Discover Balboa Island: A Beach Village

Discover Balboa Island: A Beach Village

August 7, 2017 Off By Samantha Seibert

Photographer: D Ramey Logan

Balboa Island is a charming seaside escape in the heart of the bustling Orange County. Rows and rows of eye-catching cottages line the sides of this beautiful peninsula which juts out from Newport Beach, California. Both locals and travelers alike adore its quaint shops, making sand castles on its surrounding beaches, or enjoying a sweet from one of its many candy stores. Balboa Island’s commercial history can be traced back to the late 1800’s when W.S. Collins purchased the original land. However, most of what makes up the island today is actually man made. In 1906 dredging began to create a channel and sands from the process were used to make the isle which the present day Balboa sits upon. Today, Balboa represents a community based in rich history and perseverance. Its population has grown to be one of the densest in Orange County; however, you would never be able to tell from its laid-back atmosphere.

Photographer: Travels with Harvy

One of the main attractions on Balboa Island is a popular mode of transportation! Started in 1919 by a college student, the Balboa Island Ferry is one of the most charming and exciting parts of the island. Originally consisting of only one ferry which cost a nickel, the ferry service now has multiple ferries and continuous service! As someone who has personally rode on this ferry, I would say that it is a must do. You are able to see all the beautiful seaside houses, the carnival rides of the Fun Zone, and a gorgeous view of the ocean all by taking a ferry ride. I would recommend going at a close time to the sunset so that you can ride either the ferry or the ferris wheel as the sun sets below the beautiful waters of the Pacific.

Image result for balboa island ferry images

Source: Newport Beach Real Estate

When asked what the heart of Balboa Island is, many would answer that it is the Fun Zone. A vintage style carnival area, the Fun Zone was created in 1939 and was merely made up of the pier and the ferris wheel. Now, in addition to these two classics, the Fun Zone includes everything from bumpers cars to a carousel. For families with young children or those who are just children at heart, this is the perfect atmosphere! The Fun Zone also contains the Fun Zone Boat Tours which offers historical information and scenic views of Newport Bay. You can see everything from celebrity properties around the bay to native sea mammals. Tours begin at 11am everyday – this would be the perfect activity for a family trip or a first date!

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For those history buffs out there, don’t worry there are plenty of sites for you to see too! While most parts of Balboa Island contain a rich historic past and sport a vintage feel, there is one area you have to be sure to check out. If you follow one of the island’s main streets called Marine Avenue, which is the street that contains the bridge leading onto the island, one of the first buildings you will see on your right is the Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society. Step inside the history of Balboa Island and learn about both the island and the surrounding areas. It even contains information and stories about the countless celebrities that have chosen to make Balboa Island their home. After you spend time at the museum, be sure to check out the restaurants, sweets and bars: oh my!

Photographer: Sugar ‘n Spice

Along Balboa’s Marine Avenue, two standout restaurants rest three shopfronts apart. If you’re in the mood for excellent Italian food look no further than Ciao. Serving food originating from Southern Italy with a New York twist, Ciao has been a Balboa Island classic for many years. Local favorites include the warm, doughy Focaccia bread and the pescadero linguine which is chock full of mussels, clams, salmon, shrimp and scallops. Several doors down lies the Swiss French restaurant, Basilic. Currently celebrating its 20th Anniversary, the restaurant was opened by Bernard Althaus who grew up cooking in Alps as his family owned a restaurant in Switzerland. Basilic is perfect if you are looking something a little more luxurious and romantic. The building itself features beautiful wooden panels and soft warm light which give the diner the impression that they are eating in the hull of a boat. Among some the self-proclaimed favorites are the Swiss Onion Soup, the John Dory Filet, and the creme brulee. For the more casual restaurant goers, Picante Martin’s and the Harborside Restaurant are two excellent choices. Picante Martin’s, which is also situated on Marine Ave, offers a large authentic Mexican menu and plenty of seating great for large groups. This local favorite serves breakfast (until 12pm.), lunch and dinner. If you’re looking for a restaurant with a beautiful view, then the Harborside Restaurant is the spot for you. This restaurant boasts “relaxed waterfront dining” and the “longest happy hour in town” taking place from 11:30am-7pm. It is located within the historic Balboa Pavilion building which was built in 1906 and was among one of the first attractions on the island. Enjoy casual eating and scenic views from the many booths and tables looking out over the docks. Amongst their award winning seafood is the Alaskan king crab, Canadian lobsters and prime steaks.

