Find yourself in Newport Beach, California? Be sure to visit adorable Balboa Island, a quaint, man-made oasis rich with history, downtown shopping, and a whole lotta bananas.
A long weekend in Newport Beach? Um yes, please! Since we were in town to help celebrate the engagement of two local friends, I knew I would be pretty busy, but I made sure to carve out a little extra time to explore beautiful Balboa Island. And (shocker) we had a fantastic time. Here are our favorite discoveries that I recommend you do not miss!
Arrive By Ferry
The island sits tucked within the arc of the Balboa Peninsula. It is accessible by car from the mainland or by ferry from the peninsula. Take the ferry! It's $1.25 per pedestrian each way, and a fun and scenic way to approach this historic island.
Explore Downtown So many great shops, restaurants, and boutiques here. The area reminds me of other quaint, charming places like Key West, Catalina Island, or Coronado Island, but it definitely has its own feel. And I am always a sucker for a historic post office!
Learn It's Past and Present
Consider yourself a history buff? Balboa Island will keep you happy because it has a ton! It was established in 1905 "with a dredger and a dream", as they say, and over the years, many celebrities have had homes here, kept their boats or yachts here, or simply vacationed on this conveniently-located little island. It's no surprise - it's proximity to the mainland makes it a super convenient little getaway.
Back in the day, Shirley Temple used to spend summers here, and John Wayne had a home here for years.
Today it's as attractive as ever for a quiet weekend, so you never know what familiar face you may run into as you walk around town. The island is just 0.2 square miles, and approximately 3,000 residents live here. Yes, that's a lot! In fact, it's population density is 17,621 person per square mile—higher than that of San Francisco.
Crocker's Abundant Table
For me, nothing starts a busy Exploring Day better than a hearty Cholula-covered breakfast! Throw in a great atmosphere, outdoor seating, and some people watching, and Crocker's totally fits the bill for me. But, oh wait, there's more - this time also throw in a pitcher of mimosas for two, please!!
I LOVE businesses like this, and if I had a restaurant/cafe it would be just like this. And if I were a local, this friendly and familiar little stop is one that I would pop in to at least twice a week. We didn't partake in the "wet & wild" chili dog (um a chili dog? Before noon? Maybe not such a good idea). But my travel partner was a bit entranced by it, and he then talked about it for the next... two... days. Oy. When we go back (which I know we will) I'm sure that fricking hot dog will be the first on his to-do list. If you find yourself on beautiful Balboa Island make sure to stop into Crockers Abundant Table!
Have a Frozen Banana
The frozen banana is kind of a big deal here, and its a little slice of Balboa Island's history. There are two "original" frozen banana businesses still in operation, and they're on the same block.
The question is: which was actually first? Well, Dad’s Original Balboa Bar & Frozen Banana actually came along in the "early 1960's". Yet Sugar and Spice The Original Frozen Banana opened in 1945... so it's the obvious winner. Sugar and Spice was also featured in the tv series Arrested Development, as [the fictional] Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana Stand.
But! Even though we most definitely determined the original, clearly they're both still in business for a reason, right? It seemed pretty apparent that we needed to do a taste test! Our toppings were a little different, but we took our research very seriously. And guess what? Other than the toppings, it pretty much tasted the same...!
Cruise the Boardwalk
I've noted it before: this island is tiny! It's technically only 0.2 square miles. This means that walking around the island is not a huge feat and won't take you and your travel companions long at all (no complaining allowed). There's a gorgeous palm-lined walking path around the entire perimeter that's just 1.7 miles! It's a great way to take in the island architecture, the salty sea air, and a fantastic way to spend a morning.
And while we're on the subject of architecture, there are some real beauties here. But despite having some of the country's most expensive homes, most of the houses are on tiny lots. A typical lot size on Balboa Island is just 30 feet x 85 feet! Even so, today's home prices are definitely not for the faint-hearted. Hmm, maybe rent one for the weekend instead and call it good?
We only spent several hours on beautiful Balboa Island, but we were so glad we took the time. The island vibe here is safe and homey, and it feels like you've escaped to somewhere special, while not being far away at all. Going to Balboa Island and plan to use my recommendations? Please share - I would love to know that you found my information helpful. Have you already been to Balboa Island and have more suggestions for my next visit? Please tell me, I would love to know.