Corona del Mar Sunset a Notch Above?

Times Staff Writer

The setting sun is the star -- what else could it be? -- of the show that unfolds each evening before appreciative audiences on the bluff above Corona del Mar State Beach.

But it’s not a solo act. Supporting roles are as important in creating one of the best performances by a sunset along the Pacific Coast:

A fishing boat, trailed by seagulls, returning to Newport Harbor after a day at sea. A bell buoy ringing in the distance. A brown pelican diving into the ocean and coming up with a fish in its bill. A sea lion barking. A cool twilight breeze bringing up the smell of saltwater. An electric boat silently gliding along the water. A small wave crashing on the beach. A lone kayaker making tiny whirlpools with each dip of his paddle. A string of white lights on the historic Balboa Pavilion flickering on.

They all perform for a mix of regular sunset watchers and newcomers who sit attentively on park benches and the grass most nights at Lookout Point, a sliver of parkland that overlooks Big Corona, Newport Harbor and its islands, the Balboa Peninsula, Santa Catalina and the Pacific.


“It’s paradise,” said Isha Shah, a 24-year-old law student. She drives every few weeks from San Diego just to view this sunset. “My favorite moment is when I can see the gold on the water.”

She began her Lookout Point routine while attending UC Irvine and now often brings friends to share the experience.

“This is Isha’s spot,” she said smiling, the setting sun giving her face a golden cast. “I just love this place.”

On busy nights -- in the summer and on warm winter weekends -- Lookout Point’s 11 benches and thin strips of lawn are crowded with picnickers and old-timers, parents with babies in strollers and teenagers on first dates. Blankets are spread, cheese and crackers eaten, binoculars looked through and adult beverages discreetly consumed -- despite city signs warning against drinking alcohol.

Other evenings, the number of sunset watchers can be few. On a recent night this fall, about a dozen people watched the sun paint streaks of yellow, gold, rust, purple and red into a sky blown clean by Santa Ana winds.

As he does most nights, John Vidaurri brought his 3-year-old son, Cameron. They usually arrive an hour or two before the sun sets. This evening, Vidaurri sat on a bench and sipped coffee; his son ate a chocolate chip cookie and practiced karate moves on the grass.

“This something I can share with my son, a tradition,” said Vidaurri, 31, of Costa Mesa. “It’s a peaceful, relaxing way to end the day.”

Ann and Dave Mason used to be regulars until moving to Florida. But the retired couple made sure their current visit to Southern California included a trip to Lookout Point.


“Sunsets are our thing,” said Ann Mason, who ranks Corona del Mar sunsets with those on the Gulf Coast. “It’s so calming, and we love the afterglow when the clouds light up.”

Bob Johnson, 58, has to travel only from Irvine to see what he says is the best sunset on the West Coast.

“There are not many places that are left that are this tranquil,” he said. “It’s almost like going back to another era.”

At least once a week, Dave and Patricia Brownell, who live up the street from Lookout Point, bring snacks and drinks when they come to look at the sunset. In the summer, they also take folding chairs in case the benches are full.


Dave Brownell, a retired educator, said he often thinks about pieces of history while watching the sunset. The explorers who sailed the California coast. The geological phenomenon that separated Catalina from the mainland. Or, skipping ahead a few centuries, the past of the Balboa Pavilion, whose roof a half-mile below Lookout Point was outlined in white lights.

“There is so much here,” said Brownell, who, continuing in a teaching mode, went on to explain that the sunset’s red glow on the horizon is created by a layer of hydrogen.

Patricia Brownell smiles patiently, as a spouse of 51 years is prone to do. For her, watching the sun set is simply a peace-inducing pastime. “If you have to live in crowded Orange County, you need something like this,” she said.

This night, the sun has been gone for 15 minutes, but the crowd remains. They watch as the ocean turns from midnight blue to inky black. As a well-lighted yacht sails proudly into the harbor. As the last colors in the evening sky fade to black. As the curtain closes on another day.