Sunday Drives, Newport Back Bay


The Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve and Ecological Reserve is quite the tongue twister but what the locals call it today and I what I called it when I was a kid is simply, the Back Bay.

Many, many years ago it was designated as an area for speed boats and water skiing.  It was far away from the mansions and homes in the main bay so the noise and wakes never affected any residents.

Back then, I remember seeing my first water-skier riding high behind the boat, holding on to the rope as if for dear life.    I couldn’t figure out how they stayed up without sinking.   I guess I was too young to understand physics.  Still it was fun to watch as this part of the bay was filled with life.

Today, the drone of speedboat motors is long gone only to be replaced by the much quieter kayaks, stand up paddleboards , and outriggers.


The quietude is interrupted once in awhile when a low flying airline from John Wayne Airport takes off to who knows where.  I was thinking what a bummer that these million dollar homes are right under a flight path.

Have Kayak will Travel
The Upper Newport Bay is a coastal wetland that encompasses 1,000 acres of small water-ways, a larger channel, reeds, and marsh.  It is also home to hundreds of different species of birds.


A bird flies by with the Newport Aquatic Center in the background

On land, there is a ten mile loop for joggers, bicyclists, hikers, roller bladders, and for about 3 miles of it motor cars can join in on the road.  On water, there are plenty of nooks and crannies for you to explore via kayak or SUP.  If you don’t have your own, across the bay the Newport Aquatic Center has plenty of rentals.

The Loop allows for cars going one way and there are a few places to stop to enjoy the view. There is also a parking lot half way around the loop where you can get out and walk around.


One of the walkways near the parking lot

Also across the bay, the distinct white cliffs of Dover Shores can be seen.  Unlike the world renowned cliffs in England, these bluffs are filled with beautiful homes that have an amazing view of the bay and beyond.  In the distance the eclectic Fashion Island mall and the tall buildings of Newport Center can be seen.


Fashion Island and Newport center in the distance

Also, in Dover Shores, the Castaway Park is open to the public and gives you that same awesome view. You can sit at a bench and enjoy the same scene as the million dollar homes minus the high mortgage.


The view from Castaway park

Too bad it was a gray and overcast day because it is a lot more beautiful than it looks in a photo.

I guess you are going to have to check it out yourself.

All you need is a car, a kayak, SUP, bike, roller blades, or just your feet , and if you are lucky, a nice sunny day.

Story and photos: Debbie Colwell

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Balboa Island, Marine Street

The Lost Art of Window Shopping
I bet if you asked a 10-year old today if they knew what surfing the web was, they would rattle off at least 5 different online stores.  Ask them again what window shopping is and they will probably give you a blank stare.

The true appeal of window shopping is being able to wander around the store fronts gazing at their displays while hanging out with your friends or holding hands with your partner.  It is a true bonding experience.  If you are so inclined you will enter the store and if you are even more interested, actually buy something.

The window displays act like a beacon to lure you in to see what goods they have inside.

Marine Avenue on Balboa Island is all of that.   It is a long street filled on both sides with a vast collection of novelty shops, antique stores, restaurants, surf shops, clothing boutiques, dessert stands, bakeries, and much more!   It is all there for your window shopping enjoyment and of course buying pleasure too as I am sure the store owners are hoping.

Balboa Island itself can be only entered a couple of ways.  One way is by taking the lantern filled bridge that drops you right off into Marine Avenue. The second way is to take the four minute-or-so ride on the ferry boat from the Newport Peninsula.

The Island is mostly homes with the exception of Marine Avenue and a few stores over by the ferry landing.  It is a great place to visit for the holidays as at least 75% of the homes decorate.

Plan the day to do lunch and then the rest if the time to enjoy the unique shops situated on the route.  There are quaint restaurants on the Island that serve up all sorts of cuisines and you must save room for dessert as Balboa Bars and chocolate covered frozen  bananas  have been mainstays here for well over 70 years.  They allow you to pick your toppings and for me, chocolate sprinkles on a Balboa Bar are the only way to go.



The Island
Balboa Island can be accessed off of Pacific Coast Highway near Jamboree Road in Newport Beach or as mentioned, from the Newport Peninsula side via boat ferry.

