Featuring an array of stunning beaches, nature preserves, a choice of activities and romantic restaurants, Newport Beach is a fun weekend destination. Take in the scenery at Corona del Mar State Beach, go for a walk along the Newport Pier, visit the Orange County Museum of Art and enjoy the beautiful Sherman Library and Gardens. Here are the best things to do in Newport Beach, California.
1. Balboa Peninsula
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The Balboa Peninsula is a neighborhood in Newport Beach named after the famous Spanish explorer, Vasco Nunez de Balboa. Sometimes referred to as “the Peninsula” or as “Balboa,” it is a residential neighborhood with many attractions and events. The three mile stretch of land is bordered on one side by the harbor and on the other side by sandy beaches and the Pacific Ocean.
The Balboa Pavilion dates from 1906: it’s the peninsula’s most well-known landmark, the oldest standing building, and a marine recreational facility. Other attractions include the Balboa Fun Zone, the Balboa Pier and Newport Pier, and the Dory Fishing Fleet. The Balboa Peninsula is of the top Newport Beach CA attractions. There are many bars and restaurants with great nightlife.
2. Corona Del Mar State Beach
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Corona del Mar State Beach is a state park and beach that is operated by the city of Newport Beach. Spanish for the Crown of the Sea, Corona del Mar was established as a state park in 1947 and is sometimes referred to as Big Corona Beach.
Covering 30 acres, it is a half-mile long protected sandy beach and is popular with families and swimmers. There are cliffs above the beach and a rock jetty that is the entrance to Newport Harbor. Other activities include scuba diving, sunbathing, surfing, and beach volleyball. Corona Del Mar State Beach is one of the best things to do in Newport Beach, California. Scenes from several movies and television shows were filmed on this beach.
3. Newport Pier
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The Newport Pier is a 1,032 feet (314.6 meter) long municipal pier located on McFadden Place at the center of the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach.
Completed in 1888, it was originally called McFadden Wharf named after local landowners, James and Robert McFadden. It was used for shipping but when it was sold in 1902, the new owner began to change the area for recreational and residential purposes. The old pier was destroyed by a hurricane in 1939 and the new and current pier was built in 1940 on the same site. If you are wondering what to do in Newport Beach with kids, this is a great place to visit.
Today, it is a popular place for dining, fishing, and walking. Founded in 1891, the Dory Fishing Fleet is located at the base of the pier.
4. Sculpture Exhibition in Civic Center Park
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Breathe in the fresh coastal air as you admire some amazing and unique artwork in this “museum without walls”. Civic Center Park, designed by esteemed landscape architectural firm Peter Walker and Partners, stands on almost 500,000 square feet of land. With a lot of things to see and do within the park, the Sculpture Exhibition scores high on the list. Arranged by the Newport Beach City Council, every piece of art is carefully selected based on its artistic merit, practicality, durability, and site responsiveness. They are then loaned and displayed for the public to freely view for two years. The current exhibition was launched earlier in 2021 and will be on loan until the summer of 2023. Each artwork speaks differently in style and expression, from colorful dreamy displays to strong and abstract figures, and creative thought-provoking installations. If you’re visiting with kids, be sure to check out the Migration of My Dreams by Marisabel Bazan which brings colorful giant butterflies to life.
100 Civic Center Drive, Newport Beach, California 92660, Phone: 949-644-3309
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5. Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
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Known by locals as “The Back Bay,” Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserves is a large coastal wetland or estuary. Consisting of approximately 1,000 acres, it is one of the largest coastal wetland areas in southern California.
The preserve is a popular place for bird watching because it is an important stopover for some 35,000 birds that are traveling on the Pacific Flyway, the major north-south migration path that extends from Alaska to Patagonia.
In addition to bird watching, other popular activities include biking, hiking, and horseback riding. The park also features the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center which is a great place to visit with kids.
2301 University Drive, Newport Beach, California, Phone: 949-923-2290
6. Newport Beach
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Newport Beach is a five mile long municipal beach located on Balboa Boulevard at Oceanfront & 21st Street and is owned by the city of Newport Beach. It lies on both sides of the Newport Beach Pier and it extends from the Balboa Pier Beach on the south as far north as West Newport Park.
The beach consists of fine soft sand which makes it a popular place for sunbathers. Water activities include boating, fishing, surfing, and swimming; non-water activities include biking, skating, volleyball, and walking. There is a paved trail called the Newport-Balboa Bike Trail that runs behind the beach for several miles.
