A weekend in Newport Beach, California

Last Thursday, the kids and I took our first solo trip together and flew south to Newport Beach. Having grown up just 20 miles north, in Long Beach, I’ve long been familiar with its charms, but when Visit Newport Beach invited me to see if with fresh eyes, I jumped at the opportunity to share it with Hudson and Skyler. Better yet, the kids just happened to have Thursday and Friday off from school, so we got to make a long weekend of it.

Here are some highlights…

Newport beach sits on a beautiful stretch of Pacific coastline between Los Angeles and San Diego, so there are a lot of ways to get there. From Sacramento, we took an hour-long direct flight into Orange County/John Wayne and were at our hotel by lunch!

The Hyatt Regency Newport Beach welcomed the kids with sunglasses and cookies, winning them over immediately. We were given a quick overview—at 26 acres, it would take a while to fully explore—and took note: there were three swimming pools (one with a water slide!), bike rentals, tennis courts, ping-pong, sand volleyball, a giant outdoor chess board, and lawn games to keep the kids entertained. There was also an on-site restaurant, golf-course and gym. I knew there was little chance we’d get to it all, but it was nice to know it was there.

The location seemed very central—in fact, from our room we could also see the Newport Beach back bay, a nature and ecological reserve that’s home to thousands of migratory birds where one can go hiking or kayaking.

We took a little rest and met up with some other families on the trip an hour later. There were eleven kids in total, all very close in age, and they hit it off immediately! In other words, as far as solo trips go, it couldn’t have been easier: someone else planned our activities, and they brought along playmates.

I’ve talked about Balboa a bit before. We’d often drive along the coast and ride the auto ferry across Newport Harbor to Balboa Peninsula. Once on the 0.2-square-mile island, we’d head straight to one of the two shops making frozen bananas and Balboa bars (vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate and rolled in toppings of your choice).

This time, we began on the Peninsula beside the historic 1905-Balboa Pavilion, former home of Big Band-era legends Count Basie and Benny Goodman, and the Balboa Fun Zone, where the Ferris wheel has stood for more than 80 years. The kids were itching to get to the arcades, but before that we got to climb aboard one of the little electric “Duffy” boats one can rent to putt about harbor. They looked for sea lions and named the seagulls who landed on our bow, while we picked out which houses and sailboats were going to look best dressed up in Christmas lights.

It couldn’t have been a prettier day for it. (Though it’s a pretty consistent 70 degrees around here, so maybe every day is this pretty?)

Back at the dock I learned the secret to not worrying about worrying about heights on a ferris wheel: take pictures! I was so distracted by the pretty views and trying to document Skyler’s funny running commentary (“we’re higher than the ocean, we’re lower than the ocean, we’re higher…”) that I didn’t have time to get nervous before we started to go around. And the views were indeed lovely.

We also spent some time in the arcade. While Hudson played air hockey with one of the other little boys, Skyler did her best to get a skee ball into a hole. Let’s just say that if you’re ever nearby when she’s at the ramp, watch out. After every toss, whether it was too slow to make it up, or whether it was pitched furiously at someone else’s lane, she would lift her hand into the air and leave it raised with such flair! Et voila!

I forgot to take pictures, but we grabbed dinner at Cruisers (as in the bikes, folks), a family-friendly beach bar with pizzas and drinks, and board games to take to the tables, before heading back to the hotel. If lookout for dessert, however, I do urge to you to seek out a banana stand! (As in, “there’s always money in the banana stand.”) You can’t leave Balboa without a frozen banana or a Balboa Bar.

That night, I ordered a glass of wine and some dessert to the room, watched cable television, and spread out like a sea star in bed. It was glorious! (Sorry, Aron.)

The next morning, we indulged again in one of my favorite treats: room service. This was not something we did growing up, so it feels incredibly indulgent. I still get excited about it.

We all hopped into the hotel shuttle to Fashion Island, a lovely outdoor shopping court, that morning. A trolley took us on a quick spin around—with Skyler living her best Daniel Tiger life—and dropped us off near the Koi Ponds.

I had flashbacks to jumping across those very same ponds growing up and had to laugh at myself as I told my kids not to touch the water with the same futile results I imagine my mother did.

After a short time looking around (at a wonderful toy store for them and the most beautiful Anthropologie store for me), we all met up again at Lemonade for lunch. There are 28 locations of this seasonal fresh salad-bar concept in California, and yet none near me. Sigh. So, we took home a cookbook.

The best part? My cousins surprised us and came to meet us at the mall that day! They ended up driving us back to the hotel and staying a little while to check out the rooms, play shuffleboard, and watch the kids go swimming.

After a dip, we parted ways for Crystal Cove State Park. The beaches in Newport Beach routinely get accolades for being some of the cleanest, most beautiful beaches in the state, and they really are stunning. It’s not unusual this time of year to see whales and dolphins passing offshore as families in white gather for holiday-card photos.

I’d offered that the kids could come in their bathingsuits, but Hudson surprised me by declining. Sure enough, he was wet in no time. The ocean was just too alluring! I think we could have easily spent hours here.

But perhaps my favorite discovery was the Crystal Cove Historic District: A 12.3-acre coastal portion of the 2,791-acre Crystal Cove State Park where a little enclave of 46 vintage rustic coastal cottages, originally built in the 1920s and 1930’s, are nestled around the mouth of Los Trancos Creek and open up right onto the beach. Remember Hillary’s beach house in the movie Beaches? where longtime friends Hillary Whitney Essex (Barbara Hershey) and CC Bloom (Bette Midler) spend the summer? This is that place! I couldn’t believe I’d never been!

We walked down to the beach just as the sun was going down and the scene was magical. The ocean mist was punctuated by a few bonfires as we looked down the shore and walked over to beach chairs set around two fires of our own. There’s a restaurant on the beach, The Beachcomber, that rents everything from chairs and sand-toys to fire pits with little grills. We capped off our visit memorably, with grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and roasted s’mores. I found myself imagining an entire visit spent just at this beach.

In fact, I frequently found myself thinking ahead to return visits—both to get a chance to see more family, and to return to this beautiful coast.

Have you been to Newport Beach? What else would you recommend? 

P.S. A day at Disneyland.  And spring break in Los Angeles.

Thank you to Visit Newport Beach for hosting us! Accommodations and airfare were provided, however all opinions are my own. 

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