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19 Best Things to Do in Newport Beach, California

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Newport Beach is a popular destination for all ages, offering the best of California weather, beaches, dining, water sports, and family fun. This Southern California coastal town is known for its large harbor, ten miles of beaches, excellent whale-watching opportunities, and local craft beers. These are the best things to do in Newport Beach.

In addition, the annual international yacht race, the Ensenada International Yacht Race, brings in scores of visitors every spring.

The quaint harborside community of Balboa Island is also quite a draw with its boutique shops, restaurants, and water sports rentals.

One of the best experiences in the coastal city of Newport Beach is taking one of the many whale-watching excursions, where you can witness the magic of giant blue whales, humpback whales, or grey whales. You can also see dolphins and other marine life during your whale-watching trip.

You’ll also find Newport Beach to be a food, art, shopping, environmental, and cultural hub, with the Orange County Museum of Art, the Environmental Nature Center, Fashion Island, and the Sherman Library and Gardens.

Whether you’re visiting this coastal city for business or pleasure, there are endless things to do. Keep reading to find our top picks for this Pacific Southwest destination!

TL;DR

  • Most significant landmark – The Wedge
  • Best park – Inspiration Point Park
  • Free activity – Crystal Cove State Park
  • Activity for kids – Balboa Fun Zone
  • Activity for adults Newport 2-Hour Whale Watching Cruise
  • Place to eat – Crystal Cove Shake Shack
  • Nightlife – Billy’s At The Beach
  • Place to stayLido House

Things to Do in Newport Beach, California

1. Newport Landing Whale Watching

Zodiac boat in the Pacific Ocean for whale watching near Newport Beach, California
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Address: 309 Palm St A, Newport Beach, CA 92661

You can’t visit Newport Beach, California, without booking a whale-watching excursion! These tours are plentiful, from private tours to luxury catamaran cruises. While the most common whales are grey and blue, you may also stumble upon killer whales during your whale-watching tour.

Whale-watching trips are offered daily and year-round, so no matter when you visit Newport Beach, you’ll have an opportunity to see whales. If you’re hoping to see grey whales, you’ll want to book a trip from December through April, whereas blue whales (along with killer whales, dolphins, and other mammals) are most commonly seen from May through November.

Whether you’re visiting Newport Beach, California, with a group or as a couple, a Newport Landing Whale Watching experience is a must-do! Book the Newport Beach Whale and Dolphin Watching Cruise or a more upscale experience with the Luxury Whale Watching Catamaran Cruise.

Whichever you do, you’re sure to have a “killer” time (yes, we did that). Before or after your tour, stop at the Newport Landing Restaurant for a delicious seafood treat!

You can also stay at the nearby Balboa Inn, On The Beach At Newport, for your Newport Beach whale-watching experience! Or Doryman’s Oceanfront Inn might be the Victorian-style hotel you’re craving for a more upscale stay.

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2. Spend the Day at Crystal Cove State Park

View from the Crystal Cove Shake Shack, Newport Beach, California
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Address: 8471 N Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Located just south of Newport Beach near Laguna Beach, Crystal Cove State Park is one of California’s most beautiful state parks. It’s worth the trip to this beautiful park with its three miles of Pacific coastline, historic beach houses, and inland chaparral canyons. Crystal Cove State Park perfectly combines the natural seashore and open space.

Although it’s right off the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), the wooded canyons make you feel like you’re worlds away. You’ll find sandy beaches and rolling surf here, making it a perfect daytime attraction.

If you’d rather have a pillow and comfy bed (rather than a campground experience), you can lay your head down at the nearby Newport Beach Marriott Bayview. The lobby bar and onsite restaurant make it a perfect choice to settle down after a day at Crystal Cove State Park.

If you’re driving to the park in the morning, you’ll notice a long line of cars on the PCH at a tiny restaurant called the Crystal Cove Shake Shack. The Shack is a great spot to grab breakfast or lunch with a stunning beach and ocean view.

3. Admire the Surfers at the Wedge

View of the Wedge, Balboa Peninsula, Newport Beach, California
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Address: 2054 E Oceanfront, Newport Beach, CA 92661

Whether you’re ready to hang ten or if you’d rather watch more experienced surfers hang ten, the Wedge is the spot to go. Located on the southeast end of the Balboa Peninsula, the Wedge has powerful surf and big swells perfect for bodysurfing, bodyboarding, and surfing.

If you’re a beginner, it’s best to let the experts ride these waves, as they can get up to 30 feet. This Newport Beach, California, spot is not for the faint of heart!

There are also beautiful oceanfront homes at the beach worthy of admiration. Many visitors like to sit on the jetty and watch the sunset across the Pacific Ocean while the boats come in and out of the harbor.

