Author: CruisinGal

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting Irvine, California to attend Travel Media Showcase. Set in the center of Orange County 45 miles south of Los Angeles, Irvine enjoys nearly ideal weather year round.

Home to 100 corporate headquarters and the University of California Irvine, Irvine is a culturally diverse planned city. Visitors can enjoy the university's offerings in arts, sports and entertainment.

Campus venues include Bren Events Center, a 5,000-seat contemporary arena used for concerts, exhibits and sporting events. UCI Arboretum features plants from California's floristic province. Admission is free. Irvine Barclay Theatre is one of California's most imaginative performing arts showcases.

Beaches/outdoor adventures

Within 30-minutes, Irvine visitors can test the waters at SoCal beaches. I enjoyed a bus trip to Crystal Cove State Park, passing classic SoCal scenes of palm trees, sloping hillsides and deeply wooded canyons. The park has typical Mediterranean climate of morning fog that burns off by midmorning, warm sunny afternoons and cool evenings. A volunteer guide led us though a tunnel with historical murals painted on the walls. She told us a local preservation group successfully kept this lovely state park from becoming a 4-star resort.

Early morning fog had already burned off, and my tour group experienced the lovely midmorning sunshine. During a short walk to the beach, we passed historic cottages being renovated. Small multi-generation family groups were enjoying the beach, including a woman in a special beach wheelchair with oversize tires. I shot images of rolling surf, wide sandy beaches and tide pools.

In addition to miles of scenic hiking, biking and horseback riding trails in Irvine, duffers can tee off at three nearby golf courses. Visitors can splash in three pools at Wollett Aquatic Center, including one for those with special needs.

If you have kids or grandkids, they'll love the 40 rides at Wild Rivers Waterpark, open May through September. At Pretend City Children's Museum kids pretend they're going to work, buying groceries, visiting the doctor, using an ATM and donating money to a worthy cause.

Shopping nirvana

California shopping centers are far more than mere malls. Known for its stunning Spanish architecture, the 1.2 million-square-foot Irvine Spectrum Center was inspired by the 13th-century Alhambra which overlooks Grenada, Spain. Spectrum buildings are connected by magnificent courtyards with an exotic blend of classic architecture accented with an overlay of Spanish tile mosaics and elaborate carvings.

With several eateries including the Yard House, Improv Comedy Club, a movie theater complex, a 100-foot Ferris wheel plus a carousel featuring antique-design horses and other menagerie animals, Spectrum is an "infotainment" center. Retailers include Nordstrom, other major national chain stores and numerous specialty shops.

The Market Place, a 165-acre regional lifestyle shopping center, boasts terra cotta buildings with deep purple monuments, all softened with cascading fountains, as well as graceful palm and olive trees. Retail categories include home furnishings and decor, sporting goods, apparel, books and more.

Home to 14 hotels, Irvine is surrounded by major attractions such as Disneyland, Disney's California Adventure, Knott's Berry Farm, Angel Stadium, Mission San Juan Capistrano and the Richard Nixon Library-all less than 25 miles.

Irvine was once part of one of California's largest cattle ranches. A 125,000-acre parcel of the ranch was purchased by James Irvine, who raised livestock and also grew oranges, barley and lima beans. During the 1950s, agriculture gave way to urban development.

Thanks to the Irving family's generosity, vestiges of the Irvine Cattle Ranch remain on 60,000 acres of wild lands and parks designated as permanent open space. Located in the San Joaquin Ranch House, Irvine Historical Museum houses a research library and extensive historic photo collection.

With a population of 213,000, Irvine is rated "Safest Big City in America" by the FBI crime ranking of cities over 100,000. With John Wayne airport less than five miles from city center, getting to Irvine is easy. Drivers arrive via I-5 or I-405. Both Amtrak and Metrolink serve the Irvine Transportation Center.

Visit Destination Irvine for more details.