The 31 Best Things to Do on Balboa Island in 2024

It’s no secret that Balboa Island is one of the most charming little islands in Orange County. But did you know that even at just .2 square miles, there are plenty of fun things to do on Balboa Island?

When you put together Balboa Island, Balboa Peninsula, and the immediate surrounding areas, you have a ton of neat places to explore, foods to try, and activities to do. So while the majority of the items on this list are right on Balboa Island, there are also several in the surrounding areas worth sharing.

This list of things to do on Balboa Island is by no means exhaustive but it contains the top spots and activities that you can do to make the most of your visit.

But first, let’s learn a bit more about Balboa Island to give you a sense of what to expect if you’ve never been before.

Balboa Island

Balboa Island is a harbourside community that used to just be a sandbar if you can believe it. Over 8 years, developer William S. Collins transformed it into a manmade island, finishing in 1913.

Today, the majority of Balboa Island is a charming residential area where the lots alone go for hundreds of thousands, if not millions. (Back when it was completed in 1913, a lot went for $250! That’s equivalent to $7,525.56 today!! Don’t you wish you had purchased a lot back then?)

Balboa Island’s main attractions are the adorable shops that line Marine Avenue and the public sidewalk that completely surrounds the island. (Don’t worry, we’ll cover way more than just that in this list of things to do on Balboa Island!)

And if you’re not familiar with the area, Balboa Island is connected to the mainland by a short little bridge- so short that you can easily walk or bike over it.

Besides driving, you can also get to Balboa Island by ferry from Balboa Peninsula. There are also public docks if you want to reach Balboa Island by boat.

Balboa Island vs Balboa Peninsula

Visitors often confuse Balboa Island with Balboa Peninsula, and if you’re in this boat, I don’t blame you!

In this drone photo that we took above, you’re looking at Balboa Island with Balboa Peninsula in the distance. (See which drone we use here!)

They are physically located right next to each other, and you can drive to both from the mainland. But if you want to drive from one to the other, it would take 5 miles to drive inland, since they’re separated by water. However, you can shorten the trip immensely if you hop on the ferry that connects the two; it only costs $2.50 cash to bring your car onto it.

Balboa Island and Balboa Peninsula have very different vibes.

Balboa Island feels much more charming and residential than the more commercial Balboa Peninsula.

It makes sense, though, since the Peninsula is where you’ll find oceanfront beaches and the Newport Beach Boardwalk, which stretches for three miles from 36th Street to E Street.

But to me, Balboa Island is a dreamier location where you can appreciate a slower pace of life with a small-town feel.

Both definitely have their perks, though, and I’ll cover the best things to do on both!

Is Balboa Island worth visiting?

Balboa Island is definitely worth visiting. Whether you’re traveling solo, with friends, kids, or your significant other, there is something for everyone!

We recently traveled with our six-month-old baby and it was an ideal location! We stayed at a friend’s house right on the island and spent several days exploring the ins and outs of Balboa Island.

I love its walkability and how it offers a kid-friendly atmosphere while staying classy. The old-fashioned main street feel of Marine Avenue boasts around 40 different stores and restaurants that you’ll fall in love with.

It’s no surprise that Balboa Island’s population density is almost double that of Los Angeles- once people visit, they don’t want to leave! And after you visit, I’m sure you’ll want to return again.

What can you do on Balboa Island?

If you want a broad overview of what you can do on Balboa Island, the main things include shopping and dining on Marine Avenue, boating, and walking the 2.5-mile public sidewalk that loops around the charming island.

But that definitely doesn’t encompass all there is to do. I’ll cover way more in my list of the best things to do on Balboa Island! Jump right to it here!

Where to Stay on Balboa Island

The last thing I want to cover before we get to the top things to do on Balboa Island is where to stay.

There aren’t any hotels directly on the island so if you want to stay on Balboa Island, you’ll be renting a house.

Cottages for Rent on Balboa Island

There are several places to stay on Balboa Island on sites like AirBNB, VrBo, and Booking.com. I’ve listed the ones on Booking.com since they usually offer better free cancelation policies than other sites.

