The Back Bay is just a short ride away

by TOM BERG

If you need a reminder of how lucky we are to live here, visit Upper Newport Bay at sunset to watch the water turn gold as you’re surrounded by birdsong, bulrushes and 15-million-year- old bluffs.

You won’t forget it. It is a magical place where land meets sea.

Or to be more specific, it’s where the freshwater of Irvine’s San Diego Creek meets the saltwater of the Pacific – creating a beautiful, diverse ecosystem.


What you’ll see

First of all, get ready for spectacular views of the bay, its 100-foot-high chalky cliffs and all kinds of birds and flowers.

The Bayview Trail, which I recently took, will take you through fields of lavender and sagebrush right down to the water’s edge, where the salt marsh bird’s beak and cordgrass grows. I crossed paths with several squirrels, a low-flying osprey (5-foot wingspan), and a pair of swallows nesting under the footbridge. As I crossed the footbridge, I watched a kayaker silently paddle below and a few horse riders dawdle up a nearby hill.

Everything about the hike was quiet and peaceful.

You can also take the Mountains to Sea Trail, which runs along the south-eastern shore. It’s better for bicyclists, with a wide, paved trail that extends all the way to the lower bay.


A thriving ecosystem

Upper Newport Bay includes a 135- acre nature preserve (what you walk through) that envelops the larger 750- acre ecological reserve (what you look at).

The shoreline bluffs are home to three sensitive species: the California gnat-catcher, the San Diego cactus wren and the burrowing owl.

The salt marsh is home to six rare or endangered species, including the peregrine falcon and California least tern. In winter, it is home to 35,000 migratory birds each day, making it one of the most popular stops along the Pacific Flyway.

OC Parks, which manages the preserve, calls it “one of the best in Orange County for recreation and wildlife viewing” — a destination for “birders, joggers, bicyclists, hikers, horseback riders and educators.”


Part of The Irvine Ranch

The Upper Newport Bay is part of The Irvine Ranch, which stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Cleveland National Forest. Decades ago, and after years of collaboration with environmental partners, Irvine Company set aside the tidelands and uplands of the upper bay for public enjoyment — as part of its commitment to preserve 60% of The Irvine Ranch as open space.


How to get there

From Irvine, there are two easy ways to ride your bike to the bay — the Mountains to Sea Trail, which crosses the city parallel to Jamboree Road; and the San Diego Creek Trail, which crosses the city parallel to I-405. You also can drive.

While our travel might be limited right now, a visit to Upper Newport Bay will feel like a trip to a whole new world.