Balboa Fun Zone
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (August 2007)|
|Location||Newport Beach, Orange County, California, USA|
The Balboa Fun Zone is a family destination located on the Balboa Peninsula in the city of Newport Beach, Orange County, California. The Balboa Fun Zone offers both an ocean and harbor experience for an estimated seven million annual visitors to Newport Beach.
The Fun Zone was built in 1936 by Al Anderson featuring a small beach and a 45’ Ferris Wheel as the main attractions. In 1986, Jordan Wank rebuilt the entire area and re-opened it. In 1988, Doo & Sons owned the Balboa Fun Zone, but they walked away after not receiving zoning permits to develop the property into a mixed use of retail and housing. The property languished for several years and the area went into decline.
In 1994, the Balboa Fun Zone was purchased by former employee Joe Tunstall. The Fun Zone consisted of a new Carousel purchased in 1985, the 1937 Ferris Wheel, a few souvenir shops, low priced restaurants and tour boat companies offering boat rides.
Tourists and residents can also enjoy harbor cruises and old fashioned arcades on the boardwalk. The Ferris wheel is a frequently photographed night landmark on the Balboa Peninsula. The Balboa Fun Zone was purchased in December, 2005 by NHNM Property Holdings, LLC with plans to renovate the existing building, boardwalk and waterfront.
The greater Balboa Fun Zone area also includes the Balboa Village which consists of more retail shops, restaurants, several saloons, a boutique hotel, the Balboa Pier, the beach and the boardwalks along both the beach and the harbor fronts.
In 2013, the Balboa Fun Zone has undergone a major renaissance with the addition of three new exciting rides owned and operated by Fun Zone Entertainment., a wholly owned subsidiary of ExplorOcean. They include, Ocean Motion, Fish Pipe, and Burt the Bull Shark.
Ocean Motion is an 18’ tall bungee ride that allows people to jump and flip through the air in complete safety. In the 11’ diameter Fish Pipe, riders get wet and have a blast while sliding inside a giant transparent plastic sphere rotating at 45 rpm. Fresh water serves as a lubricant creating an endless waterslide. Burt the Bull Shark is 12’ long, weighs 2000 lbs. and tries to buck the rider off his back. The shark painted a very bright blue has massive eyes that light up at night and his jaws that snap open and shut while young operators dressed in cowboy hats encourage riders to hold on tight!
The Balboa Fun Zone also features a raised patio open to the public offering spectacular views of Newport Harbor. Here visitors can enjoy Science Saturdays from 12-3pm hosted by ExplorOcean or sit in patio chairs eating BBQ and watch people ride the rides on the boardwalk. The patio is handicap accessible from East Bay Avenue.
The Fun Zone boasts numerous restaurants such as the iconic Cape Cod style Pavilion built in 1905, several souvenir stores, and a boardwalk to stroll along to take in the gorgeous harbor views. The nearby Balboa Theater on Balboa Boulevard is set to be renovated by the Balboa Theater Foundation in 2014.
The Balboa Fun Zone has for 77 years been a true Southern California destination for locals and tourists of all ages. The area is famous for its Balboa Bar ice cream, Funnel Cakes, old school arcades with Skee Ball machines. and waterfront views of Newport Harbor. Visitors can also take a guided tour of over 20 miles of Newport Harbor by utilizing the Fun Zone Boat Company which has been operating continuously since 1946. Personal watercraft such as Seadoos, Stand Up Paddle Boards and two person powerboats can be rented from Marina Boat Rentals on a small pier jutting out over the harbor located on the Boardwalk.
The 130’ long Catalina Flyer passenger ferry ship also operates out of the Pavilion located in the Balboa Fun Zone. With room for 615 passengers and boasting a top speed of 32 knots, the Flyer arrives in the City of Avalon on Catalina Island in only 75 minutes from departure. This is the largest passenger ferry boat on the west coast and safely transports tens of thousands of visitors every year to Santa Catalina Island and back.
The Balboa Auto Ferry carries passengers and cars 900 feet from nearby Balboa Island to the Balboa Fun Zone. It operates 20 hours a day during the summer months and transports an estimated 1.6 million passengers per year. Tourists and residents alike enjoy the 3 minute ride aboard the small ferry which transports just three automobiles and up to about 100 people per trip.
The Balboa Fun Zone is also home to ExplorOcean, America’s premiere ocean literacy center. ExplorOcean is a California nonprofit and occupies a city block in the Balboa Fun Zone. ExplorOcean is the second largest land owner in the Balboa Village behind the City of Newport Beach. ExplorOcean’s mission is to educate children about the seven principles of Ocean Literacy through hands-on activities, summer camps, and field trips. The curriculum is grounded in the seven principles and aligns with state education standards.
In the Ocean Literacy Center, Children can build and pilot advanced underwater submarines in the boardwalk aquarium. They can also touch tide pool sea creatures like starfish and sea cucumbers. The Ocean Literacy Center is a place to learn about the ocean with hands-on activities using science, technology, engineering and math skills. Besides the general public, ExplorOcean services thousands of underserved and at risk children who many times visit the ocean for the first time. Tens of thousands of people visit ExplorOcean’s galleries every year which are open every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The greater Balboa Fun Zone area encompasses the Balboa Village. Visitors can park on the street, in the 715 car Balboa Pier parking lot or in the Palm Street Parking lot. Close by is the Balboa Pier where you can buy a milk shake or a burger at the original Ruby’s Restaurant. BJ’s Restaurant also operates in the Greater Balboa Fun Zone and is located on Main Street.
The Balboa Fun Zone celebrated its 77th anniversary in 2013 and is known to be a safe, clean and extremely fun place to spend the day by millions of people. Generations of people have memories of the Balboa Fun Zone as children playing on the pristine beached, dropping nickels into arcade machines or enjoying numerous rides and attractions located within the Balboa Fun Zone.