Located in the heart of California’s Orange County is the beguiling city of Irvine. Placid and calm, Irvine is noted for its family-friendly atmosphere, excellent safety record and its abundance of beautiful green spaces spread across the city.
Irvine sits just 40 miles south of Los Angeles and amongst the ranges of the Loma Ridge and the San Joaquin Hills. Less than 10 miles to the west you have the Pacific Ocean right there on your doorstep! The city is served by the John Wayne Airport, which is only a few miles from Irvine city center.
Irvine has notable landmarks and heritage institutions for those seeking a cultural vacation. There are heaps of things to do outside in the city as well as the neighboring areas of Irvine to make the most of the year-round mild temperatures of California. Intrepid travelers who are seeking to inject some exciting experiences can choose from a range of adventurous things to do in Irvine to make the most of the natural beauty.
Read on to find out what you simply can’t miss whilst in the city, and let us surprise you with how many awesome things there are to do in Irvine!
Top Things to Do in Irvine
Check out some of the most popular things in Irvine. Do dig a little deeper with some of our suggestions to make your trip even more memorable.
The only thing standing between Irvine and the Pacific Ocean is the small coastal town of Newport Beach – and it’s really worth a visit during your time in Irvine! Besides from sweeping ocean views, sandy beaches and excellent surf, Newport Beach also features a retro amusement park and is home to a sweet little microbrewery to enjoy a cool brew.
Newport Beach is one of the best day trips from Irvine. You can make your own arrangements to visit the town by taking the public bus or hiring a car. Alternatively, you can enlist the help of a local guide who will show you around the local haunts – as well as take you across to Balboa Island for an epic sunset!
2. Dip into history at the Irvine Historical Museum
Since its establishment in 1976, the Irvine Historical Museum has been dedicated to the preservation of the city’s landmarks. You can visit its archive and research library which is located within the San Joaquin Ranch House – the oldest structure in Irvine – built way back in 1877! Browse the museum’s collections to get a sense of the background of the Irvine Ranch, on which the city was founded.
The Irvine Historical Museum is located in one of the ample parklands of Irvine – there’s a golf course here too. The museum also coordinates hour-long walking tours of Old Town Irvine on the first Sunday of each month for those looking for interesting things to do in Irvine on a Sunday.
Irvine Business Complex
If you excuse the name, the Irvine Business Complex is the best place to stay in Irvine. It’s really not as serious as it sounds! The Irvine Business Complex is conveniently located to the airport and easy to get to the top attractions of Irvine.
- Check out the collection at Irvine Museum
- Experience the exotic cuisines in the 21 different restaurants at Diamond Jamboree
- Explore Rancho San Joaquin, home to a sprawling golf course and the Irvine Historical Society
Whacky about whales, or dreaming of dolphins? Why not splash out and go whale watching during your vacation in Irvine?
Whale watching tours depart year-round from nearby Newport Harbor, a short drive from Irvine. Cruising through the Pacific Ocean, you have a 96% chance of encountering a giant blue whale, finback whale or humpback whale soaring through the air. Note that varieties of whale depend on the season so do check before you book so you are not disappointed! These waters are home to orcas, dolphins and seals too, as well as a remarkable variety of birdlife.
Whale watching is one of the most incredible nature things to do in Irvine. Be sure to pack your camera for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Vessels and staff pride themselves on giving customers a comfortable and safe experience, so it’s a great activity for those of all ages.
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5. Take a hike (or ride your bike!) in the Bommer Canyon
Bommer Canyon is a large rural area of craggy outcrops and clusters of ancient groves. It was the original site of the Irvine Ranch Cattle Camp, so the trails have a rich history as well as being blessed with rural delights! The trails are suited to mountain biking, hiking and horse-back riding making this a top attraction for those seeking adventurous things to do in Irvine and those who enjoy more active pursuits whilst on vacation.
