Looking for love in Irvine
However, finding romance in Irvine can be done, even if it takes more creativity and persistence than the much “easier” beach cities nearby. So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, here are romantic suggestions for local lovers.
Tables for two
There’s always something inherently exciting about new love, so maybe that’s why we’re enamored of the new Puesto restaurant at Los Olivos. There’s just something a bit darker and sexier about the interior of the gourmet Mexican spot than most Irvine restaurants. Plus, Puesto has a patio and bar we expect to be the hot spots in town by summer.
The not-so-secret-anymore speakeasy YNK at Irvine Marriott has an alluring ambience with a smoldering touch of Latin Miami flare, tasty tapas-like small bites and craft cocktails that should inspire questionable decision-making. Hey, get a room!
Speaking of hotel bars, Red Bar and Lounge at Hotel Irvine is always a good place to gather in a group before potentially pairing off later that night. In February, the venue is offering a Mixology Date Night where couples will learn to create craft cocktails together.
A touch of refined romance can be found at Prego Ristorante, one of Irvine’s few Old World options. On Valentine’s Day, the chef is featuring Ravioli Curore Mio, which features heart-shaped homemade ravioli, or there’s a 4-course couples tasting menu.
For a more contemporary Italian experience, North Italia’s big windows and high ceilings make it one of the sexiest rooms in town. It doesn’t hurt that the crowd it draws is deliciously diverse, and always as aesthetically pleasing as the surroundings. Of course, you’ll only have eyes for the one you’re with.
Cooking together over fire can get the romance heating up. Irvine has hot options like The Melting Pot for fondue and SWSH Shabu Shabu at Diamond Jamboree among our staff’s favorites.
Dates in the dark
Sitting in the dark balcony at the Barclay Theatre, watching passionate Flamenco dancers or other dancers perform makes for a fiery start to date night. Other top Irvine spots to sit in the dark on a date include taking in an art house film in a nearly empty theater at Edwards University Town Center (if you haven’t been recently, beer and wine is now on the menu); luxuriating in a king size recliner while taking in a big budget film in the luxury wing at Edwards Irvine Spectrum 21; or taking in a Bollywood charmer or other international films at Edwards Westpark 8.
Hot fire pits and cool patios
It hasn’t gone unnoticed that an increasing number of new Irvine restaurants have alluring outdoor areas complete with comfortable seating and sexy fire features. Everyone looks great by firelight, right? And though we don’t have ocean views, snuggling to keep warm at these venues may light the fires of romance in you and your partner or date.
The firepit and lounge area at Umami Burger overlooks the buzzing plaza at Irvine Spectrum. It’s a good spot to have a late-ish night drink after seeming a romantic comedy at the cinema, or to meet up before a show at Irvine Improv.
The recently remodeled Marriott Irvine is surprisingly one of the coolest spots in the city right now. The fireplace and firepits on the patio outside of FLOE restaurant and lounge offer a prime spot for lingering, and there’s something about a business hotel bar that can add a tempting touch of the illicit to date night, even for couples long past their courtship.
The patio and firepit at Eureka, a restaurant and bar at University Town Center near UCI, is one of the more aesthetically inspiring spots in town. There’s an acoustic guitarist playing some evenings, the drinks are strong, the food is good, and the crowd, servers and bartenders are generally congenial, attractive and cool.
A walk in the park
A stroll around the lakes of Mason Regional Park can be charming, especially if one takes the trails less traveled, which include the path through the butterfly habitat. A full moon is a fine time to take a short hike up the first hill of the Quail Hill loop trail (though we imagine the open space park is technically closed at dusk), or do the whole loop on a morning after the rain. The green this season inspires thoughts of spring romance. The gazebos at the lakes in Woodbridge offer romantic views in the evenings, as do the pedestrian walkways and bridges in the village. The trail in the Turtle Rock Nature Center makes for a nice walk hand-in-hand, as long as there’s not a field trip sharing the trail, of course. And a visit to the birds, the bees and other residents of the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary can inspire biological urges, while the quaint buildings of the Audubon Sea and Sage and the Duck Club area is perfect for a peaceful stroll.
Irvine is a big city these days, but there are still quiet nooks and secret spots to rendezvous with a lover for a quick kiss. The Katie Wheeler Library is a replica of the Irvine family’s ranch house that’s located on the grounds of the Irvine Ranch Historic Park. The bucolic setting offers opportunities for a slow-paced date, especially during the day when kids are in school and the place is usually uncrowded. Take a romantic stroll around the grounds. Explore the stairways and rooms in the library, while looking at the old photos of family members that hang on the walls. Pull a book of poetry off the library shelf, and find a spot upstairs by a window to read to each other.
On the other end of the romance spectrum, those looking for a little boost to their libido can explore the exotic options at Irvine’s only adult store (that we’ve heard of at least), Pink Kitty Boutique. The store off of Red Hill Ave. and Main St. offers…well, all the things one imagines an adult emporium would stock.
Hot Zot spots
Alums likely know that there is plenty of room for romance on the sprawling campus of UCI. For those of us less familiar, some sweet spots to sneak a cuddle and a kiss include Aldrich Park at the center of the school, especially the four-statue Jao Sculpture Garden. After admiring the art, the affectionate can pause beneath the nearby Humanities Bridge for some alone time amid the thousands of students rushing to class. There’s a hidden outdoor patio on the fifth floor of the Langson Library, near the special collections and archives. Peruse the posters of past art and culture shows on the walls, and then step outside to take in the air and admire the view, and each other. For those with a background in biology, a circular design in the walkway near McGaugh Hall may inspire certain urges, or perhaps curb them: the design depicts splitting cells of reproduction process known as mitosis.
Living the high life
There’s something about being above it all that lends itself to romance. The best view in Irvine is probably a tie between the Giant Wheel at Irvine Spectrum and the Great Park Balloon at Orange County Great Park. Both also offer a touch of the “hold me close” fear factor that can help set the mood. Plus, there’s something about the Spanish city names on the wheel that evoke romantic imagery. The Spectrum isn’t really a public plaza in a faraway Mediterranean village, but as the wheel pauses at the top of its circuit, you can pretend that it is.
Now if only Irvine had a rooftop view to add to the romance… oh, you haven’t heard of Club 12? The private lounge on the 12th floor of Hotel Irvine is for VIP guests only —and you too can be a VIP for an extra $35 per day charge on your room. And it’s worth it for the sunset views of our growing city, and beyond.