California Museums


Newport Beach Nautical Museum / Xploreocean / Ocean Quest, 600 E. Bay Ave., Newport Beach, California

It began as Newport Harbor Nautical Museum in 1976, was renamed XploreOcean in 2010, and once again changed its name to Ocean Quest in 2017.

In 1995, the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum owned and operated the riverboat Reuben E. Lee. Over the years, it boasted a 3,000-volume maritime library, a 58,000-photo archive drawing up to 20,000 visitors a year. Too costly to operate, after a year or so of searching for a buyer, the museum gave up.

The museum began relocation plans to a building in Balboa Fun Zone in  2005. That year the museum purchased the waterfront property on the Balboa Peninsula that includes much of the Fun Zone. The museum shut down three rides in 2006, including the popular bumper cars. The museum kept the 50-year lease with Newport Harbor Ferris Wheel, but forced the owner to remove his popular carousel ride located near the museum's entry door.

By December 2006, the museum moved from the Reuben E Lee to the Fun Zone location.

By 2007 its Reuben E Lee boat was finally salvaged for scrap. The riverboat was pulled out into the ocean and sunk.

In 2010 the 34-year-old museum in the Balboa Village area planned to expand its facility and rename itself as XploreOcean. From Palm Avenue to Washington Street and from the water's edge to East Bay Avenue, there were plans to include retail, dining and marina activities. The nonprofit museum launched a $35 million capital campaign.

XploreOcean had grandiose plans to create a world class learning facility. With many existing long-time businesses surrounding it and hurdles to pass with city regulations and building codes, the museum cooled its jets, so to speak.

Discovery Cube merged with the ExplorOcean museum and educational center in 2016, renaming the Newport Beach museum as Ocean Quest.  Discovery Cube acquired the property in 2017 with a vision for improvements. There was renewed hope that the expansion would come to fruition. The non-profit Discovery Cube with locations in Santa Ana and Los Angeles maintained the museum's limited indoor space  and packaged the attraction with tickets that included Whale Watching Cruises or Fun Zone activities.

In March 2020 Ocean Quest and Discovery Cube's two Orange and Los Angeles County facilities closed during the year long COVID pandemic.

In December 2020 Discovery Cube announced it was looking for a buyer for the museum space and block-long Fun Zone area, which lies within Newport Harbor and is bordered by the Balboa Island Ferry dock on one end and a marina on the other. The pandemic was cited as putting financial stress on the organization. Its board of directors tried to secure funding options from private and public sectors, but decided selling the site would be the most prudent.

The Discovery Cube owns the Dylan Ayres vessel docked near the Fun Zone in Newport Harbor and currently plans to keep it for children's science programs that explore local ocean and bay ecosystems.


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