Next read: Weekend Getaways in California
7. Balboa Island
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Balboa Island is a manmade island that is located between the Balboa Peninsula and the mainland of Newport Beach. The island started as a mudflat surrounded by swamps.
Dredging of the bay began in the early 1900s and the sand and silt that was brought up from the floor of the bay was deposited at a place that would eventually become Balboa Island. If you are wondering what to see in Newport Beach, Balboa Island is a great place to visit. The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge on the northeast and the Balboa Island Ferry runs between the island and the Balboa Peninsula which lies to the south.
Although the island is mostly residential, visitors enjoy walking along Marine Avenue and Agate Avenue, the main commercial streets.
8. Balboa Village
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The Balboa Village is a historic amusement area on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach. The village is made up of a bayside boardwalk called Bayfront Boardwalk and a second boardwalk called the Ocean Boardwalk on the other side of the peninsula.
The boardwalks are popular places to stroll and to take in the sights: they are lined with activities, restaurants, and shops. Nearby are the yachts of Newport Harbor and the Balboa Pier.
Shops include art galleries, boutiques, and specialty shops, while restaurants range from Italian to Japanese. There are ocean activities as well as amusement park rides.
600 East Bay Avenue, Newport Beach, California, Phone: 949-675-8915
9. Environmental Nature Center
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The Environmental Nature Center is a group of 15 California native plant environments. Founded in 1972, the 3.5 acre center features walking trails, wildlife habitats, and plant ecosystems such as desert, fresh water march, oak woodland, redwood forest, and many more.
Nicknamed “The ENC,” the center is known for its strong focus on eduction. Some of the features and programs of the center include a butterfly habitat, summer nature camps, school programs, and a Nature Museum that gives children the opportunity to explore and touch things that come from nature. The center can be rented for meetings, parties, and weddings.
1601 East 16th Street, Newport Beach, California, Phone: 949-645-8489
10. Balboa Fun Zone
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The Balboa Fun Zone is a family destination located on East Bay Avenue on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach. Built in 1936 by Al Anderson, the attraction began with a small beach and a Ferris Wheel. The area was rebuilt in 1986 but went into decline until a new owner began reviving the Fun Zone in 1994.
Today the area includes Balboa Village with its beach, boardwalks, hotel, restaurants and shops. Amusement rides include an 18 foot tall bungee ride called Ocean Motion, the Ferris Wheel, Fish Pipe, Burt the Bull Shark, and many others. Other attractions include the historic 1905 Balboa Pavilion, arcades, harbor cruises, and more.
600 East Bay Avenue, Newport Beach, California, Phone: 949-673-0408
11. Peter & Mary Muth Interpretive Center
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Located on University Drive in Newport Beach, the Peter & Mary Muth Interpretive Center serves as a visitor center to the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve and Nature Preserve.
Opened in 2000, the large 10,000 square foot education facility focuses on estuary history and interactive displays. Visitors are introduced to the estuary at the center so they have a better understanding of what they are seeing as they take guided walking tours or water tours.
Built into a bluff on the north side of the bay, the center features a butterfly garden, children’s activity rooms, a movie theater, and much more. There are live amphibian and reptile displays in the classrooms.
2301 University Drive, Newport Beach, California, Phone: 949-923-2290
12. Sherman Library and Gardens
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The Sherman Library and Gardens are public botanical gardens located in Corona Del Mar. Covering an area of 2.2 acres, the garden was established in 1955 when Arnold D. Haskell bought a plant nursery property. Mr. Haskell named the library and garden after his mentor, M.H. Sherman.
The garden features conservatories, fountains, patios, seasonal flower beds, and more. One of the conservatories houses tropical plants including gingers, heliconias, and orchids.
Some of the gardens include the Cactus and Succulent Garden, the Fern Grotto, the Herb Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Rose Garden. The library contains materials related to the history of the Pacific Southwest.
2647 East Coast Highway, Corona Del Mar, CA 92625, 949-673-2261
13. Fashion Island
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Fashion Island is an open-air shopping destination with views of the Pacific Ocean. Opened in 1967, the luxury shopping center features more than 150 department stores and boutique shops as well as a large variety of eateries.
