore, visit shops and restaurants along Marine Avenue, the town’s charming main street. The two-mile Balboa Boardwalk around the island is a popular spot for dog-walkers, joggers, and visitors alike. Along the way, check out the South Bayfront Promenade, where the Balboa Island Artwalk will kick off the town’s summer season May 18. You’ll see 100 artists showcasing jewelry, paintings, blown glass, and more—plus you'll be able to enjoy live music performances throughout the day.
A ferry ride across the harbor to Balboa Pier takes you to neighboring Balboa Village, where you’ll find the Balboa Fun Zone’s Ferris wheel, arcades, and ExplorOcean nautical museum for kids, plus the Balboa Pavilion.
Where to Eat and Drink
Tuck into a hearty breakfast at Wilma’s Patio, a family-owned, decades-old restaurant where you’ll find light omelets, eggs Benedict, and everything in between. All menu items are fresh and homemade, including the hollandaise sauce and pancake syrup. For a rowdy happy hour and stiff drinks, try the Village Inn (127 Marine Avenue, Balboa Island, 949/675-8300) for great food and nightly live entertainment. It’s the island’s only bar with a full liquor license, and still operating the same as it did back in the 1920s. For dessert, pick up a frozen chocolate-dipped banana or Balboa Bar at Dad’s Donut & Bakery Shop (318 Marine Avenue, Balboa Island, 949/673-8686). Dad’s has been a go-to spot for sweet-tooth cravings since the mid-1940s.
Where to Stay
There are no hotels on Balboa Island, but try the nearby Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa or Island Hotel. Both provide close proximity and shuttle services to Balboa Island and local landmarks, and they’re also located across the street from the luxe Fashion Island outdoor mall, a world-class shopping destination.
Photo Credit: David Beek: courtesy of David Beek; Balboa Island Ferry, Balboa Island Artwalk, Balboa Fun Zone: courtesy of Visit Newport Beach; Balboa Bar: courtesy of David Poller
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