California’s Riviera; featuring Santa Catalina Island, Crystal Cove, Lyon Air Museum

Santa Catalina Island, Crystal Cove, Lyon Air Museum add spice to California’s Riviera!

Orange County, affectionately known as California’s Riviera, runs almost 40 miles south of Los Angeles, boasting world-class beaches and coves, surfers and cyclists, entertainment options galore, vintage and exotic cars, sporting events and fine dining. We had vowed to show our Spokane, WA guests the sights, and add a new twist or two. Activities included showing off Newport Beach Harbor and its two upscale islands, taking the ferry over to Santa Catalina Island, sharing the lovely Crystal Cove State Park, and taking in the historic Lyon Air Museum adjacent to John Wayne Airport.

Newport Beach is arguably Orange County’s most upscale of these ocean-front cities. With the world’s largest small boat harbor and two historic fishing piers, Newport and Balboa Piers, sandy beach-front and one of the more colorful bike paths, Newport Beach offers a summer-time allure almost year-round.

Balboa and Lido Islands are surrounded by the harbor; we spent a day on Balboa Island, walking the wide walkway lined by $5 million dollar homes and wandered through quaint shops including several that offer delicious treats; 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).

Also 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. A short auto/passenger ferry takes you from Balboa Island 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).

The Balboa Island passenger and auto ferry connects the island with Balboa Peninsula; it’s a short, cheap boat ride across the USA’s largest private boat harbor!
The Catalina Flyer takes about an hour to cover the 26 miles from Newport Beach to the lovely Santa Catalina Island and town of Avalon.

Santa Catalina Island’s rocky outline frames a 22 mile long, 8 mile wide island wonder, long home to the rich and famous. Our high-speed ferry delivered us to the historic harbor town of Avalon on a smooth ferry ride that featured large schools of dolphins following along. We meandered the city’s compact shopping district, with shops, boutiques, artist’s outlets and almost 30 restaurants. Steve’s Steakhouse offered a pleasant place on the second floor overlooking the harbor and the streetscape, with good food and fine service. Above us on the hillside stood the grand Wrigley House, built from 1919-1921 as a summer retreat for the Wrigley family of Chicago, who then owned 99% of the island. The Wrigleys lived in or visited the house until 1947; later it was donated to the University of Southern California and now is leased as a luxury hotel, known as the Inn on Mt. Ada.

Balboa Island’s classic homes and gardens make for excellent foot-touring with the broad walkway that circles the island.

Had we more time, we could’ve taken a tour to the island’s other side, where a herd of 120 bison reside, legacy of a 1920’s movie that brought a dozen of the animals to the island. To reach Catalina Island and Avalon, take the Catalina Flyer ferry, leaving Newport Beach Harbor at 9 AM daily, returning at 4:30 PM. Fares, round trip: $70 adults, $65 seniors, children 3-12, $53, under 3, $6,

Huge “Fuddy Duddy” B-17 bomber is one of seven World War II-era warplanes on display at the Lyon Air Museum, Santa Ana, just blocks from John Wayne Airport.

For a new destination, we chose the Lyon Air Museum, near John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, featuring exhibits of a war-time aircraft, vehicles and memorabilia themed to World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars. Established by Major General William Lyon, the museum is on the west side of the airport and features such iconic aircraft as a huge B-17, A-26, C-47 and four more.

Hitler’s massive Mercedes Benz staff car was used by the dictator in 1939 and 1940, on display at the Lyon Air Museum in Santa Ana, CA.

Hitler’s staff car (where the dictator stood in the front seat to salute his legions) and other rare vehicles, both war-related and civilian, made for an interesting afternoon. We relaxed in the adjoining theater and watched a film about P-51 Mustangs and their celebrated pilots. The museum is open seven days a week, adults, $12, seniors and veterans $9. youth 5-17, $6, under 5, free, located at 19300 Ike Jones Rd. in Santa Ana,, (714) 210-4585.

Our tour would not be complete without a visit to Crystal Cove State Park and the old beach town. Located on the southern edge of Newport Beach, the park offers three miles of pristine beaches and four dramatic tidal pools. In addition, the former oceanfront town of Crystal Cove, location of several dozen movies and television shows, is contained in the park. The old town provided a tropical setting for filming of Beaches, Herbie the Love Bug, Son of Tarzan and Treasure Island, films featuring Bette Midler, Bogart and Bacall and John Barrymore. Over half of the 40 old beach-side cabins have been renovated and are available for rent per night in the $100-$250 range. An added bonus is Beachcombers Restaurant, a favorite for good food and sultry sunsets! Further south of Newport Beach, towns like Laguna Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente continue California’s “endless summer”.

Wildflowers lead the pathway to cabins for rent, and the Beachcomber Restaurant, in Crystal Cove State Park, Newport Beach, CA.

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,; Orange County Visitors Association,

Contact Tim at; follow him at Happy travels in your world!

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