(Keep in mind that some cottages only list on one site or another, so this list isn’t all-encompassing, it’s just the ones on Booking.com!)

These are ranked by price, from lowest to highest price. The lowest starts in the high $700s for 3 nights and the highest is in the $9000s for 3 nights!

Hotels Around Balboa Island

If you want to stay in a hotel, there are also great options on Balboa Peninsula and the surrounding areas. If we weren’t staying at our friend’s house, I personally would choose Lido House since it’s so gorgeous and is located in Lido Marina Village. I’ll talk more about Lido Marina Village later!

3 Star Hotels on Balboa Peninsula

4 Star Hotels around Balboa Island

5 Star Hotels around Balboa Island

Honestly, I’d recommend getting a house right on Balboa Island if you’re willing to pay 5-star hotel prices unless you simply love the hotel/resort experience! You can’t beat the walkability and small-town charm while staying directly on Balboa Island!

Plus, there are just so many things to do on Balboa Island that you’ll want the proximity. Let’s get to it, here are the top things to do on and around the island!

The Best Things to Do on Balboa Island

1. Get an Original Frozen Banana

Did you go to Balboa Island if you didn’t get a frozen banana or Balboa Bar?

You’ll notice two shops almost right next to each other, Sugar ‘n Spice and Dad’s Donuts, that both claim to have invented the original Balboa Bar.

Believe what you will- all I know is that the chocolate-dipped frozen banana with the “everything” topping at Sugar ‘n Spice is my favorite!

2. Walk Down Marine Avenue

The bridge from mainland Newport Beach leads right into the shops on Marine Avenue.

Marine Avenue is Balboa Island’s old-fashioned main street, lined with around 40 shops and restaurants. Whether you just want to window shop on Marine Avenue or stop into as many stores as possible, you’ll love the ambiance here!

3. Go Stand Up Paddleboarding

Because you’re on an island, after all!

You can get a stand-up paddleboard rental from a number of places. At Newport Aquatic Center, single kayaks cost $15 an hour, and double kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are $20 an hour.

You can easily kayak or paddleboard from Balboa Island to Balboa Peninsula to Lido Island and back.

4. Sip a Coffee at Huskins Coffee Company

What would Marine Avenue be without a great coffee shop?

Huskins Coffee Company serves up a delicious cup of coffee. I got their lavender latte and breakfast sandwich and loved both!

If you’re visiting Balboa Island via the ferry, Succulent Coffee Roasters is Balboa Island’s other coffee shop, located very close to where the ferry drops off.

5. Walk the Island Loop on S Bay Front

This is one of my favorite things to do on Balboa Island. The public sidewalk has water on one side and gorgeous houses on the other. You can go people-watching or admire the boats and cottages while on this stroll!

There are a few public docks along this pathway if you want to get closer to the water for a photo!

One thing to note: Balboa Island is actually comprised of two main islands: Balboa Island and Little Balboa Island. They’re separated by the Grand Canal but are connected by a little bridge.

The walking path along Balboa Island is 1.71 miles long, while the path around Little Balboa Island is .79 miles. (There’s actually a third landmass called Collins Island, but it’s tiny with only 8 houses on it).

6. Get a Chocolate Covered Strawberry

As you’re walking along the loop, don’t miss this Balboa Island gem!

Balboa Island Berries has been on Balboa Island for over 20 years, selling fresh, local, organic fruits and veggies, but most importantly, chocolate-dipped strawberries!

These chocolate-covered strawberries cost $5 a piece but they are so worth it. Made from Ghiradelli’s chocolate, these sweet treats are so rich that you truly only need one!

You’ll find them right next to the ferry every day in the summer and on weekends from September to June.

7. Whale and Dolphin Watching

Whale and dolphin watching is one of the best things to do on Balboa Island no matter which season you visit! There’s always something to see here. Blue whales populate these waters during the fall and the summer, while grey whales visit from December to April.

There are several companies that offer whale watching, but East Meets West is located directly on Balboa Island. (Most of the other companies take off from the peninsula).

And a great thing about whale or dolphin watching with East Meets West is that they guarantee you’ll see either marine mammal, with a 99.7% success rate! (They do offer a free repeat trip on the very rare chance that you don’t see any!)

