My twins were 4 months old when my husband and I first took them to Tanaka Farms and the Orange County Zoo. Now they are 7, and we still visit both places frequently. That’s just one of the many reasons I love living in Irvine – summer fun is right at our fingertips. Here are my local favorites that every family can enjoy.
1. See OC from atop the Giant Wheel
Illuminating the evening sky from miles away, this 108-foot-tall landmark is a must when visiting Irvine Spectrum Center. The panoramic views are breathtaking any time of day, especially during the golden hour. For that nostalgic fair feel, try it after dark when the Giant Wheel shows off its light show featuring 52,000 energy-efficient LED lights. Info at irvinespectrumcenter.com.
2. Watch the sunset at Tomato Springs
Flowering cacti, newly sprouted shrubs and butterflies are just a few things to see on this family-friendly hike. You might even spot an owl if you’re lucky. This historic hilltop served as home to Native Americans for hundreds of years and marks the spot where Gaspar de Portolà, the first European explorer of California, camped in 1769. Park along Tomato Springs at Cleverwind.
3. Visit the barnyard at Tanaka Farms
Bring the kids to a Chicks & Sprouts workshop, where they’ll learn how baby chicks grow inside the egg and how plants sprout. After, they can plant giant sunflowers to take home. You can also take a wagon tour and pick your own produce at Tanaka Farms. All events require a reservation. Info at tanakafarms.com.
4. Volunteer at the Native Seed Farm
Connect with nature at a farm that features 14 acres of native wildflowers. The Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s Native Seed Farm offers volunteers a unique learning experience on how native plants support wildlife. The farm is tucked among the rolling hills where Portola Parkway and Jeffrey Road meet. No experience is required. Info at letsgooutside.org.
5. Catch fish at Irvine Lake
If you’re looking for a peaceful spot to spend a few hours fishing, try Irvine Lake. No license is required at the lake, which is stocked with bass, catfish and occasionally trout and carp, to name a few. Bait and light snacks are available to purchase. It’s shoreline fishing only, so pack some chairs and enjoy the beautiful view. Info at ocparks.com/ parks-trails/irvine-lake.
6. Get hip with a roller-skate trip
Lined with majestic trees and safely away from the street, the 3.5-mile Jeffrey Open Space Trail is ideal for roller skaters of all ages. The plentiful mixture of sunshine and shade, places to picnic and bird-watch, and well-maintained restrooms make it easy to spend a few hours here. Cruise over to the bridge at the corner of Jeffrey Road and Irvine Boulevard at sunset for a family selfie.
7. Throw a kids’ party at Duff’s Cake Mix
Throw a deliciously fun party for the kids without any cleanup at this do-it-yourself cake-decorating studio. Let your little ones get creative with colorful frosting, sprinkles and more. This is a great place for birthdays. Aprons and gloves are provided, and reservations are required. Learn more at duffscakemix.com.
8. See, feed and pet animals at the zoo
You’ll hear the sheep before you even enter the 8-acre Orange County Zoo at Irvine Regional Park. Inside the barnyard, kids can pet and feed them along with goats, pot-bellied pigs, chickens and pheasant. Other sections of the zoo feature bald eagles, owls, ocelots and even a black bear. Find more info at ocparks.com/oc-zoo.
9. Concerts in the park at Mason
Nothing says summer like the Beach Boys and Jimmy Buffett. Belt out their memorable songs with the tribute band Surf’s Up on July 8 at Mason Park. Irish folk-rock band The Fenians perform July 15. Arrive early to snag a spot on the grassy hill and fill up at one of the gourmet food trucks. Outside food is allowed, and alcoholic drinks will be available for purchase. Both concerts are free, family-friendly and outdoors. Info at ocparks.com.
10. Go paddle boating at Irvine Regional
Not just your average paddle boat, these giant floating tricycles are a favorite for little ones and require very little effort. Each paddle boat can safely accommodate two adults, or one adult and two small children. Kids can get up close to ducks, turtles and even fish. Rentals are 50% off before noon on weekdays. Info at irvineparkrailroad.com.
Dawn Antis is a freelance writer and mom of 7-year-old twins. She resides in Portola Springs with her husband, Charles, and her children.