California Fools Gold — Exploring Newport Beach

California Fool's Gold


Newport Beach
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography’s Oil Paint Map of Newport Beach (2018)

I finally got around to exploring Newport Beach. I say “finally” because that particular coastal city in South Orange County has held the top spot in the California Fool’s Gold poll for more than a year. You’d be wrong if you assumed that my procrastination has anything to do with unfortunate (but typical) Angeleño bias against Orange County. You’d be right, on the other hand, if you assumed my postponement had something to do with the lamentable state of mass transit in our supposedly developed nation. Was I to have used mass transit — like a responsible citizen — my journey from Pendersleigh to Newport Beach would’ve required taking a Metro bus, hopping on a Metrolink train, transferring to an Amtrak train, and then finally boarding an OCTA (Orange County Transportation Authority) bus. It would’ve taken about three hours as well — or about the same amount of time it would take to cross Taiwan — twice.


Driving in cities feels to me like failure, though, and I’d still have relied on mass transit were it not for the fact that Newport Beach, like all Orange County suburbs, is sprawling and nearly impossible to explore without an automobile. And so, reluctantly, I climbed behind the wheel and hit the open road the 5, 710, and 405 freeways.


Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve

Delhi Channel

About an hour and a half later I was in Newport Beach — slightly annoyed but at least still looking and smelling fresh. My first stop was the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve, a large protected space created in 1975. A bit of nature therapy proved to be just what I needed after a miserable freeway slog. The wind rustled through the leaves of eucalyptus trees. Bees and butterflies flitted from flower to flower. I breathed deeply, revived somewhat by the briny smell of the marsh. Flowering plants filled the air with notes reminiscent of butter and curry. I realized that I was hungry. The piece was further shattered by the regular roar of jets overhead, flying in and out of John Wayne Airport. Newport Beach is neighbored by the John Wayne Airport, the Pacific Ocean, Crystal Cove State Park; and the communities of Costa Mesa and Irvine. Even more disruptive, believe it or not, was the occasional music-pumping stroller-pusher or cyclist who decided theirs — and everyone else’s — every moment would benefit from a passing blast of tinny pop-punk or absurdly autotuned reggaeton.

Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve panorama

Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve is, I believe, the largest park in Newport Beach. There are, however, many smaller parks (several of which include community centers), including Arroyo Park, Back Bay View Park, Balboa Island Park, Balboa Peninsula ParkBegonia Park, Bob Henry Park, Bonita Canyon Sports Park, Bonita Creek Park, Buck Gully Reserve, Buffalo Hills Park, Canyon Watch Park, Castaways Park, Civic Center Park, Cliff Drive Park , Coastal Peak Park, Eastbluff Park, Galaxy View Park, Grant Howard Park & Community Youth Center, Harbor View Nature Park, Harbor Watch Park, Irvine Terrace Park, Kings Road Park, Lido Park, Lookout Point, Marina Park, Mariners Park & VJ Community Center, Mesa Birch Park, Myrtle Park, Newport Shores Park, Ocean Ridge View ParkOld School Park, Pacific View Memorial Park, Roxbury ParkS. Charna Hill ParkSan Joaquin Hills Park & Lawn Bowling CenterSan Miguel Park, Spyglass Hill ParkSpyglass Hill Reservoir Park, Sunset Ridge ParkSunset View Park, Veteran’s Memorial ParkWest Jetty View Park, West Newport Park, and Westcliff Park.

Jet and crows

bidens laevis?
Coastal sunflowers


The Mariners' Medical Arts building

My next stop was the Mariners Medical Arts medical complex, designed by brilliant Modernist architect Richard Neutra in 1963. The complex is comprised of three buildings, situated in a garden-like landscape, and offering geometrically attractive views from all angles. From a car, it might look like just another low-rise office complex. Wander within it, however, and you’ll appreciate why the American Institute of Architects awarded the complex with an award for 25 Year Award of Excellence.

