The sun is out, the crowds are gone … and the water is the perfect temperature.
Here are 23 reasons to hit the beach in September.
1. WHY ALL THE WHALES? IT’S NOT A FLUKE.
Off Newport’s peninsula lies an enormous submarine canyon wall. This unique underwater topography causes an upwelling of nutrient-rich, deep ocean water that cycles with the currents to attract a wide variety of marine life. That makes Newport’s coastline ideal for whale sightings.
“Water traffic subsides in September, and calmer seas bring more whales to the surface. The fall transitions from blue whales to humpbacks, fin and minke whales,” says Jessica Roame, education manager for Newport Whales.
Also, the stretch of sea between Newport and Laguna is a protected state reserve, contributing to aquatic life there. It’s the weather, though, that makes fall special. “September brings calm ocean conditions in the morning,” Roame says. “Not like the wind and waves of spring.”
2. CHECK THIS OFF YOUR BUCKET LIST: SURF LESSONS
You think you’re too old to learn to surf? Almost never. The limitation is on the other end – nobody younger than 3 years old.
“Since the pandemic, we’re seeing a huge increase in older people, some in their 80s, seeking surf lessons,” says Newport Beach veteran surf instructor Amy Reda. “They put it on their bucket list during COVID-19.”
Don’t expect to stand up the first time – that’s for teenagers. Still, most older newcomers do get the hang of it after a few weeks. But be aware: Most surf lessons take longer than that, sometimes up to a year. That’s because surf instructors insist on teaching both etiquette and safety.
“The sea can be complex,” Reda says. “You need experience to surf safely.”
Lessons are given on both sides of Newport Pier. But don’t try to “shoot the pier.” That’s for veterans only.
To find a Newport area surf instructor, you might try firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. JOIN BIRDERS: FLOCK TO UPPER NEWPORT BAY
The Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve, just north of Pacific Coast Highway, welcomes joggers, hikers, cyclists and even horseback riders. But its hundreds of acres aren’t really for you. It’s for them.
Them being the thousands of migratory birds and special species of plant life. September is the beginning of the best season. The birds need the preserve to rest as part of their winter migratory path along the Pacific Flyway. It’s also home to six rare or endangered species.
During the upcoming months, “more than 200 species of birds can be found at the bay, and up to 30,000 birds can be seen in a single day,” says Supervising Park Ranger Derrick Ankerstar. “Considered a critical habitat, Upper Newport Bay is one of the most pristine remaining estuaries in Southern California.”
If you are a newcomer, you might want to start at the Interpretive Center. It features informative displays plus nature documentaries that highlight the bay’s wildlife.
To see just how sprawling the bay is, check out ocparks.com for spectacular color maps.
4. UNCOVER A RICH HISTORY AT BALBOA ISLAND MUSEUM
Hidden in plain sight on Marine Avenue lies the Balboa Island Museum. Exhibiting a treasure trove of historic memorabilia, visitors will appreciate what it took to turn an underwater sandbar into an upscale vacation destination.
Take a stroll along Balboa’s timeline, from 1900 to today. Immerse yourself in stories about the many stars who came here, including Shirley Temple, Buddy Ebsen and, of course, John Wayne. Alongside the vast collection of vintage photographs, captions recount extraordinary tales from this slice of paradise.
Celebrate the Balboa Bay Club’s 75th anniversary while marveling at the menu prices in the 1950s. Explore the vast array of boats and yachts from bygone eras. Along the way, you’ll learn about the visionaries who made island dreams a reality, including James Irvine, James McFadden, Capt. Samuel Dunnells, and the Beeks.
It’s a great stop for students studying their regional past or adults desiring some nostalgia. Special events are held regularly. Visit its website for details.
5. MEET CRYSTAL COVE’S CARETAKER: PARK RANGER WINTER BONNIN
Low tide is the best time to enjoy the wonders of the beach at Crystal Cove State Park. That’s when visitors can check out its four rocky tide pools, brimming with tiny sea life – from barnacles to bat stars to baby octopus.
