What to See

Balboa Island

& Newport Beach

Family Fun for All Ages

California is spectacular. Plain and simple. As far as weather, diverse landscapes and endless activities, it’s a hard destination to beat. I’ve been fortunate to live in the Golden State all my life and feel like I’ve spent time exploring every corner of it.

Although we had been to Newport Beach and Balboa Island many times in the past, we have never taken a “vacation” to this little slice of heaven. We decided it was the perfect spot to spend our final week of summer.
This post contains a list of the things we did, what we spent money on and what we did for free, where we stayed and our favorite places to eat. Of course, it also contains information on what we learned, because after all… ourEDventures… we're always interested in learning along with our travels.

Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society
Cost: Museum visit is on a donation basis and walking tours are $35 per person

On our first day, we arranged to visit the Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society. I wanted to start off with learning a bit about the island and its history. We met up with Celeste, an informative and friendly docent, who shared her passion for the island’s history with us. We learned that a man by the name of William S. Collins turned what was a 2-acre mud flat into a 35-acre island back in the early 1900’s. There were 1400 parcels ready to sell to people who were looking for a second “vacation” home at the fantastic price of just $300 for inside lots and $600 for waterfront lots. The island was eventually named Balboa in honor of the explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa. We also learned about influential families over those early years such as the Crocker family and the Hershey family. It certainly made the rest of our time on the island more meaningful as we were able to connect with the dots with the names of streets and shops, all part of Balboa’s early history. 

Swim and Play at the Beach
Cost: FREE

Since the island is surrounded by water (um… duh) there are plenty of beaches to explore and play at. Many of the beachfront homes have their private docks and boats, but ample swimming room is still available, and all the beaches are public.

Boating with Voyager's Rentals
Cost: 2-hour rental is $150 - $180 depending on size

On our last evening on the island, we spent two hours at sunset boating around on one of the self-drive electric duffys. We went with Voyager's Rentals located near the ferry on Balboa Island and were pleased with their service. We packed a picnic dinner, plugged in our phones to the speaker system and off we went to explore Newport Harbor. Catching some up-close encounters with sea lions and a gorgeous sunset were the highlight. We also enjoyed the “window” shopping as we cruised along and admired the many beautiful mansions and villas along the waterfront. We even saw John Wayne's old house. 

Eat a Frozen Banana
Cost: about $5

This is a big deal on Balboa Island! Various frozen banana shops line Marine Avenue, and even if you’re not a huge banana enthusiast, you have to at least try one! First, choose your dip. Choices included dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate and peanut butter. Then choose your toppings (they had every sweet and salty treat imaginable). The shops along Marine Avenue will tell you that this is the very place where the frozen banana treat was invented.

Shop on Marine Avenue
Cost: FREE (unless you buy something, LOL)

We traveled with two twelve-year-old boys and two 17-year old girls, and everyone loved spending time on Marine Avenue looking in the shops. You’ll find everything from beachy souvenirs to clothing boutiques to surf shops to places to eat. It's definitely worth a few hours of your time.

Standup Paddle Boarding
Cost: $32 per 90 min per board

We love paddle boarding and always opt-in when it’s available. We rented from Island Paddle board located on the corner of Marine Avenue and Balboa Avenue. Their storefront contains a shop with swimsuits and flip-flops. Once all paperwork was signed, we walked half a block to where the paddle boards were waiting for us in the water. We paddled all the way around the island, stopped to swim a bit, saw a few sea lions up close and made it back to where we started in about 90 minutes.

Ride the Ferry to Newport
Cost: $1 per person and $2 for a car with a passenger

The Balboa-Newport ferry connects Balboa Island with the Newport peninsula and runs every few minutes from early in the morning until late at night. Ferry service has been in operation since here since 1919 when a college student by the name of Joe Beek started offering crossings for just a nickel per person.  We learned these facts and more at the Balboa Museum.  The ferry can fit about 2-4 cars (depending on their size) along with pedestrians and cyclists.

