If you're cruising Coast Highway in search of the Fun Zone Ferris wheel, remember to turn seaward at the bridge. Otherwise, you'll end up at Fashion Island in a universe where "Newport Coast" means mustard-and-terra-cotta-tinted mega-mansions and "Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County" is a show on MTV.
Turn toward the ocean to the real Newport Harbor, and the focus softens. Sure, the harbor has plenty of billionaires, and old-timers complain that their porch-front views are increasingly blocked by fiberglass mega-hulls. But kayaks and skiffs also glide through the channels, and fish markets serve up fresh-caught prawns.
Despite millions of summer visitors, fewer than 23,000 people live here year-round. On weekday evenings, children race dented beach cruisers along the near-empty, 8-mph boardwalk. Balboa Boulevard's gray-shingled cottages and climbing roses have a Cape Cod patina in the fading light.
At the Fun Zone, the Ferris wheel and carousel still circle despite decades of news articles proclaiming the demise of the tiny 1930s-era amusement park. Ride owners recently posted a prominent sign: "We plan to stay!"