I’m not from Southern California. I can’t drop the word “stoked” into casual conversation or explain where the confusing web of freeways might get you if you took the 10 to the 91 to the 73. (Can someone just name these roads and be done with it?) Truth is, I’m just a girl from New York living life in Newport Beach, CA, wondering how she found herself among the land of golden sunsets and crisp waves.
After more than two years here, I consider myself something of an accidental local and happily impart whatever wisdom I’ve acquired so that if you ever decide to visit this idyllic, coastal surf town called Newport Beach, you’ll be able to skip past the crowded, boring tourist line and head straight for the good stuff. Here are five ways to do it …
1. DORY’S FISHING FLEET MARKET
What it is: As the story goes, in late 1891 an enterprising fisherman grew weary of selling his fish to wholesalers and decided it was high time to bring the catches of the day directly to the beach-going public. What resulted was Dory Fishing Fleet Market, still standing in the same spot on the edge of the sand today with all the nostalgic panache expected from a 125-year-old landmark. (The post was officially dedicated a historic landmark June 1969.) Good news, even after all these years, the fish are still biting and you can get them straight from the fishermen Wednesday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. until noon, and Saturday and Sunday from 5:30 a.m. until noon.
Local(ish) tip: Get to the market early if you want the best of what’s offered that day. And by best I mean stone crabs, sea urchin, yellowfin tuna … No worries though if you can’t get there before the crack of dawn; you’ll still be able to buy just-caught rock cod, black cod and maaaybe a sliver of tuna. When you go, ask for Leslie. She’s my personal favorite fishmonger who is not only one of the friendliest fisherwomen you’ll ever meet but also incredibly knowledgeable about all things fish and how to prepare ’em. (One word, two limes: ceviche.)
2. The Wedge
What it is: Just like the name suggests, The Wedge is a little slice of ocean wedged into the eastern end of Newport Beach’s Balboa Peninsula. Famously, because of the location of the jetty, the waves at The Wedge are both crazy big and unpredictable, even for the most experienced surfers. Crowds flock to watch as surfboards break, the awaiting ambulance ominously whines and lifeguards yell to stand back from swells that pummel the sand with a fury so majestic, it’ll take your breath away.
Local(ish) tip: Even if you think you’re the next World Surf League Champion Kelly Slater (or those three schooners of beer from local hangout, Mutt Lynch’s are hoppily telling you to pick up your rented surfboard and head east) … don’t. As one wave-rider told the Orange County Register last year about battling The Wedge, “You have to leave your brains on the beach to surf there.”
3. Walking Path TO BALBOA FERRY
What it is: Experience the maze of canals and waterways from this semi-hidden walking path near the western end of the Balboa Peninsula. Map yourself to the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, travel one block west to Edgewater Avenue then turn left onto the thin walking path, which winds around Newport Bay. Unlike the dangerously (and annoyingly) crowded beach boardwalk, this path is bike-free, which means you can amble along the water without fearing for your toes from a whipping-by cyclist. Sit on one of the many benches dotting the way and you’ll probably see a seal or two emerge then disappear into the water as the breeze whistles salty and sweet, sailboats lazily dance on by and you ask yourself, ‘Is this real life?’
Local(ish) tip: The path will take you straight into the Balboa Fun Zone, a kid-friendly collection of ice cream and corn dog shops complete with a Ferris Wheel overlooking the bay. For just a few dollars, you can hop on the ferry to Balboa Island and in just two minutes walk through a little town awash in coastal charm and a seriously laid-back vibe.
4. Wild Taco
What it is: Located a hint off the main road, this semi-hidden joint is everything you’d want and more from a taco place serving up ridiculously good eats. Decorated like an old-timey, secret hideaway somewhere on the Mexican Riviera, Wild Taco is a true taco enthusiast’s oasis for Baja-inspired dishes that are as affordable as they are appetizing.
Local(ish) tip: Ask for the tacos of the day, which usually involve whatever types of locally caught fish happen to be fresh riiiight now. And don’t forget the sides; their mango-on-a-stick and spicy cuban corn is the stuff that Mexican food-lover dreams are made of. Is it Taco Tuesday yet?
5. Cassidy’s Bar & Grill
What it is: From the outside, Cassidy’s looks pretty much like an abandoned building you’d pass when getting to the real place you’re going for the night. Step inside though and you’re transported into a mystical dive bar land of pool-playing, TV-lined, music-blasting, dimly lit awesomeness, where bartenders know 90% of the patrons by first name and have their drink ready and waiting before they can even find a seat.
Local(ish) tip: Cassidy’s burger was voted “best dive bar burger in OC” and trust me, their no-nonsense fare more than lives up to the hype. Forget the super stiff drinks (or don’t) but Cassidy’s loyals will tell you they really return week after week for the simple but mouth-watering combination of meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles and onions that could put even the fanciest of truffle-infused, Kobe beef competitors to shame. For those who want a little sizzle to their slider, I recommend adding the “special sauce,” which is an if-you-know-you-know move that’ll make you look like you’ve been sitting at Cassidy’s sipping on a cold beer and munchin’ on your burger for years. Who me? Yeah I’m from here, so what?