But now the fun is coming back. A temporary outdoor amphitheater is opening this summer as a first step in replacing Irvine Meadows, and Wild Rivers is part of the plan for the Great Park. As for the lions, giraffes and hippos of Lion Country Safari…well, they’re never coming back.
But that’s okay, because there are other options for a bit of wild life in Irvine, with new party patios, picnic spots, sports parks and other outdoor oases offering up the best of summer in the city.
1 Live music returns
A year ago we in the media were printing story after story about the final season at Irvine Meadows, listing our favorite shows from its 36 seasons and interviewing folks who were sad to see the classic concert venue close at the end of the season. Now, an interim outdoor amphitheater will be ready late this summer, with plans for a proposed permanent Great Park concert facility in the works. It’s a remarkable accomplishment, really, and a testament to all those who worked to save live music in the city. The 12,000-capacity FivePoint Amphitheatre will officially open on Saturday, Aug. 26, with a Live Nation concert featuring Young the Giant, Cold War Kids (both of which have Irvine and/or OC connections), and Joywave. We can’t wait to watch the sun setting over Saddleback while waiting for the first guitar riff to ring in a new era of live music in Irvine.
2 Fresh finds
There’s something about fresh produce that makes summer feel like summer. White corn, peaches and strawberries from the farmers markets and fruit stands are a must for us. Favorites include Saturday mornings at Mariners Church and Sundays at the Great Park. We’ve even been known to take the morning Metrolink train from Irvine Station up to Orange for the Saturday Farmers and Artisans Market, just around the corner from the train station. We also stop by Manassero Farms by Irvine Valley College and Tanaka Farms to see what beautiful bounty is fresh and ready.
3 Cool treats
It seems like every neighborhood center in Irvine has an artisan ice cream or frozen yogurt shop. Some of the best include Strickland’s, Creamistry, Snowmonster, Sweet Combforts waffles on a stick with a side of ice cream at TRADE Food Hall and CREAM. The latter stands for Cookies Rule Everything Around Me, and offers over-the-top ice cream sandwiches made with super-premium ice cream and freshly baked cookies in a shop that’s tucked into a corner of the Irvine Spectrum Center. Whatever your favorite spot, summer is a perfect time to indulge in cool, sweet treats.
4 Al fresco faves
Sitting outside on a restaurant patio, sipping a crisp rosé or a strong IPA is one of the promised pleasures of summer. We expect the hottest outdoor spaces in Irvine to include the patio at Puesto at Los Olivos, the indoor-outdoor bar Center Hub at the new TRADE Food Hall, Habana opening this summer at Irvine Spectrum and Sessions West Coast Deli opening at the remodeled Woodbridge Village Center in September. We’re also anticipating quite a scene at Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen, opening this summer at the Irvine Marketplace. The patio will feature an open-air bar, lounge seating, and a fire table, and the open-air dining room will have large floor-to-ceiling retractable windows. Sounds like a perfect setting to enjoy those great Cha Cha’s margaritas and contemporary Mexican cuisine.
5 Hidden at Quail Hill
A dark horse candidate for best al fresco finds may be the two patios hidden in the corner by the Quail Hill/Shady Canyon roundabout. The Irvine Co. remodeled that little plaza a few years back, adding a fountain, but the two former restaurants there never made much use of them. Now, with the recently opened and upgraded Caffe Pinguini taking over the Lucca space and the Two Left Forks joining it soon, that overlooked corner could become cool. It looks like Two Left Forks is adding fire pits to its patio, and Pinguini is working with the landlord to add café umbrellas or some other definitely needed shade structure to its patio. There’s a view of the open space and nearby canopy of trees, plus may we suggest a game triggered by locals honking at those unfamiliar with the rules of the roundabout?
6 Hot hotels
The new Irvine Spectrum Marriott, the 271-room, 15-story hotel tower being built by R.D. Olson Development, will be an amazing addition to Irvine. No doubt the rooftop lounge with a full-service bar will be the hottest summer spot in the city for years to come, and foodies are looking forward to the full-service restaurant at the hotel when it opens this fall. The prediction here is that the hotel will become the hub of the Spectrum area. Will it replace Hotel Irvine as the “third place” centerpiece of the city? We’ll see. Also cool and new, Hotel Irvine’s pop-up Macallan Whisky Lounge will take over the Red Bar outdoor patio for the summer, where $35 will get those over 21 a flight of three tastes, plus a cigar.
