One way to warm up a winter day: Huddle beneath a blanket and watch "Treasure Island" or "Gilligan's Island." A more effective way: visit the setting where these classics were filmed: Newport Beach, Calif. Rather than schlep to the tropics, movie producers choose this low-key town for its lush foliage, colorful blooms, romantic cliffs, immaculate beaches and secluded, glittering harbor. Enhancing the allure -- an old-timey oceanfront amusement park and pier, $1 auto-and-pedestrian ferry crossing to quirky-quaint Balboa Island, and the vast Back Bay saved by residents from becoming a mega-marina
|If you go|
|Winter lodging packages:|
|The Island Hotel|
|Newport Beach Restaurant Week: cuisine showcase and bargains through Jan. 27|
"Nearly everything grows here: eucalyptus from Australia, coral trees from South Africa, imported palms," says Newport At Your Feet tour guide Carolyn Clark. "Plus the visually exhilarating terrain" that has attracted filmmakers for nearly a century. She points to bluffs seen in Theda Bara's silent picture "Cleopatra," shores of "Sands of Iwo Jima" and John Wayne's waterfront home. Thatched huts and cabanas left by film crews were turned into beachfront housing by "industrious squatters."
Segway tours provide up-close views of whimsical mansions, island movie coves and "the Wedge," where daredevils surf occasional 30-foot waves spawned off Newport Harbor's rock jetty.
Clark's favorite "hidden gem" is the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve ("Back Bay"), where you can hike, bike and canoe around habitat for endangered birds, fish and bobcats. Don't miss the great nature center built into an earth berm. To zip around islands and harbor, she'd rent a locally-invented Duffy electric boat.
Corona del Mar offers cactus and rose gardens, fern grottoes, sailboats and rocky reefs for snorkeling. "It's our outdoor gym," says Clark, noting joggers and personal trainers with clients along the cliffside path and three stairways descending to the beach. Crystal Cove's fragrant coastal sage, fennel and wildflowers lure passersby to the underwater state park's shores.
The man-made oasis of Island Hotel offers winter packages, adding savings to current airfare bargains. After its recent propertywide renovation, the hotel has won awards and a place on world's top-100 hotel lists with its tranquil courtyard of towering plants, modern-luxe guestrooms and gracious service. "It's a social hub," says master sommelier Edmund Browning III. Locals come for "staycations" and frequent the spa and Palm Terrace Restaurant, beloved for chef Bill Bracken's team's upscale-homemade creations based on local-grown bounty. Whether you crave lemon grass or chocolate mousse, it's here.
Between sets in the Island Hotel's chic lounge, award-winning Virginia-born vocalist Jimmy Hopper sings Newport Beach praises: "the people ... and sunny paradise."