For years we’ve talked about renting a home during the summer months on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, CA. We imagined early morning walks with coffee around the island and lazy afternoons watching the sailboats navigate the bay. This year was finally the year once we desperately needed a change of scenery amidst a global pandemic.
Balboa Island is a man-made island developed in the early 1900s. It can be accessed via Pacific Coast Highway or from the Balboa Peninsula via ferry. The ferry can hold up to four vehicles and 40 passengers. The cost to take the ferry varies based on if you’re in a car, on bicycle or on foot.
What’s the Difference Between Balboa Island and Balboa Peninsula?
Often confused, Balboa Island is not the same as Balboa Peninsula. The Balboa Peninsula is a jetty enclosing the Newport Harbor and the small islands of Newport Beach. The Peninsula can be accessed via Pacific Coast Highway and is densely populated with many bars, restaurants, and shopping.
Related: Crystal Cove’s The Beachcomber Restaurant
Things to Do on Balboa Island
There are plenty of things to do on Balboa Island, but be warned, it’s a slower paced lifestyle on the island. Here’s a list of our favorite things to do on Balboa Island.
- Download and print our free Balboa Island scavenger hunt checklist. Fun for everyone!
- Hang out on the sand. The beach is public and there are no waves. It’s a perfect spot for families with little kids – especially Ruby Beach (Ruby Avenue and North Bay Front).
- My pre-teen daughter and I love the shopping along Marine Avenue. Marine Avenue is Balboa Island’s “Main Street” sprinkled with fun retail clothing stores, dining and dessert, and more.
- Walk Balboa Island and its smaller sister Little Balboa Island (connected by a walking bridge). The total distance is 2.5 miles. I’ve been walking these two islands for years. It’s so peaceful. *To promote social distancing, the perimeter walkway around the island is designated one way only at this time.
- Jumping off the dock into the ocean. This is some good, clean fun but most docks are private property. There are a few public docks on the island. Jumping off the Marine Avenue bridge is not only a terrible idea, it’s illegal.
More Island Favorites
- Look at the real estate on Balboa Island. There has been some serious home building on the island over the last twenty years or so. Small cottages are being replaced with modern farmhouses. They sure are pretty to look at. But, I do love to look at the historical homes that can be found on both the perimeter and on the streets between both bay fronts.
- Eat a frozen banana or a Balboa bar. Frozen bananas and ice cream bars are hand-dipped in chocolate and topped with your choice of rainbow sprinkles, nuts, cookies or all of the above. There are a handful of spots you can buy these all year long but I recommend Dad’s Donut Shop & Bakery on Marine Avenue.
- Take the ferry from Balboa Island to the Balboa Peninsula Fun Zone. The Balboa Fun Zone leaves a lot to be desired these days. I spent many summer weekends at the Fun Zone as a teenager and have so many great memories. I wish it still had that same appeal.
- Ride the Ferris Wheel at the Balboa Fun Zone. The Ferris Wheel has been a landmark since 1936. It costs $5 per rider. Be sure to look for Griffin the Ferris wheel dog!
- Rent a Duffy Electric boat for a cruise around the harbor. A Duffy boat seats 8-10 people. It’s a fun outing where you can eat, drink and relax as you watch the sun set.
- Launch a stand-up-paddle board. There are two or three spots where you can rent a SUP and launch right into the bay. You don’t need any experience and it’s great exercise.
- Look for the Invictus Yacht to make it’s way through the harbor on its way to the open ocean. It absolutely dwarfs any boat and is a sight to see.
How to Rent a Vacation Home on Balboa Island
You can easily rent a vacation home on Balboa Island using VRBO or AirBnB. If you’re local to Orange County, I would suggest visiting the island to see where you want to vacation.
Homes on the perimeter facing the bay are very popular and quite pricy. And if that view is what you’re looking for, I recommend finding a home on the South Bayfront side of Balboa Island. Plus, this side of the island gets more late afternoon sun than the North Bayfront side.
There are plenty of houses to rent on the streets than run between the two bays as well. The island is small enough that you’re really just steps from the beach anywhere you decided to rent.
Start looking early! It’s best you start looking for a vacation home on the island early in the year. July and August are popular months because the “June Gloom” that can hang around the beach all day in early summer has passed.
Where to Eat on the Island
There are several great restaurants on Balboa Island. While we vacationed we mixed up our stay between grilling on our patio and ordering food to be delivered.
Restaurants in Orange County are currently required (as of summer 2020) to be takeaway or outdoor patio dining only. Hats off to the restaurants on Balboa Island making it work. One restaurant owner told us that neighboring businesses are allowing restaurants to put tables out in front of their respective storefronts.
Here are the following restaurants we love:
- Picante Martin’s Authentic Mexican Food
- Ciao Italian Restaurant
- Wilma’s Patio
- The Village Inn
- Snipe Island
- 501 Park Avenue
There isn’t a Starbucks on Balboa Island. The location on Marine Avenue closed between the spring and summer of 2020. A great coffee spot and bakery is Balboa Island Baking Company. Juice Crafters next door has smoothies, juices and bowls. Crocker’s also serves coffee and pastries to-go.
Balboa Island is truly my happy place. It brings me so much joy when we visit, even for the afternoon. Renting a vacation home there over the summer was an experience I won’t soon forget and might even consider making it an annual summer tradition.