The location: The Balboa Lighthouse.


Q. What is it supposed to be on the show?

    A. A large seaside restaurant which Sandy Cohen and Jimmy Cooper buy, renovate and plan to operate together (although eventually Caleb double-crosses them and gets Jimmy's liquor license refused, forcing them to sell it back to him).


Q. Where is it supposed to be on the show?

    A. In Newport Beach, on the coast.

    From the inside the restaurant, we often see a view out the windows of the boats in a nearby marina.


Q. When did we see it on the show?

    A. Beginning in episode 16 (of season 1), "The Links", where Sandy & Jimmy meet inside the restaurant, and Sandy suggest buying it, until episode 26 (of season one), "The Strip", when they are forced to sell it to Caleb.

    It's from the grand opening of "The Lighthouse" that a drunken Luke speeds off and ends up in a near-fatal accident, in Episode 24 (of season one), "The Proposal".


Q. What is it actually in real life?

    A. "The Lighthouse" is an actual restaurant named "Harbor Drive". It had previously been a Mexican restaurant known as Camacho's Grill, and before that as Senor Frog's and The Red Onion. Planning to upgrade the marina, the city of Redondo Beach purchased the Camacho''s Grill property in 2001. The restaurant sat empty for a few years (before they reopened it as Harbor Drive), and it was during that idle time that "The O.C." moved in and used it as a filming location for "The Lighthouse".


Q. Where can I find it in real life?

    A. The restaurant named Venezia Italian Grill (formerly called Harbor Drive, until 2007) is located on the edge of the Redondo Beach Marina, at 655 N. Harbor Drive in Redondo Beach, CA.

    That's just a few blocks north of the Redondo Beach Pier, where many of the show's scenes are filmed. It is also right across the marina from another O.C. location: The Breakwater restaurant (seen in Episode 3, Season 2), Summer's Christmas tree lot (seen in Episode 6, Season 2), was filmed in the adjoining parking lot.

    Venezia Italian Grill, an upscale restaurant, is open for business, and you can go in for lunch or dinner and enjoy the same view of the boats in the marina that you saw on "The O.C." The building was significantly renovated, so you may not recognize the exterior of the place. The restaurant entrance seen in Episode 24 (the grand opening of the Lighthouse) is actually located on the south side of the current restaurant, while the new main entrance (facing east), looks nothing like the old one. (See the notes below for comparison photos.)

    Here is a link to a map of its exact location.

    (And here's a link to a website review of the restaurant.)



Q. How the heck did you figure out where it was?

    A. It wasn't easy. I wasn't even sure at first that The Lighthouse was filmed inside a real restaurant - which it was.  I thought they might have just built a facade on the edge of the marina (as they did with The Crab Shack). All I knew for sure is that it was located on the edge of a marina, since I could see boats docked just outside the windows. And I could also see a large letter "C" on a sign at the edge of the dock. So I started studying aerial photos (via Google) of Marina Del Rey, the Redondo Marina, Shoreline Marina, the Long Beach marina, and even San Pedro's 22nd St. Landing. By paying attention to the way the boat slips were positioned, I was able to narrow it down to just a handful of possible restaurants.

    And then I got a big break during the Lighthouse's grand opening scene in Episode 24 of Season 1. They showed the restaurant's parking lot in the scene where a drunken Luke pulls into the lot. There were quite a few points of reference in that scene. The way the white lines were slanted on the blacktop, the palm trees, the round hedges in the background, the unusual street lamps. By checking aerial photos for the exact match of parking stripes to street lamps, I was able to narrow it down to just two restaurants: Harbor Drive or the BlueWater Grill next door. So I printed out a screen capture of the parking lot scene, went there myself and checked it out in person. By comparing the screenshot to the view from the parking lot, it was obvious that Harbor Drive was the right location. I also walked around behind the restaurant and looked for that tell-tale "C" sign. And sure enough, there it was, right above the boats in the marina.

    Update: The building, then housing the restaurant known as Harbor Drive, has now become home to a new restaurant known as Venezia Italian Grill, and the exterior has been repaintd in brighter, bolder colors (than in the photos on this page).

    Here are two comparison photos of the restaurant parking lot:

    In the photo above, you see a scene from Episode 24, where Luke arrives in the parking lot of The Lighthouse.
    I've labeled the parking lot photo to point out some key identification points.

    And in the photo below (shot in 2006 in the parking lot outside Harbor Drive restaurant), I've labeled the same points.



    Only the front of the restaurant didn't look the same. So I walked around the south side, and Eureka! There was the old entrance seen in Episode 24, only it had now been turned into a side entrance for the back patio, and looks much more modest than it did. But the windows and sloping roof were identical.

    Here are two comparison photos of the restaurant entrance:

In the photo above (taken from Episode 24), I've labeled a few kept points of identification.

In the photo to the right
(a blow up of the red-circled area
on the Harbor Drive restaurant photo below)
I've labeled the same key points.


Update: In the years since, the Venezia Italian Grill also closed, and the restaurant set empty again.  Current plans call for the building to be demolished and for a new Shade Motel to be built in its place, with construction starting in 2013.

A fan, Adam, visited the restaurant in 2012, not long before demolition was slated to begin, and sent me these two photos of the interior:



( Thanks, Adam! )



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THE O.C. screenshots from the show and all related characters & elements are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
All other photos & text are Copyright © 2011-Gary Wayne and may not be used without written permission.



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