Newport Beach: The Rich Aren’t Like Us, But We Can Pretend

Newport Beach, California boasts one of the largest pleasure boating harbor on the west coast. Max Hartshorne photos.
Newport Beach, California boasts one of the largest pleasure boating harbors on the west coast. Max Hartshorne photos.

Watching Dolphins, Electric Biking, and Having Fun on the Cheap in Newport Beach California

By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

Where are those whales? Enjoying time 5 miles out to sea with Davey's Locker Dolphin and Whale watching in Newport Harbor.
Where are those whales? Enjoying time 5 miles out to sea with Davey’s Locker Dolphin and Whale watching in Newport Harbor.

Newport Beach California has a few interesting distinctions that set it apart from most California cities.

It has McLaren, Austin Martin, Bentley, and Rolls Royce dealerships. It has a beautiful mall in nearby Costa Mesa with the most familiar top brands in the world–Gucci, Louis Vitton, Chanel, Michael Kors, and Dior, all side by side in the swanky South Coast Plaza.

What do you do when you feel like you must be the poorest person in the city?

Take a Tour

You rent a Duffy electric boat, pour some drinks and take a tour of the harbor. That’s one way you can feel like the rich, and you’ve only spent $150 on the two-hour rental.

Carolyn’s Duffy Boat Tour

Carolyn Clark has lived in Newport for decades. She was here before it was the most expensive place to buy a home on the coast. She remembers the stories of the old days when John Wayne and Shirley Temple were the stars of Newport Beach.

Carolyn Clark in a Duffy Boat in Newport.
Carolyn Clark in a Duffy Boat in Newport.

Carolyn spends a lot of time in rented Duffy boats, the ubiquitous form of 5-mile-an-hour silent electric transport preferred by both vacation homeowners and tourists to cruise around Newport’s giant harbor.

The harbor is home to around 9,000 boats, one of the biggest assortments of pleasure boats in the world.

Celebrity Sightings

Shirley Temple’s former home is on the harbor, she was the first Miss Newport Beach back in the 1930s.

Wild Goose, John Wayne's boat in Newport Harbor California.
The Wild Goose, John Wayne’s boat in Newport Harbor California.

The macho man, actor John Wayne’s old boat, the Wild Goose, which was a converted minesweeper, is still docked here and is now used for cocktail cruises and events.

Take a harbor tour with Carolyn, contact her through the Newport Tourism Office. She’s a delight who can regale you with stories about the famous inhabitants of old and the new stars who enjoy a little Newport. Kim Kardashian, we heard, took the same whale watch out of Newport that we did!

Tarek El Moussa from the TV hit, “Flip or Flop” keeps a yacht in Newport Beach, he loves popping into the many waterfront and boat-accessible restaurants that people can tie up in front of and have an expensive nosh.

Newport is home to many, many millionaires.
Newport is home to many, many millionaires.

Everyone tells the stories about exploding real estate prices and lavish homes. One triple-sized harborfront lot is now on the market for a whopping $60M!

Electric Biking

Pedago Electric bike
Pedago electric bikes can be ridden on a setting that requires no pedaling at all!

Newport Beach consists of Balboa Peninsula, Balboa Island, and the Back Cove, a dramatic set of cliffs with houses on top.

One of the best ways to enjoy these places is by bike. And the best bikes are Pedago electric bikes, where pedaling is strictly optional.  We rented a pair of bikes, and one came with a big padded back seat, the perfect size perch for my 10-year-old granddaughter Sofie.  website

This was definitely a hit of the trip!  Zipping down to the beachside boardwalk through the exclusive neighborhoods of Corona del Mar, we crossed the bridge to Balboa Island, where the speed limit is 8 mph. Sorry officer, but we couldn’t go that slow.

The waves were high and surfers were out, the sunlight glistened on the ocean, and we rode the length of the island

Ferry to Balboa
Three small car ferries transport bikes, cars and people between Balboa Island and the Peninsula.

with my 14-year-old grandson Nathan leaving us in the dust as we tried to keep up.

Fun on the Cheap

Renting an electric bike or a Duffy boat aren’t expensive, and the glorious beach, the Socal sunshine, and the friendly people you meet here don’t cost a dime!

Another way to get out on the water and enjoy the beautiful harbor is to take a whale and dolphin watching trip with Davey’s Locker, at 400 Main St. Newport Beach.

Sea Lions
Sea lions enjoy snoozing on a buoy and on the back decks of boats around Newport.

You might not see whales every trip, but you’re almost guaranteed to see many playful common dolphins cavorting and diving around the boat and the sea lions who enjoy sleeping on buoys and annoying boat owners by crashing on their back decks.

Blue whale season is May through November. Gray Whales show up from November through April.

The big pods of dolphins often seen at Dana Point are around all year long. As with everywhere we went in Southern California, the people on the boat were friendly and inviting, and it’s worth it to get the VIP ticket so you can hang out in the comfortable captain’s quarters and get on the boat first.  Adults $57, kids under 18, $51.

got beach?
The Wedge is a famous surf break in Newport created by man which draws many surfers all year ’round.

Where to stay: 

The Hyatt Regency Newport Beach is a centrally-located resort with a golf course, a really nice pool area, and a location that’s in between most of the fun stuff here, near the Back Cove.

Many of the guests here are European and August is the most popular month for overseas visitors in Southern California. website.

A quesadilla for kids at Wilma's Patio, Newport center.
A quesadilla for kids at Wilma’s Patio, Newport center.

A great choice for a nice breakfast is Wilma’s Patio, in the leafy center of downtown Newport Beach. You can sit inside or out, and the portions are huge, everything tasted great.  Website 203 Newport Ave, Newport, on Balboa Island.

We also enjoyed the food at one of the most inexpensive and popular restaurants in Newport, the Ho Sum Bistro.

We ordered a huge bag of take-out, Mu Shu chicken, their delicious Califoriental rice filled with chicken and veggies, and lo mein and it was far and away enough food for three, for just $55. The best deal in the city!

It’s a lot easier to order take-out from Ho Sum, this place is so popular and parking is to tight, either take an Uber or just take it home.

Be aware that on weekends, Balboa Island and the peninsula can be incredibly crowded…we left our car at the hotel and took an Uber to avoid the hassle.

Despite the vast wealth and out of range house prices, Newport Beach is indeed a place where the average Joe can enjoy himself without breaking the bank.

Find out more about Newport Beach at their tourism website. Our trip was sponsored by the tourism board but all of the opinions are the author’s own.

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