If you’re planning a trip to Southern California, you can’t miss out on the gem that is Irvine! Encompassing 66 square miles, it may seem overwhelming for a day trip, but with only 24 hours, there’s still plenty you can do to get the most out of the city.
Master-planned to be an economic powerhouse, Irvine has accomplished its goal and gone beyond, incorporating community, business and nature in the heart of Orange County. With over 100 global corporations located in Irvine, the city is used for a lot of meeting destinations, especially because of its central location. Only 7 miles away from the Pacific Ocean and easily accessible from the John Wayne Airport, anyone can come to Irvine for an incredible experience.
Irvine also boasts the most open space in the country, with more than 16,000 acres of parks and sports fields that residents and visitors alike can enjoy. Whether biking, hiking or just doing a bit of sightseeing, Irvine’s outdoor recreation opportunities are nearly limitless. At a population of over 280,000, the city is a multi-cultural hub that still exudes an aura of community and fun. Plus, it’s been recognized by the FBI as “America’s Safest Big City” since 2005!
BREAKFAST AT SNOOZE A.M. EATERY
Get a spectacular start to your day in Irvine with breakfast at Snooze A.M. Eatery. Their slogan of “breakfast, but different” holds true in the BEST of ways. From a huge selection of unique benedicts, pancakes and breakfast cocktails to their set of breakfast beliefs, Snooze is definitely an experience you don’t want to miss! The company puts an emphasis on sustainability and community involvement, which is evident down to their “Snooze-approved food,” which makes up 95 percent of the menu. The restaurant is decorated in vibrant colors and retro-inspired furniture and art that give off the coolest ‘50s brunch vibe.
SHOP AT IRVINE SPECTRUM CENTER
The Irvine Spectrum Center is a super popular shopping and family entertainment destination. Featured stores include Anthropologie, Nordstrom, Free People, and so much more. There’s a movie theater in the center, so much green space, and even a carousel and a Ferris wheel! You can easily spend a couple of hours here exploring all the shops or just taking a casual stroll around. We took a ride on the Ferris wheel to get a gorgeous view of the city! If you visit the Irvine Spectrum Center at night, you can also enjoy the mesmerizing glow from the 52,000 lights installed on the wheel itself.
PEDEGO ELECTRIC BIKE
If you’re looking for a flexible way to get around or just to stretch your legs a bit more, Pedego Electric Bikes are the way to go. They were by far my favorite part of the trip! Every city I go to from here on out I plan on finding a Pedego to take a tour via bike. These were so fun and give you a great way to view the city. You can just rent the electric bike if you want to explore on your own, which you can definitely do since Irvine has bike trails everywhere! But you can also opt for a guided tour which takes you around some of the best parts of Irvine. This is a great way to get your bearings in a new city and get around quickly if you only have a little bit of time!
SAN JOAQUIN WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
In the heart of Orange County is a protected marsh and sanctuary that is two-thirds the size of Central Park in New York. Truly a hidden gem, the San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary offers 12 miles of trails and is home to over 200 species of birds. The sanctuary is a great example of Irvine’s commitment to nature and outdoor spaces, so spend your afternoon soaking up some peace and quiet along the gorgeous marsh. In addition to the sanctuary, the San Joaquin Marsh also serves as a living laboratory for students, teachers and the public, demonstrating how the wetlands are an essential component of the environment.
GREAT PARK BALLOON
After biking for about 30 minutes, we arrived at Orange County Great Park, which is a public park in Irvine that has tons of multi-use space, including green areas, sports fields and the iconic attraction, the Great Park Balloon! The bright orange balloon takes you up 400 feet into the air to get a bird’s eye view of the park and Irvine. Serving as a public observation deck, the balloon offers a 360° view that you can see for 40 miles on a clear day. A super fun, one-of-a-kind experience for your day trip!
Quail Hill is the spot of a popular hiking loop looking out over the city. Close to the Quail Hill Community Park, the trail has easy access to restrooms and parking. The trail is about 2 miles to complete the whole loop and is a great choice for all levels of hikers, perfect for families or bikers, and leashed pets are allowed, too!
LUNCH AT PUESTO
Puesto claims their story begins with tacos, and tacos are certainly the highlight of their menu! Their three taco deal is a great lunch option. I had the carnitas, Baja fish and filet mignon tacos and they were all SO GOOD, I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them. Beyond tacos, Puesto has a large menu that brings classic Mexican flavors to a fresh, elevated level. They also serve a bunch of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks for the perfect afternoon refreshment. I chose the Mango-Lemon Aqua Fresca and it was delicious!
FULL MOON HIKE AT BOMMER CANYON
Bommer Canyon is another one of Irvine’s coveted preserved open spaces. Every so often, the timing and planets align for a special full moon hike. This guided hike is about 3 miles and includes 700 feet of climbing total, but don’t let that turn you away, there were young children and people older than us on this hike. We were able to move at our own pace, but this isn’t for the faint of heart. Throughout the hike, you can experience the tranquility of the open space at night while glimpsing the lights of the city in the distance.
DINNER AT HIRONORI CRAFT RAMEN
This ramen spot has achieved near-cult status locally, and for good reason! HiroNori Craft Ramen is an amazing restaurant that offers simple dishes done incredibly well, including vegan options to serve individual dietary needs. Inside, the restaurant is modern and chic, with wood and metal accents everywhere. Though it can get crowded, the wait is definitely worthwhile, and a perfect way to get cozy and fuel back up after an exciting day exploring Irvine!
DESSERT AT SNOW MONSTER
No day is really quite complete without dessert, right? We followed up our ramen with yummy boba milk teas at Snow Monster. The dessert shop has plenty to offer, including macaron ice cream sandwiches made from a rotating list of unique ice cream flavors. They serve their drinks in the most adorable cups topped with cotton candy. Definitely stop here if you’ve got a sweet tooth to satisfy!
Originally appeared on Charleston Blonde