What I appreciate most about this company is that they have a six-passenger maximum, making it a fun, intimate experience (as opposed to the kind where you’re trying to compete with strangers for a good view!).

At the time of writing, whale watching is around $89 per person with East Meets West. You can find lower rates if you don’t mind having more people on your boat; Newport Coastal Adventure charges $76.50 per adult on a 15-passenger boat, and Newport Landing charges $62 per adult on a 35-passenger boat.

8. Get Breakfast at Balboa Island Baking Co or at Juice Crafters

Balboa Island Baking Company and Juice Crafters are excellent breakfast options if you want something fast and sweet! These two shops are right next to each other on Marine Avenue.

Balboa Island Baking Company has the most delicious cinnamon rolls and sweet buns, and they offer gluten-free options too! We made scrambled eggs and bacon at home and picked up some pastries from this bakery for the most delicious breakfast one morning.

Another morning we went to Juice Crafters and had their classic acai bowl- it was great! We asked for no honey on top so that it was not too sweet, which is just how I like it. They also have smoothies, juices, wellness shots, and more.

9. Admire the Cottages

Balboa Island is covered in the prettiest cottages- and no two are the same! You’ll find so many different colors and styles to admire as you walk along the gemstone-named streets.

Each lot is roughly 30 feet by 85 feet, which is how so many cottages get packed onto Balboa Island.

Fun fact: as you look at the boats and cottages, know that big names like Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, Shirley Temple, Mae West, and John Wayne owned yachts here!

10. Shop for Souvenirs

There are so many shops where you can find gifts and classy souvenirs on Balboa Island. My favorites to explore include Blu Canoe, pictured above, Sur La Mer Coastal Goods, Shirley’s Heart, Seaside Gallery & Goods, hjom., and Olive Oil & Beyond.

11. Snag Donuts at Dad’s

Though my personal favorite frozen banana comes from Sugar ‘n Spice, you still should stop at Dad’s Donuts for their namesake… donuts!

Their apple sauce cake donut is one of the best donuts I’ve ever had, no joke. I ate it so fast that I forgot to take a photo of it- so instead you see the cinnamon sugar donut above.

Also worth mentioning: if you want a more gourmet donut, Sidecar Doughnuts and Coffee, though not on Balboa Island, is also a must! It’s about a 12-minute drive away.

12. Swim with Your Family at Ruby Beach

During the warmer months, Ruby Beach is a local favorite on Balboa Island because it’s great for kids! There are no waves which makes it a lot safer than the beaches on Balboa Peninsula.

And, as a bonus, you can swim out to a little floating dock where you can jump into the water.

Keep your eyes peeled for Parker the sea lion who sometimes visits these waters!

13. Refresh Your Wardrobe

Balboa Island boasts plenty of clothing stores with all sorts of price ranges. Skyhaven, Amore, Pearls, Balboa Surf & Style, OC Couture, and Etc Etc are a few that you’ll find here.

14. Rent a Duffy Boat

What better way to explore these waters than by electric Duffy boat? A Duffy boat rental is perfect for couples, families, and groups of up to 12 people. Keep in mind that you have to be at least 21 to rent a Duffy boat.

Once you rent your Duffy boat, you can spend the whole time on the water (bring snacks and drinks!) or park at a dock for lunch. I recommend stopping at the docks by Lido Marina Village and having lunch at Malibu Farm.

There are several places where you can rent Duffy Boats on or around the island, and I’ve included pricing (at the time of writing) for a two-hour Duffy boat rental:

  • Voyagers Rentals, located right on Balboa Island, is $250 for an 8-person Duffy or $275 for a 12-person Duffy for two hours.
  • Duffy Electric Boat Rentals, located on PCH directly north of Lido Island, is $299 for two hours for a 10-person Duffy.
  • Pacific Electric Boat Rentals, located at the Balboa Marina. Prices are roughly $240 for two hours for a 10-person Duffy.

15. Grab Lunch at Crocker’s

Though Crocker’s is famous for their “well-dressed franks,” we love this spot for their sandwiches! They have a great selection of “breakfast sandos”- I had their ‘Croissant, Egg, Bacon, Cheddar’ sandwich which was so good.

