Balboa Island Museum Named Best in OC

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Balboa Island Museum Chairman of the Board and Co-Founder Shirley Pepys with a bust of Ronald Reagan at one of the displays inside the museum

By Pete Weitzner | Special to the NB Indy

“How can we be in the same league as a major museum?” asked Balboa Island Museum Chairman of the Board and Co-Founder Shirley Pepys. “I’m grateful to our community, to all who travel to visit.”

Pepys was referring to Balboa Island Museum Newport Beach being named Best Museum in Orange County in an LA Times 2022 reader survey.

Consider some of the competition: Bowers Museum, Discovery Cube Orange County, and Orange County Museum of Art.

Readers tabbed Balboa Island Museum as a “2022 Best of the Southland,” and a finalist in the Family Friendly Attraction category for all Southland.

“It’s entertainment and cultural,” Pepys said. “Dinners to entertain locals, speaking events that appeal to visitors countywide, scavenger hunts for children of visitors and history for their parents.”

In August, the Museum passed 200,000 visitors at its new location at 210 Marine Avenue.

“Our members, and the community, are so passionate about this place,” Executive Director Tiffany Pepys Hoey said.

One reason for that passion is the museum’s commitment to local veterans.

On November 12 the Balboa Island Museum will sponsor the annual Veterans Day BBQ in Balboa Park. It also hosts a special pinning ceremony on March 29.

“This institution does so much for veterans,” Bill Stewart said. Stewart runs the Veterans Project and chairs the Memorial Day BBQ.

The selection as OC’s fave comes on roughly the 22nd anniversary of the museum, and the fourth anniversary at its new and historic 2,200-square-foot home.

Museum Booster Club: Chairman Pepys, Philanthropist Argyros, Supervisor Katrina, Citizen of the Year Beek and Board member Dennis Bress at last Fall’s first annual Fun Zone Festival

Strategic Move

Climbing the peak of Orange County museums –there’s more than 40 – was no easy lift. This museum was once a one-room collection above Island Market on South Bay Front.

That ascent was boosted in 2018, when Pepys led the “leap of faith” gambit to move to the former “Art for the Soul” building at 210 Marine Avenue, constructed in 1927 by the Richardson family.

“When we moved over to the new location, I thought oh my gosh, it’s so big,” past-president Sharon Lambert said. “And then I had my moment, I walked outside and saw oh, the walkway goes straight to the museum, and I thought if anyone can do something like this, it’s Shirley. It’s very gratifying.”

Exterior of Balboa Island Museum / courtesy of Balboa Island Museum

Pepys always credits the late Jack Northrup, then treasurer, who convinced the board to come aboard, and the George and Julia Argyros Family Foundation, whose grant helped secure the new lease.

The move tripled the Museum space, resulting in more displays and community events.

The museum’s always adding: sold-out art classes this summer taught by local artist Eve Nycz, new exhibits on AirCal and Catalina Island, and the Kid’s Section Paddington Bear Exhibit coinciding with The Queen’s Jubilee.

Fall brings an October 7 members-only event at the Erin and Jim Maloney “Speakeasy” on Garnet Avenue and will be topped off by the November 4 second-annual Fun Zone Festival. The landmark Balboa Fun Zone is now owned and operated by the Newport Beach-based Pyle family.

“Biggest fundraiser of the year,” Pepys Hoey said of the Fun Zone event. Local band Reflex returns. More than 300 guests attended last year, discovering “you can be a kid again.”

Art for the Soul: Museum launched sold-out art classes this summer

Beek Completes Museum-Awards Trifecta

Balboa Museum Vice Chairman David Beek was named 2022 Newport Beach Citizen of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce.

“Very humbling and very unexpected. Remember, it takes a team,” Beek said in an email to museum members. In 2020, Commodore Beek arranged for Balboa island Yacht Club to host the premier of the Museum’s first film, “The Golden Age of Newport Harbor.”

Visit Balboa Island Museum Newport Beach. Open daily, free general admission. Visit for more information and to become a member.

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