Fashion Island in Newport Beach may be the prettiest mall around, but resist the siren song of worldly goods and you can find other satisfactions on and beyond the perimeter of Newport Center Drive. Female figures currently are the focus at Orange County Museum of Art; there are museum-esque nudes on the walls at the nearby Ritz restaurant. Target Newport Beach Library for books; throw darts at Muldoon’s Dublin Pub.
The Orange County Museum of Art has been through a lot in recent years. It’s gone through a merger with Laguna Art Museum, a name change from the parochial-sounding Newport Harbor Art Museum and a renovation and expansion of its galleries.
Visitors needn’t bother with all that. Rather, they can enjoy a permanent collection of 20th century California art, some provocative changing exhibitions and programs including Art After School and summer art programs for kids.
“We’re growing, let me tell you,” said Ursula Cyga in the Museum Education Center, where Robert Arneson’s humanimal sculpture “Ol’ Bob With Itch,” a gift from Manuel Neri, scratches away just inside the door.
Speaking of Neri, on display through May 10 is “Manuel Neri: Early Works, 1953-1978,” more than 70 of Neri’s drawings along with his plaster, dry pigment/water, steel armature, Styrofoam and burlap sculptures, most depicting hauntingly vulnerable, seemingly emotionally damaged, surprisingly beguiling female forms.
Elsewhere, students may relate to “Eraser, 1967" in the Pop Art section, while others might find minimalist art of maximal interest. The Installation Gallery is the only space in a Southern California museum devoted only to installation art. (Museum admission $4-$5; Tuesdays, and under 16, free.)
Intimidated? Pick up David Finn’s “How to Visit a Museum” in the gift shop. The shop also carries Monsieur Mongrel, a faux pewter cartridge-style razor in the shape of a dapper dog.
The Ritz restaurant has never looked better. Depending on your mood, you might want to be seated in the Escoffier Room, presided over by portraits of chef Auguste Escoffier; the Gallery, with whimsical art of Guy Buffet, or the Piano Room, filled with oil paintings of nudes.
Or with spring in swing, enjoy generally improving weather in the Ritz Garden, a recent addition with vibrant pink elf New Guinea impatiens, iceberg roses and butterfly blue scabiosa. The focal point is a classical fountain; water spills from a lion’s mask into a terra-cotta amphora.
The most recent Zagat Survey rated the Ritz tops in the county for service and very near the top for food. Lunch can be a relative bargain; salads and sandwiches start around $8.
It’s all too easy to get lost for hours at the 4-year-old Newport Beach Central Library. Browse among two floors of books, books on tape, videos, CDs, microfiche, microfilm and magazines. You don’t have to be a local resident to get a library card. A store sells used books.
If you simply must shop more, now’s the time to dash over to Fashion Island.
Dart back across to Muldoon’s Dublin Pub. Ron Schwartz (who owns the restaurant with his wife, Sindi) is a lawyer--he started with the bar, and you can too, for darts and a fun, relaxed atmosphere. Live entertainment begins at 5 p.m. Sunday, around 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Events (such as mini-Lord of the Dance contests) have proved delightfully quirky.
Dark wood and a roaring fire make Muldoon’s cozy, and a half-dozen brands of Irish whiskey make it cozier; BullSchwartz is the restaurant’s own amber ale.
The stew-and-bread starter ($7.95) is a satisfying bowl of Irish stew loaded with pepper, herbs and a touch of Guinness stout, served with addictive rye- and currant-dotted soda bread. Muldoon’s “original flaming Irish coffee,” flamed table-side, is a throwback and is intoxicating in more ways than one.
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1) Orange County Museum of Art
850 San Clemente Drive, (949) 759-1122.
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.
2) The Ritz
880 Newport Center Drive, (949) 720-1800.
11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5-11 p.m. daily.
3) Newport Beach Central Library
1000 Avocado Ave., (949) 717-3800.
9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
4) Muldoon’s Dublin Pub
202 Newport Center Drive, (949) 640-4110.
11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. daily.
Parking: There is free parking in lots at all locations, and valet parking at the Ritz and Muldoon’s Dublin Pub.
Buses: OCTA Bus Nos. 1 (Long Beach-San Clemente), 57 (Santa Ana-Newport Beach), 61 (Santa Ana-Newport Beach), 65 (Santa Ana-Balboa) and 89 (Newport Beach-Laguna Hills) serve Newport Center Drive and the Newport Transportation Center on Avocado Avenue.