Newport Beach – A perfect SoCal getaway….for everyone!
We had stopped into Newport Beach a decade or so ago, but just while driving along the coast. This was our first week-long stay and I can’t recommend it highly enough. We chose to fly into San Diego as Highway101 is a wonderful drive, and depending on the time of day you arrive and get your rental car, I’d suggest it as a nice change. The closest airport, however, is John Wayne Airport, which is only a few miles from Newport Beach.
Newport Beach has long been a haven for Hollywood types who wanted to escape the frenetic pace of the movie industry and the community has, over the years, played home (or second home) to many celebrities. John Wayne loved the area, and lived his final years there. His yacht, The Wild Goose, still plies the waters in the area as a charter. Apparently Bette Midler and Michelle Pfeiffer now call the area home and several NBA players, including Kobe Bryant, hang their hats in the exclusive Newport Coast area.
I imagine this is the place where Mr. & Mrs. Howell of the famed Gilligan’s Island show would have lived! It’s classy, beautiful and while it’s close to the swirl of Los Angeles, it has virtually no traffic congestion and the air is clean and refreshing. We stayed at the Marriott Newport Coast Villas, which was very comfortable and well equipped. It’s a large, Tuscan-themed complex with something for absolutely everyone to do. It’s a great spot for both couples as well as families, and activities abound. Everything from happy hour at the pool bar & grille to exercise classes in the morning and a multitude of kids activities are available to guests. Offsite, there are plenty of golf courses nearby if you plan to hit the links.
Newport Beach itself has a few distinctive neighbourhoods, including the Newport Coast area where we stayed. In addition to the original Newport Beach, with its wide beach-front, shop-lined boulevard and ‘must walk’ pier, it’s also essential that you visit the Balboa Island area, and Corona Del Mar. The pier is the showpiece of the older area, and while you stroll, you’ll likely see fishermen working to bring in the catch of the day right off the pier, folks below enjoying the massive sandy beach and surfers and paddleboarders all around.
Balboa is a charming little peninsula. Not to be confused with Balboa Island, to get to Balboa, you can take an adorable ferry (it holds 3 cars) from Newport Beach to Balboa, and then drive off on the highway at the other end. A great little circle trip that makes a lovely day while in the area. You can also take some wonderful boat tours which will show you the area from the water, an entirely different perspective of any waterfront town! In addition to enjoying the ocean breezes, the tour guides will point out celebrities’ homes and famous sights in the area.
While in Balboa, be sure to check out the many little charming shops & make sure you have a frozen banana or a ‘Balboa Bar’. Both of these frozen confections are claimed to have been first served there, and enjoying them while strolling the shops and flower-lined streets is all part of the Balboa experience! Frozen bananas are, as the name implies, however then dipped in chocolate and enjoyed on a stick. The Balboa Bar is a frozen ice cream bar coated in chocolate and customized with your choice of any number of toppings. Beachgoers have been enjoying them for generations!
The Corona Del Mar area of Newport Beach is another gem. It’s where the shoppers come out to play, but if that’s not your thing, fear not! There are lots of interesting restaurants and other things to see. Beautifully manicured neighbourhoods and streets surround the Corona Del Mar area. This is home to beautiful vintage clothing shops and home décor stores. If you’re looking to own a Chanel jacket or a Gucci bag, but not pay full price, this is your holy grail! Corona Del Mar has many designer consignment shops. It seems this is where those ‘once-worn’ duds and accessories end up. ‘Recycled Rags’ is a lovely shop with a great selection of both women’s and men’s clothing & accessories. Treasure hunting at its finest! Corona Del Mar is also home to ‘Fashion Island’ – a true mecca for serious shoppers. It’s an outdoor shopping experience of the classiest kind. Department stores and smaller shops are woven throughout the area, and there’s also a great selection of spots to dine. Our ‘go-to’ when we travel in the U.S. for fast, tasty and consistently good service is usually P.F. Changs, and it proved a nice spot to rest our feet and recharge before seeing the rest of Fashion Island.
