Day trip: Upper Newport Bay

Stop and smell the wildflowers in Newport's hidden outdoor oasis

Chantal Lamers

Why go in spring: Locals come to this Southern California bay year-round to hike, bike, and escape the sound of freeway traffic. But with wildflowers like California sagebrush at their peak, the wetlands are at their best in April.

Regulars call it: The Back Bay.

Bragging rights: With about 1,000 acres of native habitat, the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve and Nature Preserve is the largest natural estuary in SoCal.

Number of bird species: Nearly 200

Native plants to watch for: Cattails, cottonwoods, willows, and the endangered salt marsh bird’s beak.

Most scenic time: At high tide (check, only the tippy-tops of pickleweed and cordgrass mounds are visible on the water’s glassy surface.

What to bring: Comfortable walking shoes, binoculars, SPF 30, a water canteen, and snacks.

See it by kayak: Take a two-hour guided tour of the reserve with Newport Bay Naturalists and Friends (10 Sat–Sun; $20; reservations required; 949/640-6746).

A view from the water: For a solo paddle, rent a kayak from the Newport Aquatic Center at North Star Beach and head out onto the glassy bay. Watch for birds, leaping mullet fish, sea lions, and the occasional dolphin.

It’s 30 minutes from the center south to Balboa Island, where you can pull in on a beach and treat yourself to the island’s namesake ice cream bar. From $14 per hour; 1 Whitecliffs Dr.


Next: A trail, brunch with a view, and more

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