What is a Balboa Bar and why is it associated with frozen bananas? If you have never been to Balboa Island, you might be missing out on local frozen favorites that have been offered on the island since the 1940s.
A Balboa Bar is basically vanilla or chocolate ice cream on a stick rolled in sprinkles, nuts, or other toppings. The original Balboa bar is a local tradition on the island, and it’s traditionally sold alongside frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and toppings similar to the ice cream-centric Balboa Bar.
No article about these confections goes without mentioning the most famous frozen banana sighting in pop culture; the pilot episode of Arrested Development features the infamous Michael Bluth character’s frozen banana stand on Balboa Island; that fictional business sold a variety of frozen bananas, including the “George Daddy”, the “G.O.B” and the “On-The-Go-Go Banana”.
Arrested Development played to local disagreements over who was the very first to offer frozen bananas, and there has always been competition for both the Balboa Bar market and frozen bananas in the area. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the tv show was based on Bob Teller’s Banana Rolla Rama, a company that started selling bananas and Balboa Bars in 1963.
The actual origins of the Balboa Bar (the ice cream dipped in toppings, not the banana dipped in chocolate and/or toppings) are unclear. There are local legends that say it debuted in the 1950s on Balboa Island (about a decade after frozen bananas) and we actually seem to have more information on the local frozen banana rivalry than we do for the origin story of Balboa Bars.
In 1908, a channel was cut near a part of Newport Bay called Snipe Island. The creation of the channel meant finding a place to deposit silt and sand from the operation. That location wound Snipe Island.
The result of all that sand moving? The creation of Balboa Island. Over time, the island was developed, beachfront properties were sold, and the area became known as a summer destination. And the 1920s saw further development, so much so that the island became a location for multiple film productions.
Come 1940 there were plenty of touristy things to do in Newport Beach in general and Balboa Island in particular; the area seemed primed for new business opportunities. One businessman named Don Phillips took full advantage of those opportunities.
Phillips is thought by many including the LA Times to be the first person to open up a frozen banana stand in the area, on Balboa Peninsula next to the ferry landing according to an LA Times report.
At the time, ice cream parlors were popular, but frozen bananas were quite the fad once Phillips started selling and others began duplicating his success.
Believe it or not, multiple sources report lines stretching around the block for frozen bananas, and some of that may have had to do with Phillips’ attention to quality; he personally hand-selected and cut his bananas and used higher-quality chocolate to adorn his desserts with.
In 1945, frozen bananas made their way to Balboa Island proper, with a stand called Sugar ‘n’ Spice selling them alongside a competing business nearby, Dad’s Donut Shop & Bakery. Both of those businesses are still operating today.
In 1963, a businessman named Bob Teller opened up a banana stand in the wake of the original Don “frozen banana king” Phillips closing up shop. Today many businesses claim to be the “original” frozen banana stand, but some choose not to pick a favorite and just buy whichever Balboa Bars or frozen bananas happen to be nearby.
Where to Buy Balboa Bars and Frozen Bananas Today
There are more vendors than you can count selling Balboa Bars and frozen bananas today. Some of the best-known names are also some of those who have been in business the longest, but not all of them have a decades-long tradition selling these popular frozen treats:
- Balboa Island
- Balboa Fun Zone
- Balboa Beach Treats (704 Edgewater Pl, Newport Beach, CA 92661
- Newport Pier
There is also Longboards Ice Cream available for catering and Sprinter Van service. Not quite a Balboa Bar but a very similar in experience, only brought right to you.
There is a ferry to Balboa Island that departs from Balboa Peninsula; you can bring a car or bike to the ferry and it takes about five minutes to cross from one destination to the other.
You can also access Balboa Island via a bridge from Bayside Drive and the Pacific Coast Highway / Route 1. If you have not visited the area before, it is best to call ahead for advice on peak traffic times, and other variables that could affect your journey.
Balboa Bar Ingredients
Ingredients may vary by location:
Chocolate Balboa Bar – Milk, Cream, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Whey, Mono & Diglycerides, Guar Gum, Artificial Vanilla Flavor, Tara Gum, Carrageenan.
Vanilla Balboa Bar – Vanilla Balboa Bar Ingredients: Milk, Cream, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Whey, Vanilla Extract, Mono & Diglycerides, Guar Gum, Tara Gum, Carrageenan, Annatto Extract
Classic Chocolate Dip (Non-dairy) – Hydrogenated Coconut Oil, Sugar, Cocoa, Less Than 2% Of Soy Lecithin, Artificial Flavor. Contains Soy.
Dark Chocolate Dip – Sugar, Coconut Oil, Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Powder, Calcium Carbonate, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Natural Vanilla Extract, Contains: Milk, Soy
Frozen Banana & Balboa Bar Toppings
Toppings vary by location but here are some of the toppings you might find:
- Butter Brickle
- Chocolate Sprinkles
- Chopped Peanuts
- Crushed Oreo
- Crushed Toffee
- Diced Almonds
- Fruity Dino Bites
- Heath Pecan Crunch
- Rainbow Sprinkles
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Crumbles
- Toasted Coconut
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Joe Wallace has been covering real estate, mortgage and financial topics since 1995. His work has appeared on ABC, The Pentagon Channel, Veteran.com plus a variety of print and online publications. He is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.