California’s Riviera; fun and sun in Orange County, “on the cheap”!

San Clemente's old pier is home to Fisherman's Restaurant and popular with strollers.

Balboa Island Ferry links the island to Balboa Peninsula for a short 3/8 mile journey.
Corona Del Mar State Beach is a popular spot for sun-seekers and surfers, just south of the Newport Beach Harbor.
Orange County is just south of Los Angeles, providing 40 miles of sunny coastline!
Big Mountain Railroad in Disneyland provides plenty of thrills in scenic setting!

Fun, sun on California’s Riviera; doing Orange County “on the cheap”!

Orange County, known by many as California’s Riviera, a 40 mile stretch of sunny beaches and coves, entertainment options, exotic cars, sporting events and fine dining, blessed by a lovely Mediterranean climate, makes a great location for a long vacation get-away. Here’s how to do it, relatively inexpensively.

We’re most familiar with the city of Newport Beach (we have spent about 16 weeks in our timeshare over the years); this article centers around that town, arguably the most upscale of these ocean-front cities. Newport Beach boasts the world’s largest small boat harbor and includes two piers, Newport and Balboa Piers, sandy beach-front and one of the more colorful bike paths.

Inside the harbor are Balboa and Lido Islands, walkable seaside communities. Center a day on Balboa Island, circled by a wide walkway lined by $4 million dollar homes, home of to quaint shops and several that sell frozen bananas (dipped in chocolate and toppings), and Balboa Bars (vanilla ice cream on a stick, dipped in chocolate, then covered with varied toppings like Oreos, invented 1945).

Take the auto ferry across to Balboa Peninsula (just $2 for car and driver, $1 each additional passenger), On the peninsula side of the ferry, tour the 1905 Balboa Pavilion, gabled and cupola-topped and home to harbor tours, boat excursions, whale watching and Santa Catalina Island cruises (the town of Avalon is only 26 miles and 75 minutes via ferry to Santa Catalina Island). A favorite, funky restaurant just right for families is the Crab Cooker on Newport Bay.

Visit Corona Del Mar Beach by the Newport Harbor entrance, or Newport‘s Back Bay, a 10 mile long wild estuary, complete with migrating birds and crisscrossed with walking trails.

On the south end of Newport is Crystal Cove State Park, with miles of pristine beaches, rocky coves and tide pools and the former oceanfront town of Crystal Cove, location of several dozen movies and television shows. The old town provided a tropical setting for Beaches, Son of Tarzan, Herbie the Love Bug and Treasure Island, films featuring Bette Midler, Bogart and Bacall, Barrymore. About 20 of the 40 old cabins have been renovated and are available for rent per night in the $200-$250 range; it’s also home to Beachcombers Restaurant, a favorite for good food and sultry sunsets!

Just north is Huntington Beach, Surf City USA, featuring three beaches, Huntington City Beach, Huntington State Beach, and Bolsa Chica state beach, all popular for surfing, volleyball and fire-rings for campfires at night. Bring your surf-board or boogie-board and ride the waves! Just east across Hwy. 1 are Bolsa Chica’s 1449 acres of wetlands – the largest saltwater marsh between the Tijuana River Estuary and Monterey Bay. Featuring 300 species of birds sighted in the last 10 years and 80 species of fish, this stunning parkland features 5 miles of hiking trails. Huntington Beach features an 8 mile long bike trail, running south into Newport beach – ideal for cruising the beach scene. The trail intersects with the Santa Ana Bike Trail, a lovely 25 mile cycling option heading inland.

Laguna Beach is south of Newport, offering more rugged coastline, sandy beaches and attractions such as the Laguna Art Museum and Laguna Playhouse. Its Main Beach offers volleyball and basketball courts, a grassy kid’s play area and a quaint downtown right across the street.

Further south is Dana Point and Harbor. Richard Henry Dana, who wrote the 1840s ‘Two Years Before the Mast’, noted the grandeur of the California coast and called it “the only romantic spot on the coast”. Just south is Doheney State Beach, a very popular state park with campground, public beaches and walking access to Dana Point Harbor. The harbor features 2500 slips and is home to the Ocean Institute. The Institute features a replica of the Pilgrim, the brig on which Dana sailed and the Maddie James Seaside Learning Center with the Spirit of Dana Point, a traditionally-built replica of a 1770s privateer used during the American Revolution.

Just south of Dana Point is San Clemente, with pier anchored by Fisherman’s Restaurant, set against the Pacific, with great food, reasonable prices and the largest slices of Mud Pie we have ever seen! Following dinner, stroll the pier and take in spectacular sunsets.

Disneyland, in nearby Anaheim, is expensive but deemed by many families and kids as “worth it“. To receive greatest bang for your buck, go early (lines for the most popular rides get progressively longer as the day wears on), go early week, avoid weeks when schools are on break, take drinks, snacks and consider purchasing Fast Pass, allowing you to go to head of lines that can stretch for 75 minutes for the most popular rides. Somewhat less expensive options for a full-day’s family entertainment include Knots Berry Farm and Universal Studios jaunts.

For reasonable lodging options, check Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO), offering cute two and three bedroom cottages on Newport Beach’s Balboa Island or Balboa Peninsula, in the $200 per night range, just blocks from the beach. Or find less expensive motels inland through websites like Priceline.com.

How to get there: Go south on I-5 to LA, take I-605 south and I-405 to Newport Beach; it’s about 385 miles and six hours from Stockton.

For more insight: Newport Beach, newportbeach.com; Orange County Visitors Association, visittheoc.com.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com; follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

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  • Blog Author

    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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