Some of the well-known department stores include Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and others. The dining options range from artisan burger houses, to Japanese sushi, pizza shops and other Italian restaurants like Cucina Enoteca, and many small quick-serve eateries.
There is also a Whole Foods grocery store at the center and a movie theater. The center hosts events throughout the year.
401 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, California, Phone: 855-658-8527
14. The Spa at Pelican Hill
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The Spa at Pelican Hill at the Resort at Pelican Hill features 22 treatments rooms, a boutique, fitness center, and relaxation lounges.
Some of the options include day packages, personal training, spa cuisine, and wellness classes. The spa’s Acqua Colonnades have saltwater soaking tubs, herbal steam rooms, and saunas. Treatments include advanced aesthetics, body therapy, massage therapy, and more.
The spa offers skin care treatments such as facials and peels, and massage therapies include deep tissue, reflexology, and terra stone, as well as scalp massages and foot massages. The spa also offers a wide variety of packages.
22701 South Pelican Hill Road, Newport Beach, California, Phone: 855-315-8214
15. Gondola Adventures
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Gondola Adventures offers a romantic cruise along the Newport Harbor in an original Venetian gondola. Your excursion can even feature a singing gondolier, if you wish.
Watch the sunset, have a glass of champagne and a picnic lunch or dinner, exchange a few kisses, and enjoy the pure romance of this unique cruise. If you are looking for date night ideas in Newport Beach, this is a great romantic activity. There are specially decorated wedding gondolas that are beautifully carved and ornate if you want to pop the question or tie the knot in a unique setting.
There are gondolas with a canopy for privacy, shade, or protection from rain. And there are also gondolas with a motor to get you a bit farther along the harbor.
200 N Bayside Dr, Newport Beach, CA 92660, Phone: 949-646-2067
16. Pirate Coast Paddle Company
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Standing on a paddleboard feels almost like walking on water, and it is surprisingly stable and easy – you can go as fast or as slow as you wish. Pirate Coast Paddle Company offers to teach you to do it safely, or you can rent one of their high quality paddleboards if you are already experienced and hooked on this fun sport.
Their lessons are about one hour long and cover the basics and are suitable for all ages and fitness levels. They also organize five-day kids camps, helping kids to become completely comfortable with paddleboards and learn a bit about marine life, safety, and navigation.
You can also book one of their adventures, from paddling out on open water, doing paddle yoga, or partaking in a range of other fun activities. All their guides are highly experienced athletes, outdoorsmen, and coaches who make everyone feel safe and comfortable.
1131 Back Bay Dr., Newport Beach, California, Phone: 949-278-0011
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17. Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society
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Voted by Orange County readers to be one of the best museums of 2020, the Balboa Island Museum & Historical Society offers its visitors a deeper look into the rich history and heritage of this favored island in Orange County. The museum started out much smaller when it was originally founded in 2000, and eventually expanded into its current home in 2018. Its new home is quite fitting and historical as it used to be a yacht repair and storage garage from the 1920s. Visitors can expect to learn about Balboa Island entertainingly and interactively with its expanded exhibits, new collections, event spaces, and children’s interactive zone. The museum is free to view from Mondays to Sundays, and if you’re visiting with children, be sure to ask them about their Kids Scavenger Hunt!
210 B Marine Ave, Balboa Island, California 92662, Phone: 949-675-3952
18. Pelican Hill Golf Club
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For a truly world-class golfing experience, look no further than Pelican Hill Golf Club. Golfers and visitors are in for a treat with jaw-dropping scenery, outstanding service, and exclusive facilities. Designed by renowned course architect Tom Fazio, the stunning 36-hole golf course is nestled seamlessly within the natural landscape of Newport Coast. On top of its breathtaking course, the Pelican Hill Golf Club prides itself in its top-notch facilities and services such as GPS-enabled golf carts, complimentary valet, private locker lounges, and a delightful cafe with delicious meals and beverages. Their golf academy also stands to impress with private classes and clinics led by actual PGA professionals. In an area that catches close to 300 days of sun each year, visitors are in for a unique experience almost all year round.
22701 Pelican Hill Road South, Newport Coast, California 92657, Phone: 888-507-6427
19. Newport Landing Whale Watching
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Whales are majestic, awe-inspiring creatures that are impossible to describe until you see them close up. Newport Beach is ideally located for year-round whale watching trips. Newport Landing Whale Watching Company offers daily trips that are almost sure to put you in close proximity to the largest mammals on Earth, a fun activity for the whole family.