The Mariners' Medical Arts building courtyard

The Mariners' Medical Arts building 2


Channel looking toward Newport Island
Balboa Peninsula (left) and Lido Peninsula (right)

My next stop was Balboa Peninsula, one of a few dozen Newport Beach areas and neighborhoods. Others include the Airport DistrictBayshoresBack BayBalboa IslandBalboa Peninsula PointBalboa VillageBaysideBayviewBelcourtBig CanyonThe BluffsBonita CanyonCameoCannery VillageCentral Newport BeachCliff HavenCorona HighlandsCorona del MarDover ShoresEast NewportEast Santa Ana HeightsEastbluffFashion IslandHarbor RidgeHarbor ViewIrvine TerraceLido IsleLido PeninsulaMarinersMariner’s Mile/WestcliffNewport BluffsNewport CoastNewport HeightsNewport HillsNewport RidgeNewport Ridge NorthNewport ShoresNorth BluffNorth Harbor ViewOcean HeightsOne Ford RoadPacific RidgePark NewportPelican HillSan Joaquin HillsSanta Ana HeightsSpyglassWest Newport Beach, and West Santa Ana Heights.

Via Lido Plaza
Boat-themed sign on Lido Isle


Pirate House

Pirate Boat


My first stop was a house — albeit one about which one can rightly say that few, if any, even notice the architecture. Like Pee-Wee Herman‘s home in South Pasadena, what attracts visitors to Newport Beach’s Pirate House is the manner in which the current owner has decorated it. When I first read of the Pirate House, I first imagined a McMansion taken over by AK-47-toting Somalis or Indonesians barking something like “Look at me, I’m the homeowner now!”

Pirate with mullet

Statue of Liberty

Odd pirate

I should’ve known, however, that these aren’t the modern pirates that strike fear into the hearts of ship crews but the lovable rum-swilling, peg-legged rapists and murderers of yore, who are now celebrated with sexy Halloween costumes and “Talk Like a Pirate Day.” They appear mostly to be made of fiberglass. All of the rope-dancing female buccaneers look to have been augmented by silicone buoys though — although presumably 18th-century implants were made of filled with a mix of ambergris and straw.

Pirate with saber

Busty pirate

Pirate on rope


Lido Theatre

I parked the car near the single-screen Regency Lido Theatre. The cinema, which opened in 1938, showcases independent and foreign films and is thus the only cinema in the community worth noting, really, although if you’re a Hollywood multiplex sort, there’s also the Edwards Big Newport 6 and Island 7. The Lido is also the primary showcase site for the annual Newport Beach Film Festival, now in its 20th year and kicking off on 25 April.

There were, not surprisingly, a couple of other cinemas in the past. The Ritz Theater, which opened in 1928 (and later operated as the Balboa Theatre and Pussycat Theatre) has sat vacant for many years. The old Newport Theatre, which opened in 1939, has long been home to the Old Spaghetti Factory.


Newport Beach’s film history begins with DW Griffith’s The Sands of Dee (1912). Hollywood film crews returned to Newport Beach in 1917 to shoot the feature-length Theda Bara vehicle, Cleopatra. The director of that film, J. Gordon Edwards would again return to Newport Beach to shoot Wings of the Morning (1919). This opened to doors for other directors named J. Gordon, such as J. Gordon Cooper, whose 1920 film, The Evil Eye, was also shot in Newport Beach. The ferry across Newport Harbor (launched by Joseph Alan Week in 1919) appeared in the 1949 film, The Reckless Moment.

Other movies filmed at least partly in Newport Beach include The Brute Master (1920), The Revenge of Tarzan (1920), The Son of Tarzan (1920), What Women Love (1920), The Boat (1921), Shadows (1922), The Ten Commandments (1923), The Cameraman (1928), All Quiet on the Western Front and Spawn of the North (both 1938), Pardon My Sarong (1942), Joan of Arc (1948), The Reckless Moment (1949), Mara Maru (1952), Moonfleet (1955), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), The Gun Runners (1958), The Girl Most Likely (1958), Gangster Story (1959), Johnny Cool and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962), Locked In! (1964), Lord Love a Duck (1966), The Moods of Surfing (1968),  Love Story and The Boatniks (both 1970), Beaches and Satisfaction (1988), A Few Good Men (1992), Jerry Maguire (1996), and Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997).