And if you’d rather watch from afar (like from a helicopter), this Newport Beach tour is the bee’s knees! Not only can you see the Wedge from the helicopter, but you can also see other prominent Newport Beach attractions on the Balboa Peninsula.

Whether you choose the helicopter tour or not, the Lido House is a perfect place to stay on the Balboa Peninsula, giving you access to the Wedge and everything else the area provides.

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4. Explore the Newport Harbor

Docked boats at the Newport Harbor, Newport Beach, California
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Address: 1600 W Balboa Boulevard, Newport Beach, CA 92663

Newport Harbor is one of the highlights of Newport Beach, with its activities from sunset cruises to fishing and stand-up paddleboarding. There are just over ten short piers where fishing is allowed without a license. You can find all types of bass fish, halibut, white seabass, small sharks, and giant bat rays.

Dining in Newport Harbor is drool-worthy, with some of the best seafood restaurants in California. While Nobu may be an international chain, it’s still one of the best sushi restaurants in the state. And if you’re looking for other restaurants in the harbor, Javiers and The Winery are two trendy upscale restaurants.

If you prefer a guided experience, you can see Newport Beach’s top attractions, including waterfront mansions, with this private 2-hour Newport Beach cruise. There are many options for accommodations in the area, so if you’d rather dock your boat and walk to your hotel, check out the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach.

Read Also: Our Honest Review of The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel

5. Go Shopping at Fashion Island and Lido Marina Village

Lido Marina Village building and skyline
Lido Marina Village / Lido Marina Village

If you’re in the mood to shop, you must put Fashion Island on your travel itinerary. This outdoor shopping mall is for high-end shopping, including stores like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Bloomingdale’s. Opened in 1967, Fashion Island is a relaxed yet sophisticated spot for shopping with views of the Pacific Ocean.

If you still have more shopping, head to Lido Marina Village, a stylish waterfront shopping center with boutiques, restaurants, and cafes. Many of the restaurants offer al fresco and dockside dining. After dining in the California sunshine, head to Billy’s At The Beach for the best Mai Tais in town.

These Newport Beach, California, shopping areas offer the best of California shopping, with large anchor stores and small boutique shops.

6. Visit the Balboa Pier and Balboa Fun Zone

Balboa Fun Zone sign, Balboa Island, California
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Address: 1 Balboa Pier, Newport Beach, CA 92661

Most people are familiar with the Balboa Pier because of the Balboa Fun Zone just in front of it. This local attraction brings in roughly seven million visitors annually and offers affordable fun for all ages.

This vintage amusement park has been open since 1936, offering Ferris wheel rides, arcade games, and more! Unlike most beachfront amusement parks, there is no admission fee to enter, so you can wander around the Newport Beach boardwalk, watch the sea lions, go shopping, or grab a bite to eat.

The pier is popular for fishing, but most people stroll on the Balboa Pier to see the surfers or head to Ruby’s Diner at the end. The old-timey casual atmosphere with vinyl booths and soda fountains make Ruby’s Diner a California favorite.

They offer delicious staples such as hamburgers, fries, and shakes, the perfect way to end your day at Newport Beach. A stroll down the Balboa Pier and to the Balboa Fun Zone is easily one of Newport Beach’s best things to do!

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7. Ride the Balboa Island Ferry

Balboa Island Ferry Boat, Balboa, California
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Address: 510 Palm St, Newport Beach, CA 92661

If you’re heading to Balboa Island, the Balboa Island Ferry is the easiest way to get there. This ferry service shuttles visitors from the Balboa Peninsula at Newport Beach to Balboa Island. The ferry ride is only about five minutes since it’s less than 1,000 feet between the island and the Balboa Peninsula.

While each ferry can hold two cars, they also offer service for pedestrians and cyclists. The Balboa Island Ferry is the easiest and most scenic route to Balboa Island. They are open 365 days a year, only stopping service between midnight and 6 am.

Before hopping on the ferry, enjoy some grilled Atlantic salmon at Newport Landing Restaurant, which has served visitors for over 30 years. This waterfront restaurant has an upscale casual vibe, with gorgeous views of Newport Harbor.

8. Visit Charming Balboa Island

Balboa Island Ferry docked boats
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Balboa Island is a harborside community, part of Newport Beach, and is accessible via boat docks, the Balboa Ferry, and the bridge. Once you get to the island, a wonderful boardwalk surrounds the city.

The island is known for its eclectic atmosphere, stunning sunsets, and beautiful marinas. The island comprises two land masses: one is almost one mile around and the other almost two miles. However, a sidewalk surrounds both land masses, making them appear like one body.

