Balboa Island day tripping…

One of our favorite parts of Newport Beach week is taking a short break from our Pacific Ocean rental home to spend several hours on Balboa Island. Balboa is a charming community joined to the mainland by a two-lane bridge on the north or privately operated ferryboats making the island accessible from the Balboa Peninsula–the Newport and the Pacific Ocean side.

The history of the Island is fascinating when you consider the contributing players. In the 1860s the Bay was a formidable landing, positioned to load hides, tallow and goods for export. By the turn of the century half of the Peninsula was bought by Real Estate promoter William S. Collins who took on Henry E. Huntington as a partner in the Newport Beach Company. Huntington had acquired the Pacific Electric railway system and extended the “Red Car” line to Newport, promoting the Bay as a resort and recreational area.

In 1908 and 1909, with permission of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Collins began cutting a channel along the north side of the bay, piling the sand and silt up to eventually create Balboa Island. In short time real estate promoters began a sales campaign in Pasadena and Los Angeles–both connected by the Red Cars–and the little homes were sold, some for as little as $25.00. Homes on Balboa Island are now estimated at average values of between $2,000,000 and $3,000,000. Yes, that many zeroes. The pieces of land are very small with older bungalow-style homes nestled in among the elite. The beauty of the Island is partially found in the small town charm.

Balboa is a family favorite. My first love of the beach came as a result of our family spending time each summer on the Newport side of the Bay. By day we’d spend hours on the sand and in the water and many evenings we’d cross on the ferry and walk the Island, getting an ice cream or other treat.

The popular Frozen Banana or Balboa Bar create an irresistible draw to hop aboard the ferry and make a walk to Marine Avenue.

Marine Avenue…the one street on the Island for quaint shopping and a variety of very nice restaurants.

The Fun Zone I enjoyed as a child is still a popular feature, and the Ferris Wheel is now just as popular with Sophia and Karina. This was the first summer in 60 years that the Carousel is no longer in operation, but much of the boardwalk charm remains as I remember it as a child.

From the top of the Ferris Wheel I can see the Pacific Ocean and the strand where we spend most of our beach time. But we always make our way to Balboa for some old-fashioned, nostalgic fun.

 I took several hundred photos…you may still see a few more. I may be home, but part of me is still on vacation.

Breathing lighter…Debra

57 thoughts on “Balboa Island day tripping…

    • I think you’d be quite at home in Newport and Balboa, Charlie. Since our seasons are opposite, you could come to visit during your summer and enjoy California beach cities at a more reasonable rate! :-) This is a beautiful stretch of coastline…of course, your coastlines are rather gorgeous, too! :-) It’s fun sharing a place that means so much to me personally…thanks for stopping by today! Debra

    • Balboa is a very special little place. I’m sure there are little communities like it all over the States, but I often wonder how long they will be able to maintain their distinctive small town charms. Sophia is just about the age now that I was when we first started coming to the area for our summers, and it is very moving to me to share it with the girls and also revisit such pleasant memories of being there with my own grandparents…and yes, we do love our frozen bananas, but my favorite is the Balboa Bar…more chocolate! :-) Debra

    • I’m so glad I could share this little SoCal gem with you. It’s surprising to me how many of my friends have never even been there! And it’s an hour away (if you time the traffic right!). I think we all have little places like this in our vicinities and would do better with our stress levels if we’d prioritize the time to just escape and enjoy a bit more frequently. I’m purposing to be more intentional with that this year. Once a year isn’t enough! D

  1. Frozen banana. I haven’t had a frozen banana in a good many years, Debra. Oh, gosh, I loved them as a youngster. Now, my mind will wander all day with these images of Balboa Island, its quaint charm, and all the trouble I could get into on Marine Ave. I do hope you will post more pictures and descriptions of your vacation.

