What makes a park special?
I never really thought about it much until I stepped onto the Jeffrey Open Space Trail last week. Now I know. It’s a place that pulls you into another world — filled with natural and man-made beauty.
This happens in the most celebrated parks of New York and Paris. And this happens in Irvine’s 76-acre “linear” park that meanders through meadows, creek beds, woodsy trails, stone tunnels, public art displays and botanical gardens.
Stretching 3.5 miles through the heart of the city, the Jeffrey Open Space Trail holds the power to calm your mind and whisk you away.
It starts the moment you emerge from the first stacked-stone tunnel …
1. A tale of two trails
Just outside the Long Meadow Tunnel, you get that first a-ha moment: a half-mile expanse of lawns with a choice: to the left, a wide concrete trail through the manicured grass; to the right, a gravel trail under a canopy of trees. Which path to choose?
2. Tai chi and oranges
We choose the shady path and quickly come to an open pavilion where women practice tai chi amid a small grove of orange trees. The pavilion features stunning hand-tiled art honoring Irvine’s historic orange-crate labels and the Irvine Valencia Growers, whose crops gave name to the county.
3. Attention to detail
It may seem odd to call out a restroom in such a beautiful setting, but this evokes the stone-and-timber design you’d find in a National Park. Such attention to detail here speaks to how thoughtful the designers of this $30 million park were.
4. Timber as art
Just ahead stands one of Irvine’s most unique art installations: 14 timber posts rising from the ground, evoking a sense of Easter Island or Stonehenge. Turns out they were the vertical beams that supported the floor of an orange packing house that once stood here. History is everywhere on this trail.
5. Creek beds and Fairy Tales
It’s easy to forget we’re in the heart of a city. I wander along another creek bed admiring a variety of grasses: tall feathery shafts of Fairy Tales; dense tufts of Deer Grass; and lilac-flowered Society Garlic – part of an informal botanical garden along the trail.
6. Walking history tour
All along the trail are historical markers that trace over 500 years of local history. I learned that in 1542, California first appeared on a map; in 1876 James Irvine became the sole owner of the Irvine Ranch, and in 1909 California’s first airplane flight began in an Irvine bean field .
7. Bridging the villages
The trail features two stone tunnels and three metal footbridges that allow users to walk, run or bike the 3.5-miles from Portola Parkway to the I-5 Freeway without ever having to stop. The trail eventually will link Irvine’s Northern and Southern Open Space Preserves, running from the mountains to the sea.