Event celebrates upcoming yacht race

The historic Balboa Village filled with new energy Sunday afternoon, as business owners gathered under white tents to offer passersby everything from lobster rolls to boating artwork.

The event, called a Kickoff Fiesta, celebrated the upcoming Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race. It also marked a chance to promote ongoing revitalization efforts on the Balboa Peninsula — an area sometimes better known for its plethora of bars and unruly twenty-somethings than for kid-friendly activity.

In less than two weeks, spectators will crowd the peninsula for the race, which kicks off April 25 at the Balboa Pier. As airline, hotel and tourism representatives used the occasion to pitch travel to Mexico, so too did locals offer a taste of shops a short walk away.

Located about halfway down the peninsula, Balboa Village is bordered to the south by sunbathers stretched out by the Newport Pier and to the north by children riding the Ferris wheel in what remains of the storied Fun Zone.

The place is both historic and iconic, concepts captured in new promotional material designed by Newport Beach and Co., an independent marketing entity for the city.

A new seal for the area depicts the Balboa Pavilion with the Ferris wheel behind it. "Balboa Village: Home of the Fun Zone," it reads. "Est. 1906."

"It's really the heart and soul of this city," said Ralph Rodheim, chairman of the Balboa Village Merchants Assn., which organized the event.

Along with the new logo is a new website and new restaurants — much to be excited about, Rodheim noted.

The association plans next to explore the concept of introducing outdoor dining in the village alleyways, perhaps with twinkling lights strung overhead.

"There's the driving force," Rodheim said as the district's representative, Councilman Mike Henn, who will reach his term limit this year, approached in a nautical shirt and flip-flops, "and he's not even running for office."

Henn worked with the Balboa Village Advisory Committee to herald what Vicki Higgins, chief marketing officer of Newport Beach and Co., described as "a new era for Balboa Village."

More than ever, the event aimed to involve families in the excitement.

"It needs stuff like this," said David Beek, whose family founded the ferry service to and from the island.

The area bustled as the Dave Stephens Band took the stage, its namesake leader dressed as a sailor. The group has played for presidents and at the Playboy Mansion, the Balboa Bay Club and the Island Hotel but wouldn't miss out on the "neighborhood shindig," the peninsula resident said, noting the area's history as a destination for jazz, the band's genre.

Classic cars and a new BMW sat on display. Visiting chalk artists decorated the venue at one end, while a dozen local restaurants — including one that hadn't even opened yet — sold samplings of signature dishes at the other.

Crow Burger Kitchen set up a grill to prepare Crow Boy Sliders (cheeseburgers) and Bird Burgers (half-turkey, half-chicken burgers). Ruby's offered its signature cheeseburger and hotdog combos. Harborside Restaurant dished up orange coconut-crusted salmon and ahi poke tostada.

"I don't know what ahi is!" said one boy, barely able to see over the serving table, yet on a culinary adventure of his own.

The Porch dished out fresh guacamole and chips, both made fresh every day in the restaurant, along with brioche bun pork sliders and cole slaw.

"We're sort of a locals' favorite," said Chris Overstreet, owner of the restaurant, which opened in September 2010.

As with many businesses on the peninsula, most of The Porch's customers walk or bike. It's a tight-knit, friendly community, Overstreet noted. She left Los Angeles for Newport Beach in 1998 and never looked back.

Peninsula resident Pam Garrett had spotted several of her neighbors within minutes of arriving with her husband, Bill, to sample the fare.

"These are all our favorite restaurants," she said. "It's like a little city center."

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Toy Drive

The Newport Ocean Sailing Assn., which hosts the race, is collecting toys for disadvantaged children in Ensenada.

Collection boxes will be at the Newport Sea Base during race week, at Sterling BMW on April 23 and at the Fiesta in the Fun Zone at Harborside restaurant from 7 to 10 p.m. April 24, according to a news release.

Toys should be unwrapped and appropriate for children up to age 16. They will be given to an orphanage and a home for autistic children in anticipation of Children's Day, celebrated in Mexico on April 30.

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Schedule of Events

Yachtsman's Luncheon: 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. April 23, Newport Harbor Yacht Club

VIP Boat Owners Reception: 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. April 23, Sterling BMW

Fiesta in the Fun Zone: 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. April 24, Harborside Restaurant

Race start: 10:30 a.m. to noon April 25, Balboa Pier

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