If you’re lucky, you might even bump into Park Ranger Winter Bonnin, a walking encyclopedia of marine life who is celebrating her 25th year at the park. Officially, Bonnin is the highly popular interpretive naturalist at Crystal Cove. But most regular visitors just call her Ranger Winter.
What is an interpretive naturalist?
We speak the language of the ecosystem, the flora, the fauna, the trees, to help visitors better understand it all.
What can visitors expect to find?
We have 3 miles of beaches, with four tide pools and so much more – 2,400 acres you can explore, by walking or biking or horseback, with 18 miles of hiking trails.
Is there a typical workday?
No (said with a laugh). Each day, I make sure to get out of the office and into the park. I’m a roving interpreter, helping visitors understand the park. I have a lot of energy.
Anything special in September?
Cottage 46, our exhibit center, right now has an exhibit on Japanese American experiences, farmers who lived on Crystal Cove land from 1927 to 1942. It’s fabulous, with recorded histories from some of the families.
How about your children’s programs?
It’s my favorite part of the job. It is so much fun to see their faces light up when they learn something new.
Any favorite stories?
In 2000, we had an Eagle Scout come through – Alex Jenkins. He was so impressed with the tide pools that he drew a beautiful painting of them. Huge, like 9 feet by 11 feet. Now, 23 years later, that painting still hangs in my office.
6. ENJOY SPLENDID SECLUSION AT THE RESORT AT PELICAN HILL
You don’t need the South Seas for an adventure in paradise. It’s actually a short drive away at The Resort at Pelican Hill.
The Orange Coast becomes the Golden Coast, with magnificent sunset views from its spacious bungalows and villas. Many tee up at its challenging, spectacular pair of 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed golf courses. Others just want to be pampered with an aromatherapy glow and massage, a gemstone-infused facial, or a relaxed saltwater hot tub. Many prefer to share a scenic nature walk with friends on its 154 acres.
A popular attraction is the coliseum-style pool. Surrounded by Roman-style architecture and luxury cabanas, the circular pool is 136 feet in diameter with
1.1 million deep-blue hand-cut mosaic tiles. And if you like to hit the bar, the Pelican Hill Bar and Grill is a must for exotic drinks. Popular among them: a Swing Old Fashioned, a blend of whisky and maple angostura chocolate.
7. PIRATE’S COVE: A SECRET HIDEOUT TO SEEK OUT
Visitors to Corona del Mar State Beach can climb majestic cliffs to visit one of OC’s best little hideouts: Pirate’s Cove. Down from majestic bluffs, it’s an aptly named spot of poetic real estate. There really were pirates during Prohibition who hid their liquor in its caves, stolen from ships heading up the Pacific coast.
Framed by cliffs and a rock jetty that forms the entrance to Newport Harbor, both beaches are popular for swimming because of the calmer waters. Said longtime OC beach lover Breeana Greenberg: “Pirate’s Cove is such a nice, secluded beach. I’ve found that you don’t need to brave the crowds that you would at most beaches.”
Highly popular at Corona del Mar are the evening barbecues centered around its multitude of fire rings. Their rhythmic, lit-up look creates a breathtaking setting from land or sea.
8. FOUR GENERATIONS DEEP: DORY FLEET FISHERMAN KEEPS THE FAMILY LEGACY ALIVE
Scott Breneman, a fourth-generation fisherman for Dory Fleet Fish Market, keeps his family’s legacy alive. They’ve sold hook-to-dish fresh fish (including yellowtail, cod, trout and snapper) at wholesale prices for over a century.
Tell us your family’s history with Dory.
My great-great grandmother sold fish for a Portuguese fisherman there in the early 1900s. Since then, generations grew up fishing and selling fish. My dad passed away last year, so now it’s just me.
How has fishing changed over time?
I’m fishing the same waters my grandparents fished. It’s a regulated industry, so it’s a consistent history. It’s all cycles, especially with top-water fish like bluefin tuna. They get bigger and bigger. They’re up to 300 pounds.
What surprising things do you see out there?
We take unusual sightings for granted. We see submarines, Navy ships, whales, dolphins, sea turtles. If it’s out there, we’ve seen it.
What’s fresh in September?
Bluefin tuna, mahi mahi and swordfish. That’s where I focus in the fall. They’re all great on the barbecue.
