If California is the land of milk and honey, you could consider the city of Newport Beach the whipped cream. Located along Southern California’s stunning west coast in Orange County, Newport Beach is one of the top tourist destinations for its natural, cultural, and historical bounty.
About Newport Beach
Located halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles, Newport Beach was once Orange County’s primary port, developed by James McFadden during the post-Civil War era. Once Los Angeles established itself as the main business center of Southern California, Newport Beach developed a successful tourism industry.
The geography of Newport Beach consists of the Balboa Peninsula, a long stretch of land that juts out from the coastline, creating a natural harbor with great water sports and the ultimate city for sightseeing. Over the 19th and 20th centuries, developers have built seven islands along the Peninsula’s coastline.
Newport Beach’s stunning coastline contains gorgeous beaches, state parks, and nature preserves to enjoy year-round perfect weather. Along with a wealth of outdoor activities for nature lovers and extreme sports enthusiasts, Newport Beach is home to:
- Posh resorts
- Boutique shops
When planning a vacation to this coastal slice of paradise, you can find a different set of activities and destinations to enjoy each day. Whether you’re looking for a fancy and relaxing reprieve from a fast-paced grind or an action-packed family vacation, Newport Beach has something for all ages and interests.
25 Best Things to Do in Newport Beach
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve
Also known as The Back Bay, Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve is Southern California’s largest expanse of coastal wetlands, encompassing 1000 acres of unfettered nature. The scenery is gorgeous and serene, and the preserve also features many trails for hiking and biking.
Families can take horseback riding tours of the wetlands, while nature lovers can explore the trails on foot. The Back Bay also lies along a major aviary migration route, making it popular with bird watchers.
As Newport Beach is a coastal town, you can expect amazing seafood any time. Newport Landing is a beloved, longstanding staple for seafood and oysters fresh off the boat.
The charming restaurant is within walking distance to other popular tourist destinations like the Newport Harbor, Balboa Island Ferry, and meeting points for sports fishing, cruises, and whale watching tours.
Whales are some of the most majestic creatures on earth. The Pacific Ocean is home to a wide variety of whale species that you can observe right off the coast of Newport Beach.
During the winter and spring, you can watch gray whales migrating south to warmer waters. During the summer and fall months, you’ll see blue whales. There’s always a chance to catch a glimpse of other creatures throughout the year, including:
- Killer whales
Whale watching is a must when you visit Newport Beach, and there are plenty of companies offering daily tours.
Huntington Beach is a neighboring coastal town that’s a quick 10-minute drive from Newport Beach, offering amazing beaches, boardwalks, and cultural destinations of its own.
You could make a day trip to one of California’s premier surfing beaches to marvel at skilled surfers catching massive waves. If you’re up for some exercise, you can enjoy an easy 25-minute bike ride from Newport to Huntington.
Newport Beach Pier
A stroll along Newport Beach Pier is visually dazzling and a lesson in Newport Beach history. Originally McFadden’s Wharf, Newport Beach Pier stretches nearly one-fifth of a mile along the Balboa Peninsula, acting as the city’s premier shipping dock when it was a port during the late 19th century.
Newport Beach Pier is a beautifully preserved wooden pier that offers tourists stunning views of the coastline and the Pacific Ocean. It also offers various dining and shopping destinations right on the water.
Paddle Board and Kayak Tours
If surfing is too extreme for your taste, paddle boarding is the perfect way to glide along the water while gazing at Newport Beach’s gorgeous coastline. Paddle Boards are giant surfboards that offer a stable platform for standing while you paddle through the tranquil waters. It’s great exercise and doesn’t have a steep learning curve (like surfing does), making it a fun solution for first-timers.
If you want even more stability, kayaking is an equally active and entertaining option. Most outdoor tour companies rent paddle boards and kayaks, offering guided tours around the popular beaches.
Sherman Library and Gardens
Originating in 1955, Sherman Library and Gardens was named for founder Arnold Haskell’s mentor and fellow nature lover, M. H. Sherman. Sherman Library houses hundreds of books about the flora and geography of the California coast.
The Gardens encompass a floral paradise among 2 acres of beautifully manicured grounds where you’ll find:
- A fern garden
- Japanese garden
- Rose garden
- Succulent garden
- Tea and herb garden
- Outdoor eateries
Make sure you pack your camera to snap the picturesque landscape.