A sidewalk winds all around the island allowing for a leisurely and scenic stroll.   At low tide in some areas, there are actually small sandy beaches where you can sit on the sea wall to enjoy the crisp sea air or to watch all the boats pass by.

Personally, I like to mosey around and look at the homes especially during the holidays.  However, on this gray and overcast October day I decided to meander about the shops and do what I don’t usually do…window shop.

I didn’t go into a single store except when I was duped into entering one to try some anti-aging cream. There I sat in the chair thinking, ”How did this happen?”   As the smooth and, I am sure, expensive cream was applied,  I was planning my escape.   Fake buzz of the phone worked and off I went to ponder whether to get a Balboa Bar or not.  The answer was no as I looked in a window to check out my reflection in the hopes that I looked years younger as promised. I couldn’t tell. This needed a closer inspection.

In fairness to the shops, if I wasn’t doing a story, I would have taken a lot more time. I would have stayed for lunch and gone into a few stores to maybe even buy something.  That is for another day.

So the fine art of window shopping is still alive on Balboa Island.  It is a perfect place for a leisurely afternoon of lunch and retail therapy.  After all, you CAN go into the stores.  If you see something you like in the window, buy it!!   After all, doesn’t that keep our economy strong?

As for me,  I checked out my face a little closer in the mirror of my car and to my surprise, my one eye did look smoother.  Or was it my imagination?   Maybe I should go buy some cream after all or even stop and get a Balboa Bar while I’m here.

I decided to hit the road and save a few dollars and pounds.

Until Christmas, Balboa Island…I’ll be back.

Driscoll’s Wharf

Driscoll’s Wharf

It seems like there is an imaginary line between Driscoll’s Wharf and its neighbor, Point Loma Marina. Both are part of what San Diego calls the America’s Cup Harbor, but that is where the similarity ends.

Point Loma Marina is a new addition to San Diego with its metropolitan design and homey feel.  Cozily nestled below the foothills of Point Loma, it is only minutes to the main bay and features a few shops, restaurants, a fully-stocked tackle store, plus boat rentals are nearby.  There is a small grassy area between the buildings for you to relax and enjoy the atmosphere.


Point Loma Marina in the distance

I did a blog on the Point Loma Marina a few years back but didn’t walk as far as Driscoll’s Wharf.  Being on a parking time limit, we didn’t get a chance to explore as far as we would have liked.  This time we strolled along the sidewalk all the way to the end which is nearer to the main San Diego Bay.

An Imaginary Line
You could visually see where one area ends and where the other begins by the buildings alone.   As you enter Driscoll’s wharf, you leave behind fresh award winning and modern architecture, only to arrive at old and faded buildings that looked abandoned.  Paint was chipping off and all the windows were closed.


Right where the blue building ends starts Driscoll’s Wharf


Buildings in need of a paint job

Continue reading “Driscoll’s Wharf”

Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument

Since I have lived in Southern California for a good portion of my life, I have taken many a drive out to the Cabrillo National Monument.  At the very end of Point Loma and right at the tip to the entrance of San Diego Bay, it is the perfect place to show your out-of-town guests spectacular views of San Diego.

High up on the point, you will see many sights including the bay, the skyline, Coronado Bridge, and the Hotel Del Coronado.

There are two lighthouses and one of them is on the ocean side near the tide pools, where you get a panoramic Pacific Ocean view and the other is on top of the hill. Even after living here awhile, I still find this one of my favorite drives

But it used to be free and now it costs $10.00 per carload to get past the main gate.  Still not a bad deal if you share the cost with a few people.  It is a “worth it” drive.

There’s  an Actual Monument
When I have visited here before, I was mostly intrigued with the view, the lighthouse and the tide pools.   One time we drove down there for the heck of it and it happened to be the day that North Island had an air show.  The planes flew right over us and it was quite an unexpected treat.  Another time, we only went to the tide pools, another just to have a picnic, and another to check out the lighthouse.