Where can we find your catch of the day?
The Dory Fleet Fish Market is at the base of the Newport Beach Pier. It opens at 5:30 a.m. on weekends, but lines form as early as 3:30 a.m., so arrive early!
9. FIND YOUR FALL FASHION AT FASHION ISLAND
Fashion Island is an open-air luxury mall where you can bask in oceanic breezes and a Pacific blue backdrop while shopping or dining leisurely amid its 150 shops and restaurants. Or take in its opulent dine-in cinemas. At its center, you can even find the original, spacious koi pond, especially popular with youngsters. Upscale? Where else offers to have its own personal shopper join you?
A highlight for September is the annual StyleWeekOC, Sept. 14-17. With more than 25 stores participating, visitors who sign up (through styleweekoc.com) can enjoy special events and discounts while shopping. The main attraction is Saturday, Sept. 16, with a noon gathering at the Neiman Marcus courtyard, where actress Vanessa Hudgens, who is also involved with both fashion designs and beauty products, will participate in a Q&A with a fashion expert from Women’s Wear Daily. That will be followed by exclusive shopping parties at participating stores and special happy hours at several Fashion Island restaurants.
10. A SOCAL TRADITION: VOLLEYBALL AT MAIN BEACH
Laguna’s south-facing beaches are a playground for volleyball enthusiasts and spirited newcomers. Whether you’re a seasoned setter, a wannabe hitter or a curious spectator, you’ll find your stride at the nets on Main Beach.
This iconic stretch of sand boasts four public beach volleyball courts. The city hosts weekly adult classes from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday mornings, with advance registration required. Courts are available to the public on a first-come, first-served basis when not in official use. All ages and levels of play are welcome.
“The Main Beach volleyball courts are a highly sought-out amenity in the Laguna Beach community,” says Recreation Manager Alexis Braun. “September is a beautiful month in South Orange County and a great month to enjoy the beach and play volleyball!”
Mark your calendar. The Laguna Beach Open takes place Oct. 13-15, offering a great opportunity to watch the pros play.
11. NO YACHT, NO PROBLEM. A DUFFY BOAT DELIVERS
Newport Harbor is home to hundreds of hidden delights. There’s no better way to explore them than from the sea. But who needs the expense and stress of owning your own yacht? Captaining a Duffy is as easy as driving a car. Bring along friends and check out these tips for a memorable day on the water:
• Explore the harbor’s seven residential islands and 10,000 private boats – your rental company will provide a map to help you navigate.
• Pack a picnic, or pull up to one of more than a dozen restaurants offering “dock and dine” service – servers bring menu items right to your boat’s table, or you can take your order to go and enjoy it while you cruise. A list of participating restaurants can be found at visitnewportbeach.com.
• Cruise by Lido Island. During the Depression, a Cadillac dealer gave away land here with the purchase of a car.
• Don’t miss the Balboa Pavilion. Built in 1906, it’s one of Newport’s most famous landmarks and helped establish the town as a seaside recreation area.
12. DISCOVER BULLFROGS, BIRDLIFE AND MORE AT BARBARA’S LAKE
Tucked in the lush Laguna Coast Wilderness Park on the outskirts of Laguna Beach lies Barbara’s Lake. An easy out-and‑back 2-mile walk affords picturesque views of Orange County’s only natural lake, which boasts a variety of waterfowl and wildlife, including hawks, egrets, bobcats and raccoons. For hikers seeking some altitude, continue around the nearly 3-mile loop to enjoy scenic vistas of Laguna Canyon and Aliso Viejo.
“Barbara’s Lake provides a serene viewpoint where hikers can marvel at a variety of birdlife, and the occasional bullfrog,” says Lynette Brasfield, Laguna Canyon Foundation volunteer. “As you walk this trail, watch for alien-looking chalk dudleya in early summer, and the red berries of toyon in winter. Glorious live oaks and sycamores grow along this stretch, and wildflowers bloom in spring.”
Don’t forget: Consider hiking shoes if doing the loop. An exposed trail makes sunscreen important.
