Newport Dunes Getting Spruced Up

Shearlean Duke is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Don’t let the demolition of Newport Dunes send you into a panic. The 1950s-style boat and trailer park isn’t dead, it’s just being reborn.

After 10 years of planning and negotiating to win city, county and state approvals, renovation has finally begun on the 75-acre waterfront park, built in 1958 near Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach.

By the time the construction project is completed in a couple of years, the peeling paint and worn structures of old Newport Dunes will be replaced by a hotel, a 430-slip marina, a 444-space RV park, 400 dry-storage spaces for trailer boats, a swimming pool and an improved launch ramp.

The first phase--which includes everything but the hotel and marina--should be completed by July 4, according to Lawrence H. Buxton, president of Courton & Associates, the Newport Beach firm that designed the project. But the heavily used boat-launch ramp--the only public launching ramp between Dana Point and Sunset Beach--should reopen next month.


“Newport Dunes provides a real service to the boating community,” Buxton says. “It provides storage and launching. That’s why (that phase) is getting finished first.”

Buxton, who has been working on the project since 1981, has a stack of documents more that a foot high that chronicles the history of the development, which sits on state tidelands and is owned by Orange County and located in Newport Beach. He successfully steered the development through dozens of local, state and federal agencies that had to give their approval.

“It was really a complicated project,” Buxton says. “We finally got concept approval in 1984 and then got the plans approved in 1988.”

Those plans call for 444 modern RV spaces with sewer and electrical hookups, instead of the Dunes’ original 160 spaces, many of which had no services at all. The new RV park also will have cable-access television, laundry rooms and a shopping village, including a small grocery store.


“The idea is that people don’t have to leave the area,” Buxton says. “All services are provided on site.”

For beach visitors, there will be a parking lot that can accommodate 650 vehicles. “The beach is very popular and is open to the public. For families, it is a nice, safe swimming beach,” Buxton says.

The first phase is expected to cost about $15 million, according to Buxton. At least $1 million of that will be spent on landscaping, which will make extensive use of mature trees, especially in the campgrounds. By the time the entire project, including hotel and marina, is completed, final cost will be about $45 million, he says.

Newport Dunes is owned and operated by the Evans Corp., which also owns the Bahia and the Catamaran hotels in San Diego. The corporation holds a 50-year lease on the county-owned land.

The corporation also purchased the lease on the restaurant site, formerly occupied my Anthony’s restaurant, which was torn down about 2 months ago. A new 15,000-square-foot restaurant will be built on the site.

The redesigned Newport Dunes will be built around the existing swimming lagoon, which will be ringed by a boardwalk connected to a pedestrian bridge that will stretch across the mouth of the lagoon. The 25-acre swimming area will have its own lifeguard station, a snack shop and recreation room. There will be restrooms and picnic tables along the beach surrounding the lagoon.

The outer perimeter will feature bike trails that will connect with the trails in Upper Newport bay. “That means you can ride to the beach without having to ride down Pacific Coast Highway or Jamboree Road,” Buxton says. From the bike path in Upper Newport Bay, bicyclists could pedal through the Dunes and come out at the stoplight at Pacific Coast Highway and Bayside Drive.

The redesigned Dunes also will feature a marine center with a boat-repair business, and a coffee shop and patio overlooking the boat-launching ramp, according to Buxton. The improved ramp will have two docks in the center to make it easier to launch boats, he says.


When construction began in February, the nearly 400 boats stored at the Dunes were moved to the other side of the property for storage during the renovation. Near the relocated boats are a few die-hard campers who seem undisturbed by the half-dozen earth-moving machines working a short distance down the beach. The old asphalt parking lot has been dug up, crushed into a gravel-like consistency and piled high on the spot where the campgrounds used to be. The mountain of crushed asphalt will be reused in the project, according to Buxton.

Trouble-Shooting Your Engine: A course designed to teach boaters how to trouble-shoot common problems found in diesel engines will be offered beginning Tuesday at the Orange Coast College Sailing Center, 1801 W. Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach.

The class is designed for boaters with limited experience with diesel engines. Instructor is Terry Brown, who owns a company specializing in servicing marine engines. The 9-week class will meet from 7 to 9 p.m. each Tuesday through May 30. For more information, call (714) 432-5880.

Boat Show: The Newport Beach Used Boat Show opens Thursday in Lido Marina Village. The show continues through April 9 and is followed on April 12 by the New Boat Show, which runs through April 16.

Hours for both shows are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children, ages 6 to 12. Free under 6. Information: (714) 673-9360.

Coastal Navigation: A four-session course covering coastal piloting and navigation will be offered by the Dana Point Youth and Group Facility beginning this month.

Topics to be covered include reading charts, sailing at night and navigating in the fog. Classes meet from 7 to 9 p.m. on April 10, April 17, May 1 and May 8 at the Group Facility, 34451 Ensenada Place, Dana Point. For more information call (714) 661-7122.

On the Waterfront appears each Saturday, covering boating life styles as well as ocean-related activities along the county’s 37-mile coastline. Send information about boating-related events to: On the Waterfront, Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626. Deadline is 2 weeks before publication. Story ideas are also welcome.