Newport Beach appeared in episodes of ColumboLois & Clark: The New Adventures of Supermanand most importantly, a 2008 episode of California’s Gold titled “Newport Boats.” It may come as a surprise to some unfamiliar with Hollywood’s geographic movie magic, that the television series, The OC, which although set in Newport Beach, was primarily filmed in Los Angeles’s South Bay region.

The OC, despite not being filmed in the titular county, did bring a bit of fleeting post-millennial attention to Orange County upon which MTV attempted to capitalize with a so-called “reality show” titled, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County. In my opinion, Laguna Beach is one of the most interesting of Orange County’s six coastal cities but viewers, apparently, wanted Newport Beach — where Ryan, Marissa, and Seth lived — not some other place from whence come Have’A Corn Chips. MTV replaced it with Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County. I didn’t watch either — and too much time has passed for anyone at MTV to consider filming a reality show in Orange County’s Little Saigon, Old World Village, or Eichler tracts — but if they do, I’d watch.


Lido Marina Village

Boats in Newport Bay

I wandered over from the Lido into Lido Marina Village. There are boats, shops, restaurants, and it’s all pleasantly walkable — even though automobiles are still for whatever reason allowed on its otherwise fairly charming streets. It reminded me a bit of San Pedro‘s sadly demolished Ports o’ Call Village — which was unceremoniously reduced to rubble — albeit without the vague air of menace.

Balboa Village

Balboa Village, another of Newport Beach’s nominal villages, was seemingly more family oriented. Again, although walkable, the village streets are still mostly shared with cars. A ferry takes passengers to Balboa Island, which I put off visiting because time was limited and readers have cast so many votes for it that I’ll return to it for a dedicated piece.

Newport Island
A quiet street on Balboa Peninsula

In some ways, Newport Beach reminded me of other seaside communities like San Pedro, Avalon, or Venice — albeit with a decidedly upper-class air. The most popular color for Mercedes-Benz SUVs seems to be ecru. Most of the homes are painted in various shades of greige. With 54% of Newport Beach voters registered members of the Republican party, it’s the second-most Republican city in California after Yorba Linda. Newport Beach has the second highest per capita income in Orange County, after Laguna Beach.

Snippets of actual conversations I overheard during my exploration included:

“if she doesn’t wear them anymore, put them in the safe!”

“sooo much cardio in water polo!”


“ooh — I’m not gonna risk my body. Ain’t nobody got time for that!”


Lovell Beach House

I next visited another architectural gem, the Lovell Beach House (1242 West Oceanfront). The home, beautifully designed by the great Rudolf Schindler, was completed in 1926 for its original inhabitant, naturopathic doctor Philip M. Lovell (né Morris Saperstein). It was documented by the Los Angeles branch of the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1968, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It’s someone’s private residence and so, obviously, I kept a respectful distance but looking at photos of the interior online, it appears to have an equally stunning interior.

Lovell Beach House 2

I love city life too much to ever really consider moving to Newport Beach or any other far-flung suburb, no matter how pretty the home. I can, however, acknowledge that it has its allure. In my suburban reverie, I live in one of the homes along Oceanfront. Every day my outfit consists only of linen trousers and espadrilles. At night, I relax on my patio, admiring the moonrise over the gentle Pacific. I robotically swirl and sniff my absurdly large glass of wine.

Lovell Beach House 3

As I stare into the flames of my fire-pit, my thoughts drift to city life and all the things I’ve given up in favor of convenient, free parking and “good schools.” No longer will I fretfully struggle over whether to attend an author reading at the Last Bookstore, mycology class at the Natural History Museum, or a free film premiers at USC (three actual things my trek to Newport Beach precluded) because I live in suburbia now…


Newport Beach Municipal Beach
Newport Municipal Beach

Fantasies aside, one of the best things about living by the beach is the beach itself and if I lived there, instead of by the Los Angeles River, I’d probably be surfing, swimming, and scuba diving a lot more. Unlike communities with “heights” in the names, many of which are decidedly flat, those with “beach” in the name are, in all cases, coastal and thus Newport Beach has several beaches including Cameo Shores Beach, China Cove Beach, Corona del Mar State Beach, Little Corona del Mar Beach, Newport Beach Municipal BeachNewport Dunes Resort Beach, North Star Beach, Pirates Cove Beach, Santa Ana River Beach, the Wedge, and West Newport Beach. Newport Beach is also home to the ocean-related ExplorOcean (formerly known as the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum).

