The Best of Irvine 2018
Here is a month-to-month recap of some of the most notable (and tastiest) debuts and civic achievements.
It was a pleasant surprise when Puesto, the cool and contemporary Mexican restaurant known for artisan tacos and tasty cocktails, announced the opening of a second Irvine restaurant. The Park Place location on Michelson debuted in January, just seven miles from the first in Los Olivos Marketplace. Too close for a similar scene and cuisine? Not really. We are a community of villages, after all, and we tend to stick to our neighborhood’s retail center—that’s part of the master plan. Plus, we all know how long the drive down the 405 from Jamboree to Irvine Center Drive can be. It’s a different vibe at the new Puesto, too. It’s smaller (only 5,800 square feet), is part of the AC Hotel, and features a cooler indoor/outdoor bar decorated with stone and steel. They have similar, but not identical, menus. One thing they do share: Puesto patrons make it tough to find parking or a seat at the bar at either location on Taco Tuesday.
The much-anticipated Marriott Irvine Spectrum hotel started booking rooms in late 2017, while the official grand opening was in March. But it was last February that Irvine had its first look at the incredible views from the rooftop restaurant and lounge, Hive & Honey. It’s easy to overlook the importance of alluring nightlife opportunities in a city that has never focused much on them. But nightlife is culture, too. When we visit a city, we regale friends and family back home about the restaurants, cafés and clubs we discovered on our trip, as much as the museums and cathedrals. Now, the many visitors to Irvine have a new and lofty perch from which to enjoy our increasingly (dare we say it?) cosmopolitan city.
The newest of the Great Park Neighborhoods began offering homes for sale last spring. Cadence Park follows on the success of Pavilion Park, Beacon Park, and Parasol Park, offering a 21st-century design aesthetic and smart, pedestrian-oriented planning that we’ve now come to expect from FivePoint, and admire. The parks, pools, playgrounds and trails throughout the neighborhoods offer a connectivity to community that has defined life in Irvine, but Cadence Park sets that bar even higher. Plus, the K-8 school that welcomed students in August is one of the best designed and most innovative schools ever built in Irvine, or anywhere else.
There should have been a bigger party to celebrate the anniversary of the city’s landmark Open Space Agreement, along with an education campaign explaining its significance. The agreement didn’t just preserve thousands of acres in perpetuity for us to hike, bike and recreate, including Bommer Canyon, Jeffrey Open Space Trail, Shady Canyon, and Quail Hill. It also preserves endangered species, and provides linkages to natural resources found throughout the region, like the Cleveland National Forest, the San Joaquin Marsh, and the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. But finally, we wish folks appreciated the quid pro quo of that amazing deal for the city and its residents. The city owns the open space. The former owner of the land became entitled to build higher-density residential and commercial projects elsewhere, like the Irvine Spectrum, as part of the gift of land. So, 30 years later, when ground is broken on a commercial project on one side of Quail Hill, drawing complaints and questions, we simply point to the beautiful land on the other side of the community and say, “Take a hike.”
The FivePoint Amphitheatre opened for a few shows in October 2017, but the venue’s first full season debuted last May. It was a creative and cultural success, with the emotional high point of the schedule being the Jason Aldean show toward the end of the season. Aldean was performing at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas when the shooting started, killing 58 and injuring and impacting thousands of others. Some 500 survivors of the shooting gathered at the amphitheatre for the Aldean concert, “finishing the set” in remembrance of those lost on the tragic day.
Some would say nothing much good happened in June, what with the Measure B Special Municipal Election resulting in a “no” vote. Had “yes” prevailed, we’d no doubt by now had a veterans cemetery well underway at the Strawberry Fields. Still, we’re happy to see that discussions to honor veterans in Irvine and perhaps Anaheim are still underway. And we’re very pleased that the cynical attempt to manipulate the B vote into the November election was decisively defeated.
There’s nothing like a delicious craft beer on a hot summer day. The opening of Left Coast Brewing Co. on Sand Canyon filled an obvious need in the Irvine scene: we had no cool craft brewery in town. And now we do.
Sometimes it seems the Irvine citizenry is split between those who love the Irvine Spectrum Center, visiting it weekly or more often, and those who loathe it. For the young, young at heart and those with families looking for food and entertainment, the opening of the center’s $200 million remodel and expansion was very welcome. New restaurants (the Hello Kitty Grand Café got international attention when it debuted), stores and play areas where Macy’s once stood, along with a new parking structure by Target and a general refresh of the entire center just makes the part of our lives spent at the Spectrum that much better.
The Orange County Great Park celebrated a major milestone with the completion of the Great Park Sports Park. The newest facilities that opened in September include a softball complex with five fields, a 500-seat Championship Softball Stadium and four batting cages; a baseball complex with seven baseball fields, a 1,000-seat Championship Baseball Stadium and four batting cages; plus four basketball courts, six soccer fields and flex fields that can be used for rugby, cricket and lacrosse. The first 53-acre phase of the park opened in 2017, and includes the soccer stadium, six soccer fields, 25 tennis courts and five sand volleyball courts. The $200 million Orange County Sports Park was built and funded by FivePoint (through its partnership Heritage Fields El Toro, LLC), and now belongs to the people of the city of Irvine.
Art and culture aficionados got their first glimpse of UCI’s Buck Collection of contemporary art when an exhibit of some 50 works went on display at the university. The collection includes some 3,500 pieces of 20th-century California art gifted to the school in 2017, with a value of some $40 million. The exhibit can be seen until January 6. Plans are underway to show much more of the collection, along with the Irvine Museum collection, at the UCI Research Park as a temporary showplace for both collections. Ultimately, the collections will be part of a new museum to be built on campus.
A team of students representing every Irvine Unified School District high school successfully launched a satellite into space in November, and then for good measure launched a second one in December. The satellites are orbiting the earth every 92 minutes, some 500 kilometers above the planet. The Irvine CubeSat STEM Program has been collaborating with scientists and teachers to design, assemble and test a functioning nanosatellite as part of a nationwide program called CubeSat, Comprised of IUSD students from Irvine, Northwood, Portola, University and Woodbridge high schools, and Tustin Unified School District students from Beckman High School, Irvine CubeSat is one of only two high school-age teams chosen by NASA among the 34 mostly university and research center teams selected to participate in the final stage of the prestigious program. The CubeSat team will use the information for research. The nonprofit Irvine Public Schools Foundation, along with corporate sponsors that include FivePoint, Microsemi, Ingersoll Rand/Trane, Cisco, and Resilient, funded the Irvine CubeSat team.
Irvine will be even cooler soon as the 270,000-square-foot Great Park ICE & FivePoint Arena complex is nearing completion. The $100 million sports and recreation facility will include four sheets of ice, one of which will seat 2,500 spectators, and host a variety of ice sports for teams, tournaments and the community, including hockey figure skating and ice dancing. A soft opening is anticipated later this month, with a grand opening of the facility being set for February 2019.