From December to April during the Grey Whale migration period, hundreds of Grey Whales swim along the Laguna Beach coastline, which is just minutes from Newport Harbor. As the current brings warmer water from May to November, it also brings enormous blue whales, killer whales, finback whales, large pods of dolphins, seals, sharks, and many other marine animals attracted by warm waters and the plentitude of food.
Standard tours take about two and half hours, but it is possible to charter a private tour and spend as much time as you wish. It is an unforgettable experience. (949-675-0551)
20. Pelican Grill
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Whether looking for a yummy meal as you watch your favorite sporting game or a happy gathering with friends and family, the Pelican Grill & Bar makes for the perfect location. You’ll get a taste of the classic California lifestyle with the restaurant's lively and casual atmosphere, beautiful ocean views, and scrumptious grilled meals. Their all-day menu is filled with delicious options such as their Chilean sea bass, braised short ribs, and spinach kale salad, while their dessert selection will make your mouth water with dishes such as their signature 7-layer chocolate cake. If you’re dining with children, they also have several classics including grilled cheese and mac n’ cheese, but also some adventurous options like salmon or petite filet.
22800 S Pelican Hill Road, Newport Coast, California 92657; Phone: 844-443-0022
21. Bluewater Grill
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Get a full nautical dining experience at the Bluewater Grill. Situated right on the bay with a waterfront patio and dock, the restaurant serves delicious seafood freshly caught from their fishing boat. Visitors can enjoy their full bar at happy hour, use one of their private event rooms, or even pull up to the dock in their boat for a meal. Start with unique appetizers such as seared ahi or crab and artichoke dip, then pair one of their hefty fresh salads with some of their seafood favorites like fish and shrimp tacos or Alaskan king crab. Bluewater Grill is also a perfect family dining option with their various family-style meals and platters such as the Steak and Lobster Kit or Lobster Roll Kit. Finally, top everything off with something from their mouth-watering dessert menu such as their house-made key lime pie.
630 Lido Park Drive, Newport Beach, California 92663; Phone: 949-675-3474
22. The Wedge
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The Wedge is an area known for its shore-breaking waves located at the east end of the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach. When the ocean swell is coming from the south or southwest, waves can be as high as 30 feet (9.1 meters).
It is a popular spot for bodyboarding, bodysurfing, skim boarding, and surfing. It is also a popular place for visitors to see and photograph the waves and watch the action.
The waves at the Wedge are created by the improvements that were made to the rock jetty on the west side of the entrance to the Newport Harbor in the 1930s.
23. Balboa Island Ferry
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Balboa Island Ferry is a ferry service that runs between Balboa Island and the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach. The distance is only 1,000 feet whereas traveling between the island and the peninsula by vehicle increases the distance to six miles.
This is why many visitors choose the ferry which is also more scenic and fun. Joseph Beek, a college student, began running a ferry service between Balboa Island and the Balboa Peninsula as early as 1919. Three of Beek’s sons still run the ferry service now called the Balboa Island Ferry: the business has been in the same family for nearly 100 years.
410 South Bay Front, Newport Beach, California, Phone: 949-673-1070
24. Little Corona Beach
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Located at the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Poppy Avenue in Newport Beach, Little Corona Beach sits at the bottom of a cliff and is a fun place to visit with kids on a family vacation. At the top of the cliff, there are stunning views of the ocean, Big Corona Beach, Inspiration Point Park, the Newport Harbor, and Catalina Island.
The path down to the beach is an easy path that does not involve steps: this means that divers and picnickers can wheel equipment down to the beach. The beach is small and protected: this makes it popular with families with children. There are rocky reefs on either side of the beach that make it a popular place for divers.
25. Newport Beach Vineyards and Winery
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Founded in 1998, Newport Beach Vineyards and Winery is situated in the Upper Newport Bay area and consist of more than 1,200 vines which cover a third of the property.
The vineyards produce five tons of red wine grapes during the annual September harvest. The winery produces several kinds of wine using traditional Bordeaux red wine grapes: these wines include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Meritage, and Petit Verdot.
The winery conducts tours and tastings for groups of at least eight people: tastings last for about two hours. Tastings include a single varietal tasting and an estate and Meritage tasting.
2128 Mesa Drive, Newport Beach, California, Phone: 949-645-2200