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NEWPORT BEACH
Newport Pier

The 10 Best Things to do in Newport Beach

Explore the best things to do in Newport Beach, including a visit to Balboa Island and an afternoon on the sand

Written by
Kai Oliver-Kurtin
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Many visit the oceanfront area for a taste of opulence, but the best things to do in Newport Beach extend beyond the posh Orange County city’s tony shopping centers and country clubs. Sure, yachts, canals, and luxury cars are common sightings here, but so too are whales, waves and pristine patches of sand. Even still, Newport is one of the wealthiest places in the country (even more so than its neighboring Orange County cities) so don't except to find much grunge in this affluent coastal town. 

Where to go? While some of the most frequented beaches in Newport are Corona del Mar State Beach (great for swimming) and The Wedge (great for surfing), Newport Beach Pier and Balboa Pier also draw large crowds to the waterfront for leisure (fun fact: while it's called Balboa Island, this man-made community is in fact a peninsula). 

Situated between the surfer-filled shores of Huntington Beach and the stunning canyons of Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and its patchwork of man-made islands offer a mix of luxury living with some of the best beaches and best restaurants in SoCal. Experience a mix of it all with a drive along Pacific Coast Highway, and use our list of the best things to do in Newport Beach for can’t-miss pitstops along the way.

RECOMMENDED: the best restaurants in Newport Beach

Best things to do Newport Beach

Whale watching is one of the best ways to experience the Pacific Ocean's natural beauty, not to mention the marine life that sits just below its surface. We’re lucky enough to sit in the path of blue, humpback, and, most notably, gray whale migrations. Newport Beach has a number of competitively-priced whale watching tours and, unlike other popular ports, the majority are more than mere harbor cruises.

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3. Balboa Island

Of all Newport Beach’s man-made islands, Balboa is by far the most charming. It also feels more like a quaint East Coast harborfront village than the rest of Newport’s distinctly Southern Californian settlements. The first order of business: getting your hands on one of the island’s famed frozen bananas. Choose from rivals Sugar N Spice or Dad’s Donuts; both claim to be the originators of the chocolate-covered frozen treat. Then take a jaunt around the 1.6-mile boardwalk that surrounds the island or browse the mom-and-pop shops along Marine Avenue. Visitors to Balboa Island can enter by driving onto it via Marine Avenue, but it’s far easier—and more fun—to park your car on the Balboa Peninsula and take the Balboa Island Ferry for a quick and scenic five-minute trip across the water.

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One of two piers located along Newport’s coastline, this oceanfront lookout extends from a busy commercial district at the start of the Balboa Peninsula. Parking can be a bit tough since it’s located next to the area’s biggest—but still not big enough—municipal beach lot. Though the building at the end of the pier is currently vacant, many are hoping for a restaurant revival soon.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
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Bury yourself in one of 15,000 volumes about the Pacific Southwest at this library and botanical garden. The 2.2-acre gardens feature an exotic array of flora—including an assortment of succulents and a Japanese garden—as well as an on-site café.

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The main attraction at the end of this pier is the original Ruby’s location, a ’40s-inspired local diner chain. You’ll pay a premium for some alright burgers, so consider a scenic stroll along the expanse if you don’t feel like springing for a meal. Balboa Pier is located just blocks away from the Balboa Island Ferry and the Balboa Fun Zone.

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  • Attractions
  • Beaches
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Make no mistake: If you’re looking for a beach to unwind in the sunshine, there are miles of wide, sandy stretches that you should visit instead of the Wedge. But if you want to scope out one of the most notable (and sometimes overwhelmingly popular) surf spots in Southern California, this is the place. The long jetty on the eastern edge coupled with the shape of the coastline bounces waves into each other to create near-shore swells as high as 30 feet. Parking is limited to the adjacent neighborhoods, so hoof it past multi-million-dollar beach houses and through entrances on either Channel Road or M Street.

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  • Arcades and amusements
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It’s no Disneyland, but it’s also a mere fraction of the price. The few carnival-esque rides here aren’t particularly memorable, but the signature waterfront Ferris wheel does have some charm to it—after all, the entire amusement park dates back to 1936.

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  • Shopping
  • Shopping centers
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There’s nothing at this vast OC mall that you won’t find in L.A., but it’s a good one-stop shop if you’re in the area. There are four department stores (Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus), along with an Apple Store, a Barnes & Noble and a selection of fashion stores that are a cut above the usual mall fare (Balenciaga, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Prada). Warning: it can get hellishly busy on weekends.

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  • Beaches
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This 3.2-mile stretch of sandy expanses and coastal cliffs bridges the border between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. Come to explore the tide pools and canyons during the day, or reserve a campsite to spend the night.

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