Some of the trails are open to independent walkers, whereas for others you will need to visit with a guide. Note that dogs are not permitted in the Bommer Canyon, however, they are welcome in the nearby Quail Hill Loop Trail. So if you’re looking for things to do with your dog in Irvine, check out this alternative hike.
California is renowned for its wine production and imports its finest brands all around the world. Naturally, the state is brimming with vineyards which bask under the Californian sunshine.
Wine aficionados can enjoy day trips from Irvine which show you around both the most famous and the little hidden gems of Orange County’s wine county. Your knowledgeable, native Californian guide will enrich you in the history of the region’s wine production and you can buy a bottle (or two) to take home, guided by their expertise!
Unusual Things to Do in Irvine
Add the wow-factor to your vacation with some of our favorite non-touristy things to do in Irvine.
If you’ve not cottoned onto the trend stand-up paddle-boarding, now’s your chance to give it a go and find out why it’s so addictive! Take a day trip south to the picturesque Laguna Beach which is known for its pristine coves full of marine life including a local sea lion community, making for optimum conditions to try this sport.
Beginners can take a SUP tour with an expert, who will have you standing in no time and give you a unique thing to do in Irvine! It really is the most stunning backdrop to explore by SUP, and a great way to make some new travel buddies. Of course, if you’re a SUP pro – you shouldn’t miss the chance to tour this gorgeous part of California either.
8. Cheer on the Anteaters
Irvine is where you will find the University of California, whose student population are famous for their sporting prowess. They have 18 different sports teams across all manner of games including women’s and men’s basketball, volleyball, baseball and soccer. All teams are known collectively as the ‘Anteaters’ and have been ever since the insectivorous animal was chosen as the university’s mascot back in 1965.
Check out what games are on whilst you’re in town and go along to show your support. We really think this is one of the most unmissable things to do in Irvine, whether you’re fanatical about sport or not! Tickets are inexpensive and the venues are dotted about in the center of town.
9. Take a tour of Tanaka Farm
Guests are welcome to visit and explore the family-run Tanaka Farm. This is an agricultural oasis which is slap-bang in the middle of the city, in between Turtle Rock and Quail Hill. Tanaka Farm is founded on responsible farming practices. Go along and take a farm tour to gain insight into modern-day agriculture. You can take a ride on the tractor, meet the friendly animals in the petting zoo, pick your own seasonal fruits and veggies.
Throughout the year the farm hosts special seasonal events, such as harvest specials and Christmas themed activities. The farm has appeal for everyone, especially those seeking to get their fingers green and learn more about organic practices. Tanaka Farm is easily one of the best outdoor things to do in Irvine with kids – they’ll love playing in the sunflower maze too!
Safety in Irvine
Irvine is one of the safest cities in the USA. In fact, it has topped the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for being the safest city in the States for the past 13 years in a row! It has the lowest rate of violent crime per capita of any other city in the nation with a population of 250,000 or more.
Because of the low crime rate, Irvine is a popular destination for vacationing families and is considered an excellent place to raise children, too. The city is affluent and has a top-notch education system in place.
Of course, any traveler should be careful when exploring a new city, even one as safe as Irvine. Petty crime is possible in any part of the world, so keep your personal belongings secure. Read our tips for traveling safely and always buy travel insurance. Check out our roundup of the best travel insurance.
Things to Do at Night in Irvine
Make the most of your time in the Orange County city by picking something cool to do at night in Irvine. The fun doesn’t need to end after the sun sets!
10. Catch a play at the Irvine Barclay Theatre
If you’re seeking a cultural way to spend your evening, look no further than the Irvine Barclay Theatre; a contemporary-minded theatre noted for its imaginative program. The theatre has been in action since 1990 and is a unique collaboration between the city, the University of Calfornia and the private sector.
Their year-round program boasts contemporary dance, music and theatrical productions which take place in the 750-seater theatre space known as the ‘jewel box’ which is famed for its acoustics and coziness. As well as showcasing the crème de la crème of modern-day theatre, the Irvine Barclay Theatre supports local and regional arts groups. Catching the festive season’s ballet or a Christmas orchestra is one of the coziest things to do in winter in Irvine by night. The theatre also hosts family-friendly performances.