Environmental Nature Center
A visit to the Environmental Nature Center is as fun as it is educational. Built during the 1970s, the Environmental Nature Center is 3.5 acres of interactive biospheres. It represents the various ecological and geographical environments in California.
There’s a circular hiking trail that hits each biosphere, creating a unique experience where you can walk from the desert to the marshes to the redwood forests all in one visit.
International Surfing Museum
Even if you don’t know how to surf, this fascinating museum will educate you on the history and crucial role of surfing on the Orange County coast. You’ll learn about the Olympic swimmer and Hawaiian native Duke Kahanamoku, who introduced surfing as a sport in the 1920s.
Located in Huntington Beach, which is one of the premier surfing spots, you can spend the morning perusing vintage surfboards, films, and other artifacts before heading to the beach to watch modern-day surfers rip through giant waves.
Crystal Cove State Park
Sandwiched between Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar Beach, Crystal Cove State Park is one of the largest state parks in Orange County.
It contains over 3 miles of pristine coastline and 2,400 acres of inland territory with natural attractions such as:
- Coastal cliffs
- Tide pools
- Sandy beaches
- Verdant rolling hills
There are hiking and biking trails along with campsites.
You can easily spend a weekend touring this vast state park and taking advantage of its pristine beaches for swimming and diving.
Corona del Mar State Beach
Meaning “crown of the sea” in Spanish, the Corona del Mar State Beach is the most popular public beach in Newport Beach. It’s got 30 acres of sandy shoreline and a half-mile swath of the Pacific Ocean.
The water is perfect for swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, or floating, while the sandy beach has volleyball nets for impromptu tournaments. There’s also plenty of space for sandcastle building, family picnics, and sunbathing.
Corona del Mar Beach also has public restrooms and showers, along with fire pits that are perfect for roasting marshmallows or late-night hangouts under the stars.
After spending the day sunbathing and swimming at Corona del Mar State Beach, you can head over the rocky jetty to Newport Harbor, a man-made marina and boardwalk. Newport Harbor is a charming destination with views of yachts, sailboats, and racing boats dotting the blue water.
The marina is home to many clubs and rental agencies that offer sailboat rentals or luxurious day cruises.
Newport Harbor also has a wealth of restaurants that run the culinary gamut to grab a casual or formal dinner. There’s also a fishing dock with picnic tables and volleyball courts.
For extreme sports enthusiasts, The Wedge is the best beach to get your thrills. Encompassing the eastern shoreline of the Balboa Peninsula, The Wedge has waves that can tower up to 30 feet, making it the most popular destination for surfing and bodyboarding.
While it may not be the best swimming beach due to giant waves and a strong undertow, The Wedge has a beautiful sandy shore for sunbathing.
As the name implies, Fashion Island is Newport Beach’s premier shopping mall right on the water. Taking full advantage of the ocean air and perfect climate, Fashion Island is an open-air mall with more than 150 boutique clothing stores and well-known department stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom.
Shopaholics will be in paradise, and any unwilling participants can distract themselves by going to see a movie at the on-site movie theater and dining at one of many high-end restaurants or food stands.
If you’re staying at a rental home, you can grab some groceries at Whole Foods, conveniently located on the premises.
Balboa Fun Zone
Located on the Balboa Peninsula, Balboa Fun Zone is a historic and iconic entertainment destination that lives up to its name. Originating in 1936, Balboa Fun Zone is a year-round carnival with:
- Food stands
- Harbor cruises
- A giant Ferris wheel
Kids can play their favorite video games at the arcade, and families can scream together on daring rides before ending the day at their spacious rental property.
Balboa Fun Zone could also be a romantic date night where couples can cozy up in a Ferris Wheel car together as they gaze out at the sun setting over the ocean.
Lido Marina Village
Located on Balboa Peninsula, Lido Marina Village is a high-end beachside commercial zone with every manner of retail represented with chic charm. You can spend all day meandering the flowery, waterfront shopping streets lined with:
- Boutique clothing shops
- Pet supply stores
- Wine and liquor stores
- Bar and restaurants
Lido Marina Village has one of the most incredible farmer’s markets, with California’s most colorful bounty of produce, meats, cheeses, and prepared foods on tantalizing displays.
As part of the transition from a business port to a tourist destination, seven man-made islands were built along the Balboa Peninsula. Balboa Island is one of the largest, most visited of those islands. It’s home to a largely residential area with picturesque homes and a lazy beach-town feel.
