Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

Balboa Bay Club & Resort offers upscale marina living

By: Lisa Jennings

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. For 55 years, the Balboa Bay Club has been the private social center of Newport Beach’s glamour crowd. The list of celebrity members and guests is long, including such names as President Ronald Reagan, Humphrey Bogart, John Travolta and Zsa Zsa Gabor. And in May, the club’s owners launched a new era by opening a 132-room resort next door.

The club is still private, with separate facilities that share the 15-acre property. But the hotel is open to the public aside from one members-only dining room (which, sadly for the rest of us, has the best view).

The hotel has a warm, inviting atmosphere, with gold and cream tones and tropical touches. Books in the library a reading room off the lobby where guests can enjoy a quiet cup of tea are as likely to be about gardening as boating. The emphasis at the Balboa is on quality, with 520 employees serving a total of 160 rooms in the club and resort.

The hotel’s elegantly designed restaurant, First Cabin, overlooks the marina and offers a French-inspired menu that competes favorably with the many fine restaurants along that stretch of the California coast. It’s worth a visit in itself.

The bar, named “Duke’s Place” after actor John Wayne, a former head of the club, is another fine spot to watch boats glide by while listening to live music.

If they didn’t bring their own yacht, guests can explore the bay in an electric duffy boat, which allows a closer look at the charming homes along the Lido Isle waterfront across the bay. Duffy boat rates are $60 per hour.

Not all rooms have a view of the marina, however. “Bluff view” rooms overlook the coastal highway and hills beyond, and “courtyard” rooms face the hotel’s inner courtyard, where the hotel’s Olympic-size heated pool and Jacuzzi are located.

The private club also has a spa, which hotel guests may use for an additional $35 fee.

Initially, the hotel has attracted more leisure travelers than business, but Henry Schielein, president and COO, said he expects the ratio to even out as the business community discovers the hotel’s meeting rooms. Though Schielein admits they may never be what he calls a “convention” hotel. “We’re an upscale hotel on the water,” said Schielein, “with good food and good service.”