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Orange County Itinerary

Doin's at the Dunes

Newport's Back Bay offers many ways to enjoy--and learn about--the water.

September 11, 1997|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Never mind the name, activities at Newport Dunes usually involve water. And though the resort serves the large recreational vehicles known as RVs, all manner of smaller aquatic vehicles intended just for fun are available--and newfangled land models too! Get your feet wet with a kayak tour of the Back Bay. At day's end, you can race around the corner for eats at the new Speedway International Racing Bistro and Bar.

MORNING 1

The Dunes offers an introduction to kayaking, followed by a naturalist-led two-hour kayak tour of the bay, Sundays at 10 a.m. No need to learn the Eskimo roll: Two-person kayaks are practically tip-proof.

Out on the water, naturalist Donna Murata noted that the bay has an 8-foot tidal swing and marine life including octopus and gray smoothhound sharks, and that the marshlands are being taken over by African-clawed frogs.

The bay's distinctive natural odor is misleading; the water is the cleanest it's been in a decade. Fish were leaping two feet out of the water--but that doesn't mean they don't like it!

Bird sightings included great blue herons and an osprey, dramatically perched atop a pole. Though Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve is home to most of the U.S. population of the clapper rail, it's so endangered that even Murata has never seen one! (But she's new to the place.)

Kayak tours are $15, $10 for children 12 and under.

LUNCH 1

The Back Bay Cafe has sails on the ceiling and a huge swordfish mounted on the wall. But most people prefer the bay views from the patio. (Disembarking at the adjacent boat launch was a dachshund wearing a life jacket, with a handle for easy retrieval.) An all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet (adults $8.95, children 10 and under $5.95) is served until 1 p.m. For lunch, sandwiches such as the club (with turkey, B.L.T. and avocado, $7.25) are highly recommended.

AFTERNOON 1

"Doesn't the layout of this campground remind you of the Riviera?" Gail Pidetti of Corona del Mar recently asked her companion.

Check out the RVs: One resembled a riverboat and had a rooftop patio with gas lamp-style fixtures.

Bring a towel--the Dunes offers lots of waveless beach. Rentals include bodyboards, pedal boats and Sun Kats. You can sign up for windsurfing and sailing classes. In-line skates and cruiser bikes (and just-introduced California Chariots, a scooter-tricycle hybrid that kids seem to love) are $5 per hour, $10 per day. Consider taking the 9.5-mile trail around the bay.

Rentals are available 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday through Oct. 31. (Hours are seasonal.)

DINNER 2

You can reserve cabanas, even rent tiki torches, for a beach cookout. The grocery store is open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.)

Or you can make an entertaining pit stop nearby at the recently opened Speedway International Racing Bistro and Bar.

Exotic race cars are parked out front and on the roof. Bar stools look like shock-absorbing springs. Eighty television monitors air race and other sporting events continuously. Computer kiosks offer racing news and fantasy racing games.

The wait staff wears racing suits. Drinks come with checkered swizzle sticks. The decor features racing photos and scale model displays. Dick Marconi of the Marconi Automotive Museum in Tustin is one of the restaurant's principals.

Menu highlights include Spring Roll Bars (with Vietnamese sauce, $5.95) and Spin-Out Salad (chopped with grilled chicken, white beans, rice and mozzarella, $7.95). Yellow Flag sandwiches run $7 to $13, Pit Stop pizzas $7 to $10, pastas $9 to $15, and a wide variety of entrees $11.50 to $23. Among desserts is a vertical banana split ($4.95).

But that's no checkered flag: At the gift counter are Speedway stickers ($1), shot glasses ($4) and ties ($24.95).

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

1) Newport Dunes

1131 Backbay Drive, (714) 729-3863. Open 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. Back Bay Cafe open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. (Beginning Oct. 1, cafe open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. daily.)

2) Speedway International Racing Bistro & Bar

353 E. Coast Highway, (714) 675-5900. Open 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday, and 10 a.m.-midnight Sunday.

Parking: $6 at Newport Dunes. Valet parking at Speedway.

Buses: OCTA Bus No. 1 runs along Pacific Coast Highway with stops at Bayside Drive and Jamboree Road.

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