Southern California is known for its sunny, open-air shopping centers, but this outdoor mall in the heart of Orange County ups the ante with carnival-style rides, pop-up eateries, and unexpected shops.
The fountain-lined Spectrum Center, which reportedly took its aesthetic cues from the Alhambra palace in Spain, offers solid anchor stores, from Nordstrom to Target, and SoCal-friendly storefronts like Lululemon and Quiksilver. There are also plenty of lesser-known names—like Chilli Beans, a funky Latin American sunglasses and accessories giant; Alex and Ani jewelry, made from recycled materials; and Rocket Fizz Soda Pop and Candy Shop, which sells a colorful array of sweets, indie-made sodas, and kitschy movie posters.
But the Spectrum “is not simply a place to buy things and eat,” says the mall’s marketing director, Kathy Anderson. “With its stunning architecture, gardens, fountains, and lighting, it’s not a typical shopping center.” Indeed, the landmark center of the mall is the state fair–worthy Giant Wheel, with its 52,000 energy-efficient LED lights, which runs until 11 p.m. and offers sprawling views of the county. Don’t like heights? Ride the antique-style Carousel or the Kiddie Train, which chugs around select mall pathways, or strap on skates to glide across the outdoor ice rink during winter.
For more entertainment, head inside to the jumbo recliner seats at the Edwards 21 IMAX & RPX movie theater or catch a live show at Irvine Improv—which hosts headliners like Daniel Tosh and David Spade—and order dinner from renowned L.A. transplant Umami Burger (also available at Improv). Other lunch or dinner options at the Spectrum range from mall staples to elegant eateries like Capital Dim Sum (which serves Peking Duck at dinner) and the first Orange County branch of sustainable and seasonal steakhouse Paul Martin’s American Grill.
One of the Spectrum’s biggest draws is even unique to the United States—the nation’s only Hello Kitty Cafe, a pop-up serving almost-too-cute-to-eat macarons, strawberry custard tarts, and Nutella hand pies in a pink, food truck–style café next to the Giant Wheel.
Whether it’s manicured beach towns or celebrated theme parks, all framed by oceanfront towns and luxury yachts, “The OC” stands out as one of the state’s most iconic destinations. The always-amazing Disneyland Resort, roughly a 1-hour drive south of L.A. and 2 hours north of San Diego, continues to be one of the best-loved theme parks in the world, while Knott’s Berry Farms and other OC attractions amp up the fun meter.
“Surfing is like golf. . . it keeps knocking you down. But when you stay with it and catch that wave. . . magic.” --actor Dennis Quaid
Shop at spectacular South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, or get the surfer look in Huntington Beach, aka Surf City, USA.
Start your coastal cruise in this elegant city hugging the coastal mountains, where classic Spanish architecture gives the region a sun-washed European look straight out of the Riviera. The Santa Barbara, nicknamed “the American Riviera,” may have a burnished antique look of much of the...
End your trip with at this sunny, waterfront city. Downtown, shop at Horton Plaza, or catch a baseball game at Petco Park. See the giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo. Next, explore one of the city’s diverse neighborhoods, Little Italy, North Park, South Park, East Village—pedestrian-friendly...
With nearly twice as many professional teams as any other state, California is big league all the way. But the state’s sports scene goes far beyond football and baseball, with a diverse line-up of...