11. Take a spin on the Giant Wheel at the Irvine Spectrum Centre
The Irvine Spectrum Center is a huge, outdoor shopping mall in Irvine which also boasts a stellar range of restaurants. Taking pride at the heart of the complex is the Giant Wheel – flanked by lofty palm trees, this is one of the most iconic fixtures of the city.
At 108-feet tall, the Great Wheel offers charming views across the city. Even if you’re afraid of heights you will marvel at the views! The Great Wheel has led quite the journey itself; it was designed and constructed in Italy before traveling to California. Fancy that! By night the wheel is illuminated by energy-efficient LED lights. It costs $5 to take a twirl on the wheel.
Polish off your dinner at the shopping complex with a night time rotation when you can appreciate some of the dynamic, 16 million color schemes. During winter, an ice rink opens in front of the wheel – another of our favorite things to do in Providence at night.
Where to Stay in Irvine
Looking for a specific place to stay? These are our highest recommendations for places to stay in Irvine.
Best Airbnb in Irvine – Irvine Master Suite with gorgeous view
This immaculate, light and airy private room comes with its own private bathroom. Guests can use the fully-equipped kitchen, chill in the lounge or unwind on the balcony. The soaring views of the Californian countryside make this our top pick and the location is perfect for exploring. There’s even a pool on-site, ideal for cooling down after a hot day of sightseeing.
Best Hotel in Irvine – Atrium Hotel Orange County
This resort-style hotel provides clean rooms with high-speed Wi-Fi and a spacious outdoor pool area. A daily breakfast buffet is available. The hotel runs a free airport shuttle for guests as well as providing free private parking for those planning on hiring a car. Walking distance to nearby attractions and bus routes. All this at a very reasonable price!
Romantic Things to Do in Irvine
Irvine is a calm and chilled city to enjoy a romantic getaway with your other half, you’ll be sure to have a magical experience.
12. Be enamoured by a birds-eye view from the Great Park Balloon
If Paris has the Eiffel Tower, then Irvine has its famous balloon ride! Guests can climb aboard the Great Park Balloon at the Orange County Great Park and score 360° views from 400-feet above ground, which on a clear day can span a 40 miles radius.
The environmentally-minded balloon is powered by helium. That means it’s non-polluting and almost totally silent, which feels surreal as you ascend and descend. It costs $10 per person, per flight which lasts around 10 – which is a steal when you think about the cost of a typical hot air balloon ride. One of the most unforgettable things to do in Irvine for couples – your hearts will flutter on this romantic experience which is best experienced at sunset.
13. Share a picnic in the Aldrich Park botanical garden
Pack a picnic and find solitude together in the beautiful botanical gardens of Aldrich Park, which is the center-piece of the University of California – located just south of the University Town Center.
With over 11,000 trees to provide a dreamy backdrop, breathe in the various fragrances and scents including 33 species of eucalyptus! The gentle hills of the park are doused with Californian sunlight during the warmest months, and the clusters of trees provide shade and privacy to enjoy your picnic in peace.
One of the loveliest things to do outside in Irvine, especially when shared with your loved one.
Always Be Insured
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of Travel Insurance for backpackers – check it out here, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads, our favorite travel insurance provider.
Best Free Things to Do in Irvine
Save some cents to put towards your next vacation by checking out some of the free activities Irvine has to offer!
14. Climb to the Turtle Rock Viewpoint
The Turtle Rock Trail is easily accessible from the city center of Irvine. It is a 1.6-mile hike along a fairly rugged, upward trail. This route will give you a workout, so if you’re looking to burn a few calories during your vacation, this hike is for you – you could even turn it into a run if you’d rather.
