Talk about charming. Balboa Island hardily matches that description and a day-trip there is something every Tinseltown family will not only enjoy, but reminisce about time and time again as the years fly by. This tiny retreat that crosses Newport Harbor from Huntington Beach came about thanks to W.S. Collins. He purchased the 1,000 acres in 1899 when Orange County was mostly orange groves, dredged the harbor, and created this man-made island to connect to Los Angeles via the Pacific Electric Railroad. And the rest is history and a whole lot of fun for everyone to partake in a place where relaxing by the sea is definitely the order of the day with a few taste treats and some silly carnival games thrown in for very good measure.
Balboa Island, which is accessed from Huntington Beach by way of Newport Harbor, is less than a hour from downtown Los Angeles at about 45 miles away. To get there, go south on the PCH to Huntington Beach’s Jamboree Road and head toward the Pacific. Then cross the bridge which turns into Marine Ave., turn right onto Park Ave and follow the signs for the Balboa Island Ferry.
Balboa Island Ferry
410 S Bayfront
Newport Beach, CA 92662
Price: $2 per car/driver/$1 for each additional passenger
Taking the Balboa Island Ferry is a certain right of passage for Southlanders who need to say they have done this at least once in their lifetimes. It’s a short, sweet trip (and your car can go with you), but you’ll still get the chance to feel the ocean wind in your hair and the smell the sea before you see it. The Newport Harbor crossing takes about eight minutes, carries three cars with each load, and bikers are more than welcome. One note: The entrance and the exit from and to the barge doesn’t fair well for cars that ride low, so don’t try to do this if you happen to drive a sports car. In fact, leave that ride parked and take the ferry sans vehicle since you may tear out your transmission if you bring it aboard.
What To Do
Balboa Island Shopping
Think Bahama-esque boutiques with California flair and you’re got a good idea what you’ll find in the way of shops on Balboa Island. Venture down Marine Avenue to find dozens of fun finds hawking just about everything in the way of beach attire and equipment as well as memorable gifts. After that, if you did too much window shopping or you simply didn’t find anything you really must buy, then stop at the Agate Avenue shops near the ferry. Pick up a token souvenir just to prove you have, indeed, visited Balboa Island––one of the loveliest island spots on the coast of the Golden State only a short drive from Tinseltown.
Price: Ferris wheel costs $3 per ride/value cards allow 20 rides for $40
Nothing seems more exhilarating to some folks than riding a ferris wheel that looks out over the ocean. The one in Balboa Island has great views of the endless Pacific and has been in place for 75 years. If you don’t like heights but do like to act like all the other kids when it comes to beachside activities that reek of carnival madness, expect to enjoy all kinds of arcade games, snack foods, and a whole bunch of fanciful souvenir shops where you can pick up a magnet or t-shirt.
For those fans of the vine as well as the sea, TikiBoat will take you around Newport Harbour after launching off Balboa Island while tempting you with wine tastings throughout the cruise. Meanwhile, you’ll get to experience a decadent luxury yacht that would make the “Gilligan’s Island” crew drool with envy. In addition, this outfit offers all kinds of other treats while plying the local waters, so consider a slew of trips done with and without narration. Among the picks are the sunset tour, the rich and famous home tour, and the dinner buffet tour. Or charter a boat for your own personal group and your captain will follow your orders as closely as he or she is able.
Where to eat
Amelia’s on Balboa
311 Marine Ave.
Balboa Island, CA 92662
Whether you just want to stop by for a signature lemon ice shell or you’re up for a full meal of tasty treats from the sea, this eatery is the place to pick. Amelia’s has been on Balboa Island for half a century, offering hungry visitors the chance to dine in style on everything from broiled sand dabs with linguini and veggies to fresh salmon over potato hash with a poached egg. But don’t fill up on the entrees. Desert is divine in this storied establishment, especially so when it comes to the house favorite––the chocolate lover’s dream. This tapas style spread of mini cannoli and chocolate bread pudding will have you smiling.
Local Taste Treats
Balboa Island’s claim to culinary fame is the frozen chocolate banana and the Balboa Bar, a rectangular shaped vanilla ice cream slab on a stick dipped in chocolate and then rolled in a variety of toppings. Both taste treats can be found from vendors on the beach as well as in the shops along Marine, the town’s main drag. Many will claim to be the best to be found in these parts, though it’s probably best to try a few yourself and then name your own winner of this sugary sweet that can’t be beat on a warm day in Southern California.
Related: The Best Scenic Drives within 60 Miles of Los Angeles
Los Angeles freelance travel writer Jane Lasky, contributes to publications such as Travel + Leisure, Vogue and Esquire. Her weekly sojourning column ran in 40 newspapers for 20 years. Jane is anything but an accidental tourist. Check out her articles on Examiner.com.