Recognized as “America’s Safest Big City,” Irvine, California has become a leading destination for both business and outdoor adventure. With 16,000 acres of parks, sports fields and dedicated open space, the most in Orange County, visitors have the opportunity to explore preserved natural habitats and woodlands with miles of hiking and biking trails. In addition, the multicultural community has created a vibrant food culture, with eclectic eateries and sustainable cuisine. To inspire a visit and help you plan accordingly, I’ve created an Irvine Travel Guide, sharing my personal favorites in the heart of Orange County!
Irvine Travel Guide
Where is Irvine, Ca?
Located in the center of Orange County, Irvine is just 45 miles south of Los Angeles and 90 miles north of San Diego. It’s also one of the easiest Southern California destinations to reach thanks to John Wayne Airport, Orange County (SNA), located right on MacArthur Boulevard, one of Irvine’s main roads. John Wayne Airport provides a relaxed hub to the OC, along with fantastic flight rates. Service is offered by most major airlines with hundreds of daily domestic routes. As well as, international flights to and from Mexico and Canada.
You can also reach Irvine via Long Beach Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Ontario International Airport, Amtrak or car (road trip!).
Irvine offers an easy driving experience if you decide to rent a car. The city is master-planned, so you’ll never experience traffic or rush hour delays. Irvine has wide roads, light traffic, clear signals, and perfectly tuned traffic control.
For those who prefer not to drive, nearly all Irvine hotels offer free shuttle transportation to shops, restaurants, and attractions within a few miles’ radius.
Also, the Irvine Shuttle (iShuttle), offers two convenient routes throughout the city, including stops at the airport, the shops and eateries of Diamond Jamboree, the Irvine Museum, popular restaurants, the Tustin Metrolink Station and Irvine’s larger hotels. Fares are just $1 or $.50 for peak and off-peak hours, respectively.
Things To Do In Irvine, Ca
Created as a refuge and preserve for migrating wildlife, this 300-plus acre, picture-perfect sanctuary sits on coastal freshwater wetlands, with 12 miles of trails for easy hiking and diverse bird watching. The San Joaquin Marsh offers an opportunity to see great blue heron, snowy egrets, finches, falcons, brown pelicans or yellow warblers, amongst others.
With 54 miles of paved off-street bike trails that weave through the city, Pedego Electric Bikes offer a unique experience to explore at your own pace, with the twist of a throttle.
Rentals start at $20/hour, helmets included; locks available upon request.
The following guided tours are also available:
- East Irvine Tour (2 hours – $65): Old Town Irvine, the OC Great Park, Jeffrey Open Space Trail, and more.
- West Irvine Tour (2 hours – $65): Back country of Irvine, with views of Shady and Bommer Canyon, Turtle Rock, and more.
- Farmer’s Market Tour (2.5 hours – $65): Enjoy a Saturday morning ride through Turtle Rock to the farmers market at Mariner’s Church.
If you’re interested in mountain biking, Santiago Oaks in Irvine’s Regional Park has a 7.9-mile loop trail that’s known to be one of the best in Orange County.
Located at the Orange County Great Park, the Great Park Balloon soars 400 feet above the 450+ acre park space, serving as a public observation deck with a 360° view that spans 40 miles on a clear day.
The Great Park Balloon is open Thursday – Sunday and has no age, height or health restrictions to fly. A single ride is $3 and day pass is $10.
The Great Park Balloon is one of the largest tethered helium (not hot air) balloons and the first of its kind in the United States. It is environmentally safe, non-polluting, and virtually silent.
Standing 118 feet tall with a volume of 210,000 cubic feet, the Balloon can hold up to 30 passengers in its 1,810-pound gondola. Flying at an altitude up to 400 feet, it is always tethered to the ground by a steel cable with the strength of 99,000 pounds, making it a safe and fun experience for everyone.City of Irvine
A premier dining, shopping and entertainment destination in Orange County, the Irvine Spectrum Center has over 175 retail stores, 50 restaurants, a 5,000 seat IMAX and RPX, and the country’s most successful Improv Comedy Club. The Irvine Spectrum Center also has a carousel and a 108-foot tall Giant Wheel, featuring an all new-LED interface with 52,000 energy-efficient LED lights, allowing it to project 16 million color schemes. The cost is only $5 per person and worth the views!
Open daily for self-guided tours, the 2.8-acre Quail Hill Trailhead provides a great location to connect to southern Irvine’s extensive trail network. The trailhead is located at the end of Sand Canyon Road and marks the beginning of the Quail Hill Loop Trail, an easy two-mile natural surface trail at the foot of Quail Hill that is open to the public from dawn to dusk. Irvine’s southern wilderness is also accessible via docent-led activities that begin at the trailhead. Quail Hill loop is the only wilderness trail in the Natural Landmarks that allows dogs (on leashes).
