Newport-Beach

Things to do in Newport Beach

Discover why this Californian gem is the perfect holiday destination

Nathalie Bonney

Newport Beach may not have been on Brits' radar until relatively recently, thanks to US teen drama The O.C (#sethandsummerforever) but this Californian gem has been a playground for the rich and famous for many years. Aside from the yachts, Champagne consumption (Newport is one of the highest consumers of fizz per Capita) and fancy restaurants - valet parking of boats is the norm - this Orange County city boasts spectacular scenery and coastline and still has that laidback SoCal feel - just with fancy updos and more close-toed shoes.

Where to stay in Newport Beach:

Tell Newport Locals you're staying at the Pelican Hill resort and their jaws will either drop in amazement or clench with envy. The five-star resort is the ultimate luxury destination in the Newport area. Its 204 bungalow guest rooms and suites and 128 villas are spread out over 500 acres of land. I'm staying in a bungalow, decorated in creams and neutrals throughout; highlights are the impressive fireplace that, in true Cali style, turns on with a flick of the remote, and my terrace views of the ocean - with accompanying pink skies at dusk. Other rooms look out onto Pelican Hill's sculpted green gardens: canary palms, deliciously fragrant Aleppo pines, over 700 mature olive trees and 100 century olive trees; and vivid orange 'birds of paradise' flowers.

The resort is inspired by Italian architecture and in the main lounge large Flemish tapestries from the Renaissance hang either side of the grand fireplace. But perhaps most impressive of all is Pelican Hill's very own Coliseum. Sunbathers and swimmers replace the Roman emperors and Maximus Decimus Meridius at the Coliseum pool; one of the largest circular pools in the world, over 1 million hand cut glass tiles line its bottom. With the Pacific Ocean in the distance, as the sun sets, swimmers are silhouetted against the orange sky.

MORE: See other American holiday inspiration here

For a lower key stay, try the newly opened Lido House Hotel. Just three blocks from the beach and two blocks from the harbour, it's easy to see all the sights without a car. From the breezy, nautical style of the 135 rooms to the stunning decked rooftop bar, (the only one in Newport) the design and feel of Lido House is contemporary but comfortable beach chic.

What to do in Newport Beach

Duffy Boat tour of Newport Harbour:

Over three miles in length, Newport Harbour is a hive of activity come the weekend full of kayaks and paddle boards and small electrical 'duffy' boats. 'This is Newport's backyard' Carolyn Clark our lido marina guide and duffy boat captain tells us (for tours go to: duffyofnewportbeach.com/). Locals and tourists alike come to enjoy the gentle waters, with on board picnics and bottles of Champagne: as a flag on a nearby yacht reads: ‘It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere’.

With between 5-7000 privately owned boats in the harbour at any one time - and because Newport Harbour is a designated recreational harbour - duffy boats are restricted to traveling at a gentle 5 knots per hour: all the better for some star real estate spotting: John Wayne's former home, its decks now covered in planters and flowers (apparently this is as much to keep sea lions off as to look pretty) Nicholas Cage's modern cement number, Shirley Temple's Chocolate box 'cottage' and Cyndi Lauper's -it-had-to-be-pink abode. We pass the harbour embankments that became the banks of the river Nile in Cleopatra and the grand Eternity yacht, where Beyoncé's mum Tina Knowles got married to actor Richard Lawson in a lavish wedding. Beyoncé, husband Jay Z and Blue Ivy were there as well as Kelly Rowland and Solange Knowles.

Lido Marina Village:

In Newport, if you can’t be on or in the water, then you get right beside it. The pretty Lido Marina Village is situated at the mouth of the old harbour and is a great place to while away an afternoon in its boutiques and independent stores. The Lido village was first established in 1971 and the more recent renovation has sought to keep the same feel, with strings of Parisian style cafe lights across the streets and lots of outdoor communal space to take advantage of. A morning yoga class on the decking gives way to lunchtime diners and post exercise coffee and green juice pow wows. The Lido village bookshop was here before the development and is well worth a stop for a chat with the owner and to pick up some SoCal-inspired reads; Sugar Paper is a stationery geek’s dream. The likes of Le Labo and Aesop are also on hand.

Get active:

Newport is a world away from the egg-white, spin-class-paced lifestyle of LA but it's still in California and with weather and surroundings this beautiful, it's no hardship to get a sweat on in Newport’s beautiful outdoors. Try a yoga paddleboarding class with blisspaddleyoga.com. The still harbour waters are ideal for keeping balance.

MORE: Keep up-to-date with the latest celebrity holidays here

Hire electric bikes, known as pedegos, with pedegoelectricbikes.com/dealers/corona-del-mar/ and enjoy a bike round the palm tree-lined roads of Corona, which are named after flowers, and Balboa Island. Or take one of the smooth and flat bike beach trails - the 12-mile bike trail to surfers’ favourite Huntington Beach, passes alongside the coast and is easy to follow. Pelican Hill resort boasts not one but two 18-hole golf courses - although its grand clubhouse is worth a visit for a meal or drink regardless of if you can swing a club.

Balboa:

Balboa is the heart of old Newport and in the 50s and 60s it boasted a roll call of Hollywood’s golden era stars: Bacall, Bogart, Martin, Monroe, Flynn and Sinatra would come to play, take a break from Hollywood and get a tan. The iconic Balboa pavilion, built in 1906, the boardwalk and fun zone were the backdrop to carnival games and rides and seaside beauty pageants. More recently the ferris wheel in Balboa Fun Zone is where The O.C’s Ryan and Marissa shared their first kiss and where a less-lucky-in-love Childish Gambino sits next to a cuddly toy in his music video V3005.

A Balboa bar - ice cream on a stick dipped in chocolate and then a selected topping, is a must (the health conscious can opt for a frozen banana) - but where to get it from is as difficult as deciding between peanuts (for the purists) and rainbow sprinkles. Two small stores claim they were the first to serve Balboa bars. Sugar ‘n’ Spice boasts it has served frozen bananas since 1945 but is a little hazy on a date for Balboa bars; its heath pecan crunch topping is an in-house special. Three stores down: Dad’s has only been around since 1960 (so do the math) but also claims it’s the original server of Balboa bars as well as fresh doughnuts on the daily and colourful ‘Hippo’ cookies. From Balboa pier, I spy dolphins ducking in and out of the waves. In the pier’s shade at the shore edge a white bearded man plays guitar and sings in his gravelly voice while a girl in a pink swimsuit holds court with three large seagulls.

Fashion Island:

Find Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Anthropologie and Macy’s at Fashion Island, an outdoor shopping centre with fountains, shaded walkways and a large ornamental pond full of coy carp. Upscale department store Neiman Marcus stocks the likes of Gucci, Fendi, Chanel and Louis Vuitton. But you can also find smaller, interesting retailers such as jewellers Kendra Scott and clothes brands Halston Heritage and Joie.

Crystal cove state park:

With 2,400 acres of open space to explore make the most of the walking trails that criss cross the backcountry wilderness that is Crystal Cove State Park. The park is also home to 3.2 miles of coastline and includes the Crystal Cove Historic district, a stretch of beach scattered with 46 rustic wooden beach ‘shacks’. Originally built in the 1920s and 40s around the mouth of Los Trancos Creek, these cutesy beach homes are great value - and get snapped up in a matter of weeks once the rentals are released.

Visiting for the day? Make yourself at home at the iconic Beachcomber Cafe. Aside from its mammoth breakfasts, stick around till 5 pm when the staff ring a bell and raise their Martini flag to signal happy hour. Fire pits are available to hire for evening cookouts and smores making.

Where to eat in Newport Beach:

One of the most popular restaurants on Newport Harbour is The Winery: the seafood platter is a must. With a margarita menu to make any Tequila lover weep with joy, Javier’s is a lively Mexican restaurant perfect for big groups.

Beachcomber Café in the Crystal Cove historical district gets more and more popular as the day goes on so head for an early breakfast: Lemon Ricotta pancakes and the breakfast pizza are two of the Beachcomber's specialities but my standouts are the so-light-they-can’t-be-bad-for-you beignets (they’re doughnuts so definitely are). Take note: portion sizes are insane even by American standards.

Nobu in The Marina Lido Village gets the crowds but next door Zinque is an altogether less snooty affair and its bistro style salads, quiche and burgers are perfect lunchtime fare. Fig & Olive's high ceilings and stunning all-white terrace area are almost enough to distract from the menu. Almost. Aside from beautiful cocktails and delicious Mediterranean mains, crostinis are where it’s at at this high-end Fashion Island eatery. There’s a whole menu of them and ordering a spread is recommended: Prosciutto with ricotta and fig; goat's cheese and caramelised onions and burrata and pesto are a few standouts. Head to Balboa Lily’s for its signature lavender lattes; I go for a less sweet turmeric latte.

Essential information

For more on Newport beach go to visitnewportbeach.com. Travel via Aer Lingus’ Dublin gateway and pre-clear US immigration before boarding your transatlantic flight, to avoid lengthy delays stateside. Flights from UK to LA from £259 each way including taxes and charges when booked as a return trip. Business class fares, which includes complimentary WiFi and fully lie-flat seats as well as access to the business class airport lounge, from £899 each way. Visit aerlingus.com for more info. For more on The Resort at Pelican Hill go to pelicanhill.com/bungalows/.

More on: