From bonfires to surfing, exploring tide pools and wading with the kids, there’s a perfect stretch of sand for nearly every activity in Newport Beach.
By Sharon Stello
With 10 miles of beautiful coastline, Newport Beach is a destination that entices travelers from around the world. For those lucky enough to live here, the idyllic setting provides an ocean playground right in their backyards. Pristine beaches for lounging in the sun or building sandcastles pair with sparkling blue waters that invite passersby to take a dip or paddle out on a surfboard to ride the waves. Faced with so many options, the difficult part is choosing where to lay your towel. To help guide you, here are some of the city’s best beaches for a variety of summertime activities.
There’s nothing like the smell of a bonfire on the beach, as the smoke mixes with salty sea air. Warmth from the flames is also welcome after a dip in the ocean, especially as the nighttime chill sets in. Whether gathering around the fire pit with friends or family, with drinks in hand or roasting marshmallows for s’mores, there’s nothing like a beach bonfire to bring people together. Despite an attempt to remove the city’s beach fire pits a few years ago, there are still several options in town: The stretch of sand around Balboa Pier offers 31 fire rings almost evenly split between wood-burning and charcoal-only pits (painted green); Corona del Mar State Beach is equipped with 16 wood-burning rings and eight for charcoal only; and Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort has eight wood-burning pits. Fire rings may be used from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily on a first-come, first-served basis. However, the most unique option is renting a portable fire pit on wheels from The Beachcomber Cafe for use at Crystal Cove State Park. These may be reserved online or rented on-site at the restaurant’s express tent. These Grill ‘N Glow carts come with a propane tank to fuel the fire, so there’s no need to haul wood. Bring your own food or choose a kit with all the fixings for s’mores plus hamburgers and hot dogs or steak and chicken kabobs. These packages also come with beverages and beach chairs; blankets and hot chocolate are available add-ons to help your group feel extra toasty. (City fire pits: newportbeachca.gov) (The Beachcomber Cafe rentals: thebeachcombercafe.com)
While most people might assume The Wedge, an iconic spot for massive, 20-foot-plus waves, is the best place for surfing, there are other beaches in Newport where advanced board riders will find fun and challenging swells that are a bit safer, too. Newport native Peter Belden, a longtime lifeguard, surfer and founder of The Board Club—a membership club with access to a wide range of quality boards—says The Wedge is an intense spot mostly for “pros and kamikazes,” who take on this powerful and famous wave. “Even a guy who considers himself a good surfer will struggle there,” Belden says. And it’s a limited resource, with 40 to 50 surfers in the water all jockeying for a position. “It’s a lot of guys going for the same wave; it’s kind of an arena feel,” Belden says. Instead, he recommends heading to the beach at 56th Street or the river jetties, where the Santa Ana River empties into the ocean at the border between Newport and Huntington Beach. Belden says the swells at 56th Street are called “the fastest 100 yards,” creating a technical, long and fast ride left of the jetty. Over at the river jetties, Belden says, shifting sandbars and the way the swell comes in “provides variability,” allowing surfers to go left or right. Other spots are more predictable, so the ever-changing conditions at the river jetty add an element of surprise. Newport, in general, offers ideal surfing conditions, Belden says, particularly in the summertime when the swell is magnified for this city’s south-facing beaches. “We get all of the south swells from the South Pacific,” he says. Also, the water goes from deep to shallow very quickly along the coast here and the waves break with a lot more power than some other places in Southern California. (newportboardclub.com)
Beginner Board Riders
