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Uncovering the New in Old Newport Beach

With its manicured verandas, yachty veneer, and of-the-moment shopping destinations, it will never be LA—and that’s precisely the allure
Newport Beach

It’s almost a dare to not shop here. Newport Beach has become a capital of Southern California fashion, known for its byzantine map of brick-and-mortar boutiques. Now classic hotels are getting reboots, renewing their courtship of you and your discretionary income. Underneath the manicured verandas and yachty veneer of this OC beach burg, there are plenty of wild, upstart imaginations at work. Newport will never be LA—and that’s precisely the allure.

Fashion Island 

Most destinations have a payoff place; the one that encapsulates everything about its appeal—landscape, built environment, view, food, drink, people, style. For me, it’s Fashion Island. The distinctive open-air shopping center was the one that started it all. Fifty-five years ago, developers turned the traditional mall inside out by placing corridors outside, meandering through Mediterranean gardens and koi ponds.

Today, it remains potently relevant on the retail front as dozens of digitally native brands have hand-picked the center to debut physical stores. There’s Buck Mason, Johnnie-O and Something Navy alongside newcomers like Paired Up, a sneaker store that feels more like an art gallery. The athleisure game is strong here—with shiny flagships from Travis Mathew, Alo and Offline by Aerie.

In January, they’ll add Neighborhood Goods, a neo-department store with locations in Chelsea Market and Austin. “People still like tangible experiences when they’re shopping for clothes,” says Jim Davis, chief customer officer of Buck Mason, the made-in-LA brand that recently opened a breezy store with a vintage Porsche as the centerpiece. “The space has this timeless, midcentury vibe.”

buck mason boutique

Inside the Buck Mason boutique, which boasts breezy interiors and a vintage Porsche as its centerpiece.

In Newport’s culinary scene, next year Maestro’s will debut its newest concept, Ocean 48, and the drumroll has begun for RH’s four-story Design Gallery with a rooftop restaurant. Meanwhile, a local private equity group, Eagle Four Partners, is banking on the hotel scene. Across from Nordstrom, VEA Newport Beach, which opened in July, revved up the old Marriott with a sleek tropical vibe vis-à-vis Gensler, Burton Studio, and Houston Tyner Architects. VEA is sleek, cosmopolitan, and low-key. A reverse-engineered circular waterfall—The Oculus— is integrated into a pier-inspired design that lures guests from the sexy lobby to the restaurant veranda and pool bar with an unobstructed view of the undulating golf course at Newport Beach Country Club and the ocean beyond.

Coming soon, Eagle Four has teamed up with The Pendry for a complete overhaul of the Island Hotel with nightlife top of mind. The 295 guest rooms will include 82 suites with floor-to-ceiling windows that open to balconies, and the property will showcase three restaurants, a members-only club, an elaborate spa, and ample event space. It marks the brand’s third Southern California hotel after San Diego and West Hollywood.

VEA newport

The bar at the recently opened VEA Newport Beach, which was designed by Gensler, Burton Studio, and Houston Tyner Architects.

Lido Marina Village, Balboa Peninsula 

Some places create odes to style. Others create it. Lido Marina Village manages both. What was once home to wedding boats and dive bars has given way to the one of the finest examples of adaptive reuse on the California coast—one that preserved the mariner’s soul of Newport while luring in top-shelf retailers.

A nautical palette of high gloss, teak wood, and brass riffs on the adjacent docks. There are other fascinating subcultures to pull inspiration from, including The Wedge—a colossally dangerous surf break on the Southeast edge of Balboa Peninsula. “There are these amazing little shops that cater to a specific surf, beach, and casual lifestyle, all with a highly-curated, fun aesthetic,” says Scott Richards, founder of Slightly Choppy, maker of retro pennants that celebrate local surf breaks.

The boutiques not to miss: Alchemy Works’ expertly sourced vintage section; Maxine, a milliner known for a sublime curation of international brands (French sunglasses, Peruvian jewelry); SeaVees, local maker of kicks; and stockist of Slightly Choppy, Shoppe Amber Interiors, Marrow Fine, Elyse Walker and Love Shack Fancy.

duffy boat, newport

A Duffy boat ferries passengers in and around Lido Marina Village and Balboa Peninsula.

Meanwhile, the culinary scene is be-seen with Nobu, Zinqué, and Malibu Farm. The margarita of note (every destination in SoCal must have a margarita hit list) is the Lido House Hotel, one of those rarified resort settings to wade in aesthetic pursuits swirling a Topside Margarita (Don Julio Blanco, Hellfire, Grand Marnier, fresh juice). Topside is the neighborhood’s only rooftop bar, and its cocktails and Champagne pairings make it a celebratory kind of place. On the ground floor, Mayor’s Table does moody, downtempo elegance and one of the best burgers in town (another contender is Arc Butcher & Baker a few blocks away).

The 130-room Lido has an architectural character that’s “Newport Beach nautical,” a West Coast interpretation of Cape Cod Style. Five local design firms outfitted the beach cottages for a decidedly local feel, and a cascading rope sculpture by Laguna Beach artist Jim Olarte is a scene stealer.

Forgoing a car while on Lido is easier than ever. There are beach cruisers, courtesy of the hotel, and the hyper-local Duffy Boats offer eco-friendly shuttling from Isle to harbor—and boast new-wave hues like seafoam and mango. Also cute and electric: The Moke, a retro-styled, low-speed vehicle that’s open-air and photogenic.

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