Image result for harborside restaurant balboa

Source: Newport Beach

After dinner or even before, you’re going to want to satisfy that sweet tooth and visit one of Balboa’s many candy and dessert shops. Strung along Marine Avenue are Dad’s Donuts, Sugar ‘n Spice, and Balboa Candy. Dad’s Donuts is the home of the frozen banana. With its adorable vintage signs, beautifully glazed donuts, and delicious frozen bananas ranging from small to extra-large, Dad’s is a Balboa Island classic and most do spot. From this spot, if you walk down the block you may be a little confused as yet another shop, Sugar ‘n Spice, displays a sign saying “The Original Frozen Banana.” So which one is the real original? Nobody knows, but what we do know is locals and travelers alike love both of these dessert stores. Sugar ‘n Spice is the store famously spoofed by the TV show Arrested Development, which even copied the style of its blue and yellow logo. Sugar ‘n Spice specialities include a variety of desserts on a stick such as the frozen banana, cheesecake-on-a-stick, tiramisu-on-a-stick and banana split ice cream pie-on-a-stick. Further down the street away from this delicious rivalry, stands Balboa Candy. Designed in the classic candy store style, Balboa Candy has everything including bulk candy, mints, salt water taffy, gum-balls and novelty candy.

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Source: Staycations California

For those travelers looking for a boozy-good time, despite the small size of the island, Balboa offers a surprising amount of bars. Located in the Fun Zone, the Balboa Saloon has the classic bar feel complete with darts, fish wall hangings, neon lights and pool. It is quite popular due to its medium size, with about 20 seats, and reasonable prices. Close by is the local favorite: Class of ‘47. Proudly boasting that John Wayne himself used to frequent this old haunt, the decor of Class ‘47 sports include many pictures of him along with an old jukebox and a ceiling decorated with dollar bills signed by patrons. A short distance from the beach and the Fun Zone, this bar offers laid back bartenders and lots of local characters who come in on a regular basis. Looking for bottomless mimosas and all you can eat tacos? Then the Cabo Cantina is the bar for you. Located close the Balboa Pier, this is one of the more rowdy, but fun, parts of Balboa. Decorated with festive Mexican decorations and twinkling string lights, the Cabo Cantina combines good food with an all around good time.

Good luck exploring Balboa Island and happy traveling!


  • Man-made
  • Island kitties
  • 1899 WS Collins bought the land
  • Original focal points Balboa Pavilion and Pier
  • 1919 ferry service began
  • 1936 Fun Zone created

Things to do

  • Ferris Wheel
  • Fun zone
  • Fun Zone Boat Tours
  • St. John Vianney Chapel
  • Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society

Restaurants and Bars

  • Sweets
    • Balboa Candy
    • Sugar n Spice
    • Dads Donuts
  • Restaurants
    • Wilma’s Patio Restaurant: $$ American
    • Basilic: $$$ French
    • Ciao: $$ Italian
    • Picante Martin’s: $ Mexican
    • Harborside Restaurant: $$ Seafood
  • Bars:
    • Balboa Saloon
    • Class of 47
    • Cabo Cantina
    • Blackie’s By the Sea
  • Shops:
    • Modeology:
    • Crush Clothing
    • A’maree’s Sale Away
    • Art For the Sale
    • Balboa Beach Company
    • Our Gang’s General Store
    • Olive Oil & Beyond: