Irvine’s top 10 new and next
The opening of the first phase of the Great Park Sports Park marks a major milestone in the evolution of the Orange County Great Park, and of Irvine. There are other openings we’re anticipating in the coming months, each of which will add to the quality of life in the city, in ways great and more incremental.
1 FivePoint Amphitheatre
It’s still a bit hard to believe that just last summer we were all bemoaning the loss of Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, while also enjoying the final season at the iconic live music venue. Then, in just a few months, a grassroots Save Live Music Irvine effort arose, and with the combined efforts of volunteers, passionate music fans, FivePoint, Live Nation and the city of Irvine, an interim amphitheater was approved. Starting Aug. 26, we’ll once again enjoy concerts under the open sky at a site between the Great Park and the Irvine train station. The first concert will be a Live Nation event featuring Young the Giant, Cold War Kids and Joywave. The 12,000-capacity interim FivePoint Amphitheatre will be in place through the 2020 season, while plans move forward for a permanent amphitheater at the Great Park.
2 Hot new hotel
Irvine Spectrum Marriott, the $120 million, 271-room, 15-story hotel tower being built by R.D. Olson Development, promises to be an important addition to travel and tourism in Irvine, but locals should love it, too. Located a block away from the popular Courtyard by Marriott also developed by R. D. Olson, the new Irvine Spectrum Marriott will be environmentally-friendly, and the interior will reference the history of the Irvine Ranch, with a “wow factor,” according to Olson execs. The hotel will include a rooftop lounge with a full-service bar, a 2,000-square-foot fitness center with CrossFit-style equipment, and a pool and spa area, complete with outdoor fire pits and fireplaces, when it opens this fall. Foodies are looking forward to the full-service restaurant at the hotel.
3 400 Spectrum Tower
With the first of twin Irvine Spectrum office towers said to be 93 percent leased, the OC commercial real estate industry is anticipating the second, 400 Spectrum Tower, which is set to open this summer. Both towers are 21 stories/323 feet, 4 inches tall, making them the two tallest buildings in Orange County. Each building is said to have a 1,600-employee capacity, adding to the economic powerhouse that is Irvine. Now, if we could just get some pedestrian bridges in the Spectrum to help make it easier for the office workers/apartment dwellers/shoppers in the area to get around without multi-minute red light delays for the drivers idling at crosswalks.
4 Auto extensions
While the city and its new traffic commission continue to plan bigger fixes for congestion in Irvine, incremental improvements to commuter connectivity are nearing completion. When the Marine Way entrance to the Orange County Great Park reopened at Sand Canyon last year, we thought that its improved connection through to Second Harvest Food Bank and the other side of the park would open at the same time. It didn’t, but it should this summer, as that route will be part of access to the new FivePoint Amphitheatre. Another under-the-radar road improvement is the extension of Technology Drive from where it dead-ends past Barranca Parkway, near the border of the Great Park. The extension under construction will run adjacent to the railroad tracks beneath the SR-133 and 1-5 freeways, connecting to Laguna Canyon Road between Sand Canyon and Discovery. While one wouldn’t expect the new stretch of road to be an extensively traveled route for most, the improved connectivity between previously bifurcated parts of the Irvine Spectrum is a practical improvement to the area, especially with new projects planned and nearing completion in the area. For those living in Oak Creek and Great Park Neighborhoods, it might also serve as a shortcut to the train station, avoiding congestion around the Spectrum shopping center.