A relatively steep hike to the summit rewards you with views of the ocean to the west and mountains to the north. Don’t forget to wear decent sneakers and carry water and suncream as the route is very exposed to the elements! Best enjoyed in the morning or in time for sunset, this is also one of the most dog-friendly things to do in Irvine if you’re traveling with your pooch. Totally free, and awesome photo potential!
15. Let the Irvine Museum make an impression
This gem of a gallery is the only museum in the state dedicated to the preservation and display of California Impressionism art, with a collection of over 1300 works. Founded in 1992, the museum chronicles depictions of California from the early nineteenth century to the present day. Californian artists whose work is exhibited includes William Ritschel, William Wendt, Anna Hills and Donna Schuster.
It’s a small and peaceful gallery which usually is relatively quiet – amazing, considering it’s free! If you’re looking for free things to do in Irvine city center, head here, take your time and lose yourself amongst bucolic scenes of California’s great outdoors.
Books to Read in Irvine
These are some of the greatest American novels of all time. Be sure to grab a few them of them while backpacking in America.
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Sometimes a Great Notion – A tale of a hardheaded Oregonian logging family that goes on strike, leading the town to drama and tragedy. Written by PNW legend, Ken Kesey.
Walden – The transcendental masterpiece by Henry David Thoreau that helped modern Americans rediscover nature and her beauty.
To Have and To Have Not – A family man gets involved with the drug smuggling business in the Key West and ends up in a strange affair. Written by the great Ernest Hemingway.
Things to Do with Kids in Irvine
As the safest city in the USA, Irvine is the ideal destination for your family vacation. There’s plenty of exciting and fun things to do with kids in Irvine!
16. Play make-believe at the Pretend City Children’s Museum
One of the most unique things for kids to do in Irvine, this museum is modelled on a small city where children can experience 18 different, hands-on exhibitions to help them ‘build better brains’. Stations range from the bank to the dentist to the gas station, with kid-sized offices and institutions.
Each area teaches the child about that discipline, as well as how it helps them to develop their skills. Children can learn how to be environmentally savvy in the Pretend City ‘beach’ and learn how to interact with their own imagination when they read. Kids will have bags of fun, learn something new and gain confidence skills, all in one swoop.
17. Ride the vintage carousel in the Orange County Great Park
The Orange County Great Park actually has a lot of family-friendly things to do with kids in Irvine, but a twirl on the majestic, magical vintage carousel is an excellent starting point to put a smile on their face! A single ride costs $3, or a day pass is $10. Kids usually can’t resist demanding a second go!
Explore the park further with the kids by checking what games are taking place in the sports grounds, buying them a healthy snack (or ice cream) at the Saturday Farmer’s Market and exploring the historic World War II hangar.
Day Trips from Irvine
Once you’ve seen all that Irvine has to offer, it’s time fro a day trip! From surfing to beach tours, there are plenty to choose from.
Huntington Beach is a coastal town, its southern end a mere 13 miles away from Irvine. This is one of the best day trips from Irvine, particularly if enjoyed as a road trip! Huntington Beach is your classic, south-Cal beach town which was the inspiration for the 1963 hit, ‘Surf City’. Catch your first waves and don’t miss your chance to see an awesome collection of retro boards at the International Surfing Museum!
Head to the northern end of the town and you can kayak around the islands that form the Huntington Beach Harbor. Stop off at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve on the way! For non-beach based things to do, browse the books and botanical gardens at the Huntingdon Library or visit the historic Newland House Museum.
Perfect for anyone from beach-loving families to solo travelers seeking a wave or couples after a romantic date destination. Whether or not you love to surf, you’ll love Huntingdon Beach!
If you are looking for artsy things to do in Irvine, a day trip to nearby Laguna Beach will give you the day out you’re looking for. Local and international artists have unleashed their creativity on this small, pretty town and it is now home to around 100 sculptures, murals and other pieces to inspire your own mind or connect with the local identity.