7 Cinema stars
Speaking of Hotel Irvine, it’s one of several summer spots to catch a movie outdoors with the third annual Movie Nights in the Backyard, including an outdoor bar and barbecue meals. The films are on Fridays (6.9, 6.30 and 9.11), and include “Rogue One,” “La La Land,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” Tickets are $5, free for kids under age 5. There’s also a VIP option at $45 per couple. The Great Park offers free movies on the lawn again this year, with Flashback Fridays and Blockbuster Saturday screenings that include “The Princess Bride,” “Sing” and “E.T.”
8 Summer sounds
Concerts in Irvine parks are one of the pleasures of summer. Enjoy the Sizzlin’ Summer Concert scene at Mike Ward Community Park in Woodbridge, with food trucks and cover bands, all to benefit Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee and other Irvine nonprofits. Don’t miss the July 4th Irvine Police Association Concert on the Green & Fireworks Festival at Irvine High School. Also, the County of Orange and OC Parks Outdoor Summer Concert Series features 10 free concerts on Thursday evenings, June 22 through Aug. 24, including two at Mason Regional Park in Irvine. Plan to see Rolling Stones tribute band Hollywood Stones July 6, and Journey tribute band Open Arms and ‘80s sensation Flashback Heart Attack July 13. Food trucks will be serving at each location and a beer and wine garden will be available to those 21 and over.
9 Symphony in the city
Enjoy a free outdoor concert featuring the Pacific Symphony, led by Music Director Carl St.Clair, at Mike Ward Community Park in Woodbridge on July 23. And while the PSO’s much-loved summer series of concerts is at Pacific Amphitheatre this summer, after decades at Irvine Meadows, expect a return to the city in coming seasons. And here’s a hint: we won’t have to wait that long, as we hear a Hail to the Heroes concert honoring veterans and featuring the Pacific Symphony will be held at the interim amphitheater next to the Great Park in early September.
10 Drama king
When it comes to the classics, it’s hard to top the Bard. This summer Shakespeare under the stars returns to Irvine with UCI’s New Swan Shakespeare Festival in July and August, featuring “The Tempest” and “The Taming of the Shrew.” The 130-seat, mini-Elizabethan New Swan Theater is one of the coolest outdoor venues anywhere, offering a brave new way to see these timeless plays.
11 Good to goal!
The first 53-acre phase of the Great Park Sports Park will open in August, and will feature 25 hard-surface tennis courts, seven natural turf soccer fields and five sand volleyball courts. Both the tennis and volleyball centers include championship courts with fixed seating for more than 100 spectators each. The centerpiece of phase one is the Championship Soccer Stadium with permanent seating for 2,500 spectators and grass berm seating for another 2,500 spectators. When complete, the entire Sports Park will cover 175 acres, and will add to Irvine’s status as a center of sports and recreation in Southern California.
12 Parks and rec
When the summer bustle of busy Irvine gets to be too much, we retreat to the pastoral beauty of the city and county parks we’re lucky to live near. All of the community parks in Irvine total some 353 acres, according to the city’s website. OC’s Mason Regional Park adds another 339 acres, and includes biking paths, a wilderness hiking area, three separate toddler areas and playgrounds, a butterfly garden and a beautiful 9-acre lake. Irvine’s Open Space Initiative adds some 5,200 acres of land as part of the Irvine Open Space Preserve, including wide swaths of land protected from development in perpetuity in Quail Hill, Shady Canyon, Bommer Canyon and Orchard Hills.
13 Sleeping bags and s’mores
Camping in Irvine? You bet! Irvine Community Services hosts a Bommer Canyon Family Campout July 29-30 with hikes, games and crafts, a barbecue dinner and a light breakfast. Just sign up ($30 for residents) on the recreation website (quickly, as the openings fill up fast) bring a tent and sleeping bags, and sleep out under the stars at the Cattle Camp in the canyon. Call 949.724.6738 for more info.
14 Beach reads
Billionaire Bill Gates says that “When Breath Becomes Air” is the best non-fiction book he’s read in a long time, so it’s on the Irvine City News summer reading list, along with Anthony Shadid’s “House of Stone,” “Exist West” by Mohsin Hamid, “Lincoln in the Bardo,” by George Saunders, “What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky,” by Lesley Arimah, and “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness,” the first novel in 20 years from Arundhati Roy. For those looking for a book featuring several Irvine writers in the mix, be sure to pick up “Orange County, A Literary Field Guide.” The collection edited by Lisa Alvarez and Andrew Tonkovich includes many stories of OC by authors who have attended or taught at UCI, including Oakley Hall, Michael Chabon and poet Michael Ryan. For readers of all ages, OC Public Libraries have the 2017 Reading by Design summer reading challenge. Visit an Irvine branch to sign up yourself and your kids, and earn online activity badges by reading a new genre, visiting a new library, and more. The more we read, the more we win.