5 Cool Korean cuisine
Irvine City News included acclaimed Korean barbecue restaurant Kang Ho-Dong Baekjeong on its list of anticipated restaurant openings way back in April 2016. Passersby on the 5 Freeway and Culver have followed the progress at the former Denny’s location, wondering if it would ever open. Finally, it’s finished. Our restaurant writer hasn’t been to one of the other locations of the restaurant (which is named for its owner, a celebrity in South Korea) in L.A. and Buena Park, but critics we trust rave. OC Weekly has named it the Best Korean Restaurant in the county, and raves about how juices from searing meat cooking on the tabletop grill flow into a well of beaten eggs, “turning the mixture into the world’s best scrambled eggs.” OC Register’s Brad Johnson includes the first OC location at #53 on his list of 75 Best Places to Eat in OC, saying the quality of the meat used “is in a league of its own.” What other Irvine restaurant’s made the top 75?: Ootoro Sushi (#19) Bistango (#23), Angelina’s Pizzeria Napoletana (#42) and North Italia (#44). We look forward to our first visit to Kang Ho-Dong Baekjeong, as well as learning how to pronounce and spell the restaurant’s name. After all, that’s part of the fun of living in the incredibly diverse and increasingly foodie-friendly city of Irvine.
After two decades tucked away at Costa Mesa’s cool headquarters, The Lab, Cuban restaurant Habana is adding a second location at Irvine Spectrum this summer. With two bars, three patios, and a 600-person capacity, the place has promise to debut as one of the most impressive dining experiences in Irvine. Executive Chef Alex Moreno will bring his top culinary pedigree to Habana—he’s headed kitchens at Border Grill and SF’s Tres Agaves, and has cooked alongside top chefs at Melisse, Jiraffe, Spago and Bastide. Food show fans may remember Moreno for winning an episode of “Chopped” on the Food Network.
7 Woodbridge renewal
The Woodbridge Village Center’s extreme makeover will be unveiled in early fall, revealing an invigorated center for the community that will include old favorites (the movie theaters, Ruby’s, climbable turtles Woody and Bridget and Barnes & Noble) next to new and cool amenities that include expanded outdoor spaces. We are most excited about a new location for NB’s surfer-centric artisanal sandwich shop Sessions West Coast Deli. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with a barista and a selection of beer and wine and a cool patio, Sessions should be a key tenant at the center. There will also be a new discount grocer, Grocery Outlet, where Assi Natural Market came and went quickly, and we hear that Focus Dance Center will relocate from University Center. What was an underperforming, but locally loved, ‘70s-era community center should be good for another generation with the changes.
8 Foodie finds
A few more cool culinary debuts to look forward to in Irvine include Grater Grilled Cheese, a San Diego-based fast casual chain coming to Sand Canyon Center. The San Diego menus reveal an intriguing variety of cheesy artisan sandwiches, mac ’n cheese and pomme frites, plus a well-priced kids menu (something more restaurants should consider) and $5 craft beers all day. We’re also looking forward to Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen, a gourmet Mexican restaurant opening this summer at The Irvine Market Place where the IHOP once was, and Cracked Up, an all-day breakfast spot featuring trending tastes like a cereal bar and “jarfood,” opening at the Spectrum next to TLT Food.
9 Sports Park progress
As the first 53-acre phase of the Sports Park opens at Orange County Great Park, the next phases are already underway, with a baseball complex (with four dedicated baseball fields and 3 multi-purpose fields) and softball complex (with five fields), each of which will include a championship stadium and four batting cages each. Another six synthetic soccer fields will be built as well as “flex fields” totaling 12 acres that can be used for rugby, cricket and lacrosse, and four basketball courts. The dedicated softball fields are especially welcome, as female athletes of the sport are too often relegated to playing on baseball fields. When the entire 175-acre Sports Park reaches the finish line in the next year or so, the Sports Park will be nearly 2 ½ times the size of Disneyland, helping make Irvine a key center of youth sports and recreation in the Western U.S.
10 Time for the Cultural Terrace
As some $250 million is being spent by FivePoint developing 688 acres of the Great Park is being kept, adding tremendous amenities and a sense of place to the former MCAS El Toro, it’s time to make meaningful moves toward developing the key components of the 248-acre Cultural Terrace. A new, permanent amphitheater, a lake, botanical gardens, a museum or two, and a water park are all on the list of potential improvements to the park, along with trails, water features and fountains and other possibilities. Recent city surveys reveal that gardens (82 percent of survey respondents) an amphitheater (74 percent), lake and museums (73 percent) library (61 percent) and a water park (58 percent) are popular possibilities at the Great Park.