    • Thank you, Penny…I feel like this time I took so many photos and had a more thoughtful time of it, so I may be sharing more before I leave the summer behind! I believe my memories were stirred a bit more, as it really impacted me that Sophia is now the age I was when we first started coming. I came in contact a bit with “myself” at 5. I’m so glad I have a willing audience for my bit of reverie! :-) Oh yes, you’d have fun on Marine Avenue…and I wish I could have taken you on the little streets where the homes are all so sweet with the most beautiful little pocket gardens. I will share just a few pictures of some of the flowers I felt comfortable photographing. It was all I could do to not stand in front of people’s homes and take photos…I came close! :-) Debra

    • It’s funny you mentioned New Jersey shore, Kate, because I was thinking while there that Balboa is so particularly special to me because it connects to my childhood, and I was aware that others would have similar happy spots all over the country/world…so much of the enjoyment comes from the feelings that are connected to simpler times. And then, of course, vacation is vacation…reality gets put in a box a bit, doesn’t it! :-) Debra

  2. I love the new colors, Debra. It is cool and restful, much like it sounds like your vacation was. I love how you reveal all these CA places. I’m convinced I must come back and spend more time in that part of the state.

    • I love sharing our locale with you, Andra. We aren’t very well traveled! So I think I have taken the time to really know what I call my personal “happy spots.” One of the things people often forget is that California is so big, and with a lot of coastline! Since I love the beach, I never grow tired of finding spots where I can recharge with an ocean view. We have some other mini-trips planned this summer and I’ll be sharing about them, too. Maybe we can find a way for the Rotary to send you out here! :-) Debra

    • Thank you, Claire. I gladly take encouragement to share a few more pictures. I do feel a real connection to this particular place, as I think you can tell, and it brings me a lot of happiness just to talk about it! I think the City of Newport ought to think about using me as part of its PR/Travel Bureau staff, don’t you? Just look how many people from far distances now know a little bit about this piece of California coastline! Thank you for showing interest. It really pleases me! Debra

    • By today’s standards this old Ferris Wheel isn’t very big or exciting, but it is a piece of my “little girl” history and for that, I can’t resist! This is a great little community…wish my family had purchased one of those $25 plots! :-) They do, too! Ha! Debra

    • I’m so glad you can attest to how special this part of Orange County really is…I know that much of my enjoyment comes through because I tap into very youthful memories, and then have shared it with my children, and now grandchildren. Since so many Southern Californians do the same, it will continue to thrive for years to come! We are fortunate to have so much beautiful coastline, aren’t we? :-) Debra

    • Wasn’t that the funniest chalkboard? I had two rather unruly granddaughters with me on a bench as we ate an ice cream…I saw that sign and assumed the shopkeepers have had more than their share of children disrupting the calm of their business! Humor helps, but I’m also quite sure the people who most need the sign ignore it! :-)

  3. OK… Balboa Island it is… I can’t believe I have lived in LA for so many years and have never been there… Thanks Debra…

  4. This sounds like a dream destination when on a vacation. When not at the beach, a side trip to a little amusement park or just a walk through town for an ice cream, as your family has done for decades now, seems perfect to me. I bet your granddaughters will carry on the family tradition. :)

    • I think that somewhere in my there’s a strong urge to live in a small town, John! Of course, I don’t see it happening, so I search out the little gems like Balboa. Sophia and Karina really do enjoy the ferry ride, too. The bay is small, the ride is short, and island isn’t very large, but when I was their age I thought it was a “big” deal! :-) I’m so glad I could introduce you to this special little place. Some of my friends HERE have never even visited! Debra

  5. Sounds like such a fun and refreshing time. It’s great to have memories to the simplicity of life and childhood experiences, but more important that you are able to enjoy these with your grandchildren. I’m trying to catch up on reading, so I look forward to seeing more photos. Aren’t memories wonderful? And of course our digital cameras versus those old kodak or brownie cameras with flashbulbs or cubes?

