For the visitor, BI is mostly about Marine Avenue, where the shops are. The bridge is accessible from the corner of Bayside Dr. and Jamboree Road, just South of PCH. There is other access by the Balboa Ferry, and that drops you at the other end of the island so you get a lovely walk along the bayfront to Marine Avenue. If you arrive that way, it does not matter which way you go, the bayfront circles the island and you will end up at Marine Ave. The shops are an eclectic mix, with only a Starbucks chain store. Everything else is mom and pop owned, and most have been family run for over 50 years. There is a great Chinese restaurant on Marine and Balboa Avenues, been there for over 50 years, and no they don't serve duck that they catch in the bay. (or cats either-urban legends) For shopping, there are lots of cut price offerings and the winter months are off season for the best bargains. This is really where to go for a great experience instead of Fashion Island, where you pay $$$$. Other than the shopping, the island is ringed with bay beaches. You are inside the harbor, so don't expect any waves, but for small kids, this is the great place to go, play in the sand without any danger of surfboards, waves or any of the problems from an ocean beach. Float on an inner tube or pool raft if you want. One of the best beaches is located North Bayfront, at Collins Ave. The best viewing beaches are on South Bayfront as they face the main channel with the greatest amount of boat traffic. Other attractions include the fire station (Marine and Park), the Post Office (it says Balboa Island PO above it but the USPS denominates it as Newport Beach!) and the Auto Ferry (S. Bayfront and Agate). Most of the streets are named after gemstones. BTW- there are actually 3 islands that make up "Balboa Island" and you can walk the bayfront on 2 of them. Oh, yes, parking, well, there is limited space, the residents mostly park on the street, and if you need to park right in front of the store you want to visit, you will be disappointed. Weekends after 10, holidays like July 4, Labor Day, can be impossible. Be flexible, go early, park a few streets away from Marine, and take a walk on the bayfront, breathe the sea air and relax. After all, that is what life there is all about.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.