Located about half way between San Diego and Los Angeles in Orange County California, Irvine is the perfect spot for a long weekend girlfriend getaway in Southern California. On our itinerary: Checking out a newly opened hotel with an incredible rooftop bar, sampling a variety of ethnic dining options, shopping at Irvine Spectrum Center, working up a sweat on one of the many hikes, finding our calm on a guided yoga walk, and relaxing at a Korean spa. You can pack a lot into three days — and there is still so much to do on a return visit.
Irvine is easy to get to via car, train or plane — depending on your starting city. From Los Angeles, the drive will be about an hour or so. From San Diego, it could be about an hour and a half.
For those in bigger cities, taking Amtrak’s Surfliner route is a great way to see parts of California you wouldn’t normally see while driving and it’s an equally great way to get a little work done with on-rail wifi along the way. Plus, you don’t have to worry about traffic this way as you’ll know exactly when you’ll get to the train station.
Alternatively, flying into John Wayne Airport is super delightful; it’s a smaller airport that is new, clean and easy to get around and through. I’d love to plan a similar trip for the fall and have some girlfriends from Phoenix, Vegas and the Bay Area join me, and they could all easily fly into John Wayne Airport.
Where to Stay:
I was super excited to stay at the brand new Marriott at the Spectrum Center. I love a new hotel, but I was really excited about the rooftop bar. Recently opened, Hive and Honey is now the highest rooftop bar in all of Orange County. From there, we could see the Great Balloon rise into the air on one of their flights and see into the mountains and towards the coast. The drinks are super yummy, and it was awesome that if we really wanted to enjoy ourselves with a late night cocktail, we didn’t have to worry about driving back to another hotel.
Other nearby options:
– The Marriott Irvine is located less than a mile from John Wayne Airport and offers complimentary shuttle service to and from the airport. This Marriott has been recently redesigned and has a gorgeous outdoor pool area, spunky speakeasy and bar and one of the best restaurants in all of Orange County.
– Hotel Irvine is located a bit west of town and it also has an impressive hotel lounge and late night snacks menu. This spot had a hip, business traveler vibe with a large selection of events that appeal to locals and visitors, like a mid-day whiskey tasting on their outdoor patio, bottomless mimosas for weekend brunches and Wednesday night pint nights at Red Bar, where all pints including craft beers are only five bucks.
What to do:
- Get Outside: My girlfriends and I like to work up a sweat when we hang out, so before we planned our trip we looked up the hiking and yoga scene in Irvine to figure out our daily plans. Let’s Go Outside was a huge help in organizing planned, guided hikes of the area so we could see something new to us and get a little background information on the area while we were hiking. If you’re planning a trip, look into the guided hikes and yoga classes a few weeks before your visit so you make sure to get a spot. The classes and guided hikes are capped at 10-20 participants and they fill up fast. We found one guided hike to a yoga class that we all signed up for and one guided hike around orange groves and avocado fields. And each of these hikes were only 15 or so minutes from the hotel- such an unique experience that felt like a world away from the bustle of daily life. (Link to Blog Post on Outdoor Adventures)
- Mountain Bike: I’ll be the first to admit that hiking is way more my speed. I feel like I can hike all day everyday and I’m not scared of it one bit. Mountain biking has scared me in the past (what if I can’t stop, fall over the handlebars, etc, etc.) Since I know we wanted to mountain bike in Bommer Canyon, we met with the team at Trails End Cycling Center to get properly fitted for our bikes and go over the trail routes. I had never been fitted for a mountain bike before because, honestly, they usually just see if the seat fits and then set me off on my way. Getting properly fitted instantly eased my mind and made me feel in control of the bike and our ride. I’m convinced that the experience with Trails End is what set us up for such a successful ride and memorable experience.
- Shopping: The Irvine Spectrum Center has both well-known brands like Anthropologie and smaller boutiques for one-of-a-kind gifts. The outdoor mall also has a fun Giant Wheel, that takes you up and above the whole mall with 360-degree views of the surrounding area.
- Spa: If you’ve never experienced a Korean Spa before, now is your time. For as little as $25, you can soak in the different temperature pools and relax in the sauna. A larger budget, around $200 or so, will give you access to the whole shebang treatment with a soak, scrub and massage. Making an appointment at Irvine Spa is a no-brainer spa treatment that isn’t like your average vacation massage.
- Dining: While shopping at the Spectrum Center you have a lot of diverse options for grabbing lunch or dinner. From Italian to Cuban, you could easily do a progressive dinner to taste test your way around the world. Beyond the Spectrum Center, you have some many unique options around Irvine, with seasonal and organic ingredients and craft cocktails and sensational wines. Here are my top picks:
- Twenty Eight: This gorgeous restaurant (I’d ask to sit outside near one of the fire pits) offers a seasonal menu that mixes sustainable seafoods like octopus and lobster with fresh, local vegetables, and a selection of meats. Executive chef Jay Lacuesta creates masterpiece dishes that compliment the unique and wildly popular craft cocktails and wines. We tried the tuna croquette, roasted mushrooms and endives, crab tajarine and the kurobuta pork shoulder. I highly suggest ordering two apps, one salad or green, one pasta and one main to split with your party.
- Paper Lantern Dumpling House: Founded by four friends, this casual dining spot is located in the center of Irvine at the Diamond Jamboree center. Come with a big appetite to be able to try multiple types of dumplings (they are all pretty inexpensive) plus the spicy wontons and the sesame noodles. The lantern spicy wontons and the pork belly fried rice were two of my favorite menu items.
- Hive and Honey: I’ve touched on this a bit above, but Hive and Honey should not be missed. The view, the signature cocktails, and the food are all top notch. This is the perfect spot for a late afternoon snack and happy hour drink.
- FLOE: We loved coming to this spot after we had dinner. While here, we could grab one of their board games, a cocktail or pint of beer and just relax in the outdoor patio. The bar is set up like a European pub with a coastal California flair. We snacked on herb and spice popcorn, pork belly sliders, octopus salad, and campfire s’mores pie. After hours, you can walk over to their speakeasy, YNX.
- Trade Food Hall: Getting a group of people to decide on one thing to eat over another can be difficult. Insert Trade Food Hall where you’ll never have that problem again. From burgers and seafood to Chinese and vegan offerings, there truly is something for everyone here. The food hall is an outdoor seating area, set-up with each restaurant facing towards the center similar to a circle of different food trucks.
- Heirloom Farmhouse Kitchen: We ate one breakfast and one dinner here and each meal was spectacular from start to finish. The morning juices taste as if someone had just picked each fruit that was included and the steak and veggies at dinner were some of the most flavorful traditional dishes I’ve ever had. The vibe is fresh and hip but the flavors truly taste as if you’re at your grandmother’s farmhouse table, feasting on her best, made from scratch recipes.
We packed a lot into three days in Irvine. With all the seasonal, farm-to-table offerings and changes in weather, I bet you could plan a similar trip in the summer or fall and have a completely different experience with new cocktails to sip and new greenery and plants on each hike. I guess that just means we need to plan another getaway.