On the Newport Beach Peninsula
Fun Zone
Cost: Arcade games at typical prices & the historic Ferris wheel for $4 per ride

Located along the waterfront facing Balboa Island is the Fun Zone. The Ferris wheel has been part of the skyline since 1936 and worth a ride! Typical boardwalk type food and an arcade also line the waterfront and are a great place to spend a few hours.

Discovery Cube's Ocean Quest at Newport Beach
Cost: General admission starting at $5 per person

We loved spending some time exploring the science exhibits of the Discovery Cube's Ocean Quest. Housed in three different buildings right next to the Fun Zone, kids get a chance to interact with all things water, ocean, boating, and more. Exhibits are continually changing, so many locals purchase reasonably priced annual family passes to be able to visit again and again. Plus, the yearly pass allows unlimited use of the all the rides along the Fun Zone (excluding the Ferris wheel).

Rent a bike
Cost: Approx $35 per hour

The Newport peninsula has two waterfront sections to explore. While the Fun Zone is on the harbor side and facing Balboa Island, a quick five-minute walk will take you to the ocean side with a large beach with sand dunes and a bike trail. There are many bike shops located up and down this stretch of beach. We opted for a three-seater surrey (which turned out to be a terrible idea).  These things always look like great fun, and as if we have amnesia, we forget how hard they are to peddle. Finally, the boys took turns pushing it from behind. But we still had fun and laughed a lot. A 60-minute rental was plenty!

Activities we didn’t have time for, but are planning to check out next time we visit:

Sailing School

Everyday we saw lots of people in classes learning how to operate small sailboats in the harbor. It looked like a lot of fun!

Electric Bike Tour 

There are several electric bike companies located along Marine Avenue on Balboa Island, and this looked like a lot of fun too.

Our favorite places to eat:

Balboa Island – on Marine Avenue - Wilma's Patio Restaurant

Balboa Island – off Marine Avenue - Free Range Cafe

Newport Peninsula - Balboa Barbie Q

Where we stayed:
Airbnb is always a great option for family travel and worked well for this trip. If you're new to Airbnb, use this code to get $40 off your first stay. We found a sweet little cottage that had everything we needed. We parked our car in the garage upon arrival and didn’t move it until we checked out. We were right in the center of the island so walking to Marine Avenue, to the beach or the ferry was just a matter of minutes in any directions. Most of the rentals on the island will also provide things like beach toys, beach towels and beach chairs for your use.


What did we miss? If you have any tips or favorite activities for Balboa Island or Newport Beach, please share in the comments below.


Full Disclosure: We would like to thank Voyager Rentals, Discovery Cube Ocean Quest and the Balboa Museum and Historical Society for partnering with us by providing discounted tickets. As always, all opinions expressed are our own. If we didn't love it, we won't recommend it.

Add Comment
Harmony, Momma To Go says... (Reply)
"ive wanted to go to this part of Cali! Did you drive the boat yourself?!?!?! That is something Ive always wanted to do!" (9/2/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"We did drive the boat ourselves. Such a fun outing!" (9/2/18)
Katja Gaskell says... (Reply)
"How good do those frozen bananas look?! I love that there is so much to do both on and off the water; it looks like a wonderful place for a family holiday! " (9/4/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"And I've heard that Christmas time is a great time to be on the island too." (9/5/18)
Claudia says... (Reply)
"I love frozen bananas! Especially when covered with chocolate. ;)" (9/4/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Anything covered in chocolate works for me!" (9/5/18)
Ariana says... (Reply)
"I keep having to add to my California "to do" list" (9/5/18)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"True. California has so much to see and do." (9/5/18)
Maggie says... (Reply)
"We love the Discovery Cube in Lakeview Terrace, we've only been to Newport Beach once, but Balboa Island looks amazing! Maybe similar to Coronado?" (9/6/18)
Our OC Adventures says... (Reply)
"I’ve always wanted to rent a cottage on the island! In my 20’s I lived on the Newport Peninsula which was awesome! We’re about 20 minutes South in Dana Point, but I still dream of renting a cottage for the Fourth of July! Whale watching here is also amazing, we saw a blue whale last time!" (8/2/20)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"You have so many wonderful memories of this area. And I agree! A cottage for 4th of July would be heaven!" (8/9/20)