For those looking to dip their toes in the world of surfing for the first time—or are still finding their footing in this sport—Blackie’s, next to Newport Pier, is a go-to beach with smaller, more gentle waves. “During the summer, it hardly ever gets bigger than 4 feet. Typically it’s 1 to 3 feet,” Belden says. Not only the height, but the style of wave in this spot makes it ideal for beginners. “Blackie’s kind of let’s you glide in,” he says, adding that this allows surfers time to stand up without nose-diving and face-planting. While waves can get bigger at Blackie’s in the winter, Belden says, beginners don’t typically wade out into the surf at that time of year. For those looking to try out surfing and aren’t ready to commit to buying a board, The Board Club recently started offering half- and full-day rentals in addition to club membership, for access to quality boards; unlimited exchanges are allowed during the rental period so surfers can find the board that works best for them. (newportboardclub.com)
When looking for a beach to take the whole family, there are a few musts on the checklist: soft sand, shallow water and gentle waves for safe wading plus plenty of convenient amenities like clean, centrally located restrooms, while picnic tables and a playground are also nice to have nearby. Newport’s Marina Park, opened less than four years ago along the peninsula, ticks all the boxes. “Marina Park offers families 10.5 acres of fun with a wide variety of diverse activities to fill your day,” says Gary Sherwin, president and CEO of Newport Beach & Co., which serves as the city’s visitors bureau. “Right on the sand, there is a nautical-themed playground complete with a lighthouse slide, [as well as] stand-up paddleboard and kayak rentals, sailing lessons and the Lighthouse [Bayview Café] restaurant for convenient and delicious beachside eats.” For those who bring their own food, there are picnic tables and an open lawn to spread out and let little ones run around. The shore is just steps away, making it easy to take a dip, chase waves or build sandcastles. (Marina Park: newportbeachca.gov) (Lighthouse Bayview Café: lighthousenb.com)
With seemingly endless culinary options in Corona del Mar and the rest of Newport Beach, a picnic is easy to pull together. And for the setting, Sherwin recommends the stunning Inspiration Point in CdM. “The views at Inspiration Point are unbeatable,” he says. “To your left, you have amazing rock formations, which are essentially nature’s sculpture art. To your right, you have the harbor entrance to watch boats go in and out to sea. And straight ahead are endless views of the ocean.” The bluff-top point can be found on Ocean Boulevard near the intersection of Orchid Avenue. Complete with grassy areas and a couple of park benches, it’s a go-to spot to share lunch or dinner with a loved one. “Newport’s beaches are amazing during the day, but also incredible in the evening,” Sherwin says. “Inspiration Point is the ultimate, romantic destination to watch the sunset on a blanket with a picnic.”
Everyone is in search of the perfect beach, that idyllic vision of sand stretching for miles with clear blue water and no one else in sight. These days, it’s probably impossible to find such a place during the summer in a highly populated area. But, with scenic beaches encircling the entire Balboa Island, you might be able to find a quiet—or at least a less frequented—section of sand to lay your towel. “The beach along the perimeter of Balboa Island is actually public and gives beachgoers the complete Newport Beach experience: a pristine beach with unbeatable Newport Harbor views,” Sherwin says. “You can spend the day exploring [the shops and restaurants along] Marine Avenue, then hit the sand and watch the kids enjoy the calm waters of the harbor while you watch boats go by.” And, of course, you can’t leave Balboa Island without enjoying this locale’s famous treats, the Balboa Bar or a frozen banana. For some extra fun and a hint of nostalgia, take a ride on the Balboa Island Ferry to or from the peninsula. (visitnewportbeach.com)
From colorful sea stars, anemones and urchins to crabs, mussels and limpets, plenty of marine life can be found in the tide pools along our coast. Locals know the best places to explore tide pools are at Crystal Cove State Park and at Little Corona, on the other side of some rocky cliffs at the northwest end of the Corona del Mar State Beach. Make your way to the waterline at low tide and peek in the little pools in the rock crevices to see what you can find. Enjoy peering into their watery habitats, but to protect these delicate creatures in the intertidal zone, refrain from picking them up and don’t touch them or pull them off rocks. And, for your own safety, walk cautiously as the sharp rocks can become slippery. Take your time, not only when walking, but also when looking into the pools. Anemones can be easy to miss if they close up and become covered with small pieces of shell and sand. And, if you find a sea star, watch it for a while. Although they attach themselves to rocks, if you’re lucky, you’ll see one slowly inch its way to a new location.