Orange County Great Park
Irvine is a city of innovation, and today that spirit is embodied in the Orange County Great Park, where the City of Irvine is creating the first great metropolitan park of the 21st century.
In the 1940s, the establishment of two U.S. Marines bases began the transformation of what had been vast farms and ranches for hundreds of years. In the '60s and '70s, the University of California, Irvine, continued that transformation as the seed of what has become a thriving city of international cultures, family-friendly neighborhoods and one of the richest concentrations of the business headquarters in the country.
Now, at the dawn of the 21st century, that innovation comes full circle as those Marine bases are, themselves, transformed into the Orange County Great Park, a place where people (and their pets!) can come together to play, learn, be entertained, exercise, experience nature or simply relax, and all with every attention to sustainability, innovative energy and recycling and building materials sourced from the bases as they're broken down and remade into something entirely new.
Today, Orange County Great Park offers what is fast becoming the Irvine's iconic image: the 72-foot-diameter orange sphere of the Great Park Balloon, rising up like a second sun or, by night, an eternal harvest moon. Tethered rides in the platform of the giant helium balloon are offered Thursday through Sunday, mornings through early afternoon and again at night, giving adults and kids a bird's-eye view of Irvine and Orange County from 400 feet above the ground.
On Sundays, visitors and residents flock to the Great Park Farmer's Market, featuring not only naturally grown produce, herbs and ornamental plants, but also hand-made crafts. The Farm Lab opens its gates, inviting kids to come learn about where food comes from and how it grows. Sundays at the Great Park also feature some of the best examples of the mobile restaurant movement anywhere, with local food trucks offering gourmet tapas, Crêpes and more.
In August and September, the Great Park offers free concerts and dances, movies on the lawn, outdoor comedy shows and stargazing. Weekends throughout the year, master gardeners from the University of California system offer gardening classes. And any day of the year, little ones can crawl around lifelike rocks and a cave at the Kid's Rock Tot Lot (a microcosm of the future park, by the way) learning about fossils and animal tracks as they go.
Bigger than Chicago's Lincoln Park, bigger than Balboa Park in San Diego or Golden Gate Park in San Francisco -- in fact, the size of New York's Central Park and Prospect Park combined -- Orange County Great Park will ultimately include:
- A two-mile-long canyon of walking paths along a perennial stream
- A three-mile wildlife corridor linking the ecosystems of Crystal Cove State Park and the Cleveland National Forest
- Six multi-purpose sports fields
- A botanical garden linked by bridge to a terrace café, library and new Veterans Memorial and Air Museum
Call ahead to check conditions for balloon rides (866) 829-3829!