Another quick lunch location that we loved was Irvine Ranch Market. They have great sandwiches, paninis, burgers, burritos, and more. But the cream of the crop is their battered french fries- they’re so dang good!

16. Visit the Balboa Island Museum

You can learn about the history of the island, Newport Beach, and Orange County at the Balboa Island Museum. There are exhibits dedicated to the local surfing and fishing cultures, locations like The Wedge, and more.

It’s completely free to visit and is located right on Marine Avenue.

Here are the museum hours:

  • 10am-5pm from Monday to Thursday
  • 10am-6pm from Friday to Sunday

If you’re visiting with little ones, ask them about their kid’s scavenger hunt! The museum also hosts fun events which you can get tickets to here.

17. Have Dinner at Royal Hen

When you dine at Royal Hen, it feels like you’re sitting in someone’s house! It’s very quaint and truly feels like you’re eating a homemade meal. Their chicken pot pie is excellent, as are any of their homemade pasta dishes.

18. Indulge at Balboa Candy

Whether you’re a kid, have kids, or are a kid at heart, you will feel like a kid in a candy store at Balboa Candy.

The varieties here seem endless! Though they offer a bunch of different kinds of candy, they’re most well known for their saltwater taffy.

19. Ride the Balboa Island Ferry

It only costs $1.50 per person to ride the ferry from Balboa Island to Balboa Peninsula. It drops you off right by the Balboa Fun Zone.

The ride is about 3-5 minutes long and cars/bikes are allowed as well.

Here’s the catch: they only accept cash. There are several ATMs on the peninsula but insider tip: the Wells Fargo ATM charges a smaller fee than the generic ATMs there!

The Best Things to Do on Balboa Peninsula

20. Play Games at Balboa Fun Zone

To be perfectly honest, the Balboa Fun Zone is a bit too touristy for my taste (I’m the kind of person who avoids amusement parks at all cost). But the next time we visit when our kid(s) are older, you can bet we’ll be here. Kids will love this spot!

The Balboa Fun Zone is an 80-year-old landmark with an arcade, Ferris wheel, games, food, and more. It’s free to enter; you just pay for individual attractions.

Their hours are:

  • 11am-5pm from Monday through Thursday
  • 11am-7pm from Friday through Sunday

21. Walk on Balboa Pier

Balboa Beach and Balboa Pier are an easy walk from the ferry. This beach is a shore break beach, so swimming is harder here since waves crash right by the shoreline. If you’re looking for a better swimming beach, head to the next spot on this list!

22. Swim and Surf at Newport Beach Municipal Beach

This is not a shore break beach, which makes it a more popular swimming spot than nearby Balboa Beach.

It’s also got a great surf break, so if you’re a surfer or want to learn how to surf, this beach is for you. The section from the pier to the 28th street jetty around 32nd street is also known as Blackies, and is famous for its long rolling waves- perfect for surfers!

23. Explore the Newport Beach Boardwalk

If you want complete beach vibes, look no further than Newport Beach’s Ocean Boardwalk. It stretches for three miles and offers your typical beach fare. Running from 36th Street to E Street, you’ll find restaurants, ice cream shops, bars, souvenir shops, art galleries, and more.

24. Play at Balboa Peninsula Park

If you want a wide-open green space for a pick-up soccer game or a game of catch, this is for you. Balboa Peninsula Park also has a playground with swings for those with kids. Besides that, you’ll find restrooms, picnic tables, barbecue pits, and water fountains at this dog-friendly park. Best of all, it’s right next to Balboa Beach!

25. Shop at Lido Marina Village

Though Lido Marina Village isn’t on Balboa Island, it is definitely worth a visit. It’s hard not to be happy in a place so beautiful! The stores here are really expensive but the food is reasonably priced.

If you’re looking for the best food in Lido Marina Village, you should visit Bear Flag Fish Company for casual tacos, Rye for the most amazing pastries, Herst Coffee for coffee, and Malibu Farm for brunch! You’ll also find a Nobu here if you’re looking for fresh sushi.

Here are some extra photos of Lido Marina Village because it’s just begging to be photographed!

