Come With an Open Mind, Leave with a Lasting Impression
by Barbara Barton Sloane

It was December. Stepping out of the John Wayne Airport and looking up into the sky, I saw a somewhat unfamiliar object: a bright orange disk which I instantly identified as the sun! Lovely. The air was soft and felt pure. My surroundings were a palette of baby blue, spring green and bright white. I thought, I'm going to like this place. (I was right).

The Center of Orange County
Some think of Irvine as an agricultural center, some as a home to military bases or world corporations. Many know it only as the site of the University of California, Irvine. It is all of these together that create the dynamic city that today thrives at the center of Orange County. Importantly, Irvine is also the recipient of two significant awards. It has been named America's Safest City for seven consecutive years by none other than the FBI, and CNN Money Magazine has ranked it No.#4 in a survey of the country's Best Places to Live. Founded in the 1960s when the University campus was built, today it is a city dedicated to quality of life for its residents in myriad ways, including keeping it green with nearly 60,000 acres of wildlands and parks. Irvine is a leading business center with more than a hundred corporations as well as a multicultural community whose residents speak more than 70 different languages. Here diversity is genuinely honored.

With just a few days to explore the town, it was recommended that I check out the Irvine Museum whose works are dedicated to the preservation and display of California impressionist art. It being my favorite painting style, I was a very happy camper wandering through galleries filled with gorgeous paintings. Much of what originally made California a "Golden Land" was directly linked to the environment, especially land and water which nurtured and sustained a rare quality of life. With a deep reverence for nature and with the common goal to preserve the environment, the Museum's message inspires all to action as stewards of this precious land.

I Could Have Shopped All Night
I made it a point, of course, to visit the Irvine Spectrum Center, one of Southern California's most popular shopping and dining destinations known for its stunning Spanish architecture. It embodies 1.2 million square feet of shopping and outdoor space and was inspired by the world famous Alhambra, the 13th century citadel that overlooks the city of Granada, Spain. There are more than 130 retail stores, a 21-screen movie theatre, world-class restaurants, and for the kids, a giant Ferris wheel and carousel. Want to laugh? The iconic and famous Improv Comedy Club is here as well. A complimentary trolley service runs through the parking areas, and there are 4 valet stations (this is California, after all). I tore myself away from the chic boutiques to stroll the magnificent courtyards with their exotic blend of classic architecture and colorful Spanish details such as tile mosaics and elaborate carvings. The Spectrum Center is, no doubt, a unique destination in itself.