Cruising a Wet Hollywood on Newport Bay

Patrick Mott is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

There’s a certain value to playing tourist in your own back yard. You don’t want to wind up like the native New Yorker who has never been to the top of the Empire State Building or the Washingtonian who has never taken a tour of the White House.

So, at least one visit to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm should probably be a part of every county resident’s life.

And so should an excursion cruise around Newport Harbor. Apart from offering a relaxing outing on the calm water of that yacht basin--always a tonic for a rough week at the office--a guided harbor cruise is the closest thing the county has to a Hollywood tour of the stars’ homes. And, while many of the celebrities on the harbor tour are notable not as actors but as business people, their homes and boats are no less impressive.


The appeal of taking a peek at other people’s money is not lost on the people who run the boats. The recorded announcement at the Balboa Pavilion dock describing the cruises of the Pavilion’s two boats, the larger Pavilion Queen and the newer, smaller Pavilion Paddy, assures visitors that “you’ll see million-dollar yachts and some of the most expensive real estate in the world.”

Plus, the velvety recorded voice mentions a few things that average county residents may not have at their fingertips. For instance, the Pavilion Queen spiel asserts that:

* A waterfront lot on Balboa Island sold in the early part of the century, when the island was partly under water, for $15. They now start at $1 million.

* There are almost 25,000 pleasure craft tied up in the harbor.

* Collins Isle, a tiny appendage of Balboa Island covered with large homes, was rumored to have once been won in a poker game by James Cagney.

* When John Wayne stormed up the sands of Iwo Jima in the movie of the same name, he did the storming on the beach at Linda Isle.

* Pirates Cove, the rocky beach area next to one of the harbor jetties, was used as a location in the films “Treasure Island” and “Peter Pan” and in episodes of “Gilligan’s Island.”

* Carnation Cove, not far from the Coast Guard wharf, was used as a backdrop for several of the “beach party” films in the early 1960s.

Still, it is the lavish homes and the sprawling yachts of Newport Harbor that occupy most of the narration. There is the Harbor Island home, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and originally occupied by violinist Jascha Heifetz in 1938; Wayne’s former Bayshores residence, on the block “for just under $11 million,” according to the narration; comedian Joey Bishop’s Lido Isle home; the row of multimillion-dollar yachts at the Balboa Bay Club, and, on the Balboa Peninsula, the childhood home of Shirley Temple, the former vacation residence of George Burns and Gracie Allen and two homes bought by razor blade magnate King Gillette but never occupied by him--the result of his aversion to a storm that struck the area on his first visit to his home.

Six sightseeing boats operated by two separate companies run tours of the harbor.


Where: Both the Fun Zone Boat Co. and the Balboa Pavilion tours are located at the water’s edge next to the Balboa Pavilion and the Fun Zone on the Balboa Peninsula.

When: Winter hours--Fun Zone Boat Co., hourly from noon to 3 p.m., with extra trips on weekends. Balboa Pavilion, hourly from noon to 3 p.m. Both companies run 7 days a week. Charters available from both operations.

Rates: Fun Zone Boat Co.--45-minute cruise, adults, $5; children under 12, $1; children under 5, free. 90-minute cruise, adults, $7; children under 12, $1; children under 5, free. Showboat sunset cruise (7 p.m.), adults, $7; children under 12, $1; children under 5, free. Balboa Pavilion--45-minute cruise, adults, $5; children under 12 years, 50 cents. 90-minute cruise, adults, $7; children under 12, $1.