As for the art festivals, the weirdest (and one of the oldest) is the Pageant of the Masters, in which volunteers don costumes and makeup and strike poses to mimic old master paintings (July 7-Aug. 31; $15-$100 per adult). Other summer stalwarts include the Sawdust Art Festival (June 24-Aug. 28), the Festival of Arts (July 3-Aug. 31) and Art-a-Fair (June 24-Aug. 28); the Plein Air Painting Invitational follows Oct. 9-16.
10. The Balboas, Part 1Balboa Candy (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Some of the best fun and most difficult parking in Newport Beach is on Balboa Island and the Balboa peninsula. They're connected by an old-school ferry that carries just three cars ($2 a car), which is fun, but otherwise you'll be happier traveling by foot, bike or watercraft. The highlight of moneyed and mostly residential Balboa island — which is also connected to the mainland by bridge — is the commercial strip of Marine Avenue, where you can buy boutique clothes for yourself and your kids, maybe have lunch at Wilma's Patio (get the sourdough cheeseburger) and perhaps buy a frozen banana, although that will mean choosing between Sugar 'n' Spice ("the original frozen banana," 310 Marine Ave.) and Dad's Original Frozen Banana (318 Marine Ave.).
11. The Balboas, Part 2The Wedge (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
The Balboa Peninsula includes a lot: the Newport and Balboa piers, several small hotels, a bunch of restaurants, a 1.7-mile bike trail that connects the piers, watercraft rentals, harbor cruises, the historic Balboa Pavilion building and a neighboring Fun Zone with rides and games. If you watched "The O.C." on television (2003-07), many of these spots will look familiar.
At the peninsula's southern tip is the Wedge, a prime body-surfing spot that Esquire magazine once put on a list of "60 things worth shortening your life for." Partake if you dare, then rent a bike ($8-$10 an hour), pedal pier to pier, and stop near the Newport Pier at Jane's Corndogs (106 McFadden Place). Maybe later you'll pony up for one of the fancy surf-and-turf dinners at 21 Oceanfront Restaurant (2100 W. Oceanfront). But for now, get in line behind those tourists from North Dakota, fork over your $2.69 and taste that savory corn-dog goodness.
12. And now the scruffy cousinHuntington Beach Pier (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
If Newport and Laguna are the rich distant relations who might not remember you in their wills, Huntington Beach is the wild cousin who owes you money. Its downtown is all about scruffy surf culture, and the Main Street bars and restaurants stay lively late, with the usual attendant troubles.
For a historical look at surf culture, spend a few minutes in the free International Surfing Museum (411 Olive Ave.). From the pier, you get a great view of surfers at play, and you may bump into Lucky John, a street performer whose act relies heavily on (spoiler alert!) a hammer, a long nail and his own nose.
For a healthy helping of surf style and commerce, browse Jack's Surfboards (since 1957; 101 Main St.) and its competitor across Main, Huntington Surf & Sport (300 Pacific Coast Highway), where many a casual fashion trend has been incubated. Then grab a rental bike and take to the 12-mile Ocean Strand path, which begins down south in Newport Beach and ends near the county line at Sunset Beach.
On your right as you head north, you'll see the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. To your left, you'll have Bolsa Chica State Beach, which has camping, fishing and, unlike many beaches these days, dozens of fire rings.
Come back at sunset, pay the $15-a-car fee, and you can watch the flames dance, warm your sandy feet, roast marshmallows and howl like an unhinged extra on the set of "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini." Note, though, that booze is banned and you have to go home by 10 p.m. You can imagine how Huntington Beach party people feel about that.