    • Oh my yes, Edie! I thought of how easy it is to take photos and store them today or print! I have thousands by now of my grandchildren, and the old film photos of my own children have degraded so badly! This was a particularly restful week, more so than other times, and I’m not entirely sure why, but I think some of the secret might be that I did so much walking with camera-in-hand. That alone slowed me down and made me more appreciative, but I do now have many photos that I’ll use to enjoy the memories! :-)

    • I’m so eager to pass on the love of this area to my granddaughters, Meg, and I think this year they were old enough for the memories to truly stick! :-) And I don’t know what you are aware of relating to Southern California real estate values, but it’s ridiculous…and in Orange County all property values are over the top! I think it has so much to do with our overcrowding…there’s a buyer somewhere! I’m glad we bought a home almost 40 years ago…and I don’t see us moving! :-) Debra

    • I’m glad you enjoyed some photos from Balboa Island, Smidge! It’s a very restful, happy little place! I wasn’t able to take too many photos of homes because I had my “giant” camera and I was sure people would feel the intrusion…next time, and that will be soon, I’ll just use my phone! Much less obvious. I don’t know why that didn’t occur to me! But I do have others to share and have already made plans with a friend to go back before the summer is over! I’ll take some photos of homes for you…you’d enjoy them. Debra

    • Thank you for noticing the new theme to the blog, Perpetua! I have been thinking ocean a lot lately! :-) Balboa Island is a very quaint little place, and it is so family friendly, too! I am going to look for reasons to make my way down there a bit more often throughout this year! :-) Debra

  6. There is always something special about places you enjoyed when you were a kid. And it’s fun that new generations get to know and enjoy the same places. Balboa Island looks like a great place – for vacation or for living – if you can afford the sky-rocketed prices…

    • Yes, Otto, there is a strong nostalgic pull to return to the places I enjoyed as a child, and share them with others. At the same time I’m always conscious that I’ve attached other strong memories to those places that won’t necessarily translate, like time with my grandparents and other family members long since gone. Most of all I’m grateful that I have such happy childhood memories. Balboa Island and the entire Newport Coast is just beautiful and worth visiting. If you return to Southern California I think the Orange County coastline would be interesting to you. I’m always ready to make suggestions! Ha! Debra

    • Isn’t the humor on the placard outside the shopkeeper’s establishment just so clever? Unfortunately, I fear the parents who need to read the warning the most probably don’t read it at all…they’re too busy chasing after their wayward little ones! :-) Hope you have a great week! Debra

  7. It sounds like an amazing place and I bet those homes increased in price over the years… lovely post and that sign about feeding kids coffee comes in many designs I see. ;-)

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos, Elizabeth. Balboa Island is great little retreat…one I need to visit more frequently! I loved the sign, too My husband and I sat on a bench eating our ice cream watching families come and go and it became very clear as to why some of these shopkeepers at least had to try to post a warning! LOL! Debra

  8. Dear Debra, What did the store with the posted sign in your final photograph sell? I bet that people passing by broke out laughing at the wit of those working within and went inside to browse and maybe buy just because of that sign! Peace.

    • I think the little shop with the sign simply sold a variety of small home furnishings and “beachy” decorations…we were so busy eating our ice cream and trying to watch our own grandchildren and guarantee that they weren’t creating too much havoc, that I didn’t go in! I will next time! :-) Blessings for a good week, Dee

    • Although we’ve gone to Balboa Island in the summertime for most of my life it really it me this time that if I simply prioritize my time I really can go more often! I’m hoping to be a little more intentional on visiting throughout the year, and if I do, I’ll post pictures in other seasons! Isn’t a blog wonderfully self-indulgent! Haha! I guess in some ways that’s the whole point of one??? Tee-hee! I hope the week goes well for you and yours, Kate! Debra

    • I am so glad you know Balboa! It’s really a little jewel when you consider how it maintains such a friendly, small town feel nestled into busy, high commerce Orange County! I need to go every now and then just to slow down! :-)

    • You have lived in some really lovely parts of the state, Lori! I am so very glad that in seeing the few photos I shared it brought back sweet memories. It really is a nice getaway spot, isn’t it! :-) D

  9. I’ve been to Newport Beach a few times but never to Balboa Island. Thank you for introducing me to it and explaining the history.

    I’ve also photographed a few of those “unattended children will be given….” signs. So fun.

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