Cruising around the Newport Beach Harbor maze, it’s hard to imagine a time when there were so few homes that the film industry could pass it off as a beach in the South Pacific (“Sands of Iwo Jima”), the banks of the Nile (“Cleopatra”), and the Eastern Shore (“Beaches”). But the non-stop narration of tour guide and local Carolyn Clark transported us to those early Hollywood days and gave our visit to this storybook harbor an extra dimension.Clark entertained us with many stories as she expertly maneuvered an electric Duffy Boat around the seven islands.
“Newport Harbor is so visually stimulating because it’s not commercial,” she said. “It’s all residential, and there are five yacht clubs on the active side. Then there is the Upper Bay or the ‘back bay’ with the nature preserve and ecological reserve where you can kayak and hike. ”
As we slid across the glassy water, we noted the names of the yachts: Sea Zen; Dolce Vita; Game Time; Bon Temps; and Never Too Late — Again! As we tried to imagine yachting life, Clark pointed out the former and current homes of such notables as actors James Cagney, Nicholas Cage, Michelle Pfeiffer and Shirley Temple, whose longtime waterfront home is surprisingly modest. There also are the dwellings of captains of industry, like the Gillette family, and mansions of big-name athletes like Kobe Bryant.
Perhaps the harbor’s most well known resident was John Wayne, whose single-story, 10-room, white ranch house was torn down to make way for a much more elaborate mansion that sports the harbor’s most lavish boat dock.
Newport Beach has gained international recognition, Clark explained, thanks to the television series “The O.C.,” which aired on Fox television from 2003 to 2007. It portrayed the fictional lives of teens living in Newport Beach and was broadcast in 50 countries. Due to popular demand by international visitors, a map from visitnewportbeach.com lists the 17 locations that appear in the series, although much of it was filmed at Los Angeles County beaches.
Clark pulled our Duffy Boat alongside the public pier on Balboa Island, and we walked a few short blocks to tree-shaded Marine Avenue. The street and sidewalk was crowded with visitors stepping in and out of boutiques, restaurants and ice cream shops. As we passed CandlEssence, we were drawn in by the gentle scent of roses emanating from a shelf laden with candles of that scent. Co-owner Neil MacAndrew was just finishing a batch of thyme-scented candles. (If that scent doesn’t appeal to you, choose from pumpkin, blood orange, French vanilla, frankincense and myrrh and more.)
“I met my wife in San Diego and we made candles in a garage,” said MacAndrew, a Canadian and former Vista resident. “I never thought I’d end up here.”
Now the couple lives on Balboa Island not far from the store, and while the cost of living is high and they must rent, “this is paradise,” he said.
After our boat ride, we checked into the Newport Beach Hotel on the Balboa Peninsula. Built in 1910 and renovated in 2006, its crisp, nautical navy-blue-and-white motif reflects this town’s passion for sailing. Our delightful room has a gas fireplace and huge, step down bathroom with a spa tub. The hotel sits just a few steps from Balboa Pier and the Newport Beach Boardwalk, where cyclists and walkers can go for almost three miles.
The surrounding neighborhood offers funky bars, shops, and restaurants.
Just a few minutes’ walk away is The Cannery restaurant, adjacent to the Rhine Channel. Built in 1921, the restaurant was Newport’s first commercial fish cannery. Scheduled for demolition in 1999, local Jack Croul came to the rescue, purchased it and converted it into a restaurant. At night, the lighted building looks like a jewel.
We enjoyed some perfectly grilled seafood and flavorful pasta on the covered patio where we watched the boats quietly cruise by on the dark water.
It was a fitting end to a fabulous day.
For more info:
Tour guide Carolyn Clark: newportatyourfeet.com; (949) 285-7558.
Newport Beach Hotel: newportbeachwalkhotel.com; (800) 571-8749.
The Cannery Restaurant: cannerynewport.com; (949) 566-0060.
Duffy Boats: duffyofnewportbeach.com; (949) 645-6812.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.