Newport Bay
Newport Harbor


Balboa Pier

I wandered over to the Newport Municipal Beach, home to the Balboa Pier. Balboa Pier is one of two piers located on Newport Municipal Beach — the other, Newport Pier, replaced the McFadden Wharf (built in 1888).

Newport Beach from the pier
Newport Municipal Beach viewed from Balboa Pier


I was, by this point, terribly hungry. Initially, I’d considered the Crab Cooker because as it opened in 1951, it’s Newport Beach’s oldest restaurant and I appreciate a side of history with my meals. However, it is a “seafood” restaurant, which in contemporary use means “sea animals” and not “sea vegetables” — and I am vegetarian. The only vegetarian item on the menu whatsoever is the “Freshly Baked Fisherman’s Bread,” which unless it’s Welsh laverbread or Irish white soda bread isn’t seafood in any sense. Furthermore, the Crab Cooker is temporarily closed.

Other established eateries include Galley Café (1957), Five Crowns (1965), Whoody’s Wharf (1965), Shanghai Pine Gardens (1969), Spaghetti Bender (1969), and Rusty Pelican (1972). I was, however, on the pier when hunger struck and the only restaurant there is a Ruby’s Diner. I grabbed some fries to tide me over until I could eat a proper meal. My mild guilt for having settled for a national chain was assuaged when I learned that this location was, in fact, the first Ruby’s Diner, having opened in an old bait shop in 1982. That explains the 1950s vibes, then!

Other Newport Beach dining options include A&O Kitchen+Bar, The Alley, American Junkie, Andrea, A Restaurant, Back Bay Bistro, Balboa Bar-B-Que, Balboa Lily’s, Basilic Restaurant, Bayside Restaurant, Bazille, Beach Barrel, The Beachcomber, Bear Flag Fish, Bear Flag Fish, Benihana, Billy’s at the Beach, Blue Mediterranean Cafe, Bluewater Grill, Bosscat Kitchen and Libations, Bowl of Heaven, Buddha’s Favorite, Burger Boss, Cafe Gratitude – Newport Beach, Campus JAX, Canaletto Ristorante Veneto, The Cannery Restaurant, Cappy’s Cafe, Carnitas La Villa, Chicken Coop, Chocolate Bash, Chronic Tacos, Circle Hook, The Counter Newport Beach, The Crack Shack, Crocker’s The Well Dressed Frank, Cruisers Pizza Bar Grill – Newport Beach, Crystal Cove Shake Shack, Cucina Alessa, CUCINA enoteca Newport Beach, C’est Si Bon Bakery, Da Hawaiian Kitchen Too, Delicious Factory Newport, The Dock. Fly ‘N’ Fish Oyster Bar & Grill, Dory Deli, Driftwood Kitchen, Eat Chow, Eddie V’s Prime Seafood, Farmhouse At Roger’s Gardens, Fig & Olive – Newport Beach, Flemings Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar- Newport Beach, Forte Kabob, Fresh Brothers, Fresh Brothers, Fuji Yama, Gary’s New York Deli, Great Maple, Great Mex, Gulfstream, Harborside Restaurant and Grand Ballroom, Haute Cakes Caffe, Hook & Anchor, Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Ho Sum Bistro, Ike’s Love & Sandwiches, Il Barone Ristorante, Il Farro Restaurant, Jane’s Corndogs, Javier’s – Crystal Cove, Juliette Kitchen + Bar, Kitayama, Krave Kobe Burger, Laventina’s Big Cheese Pizza, Lemonade, The Lighthouse Bayview Café, Lombardy’s Market & Italian Deli, Lotus Bistro, Malibu Farm Lido, Mama D’s Italian Kitchen, Marché Moderne, Mastro’s Ocean Club, Mint Leaf Thai Cuisine, Modo Mio rustic italian kitchen, Moulin, Mr G’s Bistro, My Galley, Nana San, NBAC Cafe, Newport Beach Brewing Co, Newport Landing Restaurant, Nguyen’s Kitchen, Nobu Newport Beach, Oak Grill, Ocean Front Bar Grill, The Old Spaghetti Factory, Olea – Cellar Craft Cook, On The Rocks, The Original Sgt Pepperonis Pizza Store, Pandor Artisan Boulangerie & Cafe, Panini Kabob Grill, Pan y Vino, ParkStone, Pelican Grill, Pescadou Bistro, Picante Martin’s Mexican Restaurant, Pies by Domonic, Pipeline, The Pizza Bakery, Pizza Nova, Pizzeria Mozza, Playa Mesa, Poké Cafe, Poké OC, Provenance, R+D Kitchen, Red O, Rendez Vous, Ribbro BBQ, Rockin’ Baja Lobster Coastal Cantina, Roll It Sushi & Teriyaki, Royal Hen, Sabatino’s Lido Shipyard Sausage Co., Saigon Beach Restaurant, Sakae Sushi, Sancho’s Tacos, San Shi Go, Sapori Ristorante, Sessions West Coast Deli, Slapfish, Sol Grill, SOL Mexican Cocina, Stag Bar + Kitchen, The Stand, Stone Oven, Sushi Roku, Taco Rosa, Tacos Cancun, Ten Asian Bistro, 3-Thirty-3 Waterfront, Tk Burgers, Tommy Bahama Restaurant | Bar | Store – Newport Beach, Tower 48 Newport Beach, Trattoria Mediterranean Cuisine, True Food Kitchen, Tupelo Junction Cafe, 21 Oceanfront, Urban Cup Express, Vibe Organic Kitchen & Juice, Wasa Sushi & Teppan, Waterline, Wild Strawberry Cafe, Wild Taco, Wilma’s Patio Restaurant, The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar, Wok-In, Xanadu Café, Yard House, and Zinqué.

Newport Beach also hosts the annual Newport Food and Wine Festival, launched in 2014.


Balboa Pavillion
“My butt’s on it!” announced the child

A short walk from the Balboa Pier is the Queen Anne Revival-style Balboa Pavilion. It was designed by Frederick Rice Dorn, a celebrated and prolific architect of the age. It was completed for the Newport Bay Investment Company on 1 July 1906 — a sister project of the Balboa Pier. Newport Beach’s most famous landmark is also the oldest standing building in town. In the 1930s, apparently, it hosted the likes of Benny GoodmanCount Basie, the Dorsey Brothers, and others. In 1983 it was designated California Historical Landmark No. 959. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.


Both the Balboa Pavilion and Balboa Pier were built to coincide with the extension of an interurban rail line to Newport Beach, which began service on the 4th of July in 1906. The City of Newport Beach was incorporated on 1 September 1906. It was hoped that mass transit, a pier, and a pavilion would entice people to move to the new city by 1910 the population only rose to 445. In 1920, it was only 894. Even after annexing Corona del Mar in 1923, the population only rose to 2,203 — even if it was an increase of 246%.

Newport Beach’s mass transit history began in 1891, when the Newport Wharf and Lumber Company added passenger service to their Santa Ana Rail Road, founded the previous year (and the year after Orange County split from Los Angeles County). The new passenger rail was known as the Santa Ana and Newport Railroad (SA&N). At least two spurs were added, the Harper and Thurin spurs. In 1889, beet baron J. Ross Clark purchased the SA&N and then immediately sold it to Southern Pacific. The Los Angeles Inter-Urban Electric Railway extended a passenger line, the Newport-Balboa Line, to Newport in 1905. Pacific Electric Railway (PE) assumed operation of the line in 1908. Southern Pacific abandoned the SA&N line in 1933. PE abandoned the line to Balboa in 1940. The line to Newport Beach ended service altogether in 1950.

At some point, the residents of Newport Beach seem to have lost their taste for world-class mass transit. 69 years after PE pulled out of town, Newport Beach remains unsustainably car-dependent. The entire city of more than 86,160 spread across 137 square kilometers are served by just three OCTA bus lines — 1, 55, and 57. In my five hours in Newport Beach, I saw just two. Catalina Flyer, meanwhile, provides transportation to Santa Catalina Island. The website Walkscore assigns Newport Beach a bike score of 51/100, a walk score of 46/100, and a transit score of 29/100. No part of the city is well-served by transit but there are a few walkable areas, including Balboa Island and Balboa Peninsula, which are naturally the most pleasant neighborhoods in which to explore.

