Balboa Island is located in Newport Beach, California and compared to how it started out–a swampy area that required tons of dredging–the community thriving there today is quite impressive.
The area has evolved over many decades into a robust shopping, dining, and recreation hotspot with much to offer in Newport Beach and if you’re new to the area, this harborside community is picturesque and definitely worth a trip.
Swamps and mud. That was the original state of the man-made area we now know as Balboa Island. You can get there by ferry, dockside, or by public bridge, but once upon a time there was only a swamp.
In the 1860s the area was used as a place to offload goods from boats, but it wasn’t long until the great dredging began–a project that cut a channel along Newport Bay in the early 1900s.
The dredging required a place to deposit sand and silt, and a mudflat called Snipe Island became the dumping ground…over time, the sand and silt piled to such an extent that the mud flat morphed into Balboa Island.
Development soon started on the island and it wasn’t long before vacation homes, shops, restaurants, and other enterprises moved in.
Today, Balboa Island is split into three sections that are separated by small bodies of water and known as Little Balboa Island, Main Island and Collins Island. Collins Island has only 8 homes in the gated community and Little Balboa is a quaint community at the end of Marine Ave and across a small bridge.
In 1916, Balboa Island became part of the City of Newport Beach, and four years later a utility company set up shop there to provide power. By 1921 residential houses, a seawall, and a host of improvements made the area even more attractive to live, work, and play in.
In modern times, Balboa is a thriving community–the properties that were selling for a whopping $25 in the earliest days of the community have given way to multi-million dollar property values, and plenty of art, commerce, fine dining, and fashion to discover in the area, too.
Things to Do on Balboa Island
There is so much to do in the area that it helps to decide ahead of time what type of experience you want at Balboa Island. Dinner reservations? A harbor cruise? Art gallery visits? Just across the water from Balboa Island you can visit the Balboa Fun Zone which has an amusement park feel complete with an arcade and Ferris wheel. There are also many things to do in Newport Harbor, Newport Beach and beyond.
If it’s a cruise you are after, there are two ways to go–the harbor offers much for those who want to let somebody else do the steering (there are even water-based celebrity home tours available), but at Balboa Island you can rent a canoe, paddleboards, sailboats, kayak, even an electric “Duffy boat” that seats a large party of visitors. You don’t need a special license to operate a Duffy boat and a self-guided tour of the waters nearby is a lot of fun.
The best way to experience Balboa Island is by foot. You can walk across the main bridge and onto the main street, Marine Avenue, for shopping and dining. Balboa Island also has a 3-mile boardwalk that surrounds the islands. It’s a perfect way to view all the beautiful homes and the greater harbor.
But then there’s the shopping and dining. Many people come here to explore dinner, drinks, even the most famous local dessert–the Balboa Bar.
If you have to ask “What is a Balboa Bar?” you need to come to the island and taste this frozen dessert for yourself. Frozen bananas dipped in chocolate became a fad here in the middle of the 20th century, but the Balboa Bar, with its ice cream dipped in chocolate and toppings, is a local favorite that locals STILL argue about in terms of who started it, when, and for how long.
Balboa Island Restaurants
Dining at the island seems to be informed by one word: “local”. Nearby Fashion Island has a reputation for the corporate name brands you might expect, but Balboa is the more local destination. Sure you may find some national or international brands here, but many of the options are locally owned and operated, which has an appeal for those tired of the overly familiar chains.
These are the restaurants and dessert shops that are located on the Island while there are many more options located across the ferry or nearby. Most eateries are located in Balboa Village on Marine Ave with a few more by the ferry.
- 501 Park Avenue Bistro (501 Park Ave)
- Basilic (217 Marine Ave)
- Ciao Balboa (223 Marine Ave)
- Crocker’s (211 Marine Ave)
- Royal Hen Gastro Pub (311 Marine Ave)
- Shanghai Pine Gardens Restaurant (300 Marine Ave)
- Snipe Island Crafthouse (305 Marine Ave)
- Trattoria Restaurant (216 1/2)
- Wilma’s Patio (203 Marine Ave)
- The Village Inn (127 Marine Ave)
- To Go
Balboa Island Desserts
- Balboa Candy (301 Marine Ave)
- Balboa Island Baking Company (220 Marine Ave)
- Blue Chair Bakery (220 Marine Ave)
- Dad’s Donut & Bakery Shop (318 Marine Ave)
- Juice Crafters (220 Marine Ave)
- Sugar ‘n Spice (310 Marine Ave)
- Too Sweet (302 Marine Ave)
Balboa Island Events
Balboa Island events and activities are also quite a draw–there are concerts, art events, and festivals held at all times of the year.
