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Balboa Fun Zone, Newport Beach

Location:Newport Beach, 600 East Bay Avenue, Balboa Penninsula, 92661
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays (hours may change due to weather and business – on busy nights, it stays open a little later)
Cost: $2 – $3 per attraction and arcade game; value cards available for 20 rides for $40, with no expiration date
For ages: All

If you want to experience a little of that 1950s beach boardwalk feel, take a few hours to stroll the Balboa Fun Zone on the Balboa Penninsula.

With views of the water, seagulls overhead, the smell of popcorn, and kids with ice cream cones eyeing the Ferris Wheel to see if they’re brave enough to ride – it’s all like a page out of a Dick and Jane book. … 

The Balboa Fun Zone actually did have its heyday in the Dick-and-Jane era. It was built in 1936 — with a carousel, a ferris wheel from 1918, kiddie rides, refreshments, and family-run arcade games like Spill the Milk — all along a bustling beach front where families could lay out towels and face the harbor while kids played the games behind them. Youngsters worked most of the concession stands — popcorn, cotton candy and the like — and all of the consessions were family-owned, creating a tight-knit community of workers and patrons. The Balboa Pavilion was next door, where big bands used to play in the Rendezvous Ballroom, and harbor boat tours began launching from the bustling area in 1948.

Over the decades, though, the land beneath the Fun Zone changed hands multiple times, beginning in the 1970s – passing back and forth from owners who wanted to preserve it to corporations who wanted to bulldoze it and make way for condominiums. But ultimately, the city kept voting to preserve, and the Fun Zone is now going on its 75th year of existence.

Although the classic carousel was recently removed in 2011, the Balboa Fun Zone still has its completely updated Ferris Wheel, modern arcade games, access to the Balboa ferry, and, most importantly, that air of simple joy – cotton candy, popcorn, seagulls, and kids eyeing that Ferris Wheel to see if they’re brave enough to do it. …

Some things not to miss:

  • Ferris Wheel — $3 per rider; there are views of the harbor when you’re up at the top; day view is different from night-lights view, so be sure to try both!
  • Frozen Banana or “Balboa Bar” – The concessioners have been making frozen bananas and Balboa ice cream bars here since the dawn of time, it seems – your frozen banana or ice cream is dipped in delicious chocolate, then coated with the sprinkles and/or nuts of your choice. (The frozen bananas are especially delicious!)

Add-ons to your day:

  • Take a Harbor Boat Tour (one to see celebrity homes, one to see sea lions, etc.)
  • Visit to the Newport Nautical Museum
  • Ride on the Balboa Ferry
  • Visit Balboa Pier
  • Spend the day at Balboa Beach

Where to park: Metered parking around Balboa penninsula along the streets off Newport Boulvard; free street parking further down Newport Boulevard, but you’ll have to walk about half a mile back to the penninsula; parking can be hard to find on summer weekends — weekdays are easier.

What to bring: Cash for parking and rides on the Balboa Ferry if necessary. Sunscreen and hats; bottled water. Strollers for little ones. Money for arcade games, attractions, and refreshments. Towel for sandy and wet feet if a trip to Balboa Beach is in order.

For more information: visit the Balboa Fun Zone web site.

Lived in Orange County for awhile? What are some of your memories of the Balboa Fun Zone through the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s?

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