I am a huge fan of Woody's Wharf. Located right on Newport Blvd. off the 55 freeway, it's on an inlet of water and provides a nice seaside atmosphere. You can get pretty tasty brunch with bottomless mimosas for under $20 and valet is only $4. Next door is American Junkie with a better view and $15 brunch that includes entree and bottomless Mimosas or Bloody Mary's, but the food is just OK, staff isn't friendly, and valet is $10. It comes down to your preference - better view, cheap food and drinks or better dining experience with tastier food. Because they are next door and both have bars you can easily check out both!
After brunch, head right up the road to the Balboa Island ferry, drive your car (or walk) onto the tiny barge, and pay $3 for transportation to the island. Well, quasi-island. You're really just crossing water between two peninsulas. But for three bucks it's a fun little adventure.
Once you get to Balboa there are two activities: house gazing at multi-million dollar homes and heading to the downtown area. Walking around you find yourself daydreaming you're rich and choosing what house you'd live in if you had the money. I'm not picky - I'll take any of the houses!
Downtown is a tiny strip of restaurants, candy stores, and beach-themed shops that you can easily lose track of time strolling through. It's all so quaint and adorable, like a tiny New England village.
The best part about a day trip to Newport Beach is you can spend the whole day eating and exploring for about $25. Totally worth the staycation!