- Summer Concert in the Park – A series of free concerts held at the Balboa park on Agate.
- Sand Castle Contest – This annual contest is typically held in July.
- Balboa Island Artwalk – The Balboa Island Artwalk is an annual event typically held in May and showcases local artists with art, music, sun and fun for the whole family.
- Balboa Island Parade – An Island tradition filled with children on bikes, island dogs, decorated golf carts and floats, horses, vintage cars, USC Marching Band and Song Girls, United States Marine Band, Keystone Cops, drill teams, marching school bands, local dignitaries and much more.
- Balboa Island Holiday Home Walking Tour – This annual event includes tours of uniquely holiday decorated bayfront and island homes, at your leisure.
- Christmas Concert – An annual classical music concert to celebrate the holiday season.
- Tree Lighting & Snow Day – See the lighting of the tree and play in the snow on a island.
- Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade – The boardwalk that surrounds the Island is a spectacular place to view the Newport Beach Boat Parade and the festively decorated boats.
For dates and times of events see the Balboa Island event calendar.
Balboa Island Fishing & Public Piers
There are several public docks where fishing is also allowed and it’s also possible to fish from the beach. The grand canal between Balboa Island and Little Balboa Island is also a fun place to fish. JD’s Big Game Tackle by the Balboa Island Ferry has fishing gear and bait for sale.
A fishing license is not required when recreationally fishing from a “public pier.” A license is required for those 16 or older that are fishing anywhere else including the beach area.
The type of fish that can be caught off Balboa Island include spotted bass, sand bass, white seabass, halibut, yellowfin croaker, jacksmelt, small sharks and rays, and giant bat rays aka mud-marlin.
Public Pier Locations
- Coral Ave/S Bay Front (Balboa Island)
- Opal Ave/S Bay Front (Balboa Island)
- Emerald Ave/N Bay Front (Balboa Island)
- Sapphire Ave/N Bay Front (Balboa Island)
- Park Ave/E Bay Front (Little Balboa Island)
You can take the Balboa Island ferry that departs from Balboa Peninsula to get to Balboa Island. The 3-5 minute ferry ride can take cars, pedestrians, bikes etc. across.
You can also drive, bike or walk using the short bridge from Bayside Drive and PCH (pacific coast highway/route 1). You can also ride share onto the island or avoid the heavy traffic getting onto the island and ride share to the Bayside Shopping Center, then walk across the bridge.
Balboa Island Parking
- There is free residential parking throughout the the island and metered parking on Marine Ave. Marine Ave is the main street with shops and restaurants and the most congested area.
- As you arrive via the bridge to Marine Ave take an immediate right to turn onto the North Bay Front alley to avoid the heavy Marine Ave traffic.
- Avoid Park Ave, North Bay Front alley or Balboa Ave usually have less traffic and run parallel to Park. Same goes for getting off the island.
- When the island is busy the best chance to find parking is on the north side of the island away from Marine Ave and the ferry which is on the southwest side of the island.
- Interior island parking is usually easier to find than near the boardwalk.
- Another trick is to try parking on Little Balboa Island which is across a small bridge on the southeast side of island on Park Ave.
- You can also park on the Balboa Peninsula side and ride the short ferry ride across.
Balboa Island Vacation Rentals
During the summer months the Island is popular vacation destination. Many visitors enjoy the secluded island charm, but conveniently connected to the mainland by a land bridge and to Balboa Peninsula by a ferry. Fortunately for vacationers the Island has many homes and cottages available to rent, both inland and bayfront homes with spectacular views.
The usual restrictions apply. Local merchants have their own requirements, the events and attractions you visit will likewise have their own codes of conduct. In general, it’s safe to leave weapons, intoxicants, portable stereos with external speakers and such at home. There is plenty of opportunity to walk, hike, and explore; be sure to bring footwear suitable for walking across the bridge to the island and for extended walking.
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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.