Newport Beach Family Getaway Guide

My four-year daughter was not impressed.

Shooting me a betrayed look, she lamented, “This is NOT a fairy ride, mama. It doesn’t have any wings.”

I stifled my laughter as I tried to explain we were on a ferry ride, not a fairy ride. We were on the Balboa Island ferry, heading to the renowned beach to relax and unwind on our family vacation during our stay in Newport Beach.

Ferry Ride in Newport beach

My husband consoling my sad daughter after learning we were going on a ferry and not a fairy

Earlier that morning, my husband and I were making plans for the day which included a ferry ride to the Balboa Peninsula. You can easily drive there, taking a scenic route but we thought the kids might enjoy a ride on the car ferry. My daughter had overheard us talking and spent the morning twirling around our hotel room singing, “we’re going on a fairy ride, we’re going on a fairy ride.” Honest mistake!

Balboa Fun Zone Ferris Wheel Newport Beach

Balboa Fun Zone Ferris Wheel Newport Beach

Her disappointment quickly melted away as we floated up to the dock and saw a massive ferris wheel looming over us, as well as other games, rides and attractions in the Balboa Fun Zone.

We finally made it to the beach after an obligatory ride on the ferris wheel, an attraction that boasts the best view and the longest ride. Although maybe not as exciting as a fairy ride would have been, it certainly beat the excitement factor of the car ferry in my daughter’s opinion.

Playing under the Newport Pier in Newport Beach

Playing under the Newport Pier

Playing in the waves at Newport Beach

Chasing waves at Newport Beach

Newport Beach quickly became one of my favourite spots in California. The beach went on for miles, and while the early May waves were a bit chilly to swim in, my kids loved running up and down the beach, chasing and taunting them, then quickly retreating when the water rushed up. We found loads of smooth seashells scattered along the clean sand that were quickly scooped up, like treasure to a pirate.

A wide-paved boardwalk connects the beach with side streets, overflowing with cafes, boutiques and restaurants. After working up an appetite we grabbed a quick bite at Ruby’s Diner, located at the very end of the Balboa Pier. It turned out to be the perfect vantage point to watch frolicking dolphins in the Pacific Ocean. The locals are very friendly and quick to offer advice, as most of them were once as pie-eyed as we were.

A fun playground close to the Newport Beach pier

A fun playground close to the Newport Beach pier

We spent our afternoon lazing about in the sun, watching our kids play at the park. My son found a boy who had brought his beyblades and a stadium to the playground. They huddled in the shade and battled away, exchanging tips and tricks of their shared favourite game, as their dads chatted about the best Southern California beaches, Newport Beach being on the top of their list.

Balboa Island was once a huge sandpit, but is now the home of some of the coolest sights in Newport Beach, which already has a reputation for flashy cars and fancy yachts. We may have rubbernecked a little driving through Balboa Island, gazing at the beautiful homes and big boats casually moored off the backyards.

Frozen Bananas at Balboa Island Newport Beach

A frozen banana treat is a MUST when visiting Balboa Island

There was one necessary last stop before we headed back to our hotel. It was a hot day and we had been told we had to try the chocolate-dipped frozen bananas on Balboa Island. Arrested Development fans are nodding in approval!

Where to stay:


Family Travel in Newport Beach. Stay at the Fairmont Newport Beach for a high end bargain.

The gorgeous poolside patio at the Fairmont Newport Beach hotel

If you love a high-end bargain, check out the Fairmont Newport Beach Hotel. Located in the business district of Newport Beach, it is geared toward business travellers, but at $165.00 per night including the familiar Fairmont service, and an incredible rooftop pool with massive patio, it’s a great place to stay. Oversize gazebos surround the edge of the pool with full dining tables and lounge chairs. And if you absolutely must catch the game, there are television sets and remote controls in each one as well. These are available to all hotel guests on a first-come, first served basis.

Where to eat:

Ruby’s Diner on the Balboa Pier has the best view in town. It’s located right at the very tip of the pier. It’s a 50’s style diner with the basics, burgers and fries-type fare. But be sure to visit the bathroom before heading out, as there are no public restrooms at the restaurant.

Where to shop:

There is no shortage of boutique-style shops along the Balboa Peninsula and on Balboa Island. If you are looking for something less eclectic or kitchy, visit Fashion Island where you’ll find everything from Apple to Urban Outfitters, as well as Nordstrom.

There was something for all our family members to enjoy. Great beaches and food, as well as that memorable ferris wheel ride made Balboa Island the perfect getaway-within-a-getaway. Even without the fairies.