Speaking of dining in Newport Beach – you definitely won’t be disappointed! It has an amazing variety and whether you’re looking for casual or upscale, you’ll find it. The afternoon we arrived, we got settled into the condo and headed out to get a few staples for the kitchen. Staying in a unit with a kitchen affords the traveler much more flexibility, not to mention the option of having breakie in your bathrobe if you don’t want to get yourself ‘presentable’ to go out to have orange juice & toast! After we had stocked up on the essentials at Trader Joes, we decided to have an earlier dinner and call it a night before checking out the area the next morning. We stumbled upon Modo Mio, an Italian spot in the Crystal Cove shopping plaza. Before you panic, this is no typical ‘food fare’ type of mall dining! There are several very upscale restaurants in Crystal Cove, most with valet parking and long waits, but we opted for Italian as it didn’t seem as busy and didn’t look too fancy for our attire. We could not have been happier with our dinner. The service was fabulous and having travelled to Italy recently, I can say with certainty that it was authentic! I love veal piccata and if I see it on a menu, I’m often unable to select something else! Modo Mio’s version was to die for, and the Ravioli di Pollo e Tacchino Affumicato was a delicious surprise of smoked chicken & turkey stuffed ravioli.
One more dining highlight was a another happy accident. Newport Beach’s Corona Del Mar area is home to the famous ‘Five Crowns’ restaurant. It’s a lovely old tudor building with a storied past. It’s the place to be and be seen in the area. We decided to try out the ‘legend’ (affiliated with the famous Lawry’s prime rib house in Chicago). It was fairly early and we didn’t have a reservation, but decided to chance it as it was a Tuesday night. Upon pulling in to the parking lot across the street, we were greeted by a valet who asked if we had reservations. Of course, we said, rather sheepishly, “No, but do you think they could fit us in?” He smiled and said they were completely full, but we should try the ‘Side Door’. Okay. Why not? And there it was – along the side of the building (on the side street) is ‘The Side Door’, a separate entrance leading to a true culinary treasure!
Reservations were not a problem there – in fact, they don’t even take them. It’s first come, first served and The Side Door is described as a ‘GastroPub’ in the British style. Casual and elegant all at the same time, with an ale list to impress! The menu is a wonderfully eclectic mixture of traditional ‘Pub Grub’ and more gourmand dishes! We sat at a large pub table with a few other folks, but there are many seating areas throughout the place. The chicken pot pie was fabulous, as was the Prime Rib sandwich. A real highlight is their Charcuterie. In fact, they have a large charcuterie station in the middle of the pub, which provides endless entertainment for diners who can watch the chef preparing beautiful boards with cured meats, cheeses, olives, breads and spreads for folks to share. The little known fact is that the Side Door shares a kitchen with the Five Crowns, so my very reasonably priced prime rib sandwich came from the same place as the very expensive entrée version next door! Great food only impresses if the service you experience is equally as good, and The Side Door didn’t disappoint! They are also open for brunch on the weekends.
Newport Beach is truly a destination with something for everyone. In fact, I’d challenge anyone to say they couldn’t find something very enjoyable to do there! Whether you’re a family, a couple, or even solo, Newport Beach has it all, and it’s conveniently situated within a short drive of many other Southern California attractions, which makes its location simply ideal! There’s lots to do in Newport Beach, but easy day trips will find you at the San Diego Zoo, Seaworld, Disneyland, and even Palm Springs. If you go, be sure to go to ‘www.visitnewportbeach.com’ in advance to plan your trip. The website is full of tips & upcoming events.
Beach-combing, surfing, fishing, golfing, shopping, dining or exploring the beautiful neighbourhoods – Newport Beach has it all! It just might be the most versatile Southern California destination we’ve experienced, and it’s easy to see why folks come back year after year.
Now, where did I put my (gently used) Gucci bag?
If you go: www.alaskaair.com has excellent flights in & out of San Diego.
www.thrifty.com was very reasonable for a week car rental – $100 with unlimited mileage in early December.
Marriott’s Newport Coast Villas: www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/laxnc-marriotts-newport-coast-villas
Great ItalianFood: www.modomiocucinarustica.com
Side Door Gastropub: www.sidedoorcdm.com
Designer Consignment: www.recycledrags.com
Fashion Island: www.shopfashionisland.com