Sunset at Newport Back Bay

Newport Back Bay is a relatively unknown1 jewel of coastal Orange County. At only a few miles long and half a mile wide at most, this estuary is relatively small. It’s also packed in between Newport Beach mansions houses, some of which overlook the wetlands from bluffs that line it. However, there is no major development inside the majority of the back bay, which is home to plants, birds, kayakers, and lots of other wildlife.

Looking towards the eastern bluffs from a roadside stop on Back Bay Drive in Newport Back Bay.


I’ve loved going to Newport Back Bay for years. It’s a great place to bike or jog, as there’s a paved trail looping around it2, and it’s a good place to go for bird watching (though I think Bolsa Chica is generally preferred by bird photographers).  What’s neat about this area is that one moment you’re driving through fully developed Newport Beach and Irvine (Fashion Island Shopping Center and UC Irvine are only minutes away), and then the next you’re walking, biking, or driving along a one-lane road that meanders along the side of a beautiful coastal wetlands.

A few nights ago I went there to watch the sunset and experiment with some post-sunset techniques. The sunset was gorgeous:

Sunset at Newport Back Bay.


And once the sun fell a bit further, a beautiful orange glow arrived:

Post-sunset orange glow reflected on the water at Newport Back Bay.


During the day the houses lining the bluffs are relatively ignorable at best, but at night they add another dimension to the landscape thanks to the light from their windows.  I think they add a lot to this long exposure shot I took well after sunset:

Dusk at Newport Back Bay, with the bluffs lined by household window lights.


If you’re in central Orange County and looking for a peaceful place to get away from the city for a bit, try Newport Back Bay.

1 I say relatively unknown because for many years I’ve assigned my students a writing project that requires them to head to a local Orange County wildlife area to observe wildlife, and in at least half of the papers written by students about Newport Back Bay they start with something akin to “I never knew this was here, but I loved it and hope to go back regularly.”
2 Unfortunately, doing a full loop around the bay requires some time on city streets near Pacific Coast Highway.

More pictures

To see more pictures from Newport Back Bay, head to my Newport Back Bay Gallery.

Getting There

Newport Back Bay: While there’s both a science center and an interpretive center, I prefer to visit by heading along the one-way road or bicycling the loop trail. To get to the one-way road that drives through the back bay, take either the 405, 73, or Pacific Coast Highway to Jamboree Road. Travel on Jamboree towards Back Bay Drive (south if you’re coming from the 405 or 73, north if you’re coming from PCH), and turn west on Back Bay Drive (Back Bay Drive is only a block north of PCH). Back Bay Drive will go past a harbor and the science center, and then shrink into a one-way road that goes a few miles along the side of the back bay. Entry and parking are free; drive slowly and carefully, as wildlife and exercisers are common (and both tend to ignore cars). There are a few small dirt pullouts on the left as you go along the road, and one paved parking lot with a small boardwalk and overlook about halfway down the road.

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