Sitting at the heart of Orange County, Irvine is all grown up from the sleepy suburb founded in the early 1970s. With 250,000 residents, UC Irvine, and the headquarters of many well-known companies—even In-n-Out is headquartered here!—it is consistently rated as one of the safest and best cities to live in by national publications. With all this going on, there must be something to do, right? And is there ever!
If you're looking for an outing in your own backyard, are making a weekend around a sports tournament (Irvine’s parks play host often), or just fancy a drive somewhere new, there are lots of places to explore around Irvine.
1. Take a farm tour at Tanaka Farms. Yes, Irvine still has a farm! Tours change by season; my kids are partial to the strawberry tours.
2. Visit The Irvine Museum and learn about California's Impressionist art.
3. Get some thrills racing an indoor go-kart at K1 Speed.
4. Burn off some energy at Heritage Park—there's a playground, a duck pond, a splash pad, sports and picnic facilities, shaded benches, and plenty of open space. If you need some quiet time, the Heritage Park library is right on the corner.
5. Take in some history at the Irvine Historical Museum.
6. Little ones love Pretend City Children’s Museum, where there's always something going on.
7. Learn about Irvine's agricultural past and explore the historic buildings at Irvine Ranch Historic Park.
8. Test your family's puzzle-solving skills at Square Room Escape.
9. Go inline skating at Irvine Inline.
10. Cheer on the Anteaters of UC Irvine.
11. Have a cuppa while the kids play at Playland Cafe and tea room—or have a real afternoon tea.
12. Check out the current exhibit at the Beall Center for Art and Technology. Spring and fall family days feature free hands-on art and science activities as well as demos.
13. Love chocolate? Take a ChocXO Bean to Bar Chocolatier factory tour (ages 6 and up only).
14. Take a hike or a bike ride in the City of Irvine Open Space Preserve.
15. Visit the UCI Arboretum and see plants native to the area and from similar climates around the world.
16. Explore OC’s diversity at the Global Village Festival in September.
17. Explore nature at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.
18. Visit the OC Great Park—where there's always something going on! The Kids Rock Playground, carousel, arts complex, sports equipment for checkout at the Visitors Center, and Sunday farmer's market all make it worth a visit.
19. Catch a show at the Irvine Valley College Performing Arts Center.
20. Watch the OC Blues USL professional soccer team, 2015 Western Conference Winners!
21. Have some nitrogen-infused ice cream at Scoops 'n' Scoops. The taste and texture are a bit different; you can opt for a traditional or unusual flavor.
22. Irvine may not have a traditional downtown, but it does have the Spectrum, a giant outdoor mall, with an IMAX and 21-screen theater, a carousel, kids' play area, giant Ferris wheel, Dave and Busters, and a whole lot more. OC Chill Rink (Oct–Feb) has covered outdoor ice skating, and coming soon is the pop-up Hello Kitty Cafe.
23. Join a group hike or nature walk through the Irvine Ranch National Landmarks with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy (pre-registration required).
24. Hop on a horse at Country Trails Riding School.
25. Boomers! offers mini golf, go-karts, rides, laser tag, batting cages, bumper boats, a game room, and a seasonal water park. Be sure to check the promotions page for the best deals (and bring your good students' report cards for points).
26. Enjoy a ride on Irvine Park Railroad's kid-sized train.
27. Cozy up with some super-cute animals at the cheapest zoo around: Orange County Zoo.
28. Let young boarders cut loose at the Harvard Skate Park.
29. Ever tried Frisbee Golf? Bet your kids haven't either.
30. Ride the Orange County Great Park Balloon. One of OC's finest photo ops, Irvine's giant orange balloon is helium (not hot air) and can take 30 people up at a time for the best view in town. Kids ride free!
Photo by Quan Ha via flickr