Friday, June 8, 2012

The English Rose and The Georgia Peach: Island in the Sun

The English Rose and The Georgia Peach: Island in the Sun: The Rose and I picked a beautiful, warm and sunny Southern California day for our midweek excursion. But, wait, we were without a dest...

Island in the Sun

The Rose and I picked a beautiful, warm and sunny Southern California day for our midweek excursion. But, wait, we were without a destination. Knowing we wanted to travel north on Pacific Coast Highway, we put our heads together and opted for Balboa Island ( OK, so we’ve both been there many times before, but as anyone knows, there’s always something new to be unearthed in the OC’s oceanfront communities.

An undeniably charming seaside sanctuary in Newport Beach, Balboa Island was founded in 1899 when early-day developer W.S. Collins purchased 1,000 acres around Newport Bay for $50,000 and dredged the harbor to create the man-made land mass.

Balboa Island was incorporated into the city of Newport Beach in 1918, and it actually consists of three islands—Main Island, Little Island and Collins Island.

Today, after crossing a short bridge over Newport Harbor onto the island, both locals and visitors will find the shady, tree-lined main drag of Marine Avenue filled with numerous shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors, art galleries and even a cow! (Note: Rather than continuing on PCH to get to Balboa from Jamboree Road, turn off and enjoy a leisurely drive down Bayside Drive, complete with an eye-catching Bougainvillea-filled pedestrian walkway overhead.)

Once on the island, it seems as if you’ve crossed over into the olden days, where dogs laze away the day on the sidewalks and locals tell stories and swap gossip outside the town coffee shop before returning to their quaint seaside homes. (By the way, they might be quaint, but they ain’t cheap! While original property went for a couple hundred dollars, many homes on the island today cost well in the millions.)

With the busy summertime tourism season quickly creeping up on Southern California, the Rose and I were thrilled to have found an empty parking space just as we entered the island (not an easy feat when tourists are staking their claim to any spot they can get their hands on not only on Marine Avenue but on every available side street as well).

As we exited the car (following a few anxious minutes waiting for a novice parallel parker—ahem, the Peach—to make sure she was within the lines), some funky handmade pillows outside Bauble on Balboa ( caught our eye. Called “Geography Pillows,” we learned they are embroidered by hand at Catstudio (, and each 19-inch-by-19-inch pillow can be embellished with numerous landmarks from all of the 50 US states, plus cities, regions and resorts, and international locales ($170, plus tax, and $210 for all other locales besides Canada and the US).

After scanning a picture album showing off all of the available pillows, the Rose knew she had to order the special, limited-edition “Diamond Jubilee” cushion for someone special. One of only 300 created (with each pillow numbered on the back) to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years as Monarch in June 2012, the original design takes 35 hours to make and celebrates the city of London through sites ranging from Hyde Park to Covent Garden.

Expect to find many more fun offerings at Bauble on Balboa, which moved to the island three months ago from The OC Mart Mix in Costa Mesa. Manager (and fellow Laguna Beach resident) Mary Quellmalz says the store—owned by Pam Schmider—is known for its eclectic, whimsical spin on the classics and accessories, with some of the most popular items (other than the pillows) including tea towels with quippy sayings and handcrafted Orange County cuff bracelets from Evocateur. But that’s not all that’s on the shelves: Be sure to look for plaques, wall clocks, paperweights and much more.

We exited the store to the sound of the 12 o’clock bell at the island’s St. John Vianney Chapel, and made our way to CandlEssence (, the Peach’s favorite shop on Balboa. Here, Owner Neil Roberts can usually be found making his long-burning, intoxicatingly scented pillar candles daily on site.

Among the many aromas to be found at CandlEssence, Roberts says Blood Orange still is, and always has been, the most popular. But on this visit, I strayed from my typical preferred Lemongrass selection and chose instead the Lemon Verbena (yes, yes, I do like lemon!).

Be sure to say hello to the highly sociable shop mascot Oliver while you’re visiting CandleEssence (and don’t forget the treats and toys, Arf!).

As we left the candle shop—both the Rose and I in utter disbelief that we are so blessed to live in such a wonderful place like this—we continued down the street to one of our preferred lunch spots, Wilma’s Patio ( The congenial waiters add to the fun vibe at this community restaurant, which is owned and managed by the Staudinger family and has been serving up a diverse menu for the past 15 years amid local artwork, two patios and, of course, a bar.

