Top 12 Attractions in Irvine

Last Updated on January 11, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Centrally situated between Los Angeles and San Diego, Irvine is a Southern California hub for business, education, and innovation. But beyond the corporate campuses lie sprawling parks, captivating culture, and exciting activities catering to fun-seekers.

AttractionDescription
Irvine MuseumMuseum showcasing Californian art, with rotating exhibits and art classes.
Newport Back BayKayaking and paddleboarding in a scenic coastal wetland.
Irvine Park RailroadScenic miniature train ride through oak woodlands and barnyard animals.
Fashion IslandUpscale outdoor shopping center with designer boutiques and restaurants.
Limestone Canyon & Whiting RanchPreserve with hiking and biking trails, wildflowers, and wildlife.
Irvine Barclay TheatrePerforming arts theater hosting concerts, musicals, and dance performances.
UltrazoneIndoor laser tag arena with various game modes and package deals.
Discovery Cube OCChildren’s museum with interactive STEM exhibits and IMAX theater.
Waterfront Newport BeachStand-up paddleboarding in the harbor with wildlife and scenic views.
Santa Ana ZooZoo with diverse species, feeding encounters, and conservation education.
Historic Irvine RanchTours of a historic ranch with trails, live events, and educational exhibits.

From kayaking along coastal wetlands to shopping designer boutiques, Irvine offers recreation and indulgence through family attractions. Discover this master-planned city’s wonderful blend of urban sophistication and outdoor adventure. Here are 12 top attractions and activities in Irvine.

Admire Art at Irvine Museum

Name and Location: The Irvine Museum is located at 18881 Von Karman Ave, Irvine, CA 92612.

History and Significance: Founded in 1992, the Irvine Museum displays California Impressionist paintings, works on paper, and sculpture. Their mission is preserving California Impressionism.

What to Expect: Visitors can view rotating exhibitions showcasing Impressionist landscape paintings, often focused on pieces depicting Southern California scenery.

Visitor Information: Open Thursday-Saturday 11am-4pm, Sunday 12pm-4pm. Admission is $5, free for members. Free parking onsite.

Located in historic Irvine Ranch Plaza Park, this museum celebrates the visual arts in California. View rotating exhibits highlighting prominent regional artists. Mediums range from plein air paintings to impressionist landscapes to photography.

Art classes allow budding creators to develop skills. Culture vultures will appreciate the regularly updated collections and openings showcasing creativity. Make time for inspiration and reflection while engaging with art at Irvine Museum.

Paddle Newport Back Bay

Name and Location: Newport Back Bay is a natural estuary preserve in Newport Beach, CA, accessible from Back Bay Drive.

History and Significance: This scenic bay was formed by a buildup of silt from the Santa Ana River over centuries. The nature preserve harbors rare plants and wildlife.

What to Expect: Visitors can paddle kayaks and canoes along the calm protected waters of the bay, observing birds and native plants. Guided tours available.

Visitor Information: Open daily 7am-sunset. Parking fee $3/hour. Boat rentals available from outfitters like Newport Aquatic Center.

For a serene paddle exploring coastal ecosystems, Newport Back Bay beckons. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard to cruise along the calm bay waters watching for wildlife. Paddling the narrow channels lined with marsh grasses and cattails feel worlds away from the city.

This scenic haven protects endangered species and migratory birds. Early morning paddling reveals leaping fish, soaring pelicans, and scurrying shorebirds in their natural habitat. Experience the ecology up close from your kayak on Newport Back Bay.

Ride Irvine Park Railroad

Name and Location: Irvine Park Railroad is located inside Irvine Regional Park at 1 Irvine Park Rd, Orange, CA 92869.

History and Significance: These miniature trains have given rides through the park since 1996, providing fun family entertainment. The scenic route passes lakes and natural areas.

What to Expect: Passengers can take a 12-minute ride on a scale model train through scenic Irvine Regional Park. The railroad operates select days year-round.

Visitor Information: $12 ticket includes park admission. Schedule varies by season. Parking $3-5. Cash only for tickets.

All aboard this scenic railroad taking passengers on a relaxing 20-minute ride through scenic oak woodlands. The miniature train travels along a one-mile loop past the farm area with barnyard animals like sheep and chickens.

