As the locals say: “Welcome to Balboa Island, where cats are fat and lazy, dogs are spoiled and the locals live a creative and carefree lifestyle.” Stroll down the main street of Marine Avenue to check out the cute boutique shops and have a frozen banana—the island’s signature treat—and go for a walk around the island to see beautiful, bay-front homes.
The island is a mere 0.2 square miles and was literally erected from the sea. In 1906 a developer named William Steppe Collins, who made his fortune from oil, real estate and oranges, began dredging around a two-acre mud flat in Newport Bay. In 1913, he had another island created and pictured it to become a gambling resort complete with canals and gondoliers. Yet, the idea was scratched with only one canal today.
It didn’t take long for the L.A.’s elite to catch wind of Collins’ new island, and many arrived to buy up the small plots, seeing it as a retreat while others eventually settled down with their children. Today’s population numbers around 3000 residents, including an original few who grew up here as kids.
The Easy Life
This man-made island has become one of the most touted and expensive property markets in the nation. It’s also clear that homeowners take pride in their manicured gardens behind white-picket fences along tidy streets. Each home is unique, small in size and quite close to one another. Residents compromise to become friends with theirs neighbors, and the locals we met said that ”your neighbor knows all your whereabouts.” It goes to show that keeping a secret here would be difficult.
Most residents also have a dock instead of a driveway, and it comes as no surprise that it’s the most boat-occupied island in the United States. The waters are always busy, with people using pedal boats, kayaks, boats, yachts and ferry traffic to the mainland. It’s a wonder that with all this activity, the water and beaches are pristine. Many residents have a small, private beach in front of their homes, making it ideal for sunbathing and swimming on beautiful, sunny days.
Obviously, it’s a great lifestyle for the select few who can afford it. Eating out is expensive but not all shocking. There are plenty of restaurants, bars and coffee shops on Marine Avenue and a small deli to buy some essentials, as there aren’t any grocery stores on the island. However, if you can’t resist a week of rest and relaxation on this quaint island, vacation rentals run less than $2000 a week.
It’s very easy to visit the entire island. The boardwalk, which is always busy with residents and visitors alike, wraps around the outer edge of Balboa Island, providing great views of the water, beaches, homes and the mainland just beyond the picturesque harbor.
The island simply exudes a festive atmosphere with people strolling down Marine Avenue having a great time talking, smiling, laughing and simply happy to be there—I’ll go back in a heartbeat.
There is a small bridge and a ferry service connecting Balboa Island to the mainland. The ferry, which is privately owned and operated, takes 3 cars at a time, and the price is relatively reasonable: At $1 per person and $2 per car, it’s a quick five-minute trip.
Though this charming, carefree town offers a delightful atmosphere, the only few stressful things on the island are the narrow streets and crowded intersections and bad traffic. Visitors need to be patient and aware of how the simply island works.
For more information, visit the Balboa Island Museum & Historical Society: www.balboaislandmuseum.org
Here is a small video captured during the visit 🙂