Exploring Newport Beach's Back Bay
A cool breeze rustles through the grass, filling the air with that comforting briny scent that coastal visitors long for. In the distance, you hear the call of a heron as he makes his approach for landing on the bay's watery runway. You walk a few steps along a dirt path in an attempt to get closer to water's edge, surprising a vibrantly striped lizard who scrambles for cover at the sound of your footsteps. At first glance, the estuary doesn't look like much more than a bunch of grass and mud, waiting to fill and empty with the tides. But upon closer inspection it doesn't take long to discover that this is a beautiful habitat teeming with life. It is in that moment that the homes sitting on the bluff fade away and the overwhelming desire to paddle through this serene, yet wild waterway fills your mind. You have become yet another visitor romanced by Newport Beach's Back Bay.
Newport Beach may be known for its posh resorts, beautiful beaches, and luxury shopping centers, but what many visitors don't realize is that Newport is also home to one of the few remaining natural estuaries in Southern California – the Upper Newport Back Bay. Estuaries play an important role in a healthy coastal ecosystem, serving as a natural water filter, nursery to several species, and important stop for migratory birds.
The Back Bay offers visitors numerous opportunities to enjoy a variety of outdoor pursuits. The popular 10.5-mile Back Bay Loop trail is a great way to explore the region. This trail that rims the reserve is popular with hikers, joggers, cyclists, and horseback riders. Various spur trails skirt the waterway, allowing everyone to find their own little slice of the bay for themselves.
The Peter & Mary Muth Interpretive Center is a great place to get to know the Back Bay. Open Tuesday through Sunday, this free facility is filled with exhibits about wetlands, uplands, and estuaries that are designed to captivate every age. Kids get excited about the fish swimming in the aquariums and the birds "flying" overhead. A large classroom is filled with live animals in terrariums, animal puzzles, kid-friendly microscopes, craft areas, and plenty of books. Classes geared towards children (ages 2-8) are offered on Thursdays and Fridays for just $5 per child.
The best way to really get to know the Back Bay is to get out on the water. You can launch your own kayak or canoe for free from Northstar Beach, or rent one from the Newport Aquatics Center. For more insight into the history, ecology, and wildlife of the Back Bay, a 2-hour guided kayak tour with the Newport Bay Conservancy is highly recommended. These tours, which begin at the Newport Aquatics Center, take place year-round on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. and welcome children ages 8 and older. The $25 fee includes kayak rental.
*Main image photo credit: Flickr /Tracie Hall