Most boating and bicycling seem recreational rather than transportational. Places from which to buy, rent, or service bicycles include Balboa Beach & Bicycle BoutiqueBikes2YouElectric Bikes of Corona Del Mar, CPSC Bicycle RepairEZ Beach Rentals, Fresh Bikes, Newport Beach Bike Skate RentalNewport Beach’s Chicago BikeNewport Bike & Beach RentalNewport CruisersNewport Electric Bike, Newport VeloPedego Electric BikesPro Bike SupplyRent My BikesSeaside Bicycle CompanyRays RentalsSportsRents20th Street Beach and Bikes, and West Coast Trikke.



My last stop was Fashion Island. Signs for Fashion Island, if I remember correctly, helpd form my earliest memory of Newport Beach. I think my then-roommate, Seth, and I were heading back to Los Angeles from Tijuana. My eyes widened when I first saw the signs for “Fashion Island.” Although Fashion is infinitesimally less relevant than style, the idea of an island of fashion at least stoked my curiosity. Seth informed me, as I recall, “it’s just a mall… and not an island.” It’s also a business, shopping, and entertainment district — but one lacking in residential units, which means that it’s sort of a desert island.

Tom Van Sant's Wind Chimes

It isn’t just a mall, however, it’s a mall designed by William Pereira and Welton Becket — two great architects whose designs are more interesting to me than are the tenants of any shopping center. It was completed in 1967. Also of interest was the mall’s giant bronze wind chime, created by Tom Van Sant. It’s also not entirely fair to say that it’s not an island, because, although landlocked, it’s surrounded by a virtual moat of parking spaces which rather isolate it from the surrounding neighborhoods. The shops inside proved rather run-of-the-mill, however, consisting primarily of American Chinese chain restaurants, pretzel shops, optometrists, women’s clothing stores, &c. Upon entering Macy’s, I was confronted with the grotesquely sweet stench of tween-oriented perfume counters and piped in music apparently designed to annoy anyone over the age of twelve.

Newport Medical Plaza
Newport Center Medical Buildings (1961-1968)

What skyline Newport Beach has is mostly owed to the mid-rises and high-rises of the Newport Center, which when viewed from afar give something of the appearance of a proper, urban downtown. There’s the ten-story office buildings 500 Tower and 550 Tower, the Fashion Island Hotel Newport Beach (built in 1986), the 17-story 620 Newport Center Drive (1971), the 17-story 660 Newport Center Drive (1974), and the 18-story, 70.7-meter tall, 610 Newport Center Drive (1970). However, without any residential structures whatsoever, it only superficially resembles an actual, livable urban core.

Newport Beach Skyscrapers


Newport Beach is largely situated within a canyon that was carved by water in the Pleistocene Era. The lower bay was largely formed by the motion of the ocean. The interaction of water flowing from the upper bay into the sea created the Balboa Peninsula.

The Tongva arrived in the area some 3,500 years ago and for thousands of years lived in the region with their fellow Uto-Aztecan language-speaking neighbors, the Acjachemen and Payómkawichum. Nevertheless, the Spanish claimed all of their lands — and all California — for Spain in 1542. For centuries, however, their control was at best nominal and it wasn’t until 1776 that the Spanish established Mission San Juan Capistrano to the south. In 1810, Mexico declared independence and fought against Spain until 1821. In 1848, the US invaded Mexico and as a result of the Mexican-American War, and California became the 31st state in 1850, with what’s now part of Los Angeles County.

In the late 1860s, developers James and Robert McFadden purchased a portion of oceanfront Newport Beach, much of Balboa Peninsula, and the sandbars that were later to become Balboa Island and Newport Bay‘s other islands. They subdivided the townsite of Newport Beach. In 1870, a steamer named The Vaquero sailed into Newport Bay, proving it was navigable, and resulting in the bay being named “Newport Landing” and San Franciscan James Irvine to establish a ranch.

Rendezvous Ballroom plaque

Gordon William “Bill” Grundy was an Orange County Historical Commissioner who founded the Newport Beach Historical Society in 1967. His father, Gordon Milton Grundy, had served as Newport Beach’s first doctor. The Newport Beach Historical Society has fizzled out at least twice, and at least twice been revived. It was at one point led by Grundy’s son, Gordon Grundy. In 2014, it incorporated as a non-profit. Its headquarters are the Balboa Branch of the Newport Beach Library.

In the 2000s, several areas were annexed by the city, including Newport Coast, East Santa Ana Heights, and San Joaquin Hills, and West Santa Ana Heights. By 2010, the population had reached 85,186. By 2010, the last US census, the population had reached 85,186. The population self-identified as 82.3% non-Latino white, 7.2% Latino of any race, 7% Asian, 2.9% mixed race, 1.6% “other race,” .7% black, .3% Native American, and .1% Pacific Islander.


The Spanish Colonial Revival-style Balboa Inn (105 Main Street) was designed by Walter Roland Hagedohm and constructed in 1929. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Balboa Fun Zone

The Fun Zone (now Balboa Fun Zone) was built by an entrepreneur named Al Anderson and opened in 1936. Anderson declared bankruptcy in 1957, after a teen who injured himself diving from Anderson’s dock sued. Anderson sold the park in 1961. Before the demolition of Santa Monica’s Pacific Ocean Park and Long Beach’s Pike Amusement Park, developers eyed the Fun Zone with an eye to redeveloping it with seaside residences and toward that aim, it was purchased in 1972 by a developer who was given the go-ahead to tear it down and build 47 luxury condominiums. In 1974, however, the California Coastal Commission intervened. It subsequently changed hands several times until 1985, when then-owner Jordan M. Wank razed the original structures, some of which dated back to the 1920s, and opened a new version in 1986. In 1987, it was featured in INXS’s video for “Devil Inside.” In 1988 it was purchased by Haruo Nakahara, a restaurateur from Osaka.

The USS YMS-328 was a US Navy YMS-1-class (Yard Mine Sweeper) built in at the Ballard, Washington at Ballard Marine & Railway. After World War II, the boat was decommissioned in 1946 and afterward converted into a private yacht. In 1948, Harold Jones purchased the boat and named her La BeverieMax Wyman purchased the yacht and renamed her the Wild Goose II in 1956.  In 1962, she was bought by John Wayne and renamed simply Wild Goose. It was featured in the films The President’s Analyst (1967) and Skidoo (1968). In 2011, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Balboa Bay Resort opened in 1948 as the Balboa Bay Club, a private yacht club. From 1960-1971 it was opened by television producer Jack Wrather, who then sold it to William Ray. Ray died in 1991 and his widow, Beverly Ray Parkhurst, assumed ownership. It re-opened in its current incarnation, as a resort hotel, in 2003. In 2011, Parkhurst sold the hotel to Winston Chung, a Chinese businessman who turned around and sold it to Richard H. Pickup in 2013.

In 1972, William Pereira’s Pacific Mutual Building. Its International Futurist style made it somewhat resemble A. C. Martin & AssociatesBrutalist Sunkist Headquarters completed two years earlier in Sherman Oaks.


There are several Newport Beach attractions which, despite no longer existing (or no longer existing in Newport Beach, at least), which serve, at the very least, as a reminder to check before attempting to visit.

The Newport Sports Museum is not, to be honest, is not something I’d have likely visited even if it were still open. Not that I hate sports, mind you. I actually like playing them. I have almost no interest, however, in watching them, looking at sports paraphernalia, or learning sports statistics. The museum closed in 2014 and most of the collection was subsequently auctioned off.

California’s only coconut palm was planted in Newport Beach in 1984. It may come as a surprise to non-natives or those who don’t explore the outdoors much, but of the 2,600 species of palms in the world, only the California fan palm (California Washingtonia) is native to California — and naturally grows in the oases of inland deserts. Orange County, on the other hand, is neither desert, nor tropical, nor even sub-tropical. The state’s only coconut palm — ill-suited for Southern California’s chaparral climate — died in 2015.