Highlights of the street art include the vibrant ‘Laguna Tortoise’ mosaic, the towering female figure known as the ‘Voyager’ and the dancing ‘Canyon Spirits’. There’s art to appeal to all tastes and interests, although adults will generally gain more from this experience than children.
Located 15 miles south-east of Irvine, Laguna Beach is easy to reach and explore as a day trip from Irvine. You can visit Laguna Beach independently by taking the OCTA bus service and taking a meander and seeing what art you can find. Alternatively, you could join a guided tour and be shown around the best of the street art and learn about the meanings behind the art.
3 Day Irvine Itinerary
Now we’ve seen all that Irvine has to offer, let’s organise them into a handy itinerary!
Day 1 – Explore the urban and rural sides of central Irvine
Start your day with a trip to both the Irvine Museum and the Irvine Historical Society to brush up on the history, art and culture of the city. You can explore the grounds of the Rancho San Joaquin park after the latter.
It’s an hour walk between the two institutions, or you can call an Uber (10 mins) or hop on the public bus. The OCTA bus service is the backbone of Irvine’s public transport system and the cheapest way to explore the city if you don’t have a car and are traveling on a budget.
Next, take an Uber to Tanaka Farm for a tour of the crop fields at this family-run city farm. You’ll get all kinds of insight into modern-day farming, here and kids will love the opportunity to meet the farm animals! You can even pick your own organic fruit for a healthy energy boost before your final stop of the day.
A short bus ride (or Uber) will bring you to the start of the Turtle Rock Trail, where after a short but stimulating hike you can appreciate the soaring views of the city and surrounding nature of the Californian hills. Stay up here to enjoy a very special sunset.
Day 2 – A day out at the seaside
Head to Irvine’s neighbor, Newport Beach, for the day to experience all that the Pacific Ocean has to offer and get your seaside fix. Catch some rays at either Corona del Mer Beach or Newport Beach Municipal Beach.
For something really exciting, board a whale-watching expedition from Newport Beach for your chance to get up close to nature’s mightiest marine life.
You’ll be buzzing after your time observing the whales surfacing and diving, so spend a few hours in the town to wind down in some of the eateries and enjoy a brew in the nearby microbrewery.
Hop over to Balboa Island by public ferry to watch the sunset after a ‘‘whaley’ good day of exploring!
Day 3 – Get high in Orange County
Head to the Orange County Great Park to catch the first Great Balloon ride of the day and tick off this bucket-list experience whilst appreciating mind-blowing 360° views 400 feet above the ground. Even if you don’t want to take a ride, this orange beacon is an iconic sight to behold during your time in Irvine.
Walk off the buzz in the Orange County Great Park, which has heaps of other attractions. Take a ride on the beautiful (and highly Instagrammable) vintage carousel.
Take an Uber to the Irvine Spectrum Center where you can treat yourself to some retail therapy or pick up souvenirs for your loved ones. Take the kids to the nearby Pretend City Children’s Museum, which is on the other side of the San Diego Freeway. They’ll easily spend a few hours, and you can take a rotation on the Great Wheel by night. Assuming you can handle one more pinch of adrenaline today, that is.
Round off your day by enjoying a meal at the Diamond Jamboree, and go along to support the Anteaters in tonight’s contest – whatever sport it is, it’s a perfect end to your Irvine vacation.
More Great Resources
Irvine is a special city that has a bit of everything thrown into the mix. With a huge scope of family-friendly activities and a watertight reputation for safety, the city caters particularly well to those vacationing with children.
There is still heaps of wider appeal to suit travelers of all ages and interests in Irvine, who are looking for somewhere to chill and experience a mellow pace of life.
This is a place where you can spend your days among lush green, rugged sites and by night kick back with a brew and catch some riveting theatrical culture or score some live sport with a university tournament. And what’s not to love about the mild, sun-soaked climate of southern California?
We hope our ultimate guide to things to do in Irvine helps you to plan an unforgettable vacation in the region of Orange County!
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