Orange County conjures images of reality TV. But two of its terrific beaches are better suited to connoisseurs of fine films and art.

How about vacationing where “Treasure Island,” “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Around the World in 80 Days” and “Jerry Maguire” were filmed? Welcome to Newport Beach.

Movie producers have long chosen this Pacific Ocean-side town for its tropical foliage, blooms, cliffs, beaches and glittering harbor. The appeal is enhanced by a nostalgic boardwalk, amusement park, pier, $1 Balboa Island auto/pedestrian ferry and Back Bay nature preserve.

“Visually exhilarating terrain where nearly everything grows — eucalyptus from Australia, coral trees from South Africa, palms” has attracted filmmakers for a century, says Carolyn Clark. The Newport At Your Feet tour guide points to bluffs seen in Theda Bara’s silent picture “Cleopatra,” shores of “Sands of Iwo Jima,” and John Wayne’s waterfront home.

Back Bay and the Wedge

At Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve, nicknamed Back Bay, hike, bike and canoe around habitat of endangered birds, fish and bobcats. Stop by the nature center nestled in an earth berm. Zip around islands and the harbor by renting a locally-invented Duffy electric boat. Waterside, look for whimsical mansions, island coves and “the Wedge,” where daredevils surf high waves rocketing off Newport Harbor’s rock jetty.

Between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, Corona del Mar abounds with cactus and rose gardens, ferns, sailboats and reefs for snorkeling. “It’s our outdoor gym,” says Clark as joggers traverse the cliffside path and steep steps descending to the beach. Crystal Cove State Park’s fragrant coastal sage, fennel and wildflowers lure people to its beach and unique underwater park.

Creatures great and small

In Laguna Beach, mesmerizing animals dwell in tide pools along the shoreline where rocky cliffs and sandy coves stretch from Treasure Island at the south end up to Crystal Cove State Park.

Tide pools form as tides ebb over rocks. The best times to explore them are low tides. Look for kiwi-green tentacled anemones, mussels, limpets, hermit crabs, shore crabs, turban snails, feather boa algae, opaleye perch and the elusive ochre sea stars. Sea stars, which many of us call starfish, have been perishing due to a wasting syndrome along the Pacific coast since 2013. Scientists suspected a virus possibly empowered by warmer-than-average seawater temperatures.

Most days, Laguna Ocean Foundation educators and docents are at the area beaches. They can tell you about tide pools and the critters residing in their shallow waters.


n Wear shoes with a good grip.

n Walk gently and do not step on plants or animals or into pools.

n Don’t touch or take animals, shells and plants.

n Don’t move rocks, since they shelter fragile creatures.

Whales and dolphins and sea lions, oh my

Look out to the horizon; there’s a good chance you’ll see jumping dolphins, soaring birds and gray whales swimming between Alaska and Baja California. Summer through fall, huge blue whales inhabit these waters, making whale-watching cruises very popular. Newport Landing Whale Watching offers affordable summer deals.

Seals and sea lions frequently lounge on rocks by Crescent Bay. But when they beach themselves showing signs of illness or gill net strangulation, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center rescues, rehabilitates and releases them. You can observe recovering animals at the Laguna Beach center free (donations welcome).

Art abounds

Laguna Beach has gained global recognition for art shows and its unique Pageant of the Masters. Through the summer, the Festival of Arts Fine Art Show celebrates 140 award-winning locally based artists working in oil, acrylics, watercolor, ceramics, glass, photography, printmaking and fashion. Adults and children can enjoy workshops, lectures and artmaking demonstrations.

The Festival of Arts also hosts the Pageant of the Masters nightly July 8 to August 31. This summer’s theme, “The Pursuit of Happiness,” explores that upbeat subject through 90 minutes of “living pictures.” Against backdrops of faithfully re-created classical and contemporary artworks, live models pose just like the figures in the originals. A live orchestra plays as a narrator discusses the living pictures.

Nearby in Laguna Canyon, Art-A-Fair features 125 artists creating new works every day through August 30.

For more sense-surrounding experiences, head north. The Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Summer Concert Series features talents like Boz Scaggs, Esperanza Spalding and Al Jarreau through Oct. 9, while Sherman Library & Gardens wows with tropical and desert vistas.

The reality shows on the tranquil shore of Orange County are worth seeing live in person.

Robin Soslow is an award-winning writer-photographer who explores on foot and bike. Reach her at

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