The small island is home to the Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society, which highlights the local history and culture of Balboa Island. The Balboa Island Museum also helps local artists with exhibits and merchandise to support their work.

Frozen Bananas store sign in Balboa
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Fans of Arrested Development may recognize a few sights on the island. The show was set in Newport Beach, and the Bluth Family Banana Stand was inspired by two real-life frozen banana stands right next to each other on Marine Avenue. Sugar ‘n Spice and Dad’s Frozen Bananas both claim to be the origin of these tasty treats. Try one from both places and see which you prefer!

If you want to explore the island, head down Marine Avenue for all the best restaurants and shops. However, one of the best ways to experience the eclectic restaurants on the island is with the Best Bites of Balboa Island Food Tour. This three-hour tour will give you a sample of six restaurants on Balboa Island!

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9. Explore the Cliffside Views at Corona Del Mar State Beach

Rocky shore of Corona Del Mar State Beach
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Address: 3001 Ocean Boulevard, Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

Corona del Mar State Beach, another beautiful California state park, is a popular local spot. This 30-acre park, established in 1947, is popular for its cliffside views, beautiful beaches, and outdoor showers. You can also spend time in the village shops!

When the tide is low, you can find crabs, sea urchins, starfish, sea anemones, and other small marine life. You can swim, surf, fish, or explore the sandy beach.

While it is a popular spot, the rocky cliffs make it feel more secluded. Parking is free, a huge bonus, but it’s sometimes hard to find a parking spot. Corona del Mar State Beach is easily one of the best free things to do in Newport Beach, California.

10. Stroll on the Newport Beach Pier

Newport Beach Pier sunset and bridge
kan_khampanya / Shutterstock

Address: 1 Newport Pier, Newport Beach, CA 92663

Formerly known as the McFadden Wharf, the Newport Beach Pier is one of two prominent piers in Newport Beach. This pier is registered as a California Historical Landmark and is just over 1,000 feet long. This wooden pier is known for the dory boats bringing in their fresh catches and selling them at the Dory Fleet Fish Market.

Visitors can stroll the Newport Beach Pier or ride bikes or roller skates. You can also look at all the homes on the boardwalk, many of which are available for vacation rentals. While there used to be a sushi restaurant at the end of the pier, no restaurants have taken over its space.

The beach at the base of the Newport Pier is soft sand, perfect for sunbathers and swimmers to enjoy year-round. Visitors will also notice the presence of seagulls and pelicans at the beach and pier.

11. Visit the Sculpture Exhibition in Civic Center Park

aerial shot of the rabbit statues in Civic Center Park, Newport Beach
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: 1306-1484 Avocado Ave, Newport Beach, CA 92660

Civic Center Park is a beautiful city park with one end designated as a dog park and the other as a “museum without walls.” This “museum” is a two-year rotating exhibit of sculptures along a one-mile walking trail.

This free park is the perfect place for all ages, whether you’re an art connoisseur or want to enjoy the beautiful scenery and have a picnic. The short trail is easy, and finding the various sculptures is fun for kids and adults. The most recent installation of “Bunnyhenge” is a hoot for parkgoers.

This is a perfect place to go before or after a trip to Fashion Island, as it’s right next to Civic Center Park.

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12. Watch the Sunset at Inspiration Point Park

Sunset view from Inspiration Point in Corona Del Mar, Orange County, California near Newport Beach and Balboa Island
jonbilous / Adobe Stock

Address: Inspiration Point, 3001 Ocean Blvd, Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

This spot is one of the best places in Orange County to see the sunset! The park offers benches at multiple levels so you can choose where to view the Southern California sun setting. The path begins at the top of the bluff and continues down to the beach.

On a clear day, you can see Catalina Island, the harbor, and the beautiful beach.

13. Tour the Sherman Library & Gardens

Pink flowers in Sherman Gardens, Newport Beach
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Address: 2647 East Coast Hwy, Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

Opened in 1966, the Sherman Library & Gardens is now a two-acre horticultural oasis. When it first opened, only one small part of the gardens was built, but eight years after it opened, the central garden, library, gift shop, conservatory, and café were also constructed.

There is a guided tour that takes you through the serene botanical gardens. While this tour only takes about an hour, it’s easy to spend many hours exploring the beauty of the gardens and conservatory.

You’ll enjoy this beautiful spot with over 100 varieties of begonia and palms, an extensive orchid collection, and a succulent garden. Nature lovers will find the Sherman Library one of the most unique things to do in Newport Beach.

14. Snorkel at Little Corona Beach

Skyline and rocky shore of Little Corona Beach
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Address: 3712 Ocean Blvd, Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

Little Corona Beach is the perfect spot for scuba diving, exploring tide pools, and watching the sunset. This popular spot is also great for picnics because you don’t have to take steep stairs to get to the beach.