There are plenty of shopping zones and locally-owned restaurants to explore, including a beloved ice cream parlor that serves decadent candy-coated ice cream bars.
One of the most popular activities on Balboa Island is biking around the coastline. There are plenty of places to rent bikes. There are also kayak and paddleboard rentals to explore the tranquil waters surrounding Balboa Island.
Balboa Island Ferry
One of the area’s first tourist attractions, Balboa Island Ferry was erected in 1919 to connect Newport Beach with Balboa Island. While its services were meant to save commuters the long 6-mile drive up the Balboa Peninsula and across the bridge to Balboa Island, the stunning ocean views have made the Ferry ride a tourist attraction.
The ferry runs seven days a week from 6:30 am through midnight, with space for cars and bikes. If you’re traveling on a budget, you could save the expense of chartering a yacht and hop on the ferry for a memorable sunset cruise for under $2 a head.
Built in 1906 on the Balboa Peninsula, the Balboa Pier is a lovely palm-tree-lined pier with iconic restaurants and the historic Balboa Pavilion. It has a calmer and more romantic atmosphere than the larger Newport Beach Pier, making it a popular destination for sunset strolls along the water.
Balboa Pier also has one of Orange County’s most iconic culinary destinations, a 1940s-style diner called Ruby’s Diner.
Pelican Hill Golf Club
Pelican Hill is a five-star luxury resort and golf club with two 18-hole golf courses designed by renowned architect Tom Fazio. One golf course is located on the south side of Pelican Hill’s massive grounds, and the other occupies the northern end.
Both courses are immaculately green, landscaped with local shrubbery and trees, and designed to accentuate the views of the surrounding ocean. Even if you’re not a golfer, the grounds themselves are a reason to visit, not to mention the delicious outdoor Pelican Grill for post-game meals.
If you didn’t know any better, you could easily confuse Catalina Island with a Greek island. Catalina Island is a large, mountainous resort island and one of California’s most prized destinations.
It has two different towns, Two Harbors to the north and Avalon to the south. Both towns offer luxury resorts, palm tree-lined streets, and immaculate beaches. Whether you enjoy hiking, wildlife, swimming, or relaxing, Catalina Island is a must.
You can catch the hour-long ferry to Catalina Island from Long Beach or Dana Point, both quick drives from Newport Beach.
Orange County Museum of Art
Proudly founded by a group of women in 1962, the Orange County Museum of Art is as sophisticated and impressive as any big city museum. Located in the neighboring town of Santa Ana, the Orange County Museum of Art houses over 4500 pieces of art from local and foreign artists.
There are permanent exhibitions that showcase early 20th-century local artists as well as temporary art exhibits that run the gamut of artistic mediums, from paintings to sculptures.
Sunset Cruises and Romantic Gondola Rides
The best way to experience a sunset is aboard an ocean cruise. Newport Beach has yacht, speed boat, and sailboat cruises to get the best views of the ocean and coastline during golden hour.
If chartering a boat is too expensive, there are sunset gondola rides through the canals. It may not be Venice, but it’s the next best thing! The gondola drivers will even serenade your sunset ride, and you can bring a bottle of wine along for utmost authenticity.
Newport Beach Vineyards and Winery
California is world-famous for its vineyards. Sonoma and Napa Valley are the most popular wine regions, but Newport Beach has vineyards and wineries worth visiting.
The Newport Beach Vineyards and Winery have over 1200 different grape vines, supplying award-winning wine varieties, including:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Petit Verdot
The winery offers private tours and two-hour wine tastings for large groups. After two hours of sipping wine, you’ll be glad your tour includes a designated driver!
The Spa at Pelican Hill
As you know, Pelican Hill is one of Newport Beach’s finest luxury resorts, so you can expect their spa services to be the height of indulgence. The Spa at Pelican Hill offers countless ways to pamper yourself, with:
- A beauty shop
- Relaxation rooms
- Massage lounges
- A fitness center
- Steam rooms
They offer a slew of spa packages, including services like facials, saltwater baths, physical therapy, personal training, skin peels, and every type of massage technique imaginable.
Newport Beach is a historical beach town that started as a business port, undergoing a glamorous transformation into one of Southern California’s most beloved tourist destinations.
After exploring the above list of the 25 best things to do in Newport Beach, you have all the information and inspiration you need to plan an amazing trip to this enchanting coastal paradise.