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Dock, Drink & Dine: Newport Beach Harbor

Most of us know Newport Beach as Southern California’s epicenter for surfing, sailing and sunbathing. However, this proud city also boasts another big feather in its cap: great restaurants, from short order shops to upscale, fine dining establishments.

If you are visiting Newport Beach for the first time, make sure to enjoy a stroll along the boardwalk on Newport Harbor, taking in the scenery across the harbor and the long line of beautiful yachts tied to the quay.

One of the first waterside restaurants you will see along Via Oporto is Lido Bottle Works, where light, savory, gourmet fare is the order of the day. As you peruse the menu, start with their mint avocado ceviche or cucumbers in herbed yogurt and basil oil while you sip a Peninsula Margarita or a Shore Break, an effervescent drink with Kombucha.

If you’re stopping by Via Oporto for weekend brunch, enjoy a crispy jidori chicken sandwich or Spanish chorizo hash with poblano hollandaise and guajillo aioli. The dinner menu will entice you with such house specialties as curried beef meatballs, braised rabbit pici, steelhead trout or Mary’s Chicken with parsnip puree and braised treviso. Your choice from a robust wine list will tantalize your tastes and round out your dining experience.

Got kids? They will love the Fun Zone, which is situated a bit farther down Balboa Peninsula. Established in 1936, the Fun Zone features an iconic, big, colorful ferris wheel, the Coconut Climb and other attractions. If you are really daring, strap yourself into Ocean Motion, a trampoline that lifts you up into the air to spin like a wheel – right next to the water’s edge!

Feeling hungry? After you have had your fill of fun, choose from one of the numerous restaurants sharing a spectacular view of the harbor. Pizza Pete’s can meet your demand for flavor with a wide assortment of gourmet toppings. Also on the menu are hot dogs and a variety of sandwiches, all at reasonable prices.

Only a few yards away is Azar’s Pizza, which is also well priced and prepared to bake your pizza with a blend of your choice of toppings. Azar’s will whet your appetite with aromas of pepperoni, fresh onions, bell pepper and a blend of cheeses just waiting to be baked to your pleasure.

After a day of boogie boarding at the beach and strolling along the boardwalk, choose from one of several indoor restaurants lining the dock adjacent to the Fun Zone. Newport Landing Restaurant & Oyster Bar, a favorite haunt among yachties, has Stella Artois, Kona Brewing and a few IPAs on tap, plus a wide selection of bottled beer. Along with the standard well drinks, Newport Landing features a list of signature cocktails, including their Organic Cucumber Cooler, Skrewball Frankie with Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey and Frangelico Liqueur and the Big Kahuna with dark rum, Sauza tequila and Grand Marnier.

Newport Landing’s menu opens with a creative list of appetizers, including coconut shrimp, ahi poke nachos and blue point oysters. Entrees include several pasta dishes, salads, burgers, sandwiches, tacos and rice bowls.

Easily the most commanding presence along the Newport Harbor waterfront is the Balboa Pavilion, established in 1905 and housing a number of businesses, the most prominent of which is Harborside Restaurant and Grand Ballroom. If there is a wedding occurring anywhere in Newport Beach, there is a good chance the reception will be held at Harborside, a popular venue for major events, from wedding receptions to corporate gatherings.

Allow yourself several minutes to peruse Harborside’s long list of appetizers, salads, dinner entrees and desserts. For openers, try the Caprese skewers with tomato, basil and mozzarella or one of my personal favorites, shaved roast beef canapes with creamy horseradish.

Harborside has separate buffet and plated menus for both lunch and dinner. Plated dinner selections include grilled Hawaiian chicken, grilled tenderloin tips and vegetable skewers, grilled swordfish with tropical fruit salsa buerre blanc and petite filet mignon with Canadian lobster tail. If you are planning a large gathering, particularly a wedding reception, contact Harborside well in advance to secure a date and select the desired menu items.

If you ask the local “old timers” where they go for comfort food in a casual setting in Newport Beach, they will invariably place The Crab Cooker at the top of their list. Located a few blocks away from the Fun Zone, this is the kind of place where you can sit down at a table in your swim trunks, tee shirt and flip flops and enjoy a hot bowl of clam chowder while waiting for your choice of numerous seafood entrees.

The Crab Cooker was established in 1951 by World War II veteran Bob Roubian, who understood the magic of using mesquite for grilling fish. Roubian was known for pointing out, “Good fish is easy to cook if you let its taste shine through over a hot fire with light seasoning.”

Roubian’s appreciation for the value of simplicity in preparing great food has led to The Crab Cooker’s long history of satisfied lunch and dinner guests over the past 73 years. After the original building, a former branch of Bank of America, was demolished to allow construction of a new condominium complex, a new restaurant structure was built in 2021. The building design closely resembles the original, and the owners have retained much of the décor, which is rich in local maritime history. And the sign above The Crab Cooker still says, “Don’t look up here!”

Whatever your plans for visiting Newport Beach, you can find parking along side streets in residential areas or at the Balboa Pier Parking Lot, which is a short walk from the Fun Zone and nearby restaurants. The rates are a bit higher from May through September at $3.40 per hour as compared to $2.30 per hour October through April.

For visitors arriving by boat, anchorages are available at various locations inside Newport Harbor and at Corona del Mar State Beach just outside the harbor. You may take a free mooring for the day, but you must leave the mooring before sunset, said Joseph White of the Newport Harbor Department. When you enter the harbor, contact the department on VHF channel 19A or call by phone at (949) 270-8159. Also visit newportbeachca.gov for regulations regarding anchoring in these areas.

If you are looking for that special place where you can spend the day surfing, sightseeing and meeting up with friends and family for great food, you need look no farther than Newport Beach. Enjoy!

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