Locals love this secluded spot because of the tide pools and rocky reefs that make it a diving destination. Because the beach is protected from large swells, it’s a perfect spot for families and beginner divers.

Snorkelers love Little Corona Beach because of the eelgrass just beyond the water’s edge. In addition, there is a roped-off area where boats and jet skis are forbidden, giving swimmers and snorkelers a perfect place to explore.

15. Explore Nature at the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve

Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve hiking trail winds along the marsh
SunflowerMomma / Shutterstock

Address: 2301 University Dr, Newport Beach, CA 92660

Bird and nature lovers will delight in this 135-acre nature preserve, with hiking trails, an interpretive center, equestrian trails, and a scenic overlook. This is one of the best spots for wildlife viewing, such as the San Diego cactus wren, peregrine falcon, brown pelican, burrowing owl, and the California least tern.

The Upper Newport Bay Area is an estuary and a major stopover for birds on the Pacific Flyway. During the winter, over 30,000 migrating birds use this preserve.

The Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve is also fantastic for recreational activities like horseback riding, jogging, hiking, and camping. Visitors of all ages can enjoy this park and its nature museum.

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16. Paddle Your Cares Away With the Pirate Coast Paddle Company

Newport Beach Paddlers enjoying the beach
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

Address: 1131 Back Bay Dr, Newport Beach, CA 92660

Get ready to have a fun time paddling with a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) or kayak. With the Pirate Coast Paddle Company, you’re guaranteed a memorable and fun experience!

Don’t worry if you haven’t been on a SUP before; they have a quick introduction when you rent one, or you can take lessons that teach the core technique and SUP etiquette. And if you’re looking for a unique experience, try the SUP Glow. This popular tour includes stand-up paddleboards with LED lights illuminating the water during your nighttime paddle.

Or, if you’re traveling with a young child, you can rent a double kayak and explore the Newport coast together!

17. View Modern Art at the Orange County Museum of Art

Line of museum visitors entering the Orange County Museum of Art
DarkNight0917 / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Address: 3333 Avenue of the Arts, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

If you’re looking for cultural things to do in Newport Beach, a stop at the Orange County Museum of Art should be on your itinerary. This contemporary art museum, originally called the Newport Harbor Art Museum, focuses on art from the 20th and 21st centuries.

With a collection of almost 5,000 items, the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) showcases the art in one of its many galleries. However, special exhibitions, new commissions, and rotating pieces are also highlighted at this museum.

Located on the Segerstrom Center for the Arts campus, the OCMA is the perfect place to see contemporary art in the Newport Beach area.

18. Learn About Native Plants at the Environmental Nature Center

Environmental Nature Center building and architecture
Environmental Nature Center / Environmental Nature Center

Address: 1601 E 16th St, Newport Beach, CA 92663

The Environmental Nature Center is the place to experience nature firsthand. Opened in 1972, the ENC offers the chance to study over a dozen California native plant communities. Visitors cannot only see native plants from freshwater marshs to oak woodland but also explore walking trails and wildlife habitats.

While much of the programming is geared toward kids, all ages will enjoy what the ENC offers. You can enjoy the butterfly garden, learn about botany, do birdwatching, or have a picnic at one of the picnic tables in the natural setting.

Free admission makes this nature center even more attractive, but donations are appreciated. Kids will especially find the butterfly exhibit one of the best things to do in Newport Beach.

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19. Take a Day Trip to Huntington Beach

The Huntington Beach Pier in Huntington Beach, California.
Ken Wolter / Shutterstock

Address: 21601 E Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, CA 92646

If you’re looking for another surfing location close to Newport Beach, you may want to head to Huntington Beach. Only ten minutes from Newport Beach, Huntington Beach is known for its amazing beaches and is nicknamed Surf City, USA.

You can gain inspiration at the International Surfing Museum, showcasing surfing memorabilia and longboards. Or, you can head to the Huntington Beach Pier. But most people come for the almost 10-mile-long beachfront, perfect for all levels of surfing.

One of the best ways to learn how to surf is with a private surf lesson in Huntington Beach. This small-group lesson will teach you paddling techniques, wave identification, and catching the perfect wave.

However, you can also spend your time enjoying a Vietnamese picnic at Huntington Beach or having a professional photo shoot. No matter how you spend your time, you will surely enjoy it!

FAQ

What is Newport Beach, California, known for?

Newport Beach is famous for its beautiful beaches, fantastic surfing spots like the Wedge, shopping malls like Fashion Island, the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve, and whale-watching expeditions. The Newport Pier is known for boats delivering daily seafood catches, shops, restaurants, and many seagulls and pelicans.

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