Irvine’s central location—45 miles from Los Angeles, 85 miles from San Diego, and 15 minutes from Disneyland Resort—makes it a popular hub for Southern California travelers. But there’s a lot to love right in Irvine proper. From kid-friendly outdoor activities to full-service shopping, the little big city of more than 250,000 has something for everyone.
A strong concentration of universities makes Irvine an under-the-radar destination for art lovers. The city’s largest academy, University of California, Irvine, is home to the Beall Center for Art and Technology, which promotes creative expressions of digital science; The Irvine Museum, which preserves art by California Impressionists; and The Barclay Theatre, which hosts ballets, symphonies, and musicals.
For growing minds, Irvine mixes learning and fun at a number of spots around the city. Kids can learn about the harvest during strawberry and watermelon season by visiting Tanaka Farms. Pretend City Children’s Museum is a wonderland for tykes with miniature interactive versions of the supermarket, dentist, and a post office. The constantly expanding 600-plus acre Orange County Great Park has a Farm + Food Lab where your family can visit the butterfly garden and chicken coop before burning off energy at one of the Sports Complex’s 25 tennis courts.
Shopping malls are an Orange County hallmark, and Irvine’s selection does not disappoint. The grandest is, of course, the massive outdoor Irvine Spectrum Center. Visitors can browse more than 100 stores and restaurants, ride the Ferris wheel, and ice-skate during the holidays. Other options include the South Coast Plaza known for its high-end boutiques and Quail Hill Shopping Center.
The mall culture has even informed some of the area’s most exciting dining. The Trade Food Hall is a trendy take on the classic court. Tuck into some pork belly fries at Pig Pen Delicacy or a waffle on a stick at Sweet Combforts, just two of the hall’s merchants. For eclectic fare in a more formal setting, try the omakase (chef’s choice menu) at Ootoro Sushi or freshly made pasta at North Italia.