Since I would be writing about it, I paid closer attention this time and I was quite surprised to come across a 14 foot statue on the grounds overlooking the entrance to the bay.   Oh, duh, this was the “monument” part of the Cabrillo National Monument, I had never noticed it before.

The statue of  Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo  stands tall over the very bay that he first sailed into on September 28th, 1542.   Cabrillo National Monument was established in 1913 to commemorate his voyage and discovery of the bay.

At the visitor center they run a film that gives you all the details of this historic voyage, along with exhibits and books that are for sale.

The Views
Once you have visited the statue and had your fill of the expansive harbor views, head up the hill a little to see the  Old Point Loma Lighthouse, a San Diego icon since 1855. The lighthouse is now a museum and visitors can enter it and view some of the living areas.


Close by, at one of the highest sections, there is a great observation deck that gives you a view of the Pacific on the ocean side part of Point Loma.   You can leisurely sit there and enjoy the ocean breezes or watch over as the whales journey south during their annual migration.


Just after the check in station as you are coming into the park or just before you leave, there is a turn-off road that takes you down to sea level and to the tide pools.


I have been to the tide pools at optimum viewing times when the tide is low and you get to see all sorts of interesting sea creatures. When I used to come here, parking was never a problem but now it is lucky if you could find a space.

It is well worth it though as this is a prime spot to explore the tide pools and the rugged coast is a spectacular sight. Bring your camera because there is that other lighthouse by the tide pools and on clear days you can see the Coronado Islands.

The only downside is the tide pool closes at 4:30 pm.

So think of taking a drive out to Point Loma, it is a must see if you are visiting San Diego and a fun staycation for us who live close by.

Be sure and visit the statue as I feel bad about not seeing it before. I can’t be too hard on myself though as those amazing views are like a squeaky wheel making it hard for you to pay attention to anything else.

However… there is so much more!

Story and photos: Debbie Colwell

Diamond Valley Lake


Diamond Valley Lake

I’m not sure whether to categorize this trip as a Sunday Drive or Off the Beaten Path because it was actually both.

It WAS a Sunday drive and it WAS off the beaten path so I guess I will call this one “A Sunday Drive off the Beaten Path.”

We heard about this lake when our staff activity arranger JoJo, fished there as part of a special nighttime fishing derby. At night you couldn’t see how big this lake really was so it was time for a day trip!

Far off of the beaten path and by that I mean the 215 Freeway, the drive takes you quite a few miles until you finally reach the entrance to the lake near the city of Hemet.

The lake is actually a reservoir and no swimming is allowed. I used to think they didn’t want our yucky bodies in the water, but in fact reservoirs have various safety reasons not to allow swimming.

However, to cool you off, The Diamond Valley Aquatic Center sits right below the hill that takes you up to the lake and is equipped with a water slide, water fountain sprayers, and plenty to do for the whole family to cool off on those warm valley days.

Nearby, the Western Science Center was built and features exhibits or artifacts found during the construction of the lake.

Diamond Valley Lake (also known as The Diamond), is one of the largest man-made reservoirs in Southern California. It has a capacity of 800,000 acre feet, 260 ft deep, and with over 4,500 surface acres. It holds enough water to meet the area’s emergency drought needs for at least six months. The lake features three earth filled dams located on either side of the valley and one on the north side.

A Big Lake with a Big View
On this bright and sunny Sunday, the air temperature was a perfect 82 degrees with mild winds skimming across the water surface.

So what is this lake/reservoir all about, what is there to do? That is exactly what we wanted to find out.

We drove up to a sizable parking lot and then headed to the only building in sight which turned out to be home to a store and where you can sign in to rent boats.

We didn’t expect that they would have anything to rent but they did in fact have two pontoon boats available. This was too much boat for the two of us so we decided to just walk around and view the lake.

The rental prices aren’t bad and you can check out a few different fishing boats or the eight passenger pontoons. I suggest getting reservations, though, as they are scooped up pretty fast.

Parking for the day is $9.00 and a fishing access permit is $6.00.

There is Nothing like a Lake

The actual lake/reservoir took me aback as I was surprised on how large it was! It spanned as far as you could see and had a beautiful blue tint. Continue reading “Diamond Valley Lake”