Located in the in the heart of Orange County in southern California, 40 miles south of Los Angeles, the city of Irvine is renowned for its multicultural community, abundance of open space and family-friendly atmosphere. Attractions here range from fine art galleries to children’s museums and nature trails that lead visitors through some of the region’s finest, most untouched wilderness.
There are plenty of things to see and do in Irvine for travellers happy to stay on the beaten tourist track. But for more intrepid and curious types, there’s also a huge choice of lesser known sites, landmarks and places of interest. If you’re keen to delve under the skin of this charming Californian city and discover its hidden gems, the following list of unique things to do might just be for you.
Take to the skies on a Great Park Balloon Ride
Perhaps Orange County’s most iconic attraction, the Great Park Balloon ride offers a unique vantage point from which to marvel at the region’s distinctive landscapes. The ride begins on the green expanse of the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, where up to 30 passengers at a time board a huge tethered helium balloon and before being gently lifted into the skies, rising to an altitude of around 400 feet. That just leaves you to feel the wind in your hair while soaking up the magnificent panoramic views that can span up to 40 miles on a clear day.
LOCATION Orange County Great Park, 6950 Marine Way HOURS Thurs-Fri 10am-3pm & 7pm-10pm; Sat-Sun 9am-3pm & 7pm-10pm Closed Mon-Weds
Get interactive at Pretend City Children’s Museum
Designed to encourage children to learn how the real world operates, Pretend City make for a fun-packed day out for all the family. Opened since 2009, the museum houses a child-size interconnected city that lets kids take part in interactive exhibits and activities facilitated by highly trained professional staff. By immersing themselves in these educational and engaging resources and tools, they’ll learn invaluable skills such as foundational maths, reading and science, while fostering curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork.
LOCATION 29 Hubble HOURS Tues-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun 11am-5pm; Mon 10am-1pm
Try the best cocktails in town at YNK
This cool and funky speakeasy has become a perennial favourite nightspot with Irvine locals and visitors alike. Nestled just behind the large bar in the Marriott hotel lobby, innovative cocktails – widely considered the best anywhere in the city – are the order of the day with a long and ever-changing menu of creative concoctions, which can be enjoyed against a backdrop of brightly coloured furniture and a buzzing atmosphere. For a small and intimate bar that packs a hell of a lot of personality into its diminutive confines, YNK is hard to beat.
LOCATION 18000 Von Karman Avenue HOURS Weds–Sat 5.30pm–Late; Closed Sun-Tues
Help fight off a Zombie Apocalypse
For a truly unique Irvine activity in Irvine, you won’t find much more original than this action-packed interactive game that presents both a physical and mental challenge. Taking place outdoors in downtown Irvine, Zombie Scavengers pits you against a zombie invasion as well as other rival teams. Using a special app on your smartphone, you’ll be lead into the city to collect supplies needed to survive the zombie apocalypse. You can also earn virtual weapons by answering trivia quiz questions. Tickets to participate in the game can be purchased at Viator.
Immerse yourself in other cultures at the Global Village Festival
California isn’t short of high profile festivals, but one of its lesser known numbers takes place in Irvine each year. Every September, the city plays host to the magical one-day Global Village Festival that lets visitors experience sights and sounds from around the world. Designed to celebrate diverse cultures, the event features more than 100 musical and dance performances, international cuisine, a Kid’s Village with arts and crafts and other activities, cultural and religious displays, a marketplace selling goods from across the globe, and plenty more.
LOCATION Orange County Great Park Volleyball Courts, 6950 Marine Way DATES 22 September
Sample locally produced beers at Left Coast Brewing
Beer fans will be in their element in Irvine, where there’s a thriving beer brewing scene. One of the region’s best breweries, Left Coast Brewing Co. have recently opened their second venue in the heart of the city, complete with a tasting room, barbecue restaurant and distillery. Drinks on tap include Hop Juice Triple IPA and Asylum Belgian Style Tripel Ale, while Executive Chef Jason Tsiames serves up Kansas City-style meats such as slow cooked beef brisket and pulled pork. There are also plans to make on-site vodka and other spirits to serve in craft cocktails.
LOCATION 6652 Irvine Center Drive HOURS Mon-Fri 11am-10pm; Sun 11am-9pm