Balboa Island, located right off of Newport Beach in Southern California is worth a day trip for its waterfront views, million-dollar dream homes, and frozen banana treats. Historically, this was where many movie stars including Shirley Temple and Humphrey Bogart had Orange County residences on the water and owned yachts in the harbor of this popular California vacation spot. There are actually two man made islands: Balboa Island and across the footbridge on Park Avenue, Little Balboa Island. Here’s a complete Balboa Island itinerary for making the most of your day there, from taking a leisurely afternoon boat tour to where to find a memorable meal.
One Day Itinerary on Balboa Island
Morning – Marine Avenue
If you’re entering Balboa Island via ferry, you can get to Marine Avenue by walking along the South Bay Front waterfront pathway that will take you past beautiful homes and private beaches. If you’re driving onto the island, you can find limited parking off of Marine Avenue.
Start your morning on the island’s main drag, which is full of boutique stores, souvenir shops, restaurants and the home of the two rival frozen banana stands. Eat brunch at Wilma’s Patio, a family-owned restaurant that has been around for decades, where you can get a filling, delicious brunch and sit out on their patio for prime people-watching.
After brunch, a great introduction to the island is the Balboa Island Museum & Historical Society, that is housed in a vintage cottage from 1947. The museum is small, but is well-curated with exhibits on the history of the area, including famous past residents. Admission is free, with donations gladly accepted.
Afterward, head to get one of the famous frozen chocolate-covered bananas or Balboa bars at either Dad’s Donut & Bakery Shop or Sugar n’ Spice. They both have delicious frozen treats, but if you’re lactose-intolerant Sugar n’ Spice has a dairy-free option with their classic chocolate dipping sauce.
Spend the rest of the morning, stopping in shops, including Balboa Candy, where you can get your fill of salt water taffy and browse the impressive collection of retro candy in the back.
Duffy Boat Rentals
If you’re traveling with a group of family and/or friends, renting a duffy electric boat is one of the best ways to see the surrounding area from the water and see the lavish homes up close and personal. The boats are easy to steer, and are quite comfortable since they’re covered and have zip-up flaps in case it gets windy on the water.
Rentals from Balboa Boat Rentals (located across the water near the Fun Zone), start at around $200/2 hours and come equipped with an ice bucket, CD player with MP3 hook-up, children’s activities, and an easy-to-read map for navigating the harbor. You can bring your own drinks and food, or tie-up at one of Newport Harbor’s restaurants. It’s better to book the rental in advance, especially on the weekends.
Paddle Board Rentals
An alternative water activity is stand-up paddle boarding, where you rent from Island Paddle Board on Marine Avenue and then the staff will prepare your board at the dock so you’re ready to go. If your a SUP newbie, it’s a pretty easy skill to learn since the board itself is very sturdy and the water is pretty calm.
If dipping your toes in the water sounds like an ideal way to spend the afternoon, than take advantage of one of the public beaches along the waterfront. All the beaches on Balboa Island are public, and the blue piers are public, whereas the white piers are private. North Bay Front is better for swimming, in comparison to South Bay Front, which tends to have less desirable water.
Evening-Dinner on Marine Avenue
After you’ve built up an appetite, head over in the evening to one of the restaurants on Marine Avenue for a memorable meal, whether you want something casual or something a bit more fancy.
Balboa Island Restaurants
- Picante Martin’s Mexican Restaurant – a casual dining spot known for their tacos and picante soup.
- Basilic -upscale restaurant with delicious French-Swiss cuisine, including raclette.
- Royal Hen – a cozy gastropub that serves elevated comfort food and a selection of California and French wines.
Getting To and Around Balboa Island
The main island itself is relatively small and you can easily walk around the 1.7 mile perimeter in an hour or so. The smaller island is less than a mile in perimeter. There are two ways to get to Balboa Island: either by the Balboa Ferry (either on foot or by car) or by car via Marine Avenue. The Balboa Island ferry, which is a family-run business is a better option since there’s limited parking on the island and it’s a scenic way to approach the island. The ferry costs $1 per person, $2 per car.
Public Restrooms on Balboa Island
Besides restrooms in restaurants and cafes, there are two relatively clean (compared to those on the mainland) public restrooms on the island that are worth mentioning. There are restrooms right when you disembark the ferry on Agate and South Bay Front, and some more at the fire station on Marine Ave and Park Ave.
Old Glory Boat Parade
On July 4th, this annual parade of boats dressed up in red, white and blue is a sight not to be missed. The parade starts at 1 pm, and goes until 3pm. The parade is held by the American Legion Yacht Club based in Newport Beach, and each year crowns one boat with the winning title. The route map is here. It is also worth wandering through the side streets of the island to admire the homes decorated for the 4th of July, since they go all out.
Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade
If you’re around the area during December 18-22, make sure to stop by the Christmas Boat Parade that makes its way through Newport Harbor, including passing by Balboa Island. This local tradition has been going on for more than 100 years, with its impressive collection of yachts, boats, and kayaks decked out in holiday lights and decorations. The parade starts at 6:30pm, and on opening/closing nights there is a firework show at the Newport Pier at 6:15pm.
For a complete map of the parade route, check it out here.
Related post: The Best Beaches In Orange County
What are your favorite things to do on Balboa Island?
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