Travel Guide: Newport Beach's Balboa Island & Peninsula

One of the most magical places we encountered when we moved to Southern California is Balboa Island – one of three islands located in Newport Beach (and named after Vasco Nunez de Balboa, who discovered the Pacific Ocean in 1513). Balboa Island is approximately 45 miles south of Los Angeles and 86 miles north of San Diego.

In the early days, Balboa Island, Little Balboa Island, and Collins Island were all independent, man-made islands but flooding and problems surrounding construction forced the City of Newport Beach to intervene and to eventually connect the islands.

As the Island grew, so did the attention: soon, Balboa Island started to attract tourists, yachters, and jet - setters alike who either arrived by bridge (from Jamboree Road or Bayside Drive) or via ferry from the Balboa Peninsula.

Endearingly, most of Balboa Island's streets are named after semi-precious stones with Marine Street being Main Street which features restaurants, boutiques, and a recently opened supermarket.

Among favorites are Sugar n' Spice (famous for its frozen banana since 1945), Wilma's Patio (a hearty American eatery that offers comfort food in a casual setting), the Village Inn (which offers live music) and the health-conscious 501 Park Avenue Bistro - our personal favorite in regards to food and location.

Balboa Island is best explored by foot as it is surrounded by a paved boardwalk walking trail, which is only accessible to pedestrians (bikes or scooters prohibited) and their four-legged friends (on a leash). (Currently, during COVID - 19, the boardwalk is strictly one -way).

Should you happen to stroll around the Island on a Saturday, be on the lookout for the LA Times' proclaimed 'king of sandcastles’ - Chris Crosson - who creates the most beautiful sand sculptures on the corner of Sapphire Avenue and South Bay Front. Check out his incredible work here!

Once you have explored Balboa Island and have seen the Balboa Pavilion from afar (particularly beautiful at night), it is worth taking the ferry over to the Balboa Peninsula, a three-mile-long stretch with the harbor on the one side and the beautiful, broad beach on the other side.

The Balboa Peninsula is popular for many things: first and foremost for the notorious The Wedge, an infamous surfing spot where brave souls try to defeat up to 30- foot swells during high season. Definitely not for the faint of heart (in case you need proof, click here).

Indeed, much of life happens on the water on Balboa Island and the Balboa Peninsula where options are endless: from sailing and paddleboarding to kayaking, And if you want to speed it up, jet skis and sea doos are readily available to rent.

If you are into bigger fish, Newport Landing, offers whale watching tours while Davey's Locker is known for its deep-sea fishing excursions. The Catalina Flyer (which takes approximately 1.5 hours) also leaves from the Balboa Peninsula. (See our Catalina Island travel guide for more information).

If you prefer to stay on dry land, we suggest you explore the Peninsula by bike which can be rented from places like Seaside Bike Rentals,

That way you can discover all the Peninsula has to offer. From the Fun Zone, with the iconic Ferry Wheels from which you have stunning views of Newport Harbour and the Pacific Ocean...

... to the broad, beautiful Californian beaches and Balboa Pier (here, Ruby's Diner is a must for one of their delicious shakes of the month)...

... to all the amazing beachfront restaurants and bars (with our personal favorite being the casual waterfront seafood eatery Dory Deli).

Balboa Island and the Balboa Peninsula are truly one of a kind and we can't wait for you to come and visit!

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