Top Things to See and Do in Newport Beach, California

Balboa Island, which is part of Newport Beach, is a fun, family-friendly destination
Balboa Island, which is part of Newport Beach, is a fun, family-friendly destination | © Ronnie Chua / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Judy Cogan
2 June 2021

Newport Beach is undeniably scenic. The coastal city in California has magnificent beaches and one of the best surfing spots in the world, the Wedge, alongside cultural treasures such as the Orange County Museum of Modern Art. Want more? Here are the best things to do in Newport Beach.

Newport Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in Orange County, sitting just south of Los Angeles on the east coast. A marine-loving mix of yachters, anglers and surfers flock here, as do locals in need of a casual sun-drenched break. Enjoy the buzzy harbor, wide open parks, art galleries and a spot of whale watching. Don’t leave without trying a frozen banana. Here are the must-do things in this coastal California haven.

Visit the Orange County Museum of Art

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The OCMA is like a constantly evolving being. It was first opened in 1962 by a collective of 13 women, as the Balboa Pavilion Gallery. A 1997 move and remodel took the museum to Newport Beach. Here it shows rotating exhibits, while the permanent collection contains over 4,500 works of art produced by contemporary artists in California. Highlights include works by John Baldessari, Elmer Bischoff and Chris Burden.

Take the ferry to Balboa Island

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Aerial view of Balboa Island Newport Beach California
© Timothy Swope / Alamy Stock Photo
What do you want from a California break? A spot of paddle-boarding, perhaps, and the opportunity to see whales and dolphins in their natural habitat? Family-friendly activities? Balboa Island offers all of that and more. Hop on a ferry from Newport Beach to the island, and explore it on rental bikes or by foot with plenty of pit stops for coffee and ice cream. Check out the all-new Balboa Island Market & Grille for shopping, dining and a cocktail.

Get a frozen banana from Sugar ‘n’ Spice

Dessert Shop, Dessert
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In the hit comedy TV show Arrested Development, the Bluth family ran a frozen banana stand on Balboa Island that had been in operation since 1953. In real life, Sugar ’n Spice is the original frozen banana bar on Balboa, opened in 1945. Every banana is made to order and hand-dipped in either classic chocolate (non-dairy), dark chocolate, peanut butter or cherry dip, and rolled in a choice of colorful and crunchy toppings.

Walk along Crystal Cove beach

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Magnificent coastline view of Crystal Cove beach at sunset with clouds in the sky Newport Beach, California
© Focqus / Alamy Stock Photo
The southern California coastline doesn’t suffer from a shortage of incredible beaches. At Crystal Cove, you get 3.2 miles (5.1km) of natural seashore edged by turquoise Pacific waters on one side and 2,400 acres (970ha) of undeveloped woodland on the other. It’s known locally as a quieter spot to enjoy scuba diving among sunken anchors and even a Navy plane, as well as fishing, kayaking and surfing.

Book a firepit at Beachcomber

Restaurant, North American, $$$
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The Beachcomber Restaurant at Crystal Cove State Park California USA
© Calamy stock images / Alamy Stock Photo
Located in Crystal Cove State Park, Beachcomber serves big-jar cocktails (the bloody mary was voted the best in the OC) and an excellent seafood menu on the beach. However, it’s the special seaside touches that make this place really interesting. Why not opt for a “fire pit package” and barbecue your own shrimp, followed by gooey s’mores? It’s a great way to spend an evening socializing on the sand next to breaking waves while staying cozy.

Discover the Sherman Library and Gardens

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Explore nature through the wonderful world of books in beautiful bucolic gardens that date back to the 1950s. Join a garden tour, outdoor painting class or afternoon tea surrounded by flowers and plants. The library houses a book collection of more than 15,000 volumes and a collection of impressionist art. Cafe Jardin serves French-Californian “coastal cuisine” and hosts a series of special lunches and events each summer.

Watch surfers at the Wedge

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A local surfer pulls into a heavy, shore breaking barrel in shallow water at the surf break The Wedge, in Newport Beach, CA
© Benjamin Ginsberg / Alamy Stock Photo
You can’t fail to miss the Wedge when it’s working. This beach is known for its gigantic waves, some reaching heights of 30ft (9m) during big swells. No surprise that it’s a hotspot for surfers and bodyboarders. However, oddly enough, these epic waves are man-made as a result of a nearby jetty, built in the 1930s. Rock up and watch surfers catching the biggest sets as they roll in.

Go kayaking in Newport Bay Conservancy

Architectural Landmark
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The Upper Newport Bay is a natural estuary, made up of around 1,000 acres (400ha) of wetlands. Here, freshwater and seawater meet to create a special habitat for local wildlife. The Newport Bay Conservancy protects this area, and the best way to explore it is on a guided kayak tour. Spot pelicans and terns flying above, catch a glimpse of silver mullet in the water or a stingray gliding by your boat. The kayak tours are year-round, two hours long and for all levels.

Catch the sunset at Inspiration Point

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bryce canyon national park
© Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Enjoy incredible ocean views and a memorable sunset experience from Inspiration Point at Bryce Canyon National Park. Benches are available for sitting and pondering life while looking out to the otherworldly red-rock formations and a scattering of bristly pines. If you’re not lost in daydreams, you might spot a mountain short-horned lizard zip past. The cliffs are steep and crumbly here, so make sure you stick to the trails and behind the railings.

Cycle from Newport Beach to Huntington Beach

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Southern California offers up fantastic biking trails, including the Santa Ana River Trail and cycling through Joshua Tree National Park. The 12mi (19km) beach trail from Newport to Huntington Pier is mostly flat and perfect for a leisurely meander along the coastline. You can rent a beach cruiser bike in Newport and stop off along the way for ice cream or a mooch around a farmer’s market. Add another 3mi (5km) each way and go down to the Wedge.

These recommendations were updated on June 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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