FROM ITS IDYLLIC VISTAS TO ITS ROMANTIC RESTAURANTS, NEWPORT BEACH OFFERS AMPLE WAYS TO FALL IN LOVE THIS SEASON.
By Kirsti Correa
Forget about all the horrifying dates from your past. Summertime is a utopia of eternal sunshine, bright, smiling faces and—of course—enough surefire date options to convert a summer fling into everlasting love. The beauty of dating in this coastal city is that any age group can find romantic bliss here. With lively beach neighborhoods, scenic hikes and perfect proposal spots, Newport caters to starry-eyed romantics pining for love as well as lifelong partners yearning to keep the flame alive.
Let the sparks fly this summer and turn a first date into a second and third, or even add a ring to an already serious relationship with this list of seven foolproof—and lucky—spots for summer romance.
Dinner for Two
Perfect for: Calming first date jitters
As you walk through the door of Sabatino’s, the aroma of authentic Italian cuisine fills the air. At the very least, the restaurant promises an evening filled with an impressive meal, as each dish is crafted from family recipes that date back 150 years to Sicily.
“I took all my first dates to Sabatino’s—always—because if you don’t like Italian food, you’re not the one for me,” says Maddy Ewles, 24, who grew up in Newport.
Located on Lido Peninsula, Sabatino’s offers first daters a cozy spot to get to know each other free of pressure from an overly grandiose establishment. Confirm your reservation and let Sabatino’s replace nerves with confidence as you guide your date to a table covered with a classic checkered cloth.
“For the first date, figure out a particular table beforehand that may be extra special,” advises Kimberly Arico, a matchmaker at Palm & Associates in Newport. “You can’t just walk into a restaurant and expect to get the best table. If you call ahead of time, … most places can be very accommodating.”
At Sabatino’s, the coveted seating spots are the captain’s chairs or the outdoor patio. “The entire restaurant has a romantic feel to it,” Maddy says. “The captain’s seats are tucked away for extra privacy.”
After dinner, take a stroll along the water, which is conveniently located across the way. Though dinner and a movie tend to go hand in hand—and summer is known for its blockbuster hits—the ideal post-meal activity is to let the waves crash at your feet as you share a first kiss under the moonlight.
Perfect for: A casual second or third date
The first stop on an afternoon together should be Marine Avenue, a main thoroughfare on Balboa Island that’s lined with charming boutiques, galleries and eateries. Meander along Bayfront until you reach the iconic ferry, which transports pedestrians across the water to the next destination: the Ferris wheel.
“The Ferris wheel has been a mainstay for date night since the 1930s,” says Patrick Moore, 50, who has worked at the Balboa Fun Zone for the past 25 years and took his wife, Lisa, there for a Ferris wheel ride when they first began dating. “[My wife and I still] ride the wheel and never get tired of it.”
End the date with a visit to Balboa Candy, an old-fashioned candy store with barrels stocked to the brim with sugary snacks. Fill up a bag with classic treats and nostalgic goodies like taffy and Abba-Zabas for the walk back to the car—and don’t forget to browse the shop’s impressive vintage soda bottle collection. The fizzy drink helps wash down the candy, while the bottle cap serves as a sweet memento of the afternoon.
Hiking the Cove
Perfect for: Upgrading a “walk on the beach”
Contrary to popular belief, long walks on the beach are not very romantic—especially for locals. “We’re spoiled by the beach so we don’t want to go there specifically for a date, but it’s nice to include the beach as part of the date,” Maddy explains.
Luckily, the curvature of the city’s landscape reveals an alternate pathway through Crystal Cove that leads to the shore. The varying terrain also affords couples the opportunity to maintain their health and avoid the fabled “relationship weight” that’s said to come a few months after the first date.
One of the loops is an uphill trail that takes hikers on a 3-mile journey (approximately). From the El Moro lot near the elementary school, the first section—the No Dogs trail—starts at the ranger station, where hikers roam through a pathway bordered by wildflowers and shrubs for a little more than a half-mile. The Poles intersection then provides a brief but still refreshing downhill course to the final stretch of the route. After crossing a bridge onto the Moro Canyon trail, climb uphill for about a mile back to the parking lot.
Follow the pathway that descends to the sand, and enjoy the rest of the afternoon in the park’s historic district, where you can revisit Crystal Cove’s history as a Hollywood filming location by stopping by the Beaches Film & Media Center (named after “Beaches,” starring Bette Midler, which filmed at the cove) on the south end of the shore. Don’t forget to book a table and restore electrolytes at the Beachcomber Cafe, a quintessential institution for summer eats with a menu bursting with refined beach food like truffle macaroni and cheese or grilled mahi mahi tacos.
