Fall-ing for Irvine
When the kids are out of school for the summer it’s pretty easy to find things to keep their bodies and brains busy. Summer camps, concerts in the parks, swim teams, enrichment courses and play dates at Irvine’s many playgrounds offer nearly endless opportunities for summer fun in the city.
While autumn in OC’s finest family-friendly city may not have quite the lineup of activities as the hotter months, there is still plenty to do on weekends and after school, including for younger kids not yet in class. Here are a few ideas to get families out and about!
Irvine was founded on an agricultural and ranching empire, and there are still some spots to get in touch with our fall harvest heritage. Tanaka Farms has “U-Pick Tours” where kids can select and pick produce right from the plant, and then purchase it at market prices and take the healthy choices home for dinner. The farm’s Pumpkin Patch is always a hit. There’s a corn maze, petting zoo, pumpkin cannon, wagon rides and more, for a $3 entrance fee, or a $10 package fee.
The Farm + Food Lab is an underrated element of the Great Park experience, with bountiful gardens, photo ops, fun and informative displays about bugs and butterflies, and of course every kid’s favorite: the chicken coop filled with exotic fowl. There’s usually a friendly expert gardener volunteering on the plot of land. They’re happy to answer questions.
Engaging your kids in discussions about where the fresh food they eat actually comes from can be a fun part of a weekend morning. Check out one of Irvine’s Farmers Markets for an opportunity to learn about seasonal treats while enjoying the sunshine and smiling faces. Typically there are food trucks and music, and both of Irvine’s markets have playgrounds nearby. Saturdays (8 a.m.-12 p.m.) at Mariners Church, at the corner of Bonita Canyon & Turtle Ridge Road, and Sundays (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) at the Orange County Great Park.
There are little pockets of history available to explore, like the Irvine Ranch Historic Park. The Katie Wheeler Library’s shelves, staircases and rooms offer readers an adventurous place to explore. And for kids less intrigued by the old days, no worries: there is plenty of room to roam among the old buildings and gardens. Other historic hideaways in the city include the Irvine Historical Museum, the Irvine Ranch Water District Duck Club at the San Joaquin Marsh, and Knowlwood Restaurant at Old Town Irvine, where you can get a side of history with your hamburgers in what was once an Irvine Ranch blacksmith shop.
For the birds
There’s not just history at the San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. The roads and trails around the marsh are great for bird-watchers and nature lovers, with a variety of routes in and around the ponds offering an easy walk or hike for families. The Sea and Sage Audubon Society group based there offers nature walks and a Junior Naturalist program.
Adventure is out there
The Adventure Playground has been part of growing up in Irvine since 1977. So when it closed in 2008 during the rehabilitation of University Community Park and didn’t reopen when the rehab was complete, the play area seemed in danger of going away forever. Dedicated locals fought for its return, and in Dec. 2015, the Adventure Playground was back and better than ever. It’s not quite as untamed as it once was, but there’s still plenty of opportunity for kids to have unstructured fun, with arts and crafts opportunities, giant blocks to build with, slides to ride and walls to climb. There’s also the feeling of security of knowing the area is enclosed, everyone signs in and there are two staff members present.
Dedicated adult cyclists argue for riding with traffic separated only by a white line on the pavement. But when the kids are out on two or more wheels, most families stick to the dedicated bike paths set apart from the roadways. Luckily, there are enough off-street bikeways (some 62 miles of them, according to city statistics, such as the San Diego Creek Trail and Peters Canyon Trail) that one can have a nice outing with the family while feeling safe. There are exceptions—avoid freeway crossings and major intersections and don’t be afraid to use pedestrian paseos where it feels necessary—but it can be done.
Need for speed
Tucked in among the concrete tilt-ups and construction in the Irvine Business Complex is an indoor go-kart racing track of K1 Speed. There are two tracks for racing fun, one dedicated to younger racers who pass the 48-inch height limit. The facility itself is modern and well kept, with leather couches, food and new virtual reality bays to play cutting-edge games.
Most parents agree that their children already get enough screen time, thank you. But a fun family outing to enjoy computer games together is a different thing…right? Spend an hour or so at Boomers! to play the latest crazy video games, or check out the motion ride/laser blasting experience of The Ride 7D at its new Spectrum Center location, or work on the family’s golf game with a virtual lesson at OC Indoor Golf. Then get back outdoors and get some exercise!
Irvine is known for its city, regional and state parks. A few favorites include Quail Hill Community Park, a 17-acre spread that includes a 12,000 square foot community center and a new adventure themed playground. Mason Regional Park is an expansive 339 acres with a lake, three playgrounds, walking and biking paths, bridges, a butterfly garden and more, all in the heart of the city. And with each new addition like the recently opened first phase of the Sports Park, the Orange County Great Park draws more and more families out to enjoy its features, old and new.
When the Great Park Ice Complex now under construction opens sometime next year, it will be a 280,000-square-foot facility with four ice rinks designed for NHL and Olympic-size specifications, plus a 2,500-seat arena. If your kids can’t wait to skate, the OC Chill ice rink by the Giant Wheel at the Spectrum will open around Nov. 1.
In Irvine many of us are lucky enough to live within a walk, bike ride or short drive of an expanse of open space, wildlife sanctuaries and wilderness parks. The Irvine Open Space Preserve includes some 5,200 acres of open space and wild lands, and the Irvine Ranch Conservancy helps care for 50,000 acres of permanently protected wild lands and parks in greater Orange County that were once part of the Irvine Ranch. This includes many family-friendly and accessible areas in and near Irvine, including the mostly gentle trails of Bommer Canyon and Quail Hill. There are also scheduled events, such as the full moon hike in Bommer Canyon on Oct. 6 (minimum age 8) or one of the free monthly nature walks for all ages at the beautiful San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.
What child isn’t fascinated by trains? We’ve seen parents spend an hour or two at the Irvine Station, just watching Metrolink and Amtrak trains stop and go at the station. Or climb onboard for a day trip to OC cities including Orange and San Juan Capistrano, or go all the way to Oceanside or Downtown L.A.
Younger kids love Pretend City Children’s Museum, a magical, interactive “city” where kids can play grown-up by going to work, buying groceries, visiting the doctor and collecting their pay. OK, so it may not sound fun to adults who live that experience every day, but we do love that our kids love it. Plus, the facility does amazing work offering education and interactive opportunities for kids on the autism spectrum.
Many of us mix an errand-running excursion at the Irvine Spectrum Center with some playtime for the kids. While the Macy’s makeover took away the little pirate park, the splash pad returned this summer, offering a place for kids to run and play. With Toddler Tuesdays, a 21-screen theater, a carousel, kids’ play area, and Giant Wheel, the center is almost as good as a theme park, and a lot closer to home. We’re really looking forward to more family fun at the Woodbridge Village Center when its $30 million remodel is complete. The expanded outdoor area looks amazing, and we can’t wait to try Sessions West Coast Deli. But mostly we’re thrilled that old favorites like Ruby’s Diner, Barnes & Noble and the discount movie theaters will remain.