This centrally located Orange County city is the perfect home base for shopping, dining, and kid-friendly exploring
Things to do
Places to Eat & Drink
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 300,000 has something for everyone.
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.
Take advantage of Irvine’s abundance of open spaces and get out and roam. Part of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks (IRL), Irvine was master-planned to preserve green spaces for wildlife and recreation, resulting in 16,500 acres of green space and more than 60 miles of trails—the most of any city in Orange County. The preserve has a packed calendar of activities that include all-ages hiking, horseback riding, and habitat restoration projects. If you are out with four-legged friends, head to the two-mile Quail Hill Trailhead (it’s the only wilderness trail part of the Natural Landmarks that allows dogs); also nearby are Bommer and Shady Canyons, where runners and bikers whiz by magnificent old-growth oaks on a dirt trail that takes you over several wooden bridges.
The students at UC Irvine have an unbeatable backyard getaway: the 300-acre San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. Located right next to the university and home to 100 different species of birds, a butterfly garden, and 12 miles of trails, the restored coastal freshwater wetlands serve as a welcoming oasis for walkers, joggers, and birdwatchers.
Irvine is also home to an array of cuisines from around the world, particularly Asia. A good place to start your culinary tour is at Diamond Jamboree, a plaza with a number of standout eateries. The baked BBQ pork buns are a favorite at Tim Ho Wan, a famous restaurant with Hong Kong roots. Create your own amazing dish while you watch chefs pulling noodles at HaiDiLao Chinese Hot Pot. Or mix it all up with Korean-Mexican fusion bibimbap at Urban Seoul. The Trade Food Hall is a trendy take on the classic food court. Tuck into some fish and chips or fish tacos at Portside Fish Co.or a build-your-own box of Vietnamese-inspired ingredients at Broken Rice, 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 head down the street to another neighborhood standby, North Italia, for freshly made pasta.
Shopping malls are also 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 Giant wheel, and ice-skate during the holidays.