Parking: Laguna Canyon Road, east of the 73. Parking is $3, payable with cash or credit at a kiosk.
13. THE LEGENDARY WEDGE
Ocean waves may be nature’s way. But at the southeast end of the Balboa Peninsula, it’s a man-made jetty that creates a backlash of gnarly high swells popular with both surfers and scenic onlookers. They call it the Wedge.
The Wedge is legendary in the surf world. Formed when the jetty was dramatically altered in the 1930s, the Wedge has seen accidents – John Wayne’s surfing injury at the Wedge kept him from a USC athletic scholarship and forced him into an acting career. Some months the swells are so high only bodyboarding is allowed. Local journalist Steve Mitchell, a longtime surfer and bodyboard rider, says of the Wedge:
“It’s the most terrifying but also the most exhilarating waves I’ve ever been on.”
Its waves reflect off the Newport Harbor jetty then get hit with new waves, then even more. The result can be Wedge waves as high as 30 feet. Check out the Wedge on YouTube for breathtaking scenes.
14. CHOOSE FROM OVER 50 DEEP-SEA FISHING CHARTERS
You have no fishing pole, no tackle, no boat and NO experience. Yet you would love to catch a big one in deep‑sea waters. Don’t let those obstacles stop you.
Try fishingbooker.com, and you will find more than 50 deep-sea charter outlets out of Newport Beach. Skilled crew will help newcomers cast for sand bass, yellowtail dorados or tuna.
The allure is fishing in paradise.
“Our customers love the beauty of the sea, the pods of dolphins and the quiet of being away from land,” says Jessica Roame, spokeswoman for Davey’s Locker in Newport Beach.
Overnight trips can include San Clemente Island and even travels into Mexico. But for newbies, Roame recommends daily trips. The crew is there to help you with baiting hooks, casting and hauling in your catch.
15. FALL INTO THE SEASON AT SHERMAN LIBRARY & GARDENS
September offers the perfect opportunity to experience the beautiful blooms of fall at Sherman Library & Gardens. Boasting over 4,000 species of plants – including fuchsias, begonias, succulents and bromeliads – the property has provided a quiet sanctuary in Corona del Mar since 1966.
“Transitioning from summer into fall means newly inspired seasonal displays featuring dahlias, sunflowers and goldenrod,” says Horticulture Director Kyle Cheesborough.
Transport yourself in the tropical conservatory with its stunning orchid collection and serene koi pond. Then stroll through the tranquil tea garden, a popular wedding venue. Don’t miss the garden’s 70-year-old pepper tree and nearby bell, manufactured in the 1800s to summon ranch hands. Youngsters might enjoy the miniature gnome garden located in the courtyard.
Afterward, relax for lunch at 608 Dahlia, where chef Jessica Roy offers seasonal garden‑to‑table-inspired cuisine.
To enrich your visit, take a guided audio tour by dialing 949-610-8300 or visit thesherman.org.
16. MUSEUM CURATOR COLLECTS ART THAT ‘TELLS A STORY’
Julie Perlin Lee took the helm as executive director of Laguna Art Museum (LAM) in 2021. Since then, exciting changes have been afoot.
What makes LAM stand apart?
We are a 105-year-old artist-founded museum focused on California art from all time periods. We are steps from the Pacific Ocean and pride ourselves on connecting artists with the public. Additionally, we are recognized for our outstanding education initiatives.
What do you look for when curating shows?
Art that tells a story, is approachable and inspiring to people of all ages. There’s no pretense here; our exhibitions are as friendly as our staff.
What can folks expect when visiting?
Lots of energy and activity. We have doubled the number of exhibitions and present over 100 public programs for visitors to experience the art we show in many ways. At LAM, you can take a workshop with an artist, listen to an opera, or join us on the beach for public art installations during November’s Art & Nature Festival. We’ve been known to have a great dance party or two.
Dining at its best … along the coast
17. LIGHTHOUSE CAFE
This waterfront cafe on Balboa Peninsula occupies two stories at the foot of a spectacular glass lighthouse towering 72 feet over Newport Harbor. The design of the building, which also houses a sailing center, recalls spinnakers at full sail. You’ll get panoramic harbor views whether you sit inside, amid nautical decor and memorable photos of lighthouses, or outside on the upstairs deck. Menu standouts include lemon ricotta blueberry pancakes, flank-steak chilaquiles, honey-glazed grilled salmon, beignets for dessert and Balboa rum punch served in a jumbo Mason jar.