Perfect for: Rediscovering the town as a couple
As the roads fill up with cars from out-of-town visitors, trade four wheels for two and whip out your cruisers for a bike ride around town. The wide path on the Balboa Peninsula boardwalk is particularly suited for bicycles. For safety reasons, keep a bell on your bike as the multipurpose sidewalk is used for all activities, from walking and running to skating.
Oceanfront houses, restaurants and shops line the boardwalk, which runs from 36th Street to the end of the peninsula. The flat surface makes for an effortless bike ride as you cycle past the lively crowds outside Mutt Lynch’s to the open lawn at Peninsula Park.
Newport residents Janel Moore, 28, and her husband, Jamie, 35, prefer the boardwalk’s trail for the opportunity to people watch or window-shop along the way. “Since we live in Dover Shores, we start by taking the ferry over to the peninsula, which drops us off in the center of everything,” Jamie explains. “From there, we ride up to Fly ‘N’ Fish Oyster Bar & Grill for appetizers and then back down to [the Wedge]. That’s the best way to go.”
Perfect for: Meeting the parents
Once a relationship is established, it’s common to seek approval of your new partner from your closest companions. Opt for a scenic cruise through Newport’s waters on a Duffy boat to
introduce your date to your closest friends—and parents, if you’re ready to take the leap. In doing this, you can avoid the awkward arrangement at a large dinner table that often splits up the evening’s conversation between half of the guests.
“The boat ride is much less formal than going to a fancy restaurant, so you’re able to relax and enjoy your company and the calming experience of being out on the water,” says Brandi Worden, rental and events manager at Duffy Electric Boat Co. in Newport Beach.
Most Duffy boats can comfortably fit up to 10 adults, and a two-hour cruise is just enough time to do a figure eight around Lido and Balboa islands. Coolers are available for guests to bring their own beverages and food, or the company can help arrange platters of dishes from nearby restaurants to enjoy on the water.
“I love going on a Duffy ride; it is so unique to Newport Beach,” says Kathy Gilmore, 33, a Newport resident. “[It’s nice to] take a cruise pre-dinner with wine and appetizers. … Check when the sunset is that night and face west at that time; [there’s] usually a beautiful view.”
An Aerial Perspective
Perfect for: A surprise date
Deep down, many people swoon over fun surprises on special occasions—no matter their assertive attempts to conceal it. For a one-of-a-kind experience, arrange a driver to whisk your date to John Wayne Airport for a private helicopter tour of the city. Hovering over the entire city, the helicopter circles past the San Joaquin Hills to Corona del Mar and back around to Newport’s Back Bay for the most breathtaking views.
Prior to taking a date to new heights, build the excitement by dropping miniscule hints about the night without fully disclosing all the details. “Surprises are great, but [you] need to tell [your date] how to dress and other small yet important details, otherwise she will end up having a bad time,” Kimberly says. “They end up putting in a ton of effort, but it’s ruined because she’s uncomfortable.”
Cap off the night with drinks at Gulfstream or Landmark. “Since [you] scheduled a driver, it makes the night more relaxed and [your date] doesn’t have to say ‘no’ to another drink,” Kimberly says. For a mellow evening, retreat instead to Alta Coffee, where local musicians serenade patrons with smooth melodies on Friday and Saturday evenings.
“At the end of the night, [you] should have the driver give [your] date a bouquet of flowers,” Kimberly says. “It ends the evening on a good note and makes the woman feel like she wants to go out with you again.”
A Romantic Ride
Perfect for: Popping the question
Twenty-one years ago, Greg Mohr proposed to his then-girlfriend Elisa during a gondola ride through the canals behind his aunt and uncle’s house on Newport Island. “I knew we wouldn’t always be going on gondola rides, but we’d have [their] house to visit and remember the day we got engaged,” he says.
After Elisa said “yes,” the two got married and together operated a yacht charter business, which occasionally organized gondola rides in Newport. Short on gondoliers one evening, Greg threw on a black-and-white striped shirt and a straw hat, and hopped aboard a motorized gondola as a temporary replacement. Captivated by the romance the gondola provides to couples, Greg had a change in career shortly after his interim position, and soon became president of Newport Beach-based Gondola Adventures.
A ride aboard the company’s crescent-shaped boat at the golden hour of the day is a private yet dazzling way to ask a life-changing question. The soft croons of “O Sole Mio” bounce off the underside of a bridge, where Greg encourages couples to kiss as they pass underneath—a gondola tradition. As the boat reaches the elbow of the canal, he drops a message in a bottle into the water out of sight from the couple. Once the boat circles around, Greg instructs the woman to pick up the bottle as the man reaches for his back pocket. The entire experience makes it hard for someone to say no to the question he’s about to ask.
“Ladies love to share this story with their friends,” Greg adds. “It’s wonderfully romantic. Besides, gondolas [are] derived from one of the most romantic cities in the world. … It’s amazing what a simple ride can do for your psyche; it somehow makes you feel grounded—on the waters of Newport.”