Kids go wild exploring the kid-size buildings afterwards. Ride different themed trains including the spooky Ghost Engine during Halloween. Bring a picnic to enjoy in the gardens post-ride. Irvine Park Railroad delights young and old with its charming journey.

Shop at Fashion Island

Name and Location: Fashion Island is an upscale outdoor shopping center located at 401 Newport Center Drive in Newport Beach.

History and Significance: Developed in 1967, Fashion Island covers 30 acres and contains over 200 shops, restaurants, department stores, and plazas.

What to Expect: Shoppers can browse high-end retail stores, dine at restaurants with waterfront views, admire art installations, or just stroll along landscaped walkways.

Visitor Information: Open daily 10am-9pm Mon-Fri, 10am-7pm weekends. Extended holiday hours. Free parking in structures.

For an indulgent afternoon browsing luxury stores, visit this upscale outdoor shopping center. Stroll marble walkways bordered by fountains, palm trees, and immaculate landscaping. Peruse designer boutiques from Hermes, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and other iconic brands.

Trendy clothing stores like Anthropologie and Steve Madden invite revamping your wardrobe. Take a break at one of Fashion Island’s restaurants for people-watching. Locals love this scenic spot for high-end retail therapy.

Hike Limestone Canyon & Whiting Ranch

Name and Location: Limestone Canyon and Whiting Ranch Wilderness Parks are located in the Foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains, northeast of Lake Forest, CA.

History and Significance: These parks protect canyons and wildernesses areas with diverse habitats supporting plants and wildlife. Numerous trails attract hikers.

What to Expect: Hikers can enjoy scenic trails of varying difficulty through canyons, ridges, and forests. Some connect the two parks.

Visitor Information: Open daily 7am-sunset. Parking $3 weekdays, $5 weekends/holidays. Dogs allowed on most trails.

Just north of Irvine, this preserve contains hillsides blanketed in vibrant wildflowers each spring. The park’s 20 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails cater to all skill levels. Spot horses and mountain bikers sharing the wide fire roads.

Follow single-track dirt trails into the hillsides for peaceful nature walks. Connecting trails allow ambitious hikers to log over 15 miles. Pack a trailside picnic to enjoy after exploring Limestone Canyon & Whiting Ranch.

See a Show at Irvine Barclay Theatre

Name and Location: Irvine Barclay Theatre is located at 4242 Campus Dr, Irvine, CA 92612 on the campus of UC Irvine.

History and Significance: Opened in 1990, this premier performing arts venue with 1,000 seats hosts theater, dance, music, speakers, and family shows.

What to Expect: Patrons can attend musicals, plays, symphonies, children’s programs, and touring performers in an architecturally striking theater hall.

Visitor Information: Showtimes vary. Tickets and parking info available on venue website. Wheelchair accessible.

Since 1990, this performing arts theater has provided a premier venue for arts and culture. Attend live music from renowned classical, pop, or jazz musicians. Broadway musical tours like Rent and Chicago have graced the Barclay stage.

Dance companies like Pilobolus and Alvin Ailey also perform here. With a packed calendar of prestigious concerts, plays, and dance, the Irvine Barclay Theatre is Orange County’s top spot for exceptional performing arts.

Play Laser Tag at Ultrazone

Name and Location: Ultrazone Laser Tag Irvine is located at 5375 Edinger Ave # B, Irvine, CA 92604.

History and Significance: Open since 1998, Ultrazone Irvine is one of the largest laser tag venues in California with a multi-level arena, offering exciting team games.

What to Expect: Players suit up with vests and laser blasters to play timed games like Capture the Flag in a large complex with ramps, mirrors and obstacles.

Visitor Information: Open daily 11am-11pm. Games start at $8 per person. Reservations recommended especially for groups and parties.

Reconnect through friendly competition at this massive indoor laser tag arena. Divide into teams and battle it out in the multi-level arena filled with characters, lights, and music. Try specialized games like Armageddon, Capture the Flag, or Zombie Dawn for variety.

Ultrazone offers great value with package deals combining unlimited laser tag, pizza, and arcade games. For a one-of-a-kind date or group outing, laser tag at Ultrazone brings thrilling action and laughs.