After the Rose (who fancies herself a total trendsetter) kicked off a frenzy of Arnold Palmer requests, we settled back in our booth and ordered some grub: the French Dip for her (oh, the fries that came with that!) and Wilma’s Salad for me (complete with bay shrimp, hearts of palm, feta and black olives, with a side of strawberry vinaigrette dressing). If you visit Wilma’s, be sure to try some of the recommended dishes, including anything Mexican (coming from the family recipes of the cooks), the clam chowder, fish and chips, and breakfast (with waffles, pancakes, French Toast, Balboa Belly Bombers—warm French rolls stuffed with egg—and more served throughout the day).

Next stop Family T’s, the Peach’s second-favorite shop on the island (yes, it does seem to be all about me on this trip, doesn’t it?). After a quick pause to shoot a picture of local landmark “Bessie the Cow (pictured above), the Rose headed to a nearby bench while I ventured in to Howard Silver’s longtime souvenir T-shirt/sweatshirt shop. I was disappointed not to find Howard (who always knows just what I want). But Paul, who works on Wednesdays, was just as eager to accommodate my wishes. I ended up with a new gray Balboa Island sweatshirt to replace the one and only very worn and tattered Tahoe sweatshirt that made the move with me from Atlanta to California. (P.S. If you can't find a T-shirt or sweatshirt here, then...well...youre crazy!)

Happy with my candle and sweatshirt in tow, I allowed the Rose to select our next destination. She chose Esprit Provence, a retailer of all-things French farmhouse design including colorful linens (table runners towels, tablecloths and more), along with Melamine dinnerware and trays and pure-vegetable Heavenly Soaps with shea butter that are scented with luscious flavors such as lavender and flowers, cedar sandalwood, lychee rose, ocean and seaweed, and vanilla oat milk.

The one place we both wanted to check out before leaving the island was next on our list: Olive Oil & Beyond (, which is known for “the rarest and freshest virgin olive oil and ultra-premium basalmic vinegars,” says Persian-born Principal/Founder Matthew Pour.

Think two walls filled with every variety of olive oil and vinegar you could possibly imagine—all just waiting to be sampled—ranging from lemon Australian, cinnamon pear and 18-year aged Italian balsamic (the Rose’s choice to take home), to olive oils infused with everything from basil to wild portabella mushroom and citrus. Pour keeps 300 varieties on hand, and rotates them depending on the season. Take home a bottle of your choice for as little as $18.

From there, it was an all-out “mooch” session. (If you’ve followed our blog—and, if you haven’t, shame on you!—you know that’s the Rose’s British term for having a look around.) We passed by—and somehow managed not to stop off at—the community’s numerous treat purveyors. Anyone for frozen yogurt, or a frozen banana or Balboa bar, both chocolaty concoctions invented right here on the island?

Then, we landed in Heart of the Island (, a treasure trove of artwork, stationery, matted and framed art, pillows, mugs, coasters and more (the Rose was particularly fond of a cross with one of her favorite sayings, “Faith, Hope, Love”). That was followed by a trip to Sunny Days, a women’s boutique carrying the popular Coobie bras (with no hooks, snaps or under wire, making them popular among breast cancer survivors) and Pete & Greta cargo pants. I received a scarf lesson while there, but let it be noted: I’m not quite ready to venture into that territory quite yet.

The final stop for the day was Martha’s Bookstore (, a family-owned gem hidden at the end of a bougainvillea- and flower-covered patio.

Browse through the shops interesting selection of books and gifts. Then, once you have chosen your read, why not stop for a while in the inviting seating area situated just outside the front door?

Satisfied that we had indeed covered quite some ground in such a short time, and with yet a bit more time to spare, the Rose and I wanted to take the auto ferry across to Balboa Peninsula before making our way home.

As only three cars are allowed on a ferry at once, and again with the summertime season starting to pick up, the Rose and I were forced to wait several minutes for our turn, along with several cyclists and pedestrians (none of us which seemed to mind, by the way).

Once onboard, the Rose and I reminisced about our childhoods, when we both—from opposite ends of the world—would enjoy fun-filled trips on ferries with our families.

Drawing farther away from Balboa Island and our short trip back in time, we inched closer along the shimmering blue water to the Ferris wheel marking our disembarkation spot on Balboa Peninsula. That, we agreed, we’d save for another day.