- Distance from San Francisco: 44 miles
- Best time: April to August
- Best for: RomanticShoppingBeaches
Getting down behind the Orange Curtain (as Orange County is called) can really feel like a vacation, especially if you plan an entire weekend near the beach. With tony hotels, great shopping, and top-notch dining, Newport Beach is a great spot to hole up for a few days. It straddles two worlds: one occupied by mega yachts and the super ritzy Fashion Island, and the other defined by the Balboa Peninsula's throwback charm and sailor bars. You can even plan a mini trip within a trip by jaunting over to other Orange County enclaves like Laguna Beach, or by sailing over to Catalina Island. These are our picks for spending a few relaxing days near the waves. –By Lesley Balla
Newport Beach Cheat Sheet
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1.If you can, definitely leave work early to try and avoid traffic on the I-5 or I-405. Friday afternoons are always the worst, so good luck! We say, start your weekend a bit early and head to tiny Balboa Island to unwind. It's like a quaint East Coast village, almost stuck in time. There is a small ferry that takes you over, or you can walk across the bridge from Jamboree Road.
2.While away the afternoon by strolling along Marine Avenue with plenty of quaint shops, and don't forget to walk to the pier. If you're hungry and thirsty, a couple of low-key stops include Picante Martin's for some tacos, and the Village Inn for a nice cold beer.
3.Head back across the Newport Beach, check into your hotel and get ready for dinner. There are a lot of restaurant options around Newport, from high-end dining rooms to mom-and-pop favorites. But it's Friday, so go big: You can get fantastic stuffed squash blossoms, caprese salad, and amazing pizzas from Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali's Pizzeria Mozza. If you've been to the one in LA, you'll recognize everything, down to the Tuscan red walls. But it's one of the best restaurants in the OC.
1.Pain du Monde originally lived on Balboa Island, but now there are several of these cafes in several parts of Orange County, including a Fashion Island location. But what remains the same: fresh, hearty breakfasts, great coffee, and those amazing croissants and cinnamon twists. It's just what you need before a relaxing day at the beach.
2.You came here for the beach, and there is no shortage of great ones. The Wedge at the east end of the peninsula is where everyone bodysurfs, or you can watch surfers (or surf yourself) near the pier. Corona del Mar State Beach is often overrun with families, but it's also great for surfers and divers. Crystal Cove State Park has three areas below the bluffs, plus cool trails that circle historic 1930s houses. There's also a restaurant there, The Beachcomber, which is great for lunch, drinks, or dinner.
3.Take a sunset gondola ride along Newport Beach's bay and canals. It's not quite Italy, but this is a fabulous way to see the homes and charm of the peninsula (and it's fantastically romantic, to boot). We recommend booking with The Gondola Company, where you can arrange a tour with Champagne and sweet or savory nibbles to tide you over until dinner.
4.You've been on the water all day, so seafood, served waterfront, is in order. We like Bluewater Grill, where you'll find seafood from around the globe—from Mississippi catfish to barramundi from Australia—all of which is best enjoyed on the pier-top patio with waves crashing below. Start with a half-dozen oysters and jalapeno-spiked crab dip, or the famous lobster bisque, then dig into specialties like seafood cioppino, pan-fried seabass, or seared ahi tuna. This popular spot also has a well-edited (and well-priced) wine list.
5.Before you go back to the hotel, stop at Billy's at the Beach for a mai tai. Why go for a mai tai? Well, why not? This lively waterside locals' favorite has killer views and a kitschy grass-hut decor. The Polynesian-inspired food is also quite good (kung pao calamari, ahi poke tower), so you could have a bite to eat here, too.
1.Go over to the Peninsula and get in one more walk on the beach before breakfast. There is a tiny coffee shop called Picante Martin's for some tacos, and the My Galley right there. Locals swear by it. Grab a coffee, pastry or even a breakfast burrito.
2.Time to shop. Fashion Island is one of Southern California's premier luxury shopping destinations, with specialty boutiques, department stores like Neiman Marcus, and great restaurants located on a landscaped promenade lined with ponds and fountains. While you're here . . .
3. . . . grab a bite to eat before hitting the road. The indoor-outdoor R + D Kitchen is a sure bet for a burger or a chopped chicken salad, and True Food Kitchen is tops for high-flavor, low-cal dishes like edamame dumplings, kale salad, and spaghetti squash casserole. But if you've been to the one in Santa Monica, you might already know that.
Where to Stay
If you want to be smack dab in the middle of town—and right across from Fashion Island—the Newport Marriott (rooms from $169/night) is a great option. After a $70 million makeover, the rooms have a contemporary, sleek look with dark woods, granite bathroom counters, and splashes of color. Request one with a balcony or patio that faces the gardens or the ocean. And if you want to be in the middle of the beach scene, the Newport Beach Hotel (rooms from $250/night) is right on the beach and boardwalk. You have to have patience here on a busy summer weekend—a lot of people will be traipsing by—but bedding down just steps from the sand is worth it.
The Balboa Bay Club & Resort (rooms from $360/night) is the only waterfront resort in Newport Beach. Rooms are spacious with balconies or patios, many facing the harbor (it was a favorite of John Wayne's). Boat rentals are available if the resort's marina if you want a taste of the yachting life.
When to Go
Like in any Southern California beach community, summer is the time to be near the water. With the exception of June, when the infamous "June Gloom" covers the skies and keeps temps chillier than you'd expect, temperatures are near perfect throughout the rest of the season. Of course, that also means the crowds are there—expect endless traffic on Hwy 1 during the daytime and full parking lots at every turn. Watching the blue whale migration is a huge draw May through August. Some other big summer events include the NOSA yacht race from Newport to Ensenada in April; it's one of the oldest in the world, as well as the Newport Beach Jazz Festival.
Shoulder seasons can be quite lovely, too, however. Late spring (May) and early fall (October) show some seasonably warm days and fewer people. In December, the Christmas boat parades are wildly popular.
How to Get There
By car from Los Angeles: Take I-5 or I-405 south. Take the CA 55 south exit, which leads directly onto Newport Boulevard, or exit CA 1 at Newport Boulevard. Newport Boulevard turns into Balboa Boulevard, and goes down the middle of the peninsula. Reach Balboa Island from the peninsula by ferry, or take Jamboree Road south from I-5. Without traffic, you can get there in about an hour.
By car from San Diego: The trip is about an hour and 35 minutes from San Diego. Take the 5 freeway north to the 405 freeway north. Take the 55 freeway south towards Newport Beach until the freeway ends.