The hill-lined city of Irvine includes plenty of interesting locations for outdoor adventures, recreation, and shopping. In a total of 65 square miles, the city contains a renowned university and a thriving college town area, along with many upscale housing communities. More than a third of the city’s area is designated as a park, natural open space, or trail, adding up to a total of 16,500 acres. And if hitting the trail isn’t your thing, there’s an abundance of shopping and dining to do within the city and in neighboring areas.
The city will celebrate its 50th birthday in December of 2021, and though relatively young, there is still plenty to discover. Here are some great options for places to visit in the city of Irvine:
Shopping and Dining
Address: 670 Spectrum Center Dr, Irvine, CA 92618
One of the major shopping destinations in Orange County is the Irvine Spectrum, an outdoor shopping center with over 100 shops to choose from and many dining options as well as a Ferris wheel, movie theater, improv theater, and spa. Shops include Nordstrom, Anthropologie, Old Navy, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Urban Outfitters, Dr. Martens, Lush, Lululemon, and much more. There are several iconic cafes including the Hello Kitty Café, Duff’s Cake Mix, and Honey & Butter. For lunch or dinner, options include Cheesecake Factory, Silverlake Ramen, Wood Ranch, Tender Greens, and Yardhouse. This is a perfect destination for a family stroll for lunch, snacks, and window shopping on a sunny afternoon.
Diamond Jamboree Shopping Center Restaurants
Address: 2700-2750 Alton Pkwy, Irvine, CA 92606
Irvine is a hub of Asian cuisine, and almost any flavor you’re looking for you can find at the Diamond Jamboree Shopping Center. BCD Tofu House, Curry House Coco Ichibanya, Kura Revolving Sushi Bar, Paper Lantern Dumpling House, Pho Saigon Pearl, and Yi-Gah Korean are some of the popular choices for savory meals, while 85ºC Bakery Café, SomiSomi, and Afters Ice Cream provide some sweeter choices. Many of these restaurants are known in Southern California for their authentic dishes and delicious treats, and draw Asian food aficionados from all over.
Nature and Wildlife
Address: 5380 3/4 University Dr, Irvine, CA 92612
Nestled in the heart of Irvine is Tanaka Farms, which hosts a produce stand, seasonal picking tours, a barnyard, wagon rides, and an autumn pumpkin patch. Throughout the year you can book one of their U-Pick Wagon rides, which take you through the farm to pick your own fruits or veggies while learning about the farm’s history and farming methods. During the holidays they host a Festival of Lights, a Holiday Market, and a Christmas tree lot. All in all this farm makes for a great family outing to reconnect with the roots of what we eat, and educate about agriculture and nature. Reservations for visits may be required.
Bommer Canyon Community Park
Address: 11 Bommer Canyon Road Irvine, CA 92603
Bommer Canyon is a nature reserve with plenty of secluded trails for hiking, biking, or horseback riding. The trails vary in difficulty and length, and some lead upwards for views of the hills and open sky. In the springtime there is beautiful greenery, flowers, and wildlife, some of which are endangered species. The grounds also contain a cattle camp, which you can only get glimpses of now but will reopen once renovations are complete.
San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary
Address: 5 Riparian View, Irvine, CA
The San Joaquin Marsh is a quiet, picturesque getaway in the city that includes 12 miles of trails along 300 acres of coastal freshwater wetlands. Birdwatchers will keep busy in this area, as there are over 200 species of birds to be found in the marshes, plus 121 plant species. Families and schools can visit the Irvine Ranch Water District Learning Center, where you can learn about the importance of the marsh to the natural treatment of SoCal’s water. Entry is free every day of the week from dawn to dusk.
Arts and Museums
UCI Institute and Museum of California Art
Address: 18881 Von Karman Ave #100, Irvine, CA 92612
Part of the University of California Irvine, the Museum of California Art holds over 4500 works of art from local California art movements of the 19th century to modern day. The institute and museum work to educate the community about the impacts and diversity of California art and life. Exhibits rotate seasonally and are currently on display in the interim museum in downtown Irvine until the on-campus museum is completed in the coming years. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday and has free admission.
Irvine Fine Arts Center
Address: 14321 Yale Ave, Irvine, CA 92604
This art center hosts art classes for all ages in a wide variety of disciplines including drawing and painting, ceramics, printmaking, photography, and culinary arts. What makes this facility stand out is its well-stocked studio spaces, containing state of the art equipment that is rarely so accessible without a hefty price tag. The gallery onsite contains high quality art from local artists and also holds an annual Studio Arts Festival.
Pretend City Children’s Museum
Address: 29 Hubble, Irvine, CA 92618
This non-profit children’s museum contains “the world in a nut-shell,” set up as a collection of interactive areas where kids learn real-world skills in a fun, hands-on setting designed to look like a miniature city. Sections of this “city” include a Trader Joe’s market, library, art studio, café, gas station, beach, and more. Everything is designed with kids as young as infants in mind, and provides a unique and educational experience for a fun outing with kids. Tickets range from $10.95-$13.95 per person with memberships also available.
