The Balboa Island Ferry departs at Newport Beach, California, filled with vacationers.

The Balboa Island Ferry connects pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists with the amusement parks and beaches of the peninsula across the harbor. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Just over 20 miles south of campus, Newport Beach offers one of the highest concentrations of attractions, shopping and dining in Southern California. Here are five low-cost things to do in the area.

It has been called the California Riviera. Home to nearly 90,000 residents but receiving nearly 7 million visitors annually, Newport Beach may truly be Southern California at its best. Here, you can shop at some of the region’s most exclusive stores, enjoy miles of sandy beaches, explore the science of coastal ecosystems at tide pools and nature centers, dine at a diverse selection of restaurants, indulge in water sports ranging from sailing to surfing, and get a workout in along miles of scenic hiking trails.

Here are five accessible and low-cost places to go year-round in Newport Beach:

  1. Balboa Island

Finding a parking spot here might be a pain, but an afternoon or evening on the island is well worth it. You might want to try a weekday, or visit in the winter for a slightly less crowded experience. The artificial 0.2 square-mile island has a population of more than 3,000, giving it one of the highest population densities in the United States. Most of the action centers on Marine Avenue, which is easily accessible to the mainland by bridge. Here you can dine at restaurants serving Italian, Asian, Mexican and American cuisine and stroll through shops selling beach clothing, souvenirs, art, books and accessories. The Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society at 331 Marine Avenue, open every day except Mondays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., tells the story of the island’s history through photographs, maps and artifacts. It also contains a collection of realistic figurines with the likeness of America’s first ladies. The future of this collection, with the possibility of Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president, is interesting to ponder, as Bill Clinton would likely become the inaugural first gentleman.

You can walk the entire perimeter of the island, taking in vistas of boats, beaches and the nearby coastal cliffs, on a 1.7-mile loop trail. But if you still have more time, you can take the Balboa Island Ferry for $1 (or $2 if you are taking your car) to Balboa Peninsula to explore the amusement district, two piers and miles of beaches.

  1. Corona del Mar

In Spanish, Corona del Mar means “Crown of the Sea.” It is an appropriate name for this community of a little more than 12,500 who live atop the cliffs overlooking one of Orange County’s most beautiful beaches.

The main action here centers on the beach, but you don’t have to pay to park in the beachfront lot. Free parking is available along most of the side streets in the neighborhood.

While both are within walking distance, there are technically two beaches here: Big Corona, which is most popular with swimmers, surfers and sunbathers; and Little Corona, which has some of the most accessible tide pool ecosystems in the region.

Waves crash on the rocky shores of Corona del Mar in Newport Beach, California.

The marine layer provides a dramatic view of Corona del Mar State Beach. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

One side street is definitely worth exploring: Goldenrod Avenue takes you to the Goldenrod Footbridge, a flower-lined walking bridge built in 1928 to provide local residents with easy access to the beach.  It is a great spot for a photo.

  1. Environmental Nature Center

As if to compete with the incredible diversity that Newport Beach offers naturally, you can experience desert, coastal shrub, deciduous forest and even Pacific Northwest rainforest habitats on a short walk on the grounds of the Environmental Nature Center at 1601 E. 16th Street in Newport Beach.

The nature center has been a part of the community since 1972. The main building was the first structure in Orange County to be designated with LEED Platinum certification for its green design.

Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the premises host Orange County’s only Butterfly House from May to October each year. There are also two major annual events: The Fall Faire in October and the Spring Faire in May. Each draws up to several thousand residents and visitors to sample local food, listen to music, interact with wildlife, and enjoy games and prizes.

If you are a CSUF student, you might want to consider interning at the nature center. Many Titan alumni and students have done service-learning and intern projects over the years.

  1. The Back Bay

The Back Bay is hidden in Newport Beach – the part of the city that few people, other than locals, frequent. Here you can indulge in water sports such as kayaking or get close to nature on a 10.5-mile loop trail popular with hikers, bicyclists and equestrians.

A great place to start your exploration is at the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center at 2301 University Drive. There is free parking here and good views of the bay, as well as access to most of the local trail systems.

A view of the swamplands in the Newport Beach, California, Back Bay from the roof of the Muth Interpretative Center.

The wetlands of Newport Beach’s Back Bay have an ecosystem similar to the Louisiana bayous or the Florida Everglades. Photo by Daniel Coats.

If you are in to water sports, head to North Star Beach off Polaris Drive. Here, you can drive your car right onto the sand. This isn’t exactly a swimmer’s beach. Instead, it is a place for kayakers and small craft sailors to launch out into the tranquil waters of the bay. You can rent your paddleboat at the adjacent Newport Aquatic Center, open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

  1. The Cannery Newport Beach

Orange County may have thousands of restaurants, but this one truly sets itself apart. Here you can enjoy dockside freshly caught seafood, including wild, line-caught fish. There are also oysters, lobster, salads and french fries to complement your meal.

Located at 3010 Lafayette Road, the restaurant is open weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., with extended hours to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

For more on Newport Beach, visit the Newport Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau online or at their information desk at Fashion Island.

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