Learn at Discovery Cube OC

Name and Location: Discovery Cube Orange County is located at 2500 N Main St, Santa Ana, CA 92705.

History and Significance: Founded in 1998, this hands-on science museum contains over 100 interactive exhibits to inspire innovation and learning for all ages.

What to Expect: Patrons can enjoy science exhibits with themes like space, geology, physics, ecology and aviation through informative displays and activities.

Visitor Information: Open Tuesday-Sunday. Admission $19.95 adults, $14.95 children. Free parking on site.

With over 100 interactive exhibits, this children’s museum makes learning about science, technology, engineering, and math fun. Perform lab experiments in the chemistry lab. Climb the three-story rock wall. See live tiger, shark and reptile exhibits.

The onsite IMAX theater screens immersive educational films on towering wrap-around screens. Parents appreciate the STEM-focused exhibits cultivating kids’ innovation. Make discoveries together at Discovery Cube OC.

Paddleboard Waterfront Newport Beach

Name and Location: Newport Beach offers miles of scenic coastline perfect for stand up paddleboarding, launching from main piers and beaches.

History and Significance: This area has been a surf and watersports destination since the early 20th century. The mild climate allows year-round paddleboarding.

What to Expect: Paddleboarders can enjoy amazing views along the shoreline and in Newport Harbor with year-round access to the water.

Visitor Information: Rentals and lessons available from many outfitters. Parking at main beaches and piers. Permits not required.

Glide across the calm harbor waters on a stand-up paddleboard for unique waterfront views. Rentals and lessons available at Newport Aquatic Center help first-timers get started before heading out. Paddle along the harbor’s edge and wave at boaters going by.

Float under the Balboa Island Bridge or scope for celebrity mansions along Lido Isle. Those comfortable paddling in the ocean can join coastal tours to see seals and wild dolphins. Waterfront Newport Beach delivers quintessential California coastal vibes from your paddleboard.

Marvel at Exotic Wildlife at Santa Ana Zoo

Name and Location: The Santa Ana Zoo is located at 1801 E Chestnut Ave, Santa Ana, CA 92701.

History and Significance: This small zoo opened in 1952 and provides close-up encounters with mammals, birds, and reptiles from around the world. It emphasizes education.

What to Expect: Visitors can see monkeys, tropical birds, ocelots, sloths and more in natural habitat settings. Interactive feeding experiences available.

Visitor Information: Open daily 10am-4pm. Admission is $10-12. Parking is free on site. Stroller and wheelchair rentals available.

With over 300 animals across 50 species, this 20-acre zoo immerses families into the beauty of the natural world. Get nose-to-nose withwestern lowland gorillas through the glass viewing window. Glimpse playful river otters, red pandas, and Mexican gray wolves in naturalistic habitats.

Special animal feeding encounters provide unique interactions. Kids learn about protecting endangered species through interactive displays. Marvel at nature’s majesty together at Santa Ana Zoo.

See Historic Irvine Ranch

Name and Location: The Irvine Ranch Historic Park is located at 13042 Old Myford Rd, Irvine, CA 92606.

History and Significance: The Irvine family established this massive ranch in 1860s. Buildings like the Visitor Center share the history of this key agricultural area.

What to Expect: Visitors tour the visitor center museum then walk along historic structures like the blacksmith shop, ranch store, and barns built in the late 1800s.

Visitor Information: Open Thursday-Sunday 12pm-4pm. Free admission and parking. Walking tour maps provided.

Learn about Irvine’s agricultural roots at this historic ranch site. Tour the 1895 Irvine House restored with period furnishings. Hike scenic trails past historic structures like barns, an abalone cove, and water tower. Signs detail the land’s original Native American inhabitants and aspects of ranch life.

The oak-shaded grounds host live music, craft fairs, gardening classes, and summer camps. Getting immersed in local history at Irvine Ranch provides perspective on how the city developed.

Conclusion

Blending urban cosmopolitan energy with access to wild coastal beauty, attractions across Irvine deliver memorable experiences. From world-class shopping and performing arts to outdoor recreation, Irvine offers engaging activities for travelers of all interests.

Families revel in the kid-friendly museums and parks while couples find pampering at scenic coastal resorts. With natural splendor, culture, and commerce, Irvine satisfies your thirst for cool California living at its finest.

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