Newport Beach - California

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Newport Beach & Balboa

Of all the Southern California coastal beach towns, this is the one of our favorites. The beach area, cheek-by-jowl with a vibrant beachfront community on the Balboa Peninsula, is a lively reminder of the first half of the 1900s. This was an era when people not only lived by the beaches but came from afar by train, boat and later by car -- to savor the sea air, stay in fine little hotels, have fun in amusement parks, and then dance the night away in pavilions built over the water.

The inland community of Newport Beach (with some of the most expensive real estate in already wealthy Orange County) is largely hidden behind high bougainvillaea-covered walls. To the east is John Wayne Airport and Irvine. To the north is Huntington Beach -- a fine, long beach but without the ambience -- and to the south is Laguna Beach and a series of state beaches which offer camping.

But Newport Beach has the atmosphere brought by a lasting combination of a timeless seaside resort with distinctive places to stay; a charming permanent community set on the long spit and lagoon islands.

The year-round resort area lies west of the Pacific Coast Highway, accessed by driving on either Balboa Boulevard or Newport Blvd. Newport Blvd. takes you past city hall and an older part of town and then meets Balboa Blvd. This is the peninsula road which leads south, down the middle of the 4-mile sand spit with beach houses on each side.

What to See and Do

There are two major beach resort areas along Balboa Blvd. The first is Newport Beach -- with a public pier (a seafood restaurant is at the end) and the beach is fronted by a picturesque collection of restaurants, B and B inns and shops. Balboa Beach is closer to the top of the peninsula, with another great public beach and pier plus more inns and cafes on the ocean side. Clustered near the entrances to the beaches are commercial areas which contain distinctive inns and restaurants.

Across the spit is the building which defines the beach area -- the historic Balboa Pavilion, which serves as a departure point for cruises to Catalina Island. This 1905 palace on a pier now has a restaurant on the lower floor, and the ballroom remains on the upper level. It's sad to note that the regular dances, which made the building famous during the swing era, have disappeared. The room can be rented, but the days of Harry James and Stan Kenton are over. Still, it's a thrill for jazz fans to see the floor where many of the great dance bands became famous.

The car and passenger ferry to Balboa Island (providing access to Newport Beach) docks beside the Pavilion. The ride takes about three minutes.

Newport Beach is two communities: the posh inland city, and the beach town (Balboa). You can stay in a deluxe hotel -- a mile inland at Fashion Island -- or in the business park close to John Wayne Airport. Or, you can head for the shoreline, particularly to Balboa Peninsula, for a beachside inn.

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