Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: November/December 2017
Beautiful Newport Beach
By: Edith Billups

If you are looking for a great meeting space in a pristine coastal setting, then check out beautiful and serene Newport Beach, CA. Nestled among golden stretches of Pacific coastline between Los Angeles and San Diego, this seaside destination is celebrated for its natural beauty and vibrant yachting community, stylish accommodations, coastal cuisine, and upscale shopping.

I recently packed my bags and discovered the charm and elegance of this city of 85,000 that combines business, leisure and style in 10 distinct neighborhoods. While formerly known primarily as the getaway for Hollywood's rich and famous, today's Newport Beach caters to a variety of groups and tourists.

Up until the 1500s, Newport Beach was inhabited by the Native American Tongva and Juaneno/Luiseno people who made the area home for thousands of years. Europeans explored the area in the 1500s, and after the Civil War, the land was developed by American settlers. The most influential of these was Irishman James Irvine, for ranching, and Scotsman James McFadden for shipping. Later, Newport Beach developed into a tourist and recreational boating community.

In the late 20th century, celebrities who resided and/or kept boats there included John Wayne, James Cagney, Shirley Temple, Humphrey Bogart and Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. In recent years, celebrities residing in the area have included Kobe Bryant and Nicolas Cage.

My three-day visit began with my arrival at John Wayne International Airport, named for "The Duke", and one of the easiest airports I've ever traversed. In less than 10 minutes, I was checking into the Balbo Bay Resort, the only AAA, Four-Diamond, waterfront resort in Newport Beach. 

With stunning views, this Mediterranean-style hotel uses the colors of the sea, sand and sky, along with natural material and modern furnishings to reflect the area's casual luxury. With 159 guest rooms, including 10 suites, and six waterfront meeting spaces, Balboa Bay Resort offers meeting planners several unique options. Its 7,000-sq. ft. ballroom features 18-ft. ceilings with a maximum occupancy

of 1,000, and the total meeting space of 20,000 sq. ft. can accommodate a variety of events.

On my first night, I checked out the resort's waterfront restaurant, Waterline, specializing in fresh seafood, and enjoyed a scrumptious vegetarian meal. My dish, prepared by chef Horacio Valdovinos, included grilled tofu with avocado, jicama, and marcona almonds; ratatouille stuffed squash blossoms with wheat berries and pepper puree; and milk chocolate mousse for dessert. For breakfast, the resort's Blend café offers fresh brewed cappuccino, breakfast burritos, smoothies, and a variety, of English muffins, artisan sandwiches and other choices. To-go orders can be placed in advance for a picnic or a Duffy boat excursion, perfect for cruising around the bay.

 My second day in Newport Beach included a Pedego electric bike tour of Corona Del Mar and Newport Beach, which included a fun ride to Inspiration Point, Ocean Boulevard, and Balboa Island. A short ferry ride allowed access to the local pier, straddling the beautiful Pacific Ocean.  With temperatures in the low 80s, the day was perfect for walking along the beach or just taking in the sun's rays. If visiting, be sure to meet Joe or Lori with Pedego bikes, who will give you a quick safety lesson before you take off. Bike rentals range from $25 per hour to $125 for the day.

For lunch, I dined at Lido's Bottle Works, which specializes in California coastal cuisine, a tapas style menu of small bites, and selected small batch beers.  This local favorite is in the heart of Lido Marina Village, a shopping destination for mall-adverse shoppers, who love the laid-back and relaxing atmosphere.

A 90-minute electric boat ride capped off the afternoon as my group took in the sun and stunning Lido Marina views. Hundreds of Duffy electric boats, named for local inventor Marshall Duffield, dot the waters and share the water ways with million dollar yachts and paddle boaters. For groups, the easy to operate boats are a perfect way to enjoy a scavenger hunt along the waters and to explore the gorgeous million dollar waterfront homes.

My second night ended with a trip to the elegant Island Hotel for dinner where executive chefs David

Man and pastry chef Andy De La Cruz demonstrated their impressive talents via a cooking demonstration. What resulted was a mouthwatering four-course meal that was equally impressive in its presentation. The menu included local heirloom tomatoes with fresh burrata and basil; Maine diver scallops; California red wine braised short ribs and chanterelle risotto. Dessert was coconut cremeux, with almond ice cream, and the wine pairings included Savignon Blanc, Seghesio, and Mer Soleil.

The Island Hotel boasts 295 rooms and 23,000 sq. ft. of event space, and its 8,700-sq. ft. ballroom is the largest in Newport Beach. The hotel overlooks Newport Harbor and the islands of Catalina, Lido and Balboa, and with a balcony or furnished patio in every guest room, one is afforded picture post card views.    

My final day in Newport Beach began with breakfast at the Lighthouse located on the Balboa Peninsula in beautiful Marina Park, a cutting edge community and sailing center. Afterwards, it was off for the highlight of my visit, a helicopter tour over the city and the breathtaking Pacific Ocean coastline.

Our pilot, Ric Webb of OC Helicopters, is the only man in the world who has flown a 100% electric helicopter, and with 8,500 commercial flights under his belt, was the perfect person to put my more nervous co-passengers at ease. Flying 600 ft. above the ground, we spotted pods of dolphins playing in the blue waters below and were wowed with a 360 degree turn.  If visiting, you may get Webb to reveal a big secret: he piloted NBA legend Kobe Bryant from Orange County to the Staples Center in LA when Bryant was still playing.

It was back to Earth for lunch, and I enjoyed a superb three course meal at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Spa prepared by executive chef Andrew Arndt. The hotel is a partner with the famed seafood advisory program, Seafood Watch, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Our meal included grilled shrimp, charred octopus salad, lobster risotto, wild mushrooms, crispy Brussels sprouts and boned in rib eye. Dessert was a warm bourbon caramel brownie that left our group fully satiated.

The Marriott offers 532 guest rooms, including 20 hotel suites, and 25,000-sq. ft. of indoor meeting space. Its outdoor event space totals 15,000 sq. ft. and offers panoramic views of Newport Country Club, Newport Harbor, and the Pacific Ocean. If visiting, be sure to look for its iconic fountain that has a unique story: Bought in Italy by the Marriott family, the fountain was being shipped to the US by boat, but was captured by pirates who were preparing to smelt it down. Through the intervention of Interpol, the fountain eventually reached its US destination.

No trip to Newport Beach is complete without a visit to Fashion Island, Southern California's premier coastal shopping and dining experience, and I dropped in for a pedicure.  Stores include prestigious department stores, as well as specialty boutiques. Fashion Island includes a concierge service that will shop for a gift for you if you are on a tight schedule. The service is complimentary.

I ended my evening with a dinner at the Hyatt Regency, which sits on 26 lush, landscaped acres surrounded by the beauty of the upper Newport Bay. Executive chef Julien Bontron dazzled our group with courses that resonated with land, sea and air as gorgeous images were projected on a huge, panoramic theater screen.    

The hotel offers 407 guest rooms and suites, including 4, three-bedroom villas with stunning Newport Bay views. Its 26,000 sq. ft. of event space includes its 6,720-sq. ft. Plaza Ballroom and a variety of meeting and conference spaces, many with outdoor components.

The hotel is a favorite for viewing the annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, where extravagantly lighted boats and yachts parade on the bay, competing with the decorative holiday lights at the beautiful waterfront estate homes.

For more on Newport Beach, visit