Balboa Island is located in Orange County, near Newport Beach. It’s a cozy little beach side community with funky restaurants and shopping. It’s an awesome vacation spot in and of itself and definitely worthy of a day trip from Los Angeles and other Southern California destinations.
About Balboa Island
Balboa Island is said to be the most expensive real estate outside lower Manhattan. It was created by dredging millions of tons of silt. Today, the lots are small and beach cottages sit right on top of each other. At least they have minimal yard maintenance! (Usually just some plants on the patio or as a border between the patio and the board walk)
Balboa Island also has one of the highest density of residents – 3,000 residents on 0.2 square miles for a density of 17,621 per square mile. And much of the residential real estate is now vacation rentals or second homes!
You will want to take a stroll along the bay front promenade from Marine Avenue to the Ferry.
Say hi to friendly locals enjoying the view, a book, and a glass of wine. You can sit on one of the many benches and enjoy the view as well.
Across the boardwalk, there are private docks as well as a couple of public docks. Quite a few people come to fish from the docks. In between the docks, there is sand leading to the water and quite often kids playing.
Life on the Water
Water sports are very popular among Balboa Island residents and vacationers. About what you would expect on a man-made island in an area with excellent weather pretty much all year-round.
On my visit to Balboa Island, people were spotted on stand-up paddle boards and kayaks all along the bay.
In the early evenings, you can watch as the sailboats all come in from a day at sea!
If you are lucky, you can catch a sandcastle building tournament.
I also had the chance to take a whale watching trip in the area and saw the magnificent blue whale (that’s the video up above). Highly recommend the ocean side views of Balboa and the surrounding areas.
Food on Balboa Island
Wilma’s was recommended to me for a late lunch. It’s also quite popular for hearty breakfasts. I can say that the food was quite good as was the service, even for a late lunch.
Explore around a little and you’ll find that Balboa Island has a weird fascination with frozen bananas. Yes, the same frozen bananas found on Arrested Development. Whatever, frozen bananas are still good.
For dinner, stop by Ciao for some really good Italian food. Just be sure to bring your appetite!
All three of these eateries are located along Marine Avenue, the main commercial drag on Balboa Island.
Getting to Balboa Island
There is really very little parking on Balboa Island. What is there is mostly reserved for residents and residential visitors.
If you are driving a car around, then you’ll want to park on the Newport Peninsula. You can take a bridge across. Or even better, take the ferry.
The Balboa Ferry is cheap – only $1 per person, extra if you are taking a bicycle or a car. It’s quick and they have quite a few ferries in constant rotation. You won’t have to wait for long until the next one. Even with only three cars on each one.
If you are taking Lyft (still my favorite way to get around if you aren’t towing a car behind the RV) to Balboa Island, they can drop you off at the Island. Walk across the bridge right onto Marine Avenue where all the shops are. Then take the Balboa Ferry across to the Peninsula to explore that side.
RVs on Balboa Island
Balboa Island and the Peninsula are not the most RV friendly of places. The lots are small and parking is quite limited. So you Balboa Island won’t be the best RV boondocking location for you.
Fortunately, nearby Newport Beach does have quite a few RV campgrounds. Most of these campgrounds are going to be tight living, as they try to stack as many RVs in as possible in this highly desired location. But you aren’t here to be sitting in your RV! You are here to be getting out and enjoying the area.
In addition to Balboa Island, Newport Beach is home to Fashion Island, with lots of shopping and restaurants.
You can go a bit further and stay at Huntington State Beach, which also allows RV parking (no pop-outs or awnings though).
See Also: Make Your Own Rules for RV Travel Map
Balboa Village and Newport Peninsula
Across the bay from Balboa Island is Balboa Village on Newport Peninsula.
Right off the ferry, you’ll find the Balboa Fun Zone, with arcade, Ferris wheel, rock climbing, and more fun. The Balboa Ferris Wheel has been “spinning since 1936.” When they started up, they got a lease to operate until 2036. So you’ll be able to take a spin for years to come.
The Peninsula is also home to Balboa Pier and Balboa Peninsula Beach. Take a walk out to the end of the Pier to Rudy’s, a classic diner. Enjoy a banana sundae or milkshake from the upper deck, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Just beware that it is a tsunami zone, so pay attention in the case of earthquakes – even if they are far away.
Visit Balboa Island and Newport Peninsula
California isn’t known as being the most RV friendly state around, but don’t let that stop you from visiting!
There are lots of activities in Balboa Island and it is so worth the hassle. With the shopping, food, and other activities, it is a great day trip during your visit to Southern California.
Go ahead and extend your San Francisco to Los Angeles road trip a little further south to hit this fun island. If you are looking for a more state park type experience, check out the things to do in Anza-Borrego State Park, which is located south of LA and east of San Diego.
And stay tuned for the whale watching trip!
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