Five more great dining spots near the coast
18. FARMHOUSE AT ROGER’S GARDENS
Hidden inside Corona del Mar’s lushest nursery is a top-notch restaurant that focuses on hyperseasonal modern American cuisine. Long a supporter of local farmers, chef Rich Mead elevates pampered crops to delicious heights in dishes like white sea bass with lemon-basil crust or apple-pumpkin French toast for brunch. The ravishing patio setting makes this spot especially popular for lunch and brunch.
19. SELANNE STEAK TAVERN
Expect nothing but the finest from this PCH steakhouse founded by one of the NHL’s finest players, Teemu Selanne. Premium beef is the MVP here, assisted by sparkling fresh seafood and seasonal specials by executive chef Vince Terusa. Wine lovers, prepare to be dazzled by a cellar of 400 coveted labels – one of the best cellars on the coast.
20. MASTRO’S OCEAN CLUB
Perched on a bluff above Crystal Cove, Mastro’s is famed for decadent chilled towers of seafood starring hefty lobster claws and glistening fresh oysters. Impressive beef choices include a sizzling tomahawk steak with lobster mashed potatoes. And for dessert? Its celebrated butter cake under clouds of whipped cream. Pampering white-tablecloth service. Nightly live music is featured downstairs in the O Bar.
21. THE CANNERY
If not for a handshake in 1999, the Cannery would no longer loom over Newport Beach’s beloved Rhine canal. Back then, the aging restaurant was for sale when local resident Jack Croul persuaded El Cholo restaurateur Ron Salisbury to refresh and operate the landmark eatery. “Neither of us was looking to make money, but I love this special community’s story,” Salisbury says, “so we shook hands on the deal.” The Cannery has been thriving ever since, luring generations of locals and visitors for memorable surf-and-turf feasts on the water and carefree lounging upstairs near the signature live jellyfish tank.
22. R+D KITCHEN
Reservations are strongly advised at Fashion Island’s perpetually packed destination for intimate gatherings starring strong cocktails, A+ service and familiar American eats. The short menu is long on well-executed classics such as pan-fried petrale sole, wild mushroom meatloaf and the fabled prime rib French dip sandwich. The vibe is just right for date night but not suggested for young children or large parties. The bar is ideal for solo diners. Business casual attire is required.
23. LAGUNA BEACH ALL-STAR CHEF AMAR SANTANA
The owner-chef of Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach was born in the Dominican Republic, came to the U.S. at 13, began his culinary career at 16 and opened Broadway at 28. He was runner-up on one season of Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” and served as judge on another; now 40, Santana recently represented the U.S. on “Top Chef: World All-Stars.”
How did competing on “Top Chef: World All-Stars” affect the menu at Broadway?
You cook with chefs from around the globe as opposed to the U.S. You do things outside the box. The one dish from the show that I had to put on the Broadway menu, that was so well-received, was the Moroccan lamb shank – I put it on the menu before the show actually aired.
What other dishes at Broadway are you partial to?
The keepers are the hamachi sashimi, the whole roasted branzino with cauliflower puree, truffle jus and pickled mushrooms, and the skirt steak. Those have been on the menu since day one, and those are the ones I order. People know those dishes so well they don’t even look at the menu!
Are there downsides to being on “Top Chef”?
Three months away from my wife, away from my kid, away from my business – away from everything!
How has Broadway changed since it opened 12 years ago?
Broadway is like a good bottle of wine – it keeps getting better with age. Lots of restaurants stop being hot after the second year. Broadway just gets hotter and hotter – we always perform better than the year before. People visit Laguna Beach for a week, and they come to eat five times. Some fly in to be at a ‘Top Chef’ restaurant.
What do you appreciate most about Laguna Beach?
I love that it’s still a small community. Most of our guests are regulars. They come three, four times a week. In a sense, Broadway belongs to the community.