The Best Things to Do Around Balboa Island

26. Take in the View at Inspiration Point

Inspiration Point is an observation point that is especially popular at sunset since it gives you a great view of sundown. We went at sunrise, however, and found it pleasantly empty, which is a major perk. You’ll find a rocky shoreline to your left and houses and the beach to your right.

You can simply enjoy the view, walk down to the beach (note: it’s a steep hill down to the beach), or walk along Ocean Blvd (more about that on the next thing in this list!). It’s located in Corona del Mar and parking is free if you can find a spot right along the street.

27. Walk Corona Del Mar

As you continue your walk down Ocean Blvd, don’t miss Lookout Point and a little walk down Goldenrod Avenue. Goldenrod Avenue connects to Ocean Blvd and leads you through a residential area where you can look at the pretty houses in Corona del Mar.

At one point, you’ll cross over the iconic Goldenrod Footbridge, the flower-covered pedestrian bridge pictured above.

Fun fact: the bridge was built in 1928 when the population of Newport Beach was 2,000 residents; at the time of writing, the population is about 84,000 residents!

28. Bask in the Beauty at Sherman Library & Gardens

Also located in Corona del Mar, Sherman Library and Gardens is a small but beautiful botanical garden that costs $5 per adult to enter.

It’s comprised of several smaller gardens like the Tropical Conservatory (pictured above), Specimen Shade Garden, and Succulent Garden. There’s a restaurant on the 2.2-acre property as well if you want to dine in the gardens.

29. Surf The Wedge

woman surfing banzi pipeline oahu

The Wedge is a world-famous body surfing spot. This shore break beach has the biggest swell in Southern California!

When there’s a big swell, it can cause waves to reach up to a whopping 30 feet due to its position along a rock jetty. However, you’ll want to check the surf cam before visiting in case there’s not a big swell that day.

30. Relax at Corona Del Mar State Beach Park

Corona Del Mar State Beach Park is a great beach to visit, though it does get crowded on the weekends.

Insider tip: if you climb past the rocks at the end of the parking lot, you’ll reach Pirates Cove, which is typically less busy than the main beach! Also, there’s a cave at the far left if you walk down the beach a little!

Keep your eyes peeled for sealife in the tide pools by the rocks!

31. Seasonal Bonus: Look at Christmas Lights

This seasonal item deserves a spot on this list because Balboa Island goes all out for Christmas! While you’ll have a great time looking at decked-out houses, the main attraction is the Balboa Island Christmas Boat Parade.

It has been around since 1908 when John Scarpa, a gondolier, decked out nine boats and sailed the bay.

Now you’ll see this beautiful tradition happen the week before Christmas for multiple nights. Boat owners go all out in decorating their vessels, and it’s such a fun experience for the whole family to watch them sail by.

Map of Things to Do on Balboa Island

Here’s a map so that you can see where these spots are! I’ve color coded it to differentiate between Balboa Island, Balboa Peninsula, and the surrounding areas.

In conclusion…

There are so many fun things to do on Balboa Island and the surrounding areas! I hope this list has given you a good idea of what to expect on your Balboa Island visit. If you have any questions or suggestions on more things to do on Balboa Island, drop them in the comments below!

And if you’re exploring more of California, here are some more posts you might enjoy:

Happy exploring!

Jasmine

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Jasmine Alley

Jasmine Alley

I'm a Dallas-based, full-time travel blogger with a serious case of wanderlust! Through my website and Instagram, I hope to help others plan picture-perfect trips to the most beautiful places in the world! When I travel, I like to emphasize nature, hidden gems, and unique places.
Jasmine Alley

Jasmine Alley

I'm a Dallas-based, full-time travel blogger with a serious case of wanderlust! Through my website and Instagram, I hope to help others plan picture-perfect trips to the most beautiful places in the world! When I travel, I like to emphasize nature, hidden gems, and unique places.

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Hi, I’m Jasmine! I’m a nature-obsessed, beauty-finding, Jesus-loving dreamer with a serious case of wanderlust. I love to create photo-worthy travel content and hope to fill your travel plans with incredible beauty and breathtaking views! Thanks for following along on my adventures!

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