While visiting the Quail Hill Loop Trail, bring along your cell phone and experience Irvine’s self-guided cell phone audio tour. Just dial in to hear natural resource interpreters and researchers explain important features along the trail. The tour itself is free, but you will use your own cell service and minutes. Additionally, the tour can be listened to from any phone, anywhere, any time.
How to listen: Dial 949-743-5943. Listen to the greeting and then enter the number of the location you are interested in followed by the # key. The locations are numbered 1-5 and you can leave anonymous comments by pressing 0# at anytime. The prompts can be listened to in any order.Let’s Go Outside
Open for self-guided access and scheduled programs from dawn to dusk, Bommer Canyon offers easy to advanced hiking.
The City of Irvine, in partnership with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, hosts a variety of FREE activities in Bommer Canyon including:
- Fitness Hikes – A fast-paced evening fitness hike that’s a little over 3 miles with 700 feet of elevation gain in the first half. Participants must be able to hike 3+ miles per hour with little need to rest. Hiking boots are not required, but sturdy non-slip closed toe shoes are a must.
- Wilderness Access Days – Self-guided access in the southern portion of Irvine’s Open Space Preserve.
- Distance Hikes – A challenging and beautiful hiking adventure to the sea and back. Hiking distance is up to 14 miles and is designed for advanced hikers. Participants must be physically fit and have distance hiking experience. Singletrack trails, steep climbs and descents are numerous on this route, with approximately 2400 feet of accumulated climbing elevation. Beginning in Bommer, the hike will head into Crystal Cove State Park, then pass through Laguna Coast Wilderness Park before returning to the Irvine preserve.
- Twilight Yoga Hike – A short hike and a gentle yoga practice in nature. A short but steep climb at a medium fast pace takes us to a 360-degree view of OC where we indulge in an evening yoga flow under a setting sun.
- Full Moon Hikes – Experience the serenity of a moonlit night in Bommer Canyon. This hike is just over 3 miles and includes 700 feet of total climbing elevation with several very steep inclines. The steepest section ascends 300 feet in a quarter-mile. Participants must be in good physical condition.
Located in the San Joaquin Ranch House, the museum was commissioned by James Irvine in 1868 and considered the oldest standing structure within the original boundaries of Irvine Ranch. Built for $1,300, the home was the first wooden house to be erected between Anaheim and San Diego. Members are free; a $1.00 donation per non-member is appreciated. One-hour walking tours of Old Town Irvine are available on the first Sunday of each month at 11:30 a.m. Free for members; $5 for non-members.
A unique collaborative venture among the City of Irvine, the University of California, Irvine, and the private sector, the theatre has a reputation for wide-ranging programming in the fields of contemporary dance, music, and theater arts. Performances take place in the 750-seat “jewel box” theatre which is renowned for its intimate atmosphere and superb acoustics.The Barclay
Where To Eat In Irvine
With nearly 40% of the city’s population of Asian descent, the international cuisine is dialed in and delicious in Irvine. Some of the most sought after food in California is right here in Orange County!
Known as ‘Orange County’s International Eatertainment Destination,’ popular among nearby University of California Irvine students and visitors alike, Diamond Jamboree has 21 amazing restaurants serving Pacific Rim cuisine.
Influenced by the flavors of Mexico City, Puesto is known for award wining tacos and the perfect margarita. And the aesthetic is perfect for the ‘gram.
A community-focused cafe with unique coffee, boba, matcha and milk tea drinks, as well as, handmade macarons and ice cream sandwiches. Add cotton candy on any drink for $1 (a must!).
Where To Stay in Irvine, CA
Perfectly appointed near some of the best shopping and dining in the world, The Westin South Coast Plaza is across from South Coast Plaza, a short walk to Segerstrom Center for the Arts and directly across from Water Grille, Mastro’s Steakhouse, Vaca Spanish tapas, by Bravo TV’s Top Chef Alum, Amar Santana.
Hotel amenities include a rooftop heated pool, tennis courts plus a WestinWORKOUT® fitness center and Westin® Heavenly Beds.
The Westin South Coast Plaza is just a few minutes from John Wayne Airport, Orange County (SNA) and a short drive or uber to neighboring beach towns; Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. It’s a gorgeous property with the perfect location.
Whether you’re visiting for business or pleasure, Irvine represents 66 square miles of some of the best outdoor recreation, family activities, shopping, dining, sports facilities and meeting venues in California. It’s a young city ready for adventure and a must on any SoCal itinerary.
Make sure to also check out Fun Things To Do In Costa Mesa!
Ready To Book?
If you’re ready to book a flight to Irvine, then I recommend the Skyscanner app to find the best flight deals! It’s free to download and you can search flights and car rentals, along with filtering by stops, duration, price, airline, airport, etc. You can also request notifications for deal alerts.
An upcoming vacation gives us something to eagerly anticipate.Jaime Kurtz