Sports and Recreation
Orange County Great Park
Address: 8000 Great Park Blvd, Irvine, CA 92618
For families with a wide range of interests, there is something for anyone at the Orange County Great Park. This park facilitates all sorts of activities, both indoors and out. The grounds contain many sports fields for soccer, tennis, volleyball, basketball, and more, with lessons and camps available for each sport. There are kids playgrounds, walking trails, and an educational farm and food lab also on the grounds. Two of the most popular attractions are the classic, ornate carousel and the Great Park Balloon ride that takes you up 400 feet in the air for amazing views. For those wanting to stay indoors, there is an arts complex with galleries and artist studios and a visitor’s center with a café. And if that wasn’t enough, the park also hosts a farmers market on Sunday mornings. This park truly has it all, and is a great example of an enriching community space.
Great Park Ice & Fivepoint Arena
Address: 888 Ridge Valley, Irvine, CA 92618
An extension of the Orange County Great Park and just across the street is Great Park Ice and Fivepoint Arena. This space functions as the training facility for the Anaheim Ducks Hockey League, but anyone looking to get on the ice can also take lessons or skate recreationally at these rinks. There are a total of four indoor ice rinks with programs in hockey, figure skating, and more for both youth and adults. The main arena holds up to 2,500 guests and is the site of many sports and entertainment events. At a total of 280,000 sq. feet, this is the largest ice rink facility in the state.
Address: 1 Beech Tree Lane, Irvine, CA 92612
This unique site for kids is an engaging playground with a tree house, sensory garden, a fort zone, slides, meadows, an art wall, climbing areas, and other activities. This is a perfect park to get kids outdoors in a natural setting while also providing engaging activities that will stimulate their imaginations. It is open daily from 10-6 with free admission.
Northwood Community Park
Address: 4531 Bryan Ave Irvine, CA 92620
This 7.7 acre park, sometimes called Castle Park by locals because of its castle themed playground, contains a variety of spaces including an amphitheater, picnic area, baseball diamond, soccer fields, tennis courts, racquetball courts, and multiple play areas for children. For most kids, the highlight of the park is the playground with a castle-like structure and multiple other jungle gyms that allow for lots of exploration.
Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park
Address: 4 Civic Center Plz Irvine, CA 92606
This patriotic park honors Marine Corps veteran and Medal of Honor recipient William E. Barber who was an Irvine resident. The large playground is decorated in patriotic red, white, and blue with a “Don’t Tread on Me” snake-shaped path. The rest of the large park contains a stadium, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, an amphitheater, batting cages, soccer fields, and lots of green space. There is also a frog-accented fountain that is lined with trees and pergolas, providing a peaceful retreat away from the playgrounds.
Irvine Ranch Historic Park
Address: 13042 Old Myford Rd. Irvine, CA 92602
Perfect for fans of local historic architecture, this park contains two dozen ranch homes from the early 20th century that harken back to the days when Irvine was an agricultural town known for its oranges and farming. Each building has a placard with info about what purpose the house served over its lifetime and photographs of the building’s history. The largest building in the park, and one of the most beautiful, is the Katie Wheeler Library with a selection of books for locals to peruse. While most of the surrounding city feels newer and modern, this park is a great way to step back into the city’s history.
Irvine Historical Museum
Address: 5 San Joaquin, Irvine, CA 92612
This small museum inside the San Joaquin Ranch House contains historical photos and a library full of local historical documents. The house itself was the first wood house to be built between Anaheim and San Diego, and has been standing since it was commissioned by James Irvine in 1868. It was the first ranch home of Irvine and his ranch manager Charles French. Now it houses the material of the Irvine Historical society, which is dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of the city.
Old Town Irvine
Address: 14952-14988 Sand Canyon Ave, Irvine, CA 92618
This cluster of old buildings is a California Historical Landmark that commemorates the city’s origins as a train stop along the Santa Fe Railroad when it was still only a town called Myford, founded in 1887. The façade of each building in this square has been restored to appear as it did when the area served as the Irvine Ranch’s distribution and storage center. Though each building is now used for commercial use, you can see their origins as a granary, blacksmith, hotel, general store, agricultural storage, and employee bungalow as they functioned until the mid 20th century. The blacksmith shop building now contains Knowlwood Restaurant, known for their burgers and classic American cuisine. The silos and warehouse spaces now contain La Quinta Inn rooms, which are unique to the chain and show off the history of the structures. These buildings remain a great reminder of Irvine’s agricultural roots and preserve some of the area’s traditional architecture.
|City of Irvine||Irvine Ranch Open Space Preserve|
|Great Park Neighborhoods||FivePoint Amphitheatre|
|Shopping Centers in Orange County||Orange County Great Park|
Leilani Reyes is a freelance writer, artist, and all-around creative living in Long Beach, CA. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, now she is in search of her next great life adventure.