I was only able to spend one day in Newport Beach during my trip to California in May, but I squeezed a lot in! Here are my recommendations of the best things to do based on my itinerary as well as where to stay.
To me, no trip to California is complete without a view of the ocean. So after planning a weekend trip to Santa Barbara wine country with my girlfriends, I decided to add on two nights to check out the upscale seaside city of Newport Beach, which is located about an hour south of L.A. in Orange County.
Even though I was there for an action-packed solo retreat, I discovered Newport Beach would also be the perfect destination for a relaxing girls’ (or guys’) getaway, romantic couple’s escape or a fun family vacation. Of course, my stay was much too short, so I recommend spending a weekend or more taking in all of the attractions – or just sitting on the beach!
One Day in Newport Beach: Itinerary
Explore Crystal Cove State Park.
I started my day in Newport Beach at Crystal Cove State Park, which is easily worth a full day itself. With 3.2 miles of beach and 2,400 acres of wilderness, Crystal Cove is one of Orange County’s largest natural protected areas. Unfortunately the California weather wasn’t cooperating that day, and it was a little cool and overcast, so the beach was rather quiet.
Instead of working on my tan, I took some time to explore the Historic District, which hasn’t changed much since the 1920s and 1930s, when Crystal Cove was a tight-knit beach-front community. It served as the backdrop for numerous movies – including one of my childhood favorites, Beaches – over the years, and today, Crystal Cove’s 46 cottages are on the National Register of Historic Places. (If you get lucky, you can rent one for up to a week – this is now on my bucket list!)
Tip: To access this area of the beach, you can park at the State Beach parking lot off Los Trancos, and either walk or take a shuttle down (for $1.50 per person each way).
Have a hearty brunch.
Brunch is a very California thing to do, and The Beachcomber, which sits right on the beach in Crystal Cove, is a local institution. I was there mid-morning on a Monday, and it was packed – I learned the wait can often be up to two hours (Fortunately, Veronica of Visit Newport and I had a reservation!). We sat on the porch to take in the ocean views while I tried to finish a huge plate of scrambled eggs, toast and fruit. I balanced out my relatively healthy meal with a basket of crispy and sweet beignets – one of the Beachcomber’s specialties.
Tip: If you don’t have a reservation, you can put your name in for a table then go explore the Historic District and beach until its ready.
Get some exercise.
I had done a lot of eating and drinking during my weekend in Santa Barbara, so after brunch, I definitely wanted to move a little. Luckily for me, the resort where I was staying, the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, offers free bike rentals. So I spent about an hour peddling my way through the peaceful Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve, which has a flat, paved 5.2-mile loop that’s perfect for walking, running or biking. You can also hike into the hills of the surrounding Nature Preserve.
Tip: The Reserve has some of the best birdwatching in North America, so bring your binoculars if that’s your thing!
Get out on the Bay.
Living in Boston, I’m out on the water as much as possible – sailing, kayaking and paddle boarding. However, before visiting Newport Beach, I had never experienced a Duffy boat. A “Duffy” is a small electric boat with a canopy top that can fit up to about 12 people. You can rent and drive them yourself – no questions asked. (I was a little surprised that they just let you hop in and take off!) Veronica and I spun ours around the Bay – trying to steer clear of the larger vessels – gawking at the mansions, yachts and sea lions sunning themselves on the docks. Since you can bring your own food and drinks, I think it would be a blast to rent one with a group of friends for an afternoon.
Tip: Check out Newport Dunes, which has paddle boarding, kayaking and boat rentals at its marina. From where we rented the Duffy, you can also take the ferry to Balboa Island – that’s one place I really wish I would’ve had time to explore, but I’ll have to save it for my next trip.
Do some shopping.
I admit, I’m not much of a shopper, but I really enjoyed strolling around the charming Lido Marina Village. You can park your car or tie up your boat, and enjoy a leisurely meal or drink while doing some people watching. You also can check out a dozen or so local stores and boutiques – my favorites were Serena & Lily and Clare V. as well as Lido Village Books (I love finding a good bookstore!).
Tip: For those who like shopping for than me, head to the Corona Del Mar neighborhood, where you’ll find lots of boutiques and ocean views. Also, Newport Beach is home to Fashion Island, Southern California’s top shopping destination (there are loads of restaurants and a movie theater there too).
One of my favorite things about traveling is checking out local restaurants, especially those that really capture the spirit and flavors of the community. LIDO Bottle Works, which specializes in serving locally sourced and sustainable ingredients along with craft beer, wine and cocktails, is such a place.
Veronica and I were there on the early side, so we had the patio to ourselves. Surrounded by flower boxes packed with herbs, used in both the cocktails and food, we first enjoyed refreshing margaritas, made with fermented tequila, hibiscus puree and lime. Then we were presented with three incredibly colorful plates of food to share – charred eggplant hummus, tuna tartare and the burrata, all of which tasted as good as they looked.
Tip: There are about a dozen restaurants in Newport Beach that allow you to “dock and dine” like we did at LIDO Bottle Works.
Where to Stay in Newport Beach
I was lucky to be the guest of the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach for two nights. The resort, which sits on 30 perfectly landscaped acres, is a vacation in and of itself. Even though it’s a short drive to the coast, shopping and other attractions, you really have everything you need right there.
When I first arrived Sunday night, I was exhausted from my long drive – made longer by L.A. traffic. So I decided to stay put and explore the property. It turns out I wasn’t missing anything by staying put. I had a relaxing dinner al fresco on the large patio at SHOR American Seafood Grill, which features Southern American cuisine and uses locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, and makes many items from scratch including the ice cream. I had the smoked salmon bites, which were light yet filling.
The next morning, I purchased a light breakfast in the spacious Lobby Lounge and hung out in the cozy library area to get some work done. You also can sit at the bar or hang out on the couches in the TV area.
Other perks of the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach include:
- There’s a 24-hour fitness center; or, if you prefer a more private workout, you can access YogaAway™ in your room. There’s even a Fitness Concierge who can help you plan your workout.
- There are three outdoor pools – Serenity, Indulge and Oasis (the Oasis pool has a fun water slide!).
- In addition to the bike rentals, there’s a par-3 golf course. Or if you want more low-key exercise, there’s shuffleboard and an oversized chess board.
- There’s a free shuttle to and from John Wayne Airport, Fashion Island and Balboa Island.
- Pets are welcome, which I always like to see, even though Lucy was at home (Note there is a fee and weight limitations).
Tip: Hyatt Regency Newport Beach hosts the Summer Concert Series at its Back Bay Amphitheatre on Friday nights from July 13 to October 12.
What do you think are the best things to do with only one day in Newport Beach?
Thank you to Visit Newport Beach for showing me a great time during my one day in Newport Beach and to the beautiful Hyatt Regency Newport Beach for hosting me for two nights.