My favorite former Newport Beach attraction still exists but in a new, apparently temporary, location. The Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) was founded in 1962 as Balboa Pavilion Gallery by the thirteen-member Fine Arts Patrons of Newport Harbor. In 1968 it became the Newport Art Museum. In 1996 it became the OCMA. I first visited in 2015, for the excellent riot grrrl exhibition, Alien She. However, in 2018, the property sold and the city’s premier museum decamped to nearby Santa Ana.


With OCMA gone from the city, Newport Beach’s art scene is represented primarily by art galleries, which include Brett Rubbico Gallery, C K Studio Fine Art & RestorationChris GwaltneyCoastline Art GalleryCreekside Studio Gallery, Dana Ridenour GalleryDebra Huse GalleryDominique ArtEthos Contemporary ArtFactor Beverly Photography, Grace Lane GalleryHuss Sally GalleryJames Strombotne StudioKatherine Norris Fine ArtLahaina Galleries,Maris Gallery, Peter J Art GalleryRainey Fine Art Gallery, Robert Bell Photography, Sam’s Stone GalleryScene GallerySeaside Gallery and GoodsSusan Spiritus Gallery, Tales of Balboa, Tylerco, Vallejo Maritime Gallery, and Yellow Korner Photography Limited Edition.


There is at least one independent bookstore in Newport Beach, Island Tales Bookshop. There’s also the Newport Beach Public Library, which also exhibits art, sculpture, live music, and a summer concert series. Public library branches within the Newport Public Library system include Balboa Branch Library, Corona Del Mar Branch Library, and Mariners Library.

Books about Newport Beach include City of Newport Beach’s A History of Newport Beach (1931), Newport Harbor Publishing Company’s 50 Golden Years: A History of the City of Newport Beach, 1906-1956 (1957), Pamela Lee Gray’s Newport Beach (2003, part of the Images of America series), Jeff Delaney’s Newport Beach (2005) and Newport Beach’s Balboa and Balboa Island (2007, part of the Images of America series), Michael J. Novak’s Newport Beach Fire Department (2008, part of the Images of America series), Claudine E. Burnett and Paul Burnett’s Surfing Newport Beach: The Glory Days of Corona Del Mar (2013), and Roger Wallace’s Newport Beach: The Unconventional Travel Guide (2016).


There’s an organic Farmers Market on Sundays. The Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival is an annual event held at the Balboa Yacht Club. The annual Christmas Boat Parade dates back to 1908. The annual Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race is the largest sailboat race in the world. Since 1979, the Newport Theater Arts Center has offered live theater.


A drink would normally have been in order but I had a two-hour-plus freeway grind to get to. Should you be lucky enough to be in Newport Beach and unburdened with an automobile, there are several nightclubs and bars, including American Junkie, Anchor Bar, Balboa Saloon, Beach Ball, Blackie’s By The Sea, Cabo Cantina, Cassidy’s Bar & Grill, Class of 47, THE LOT Fashion Island, Ruin Bar, and Topside; a wine bar, Lido Bottle Works; pubs including Malarky’s Irish PubMuldoon’s Irish Pub, Mutt Lynch’s, and Shamrock Bar & Grill; lounges including Aqua LoungeEnVy Lounge, Kitsch Bar, and Sandbar Lounge; and a brewery, Newport Beach Brewing Co. There’s also Classic Q Billiards and Sports Club, although it closes at the rather unsporting hour of 22:00.

Newport Beach skyline

To vote for any communities you’d like to see covered in California Fool’s Gold, name them in the comments. If you’d like a bit of inspiration, there are primers for:

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.

Art Prints

5 thoughts on “California Fools Gold — Exploring Newport Beach

  1. Interesting article on a place I knew little about. Presumably the eucalyptus you mention is a non-native species, along with most of the L.A. palms. Your mention of John Wayne Airport makes me think this is one of the few places named after a movie star. He must have been considered a ‘safe pair of hands’ among the ‘guttersnipes’ of Hollywood! Love the photos.


    1. Yeah, all eucalypts are indigenous to Australasia.

      We also have the Bob Hope airport — although I believe they’ve tried to rebrand it the “Hollywood Burbank Airport” which makes zero sense because the airport is not in Hollywood and not even especially close.


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