Big on a Bay View

Hike or bike the back bay in Newport Beach at Upper Newport Bay Preserve

Newport Beach is well known for having the biggest of things: homes, boats, egos (oh come on, you know we love you, Newport Beach!) … and the largest estuary in the area, which happens to be one of the top spots for hiking, biking, and bird-watching (no, you’re not too cool for that; birds are worth geeking out on!). Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve is a coastal wetland formed from the intersection of the salt water of the Pacific and the freshwater San Diego Creek. Go on an 8-mile out-and-back hike or bike ride starting from the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, a thoroughly modern spot whose roof serves as an observation deck for breathtaking views of the entire bay. Search the skies for winged members of the over 200 species that call the estuary home, including elegant great blue herons, striking ospreys, and endangered species like the California least tern.

The multi-use Bayview Trail clings close to Irvine Avenue and follows south along the cliffs among coastal sage scrub. Be sure to take the occasional side trip down the connecting dirt trails to get eye-level with the water, where stingrays swim and saltmarsh bird’s beak, an endangered herb, grows. The trail and park boundary ends after about 2 miles, but you’ll continue on Irvine Avenue for just under a mile until making a left at Mariners Park on Dover Drive. Continue south, staying on Dover rather than following the curve onto Westcliff Drive, and make a brief stop at Castaways Park for sweeping bay and ocean views before hitting the Pacific Coast Highway and turning right.

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End your walk a few blocks west at the famous Balboa Bay Resort, home to yet another observation deck in classic Newport style at A&O Kitchen + Bar with live weekend music, comfortable couches, sleek fire pits and, of course, close-up views of extravagant yachts. Hey, whatever floats your big boat.

To get to the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center and Upper Newport Bay Preserve, take CA-73 to the Irvine Ave. exit. Go southwest on Irvine Ave. a few blocks and make a left at University Drive. The parking lot will be on your right after a block (park on the street if you intend to return to your car after sunset). The trail is dog-friendly. No dogs at A&O Kitchen + Bar.

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