23 ways to enjoy summer

Our 2024 Summer Activity Guide can help you find concerts, movies under the stars and family fun at nearby beaches like Crystal Cove.

Our 2024 Summer Activity Guide can help you find concerts, movies under the stars and family fun at nearby beaches like Crystal Cove. Want to know where to find a $3 ice cream? Or a night at a Forbes five-star resort? We’ve got you covered. We’ll even showcase why Irvine’s 300 parks (perfect for a picnic or summer stroll) are ranked tops in California.

1. Head to Spectrum Center for a full slate of summer festivities

Irvine Spectrum Center is jumping in July and August. Whether it’s live music on the Giant Wheel Lawn, summer movies under the stars or trainer-led fitness walks at sunset, there are dozens of ways to play. “We’re thrilled to announce a host of summer programs that really bring the community together,” says General Manager Blake Windal. In addition to over 150 shops and restaurants, Spectrum Center also offers a 21-screen movie theater, the Improv comedy club, an escape room adventure and Old World carousel. From sweet treats to international cuisine, every craving can be satisfied. Make your next visit last all summer long.

2. Reel in the fresh fish at OC’s largest lake

Haul in a trophy fish at Irvine Lake, known locally as “the lake that wants you to catch fish.” The 750-acre lake, stocked with trout, bass and catfish, features 2 miles of fishable banks where anglers reel in 50-pound catfish most years. (The record is a 90-pound blue catfish caught in 1999.) Whether you fish or not, the lake is a special place for Orange County, especially for kids, who can walk along the shore, spot birds and get a taste of the great outdoors. The lake dates back to 1931, when Irvine Company built a dam to ensure a steady water supply for The Irvine Ranch. A few years later, it was stocked with fish and opened for recreational use. A lakeside tackle shop sells fishing bait, gear and snacks.

3. Ride the waves at Wild Rivers

What better way to cool down than at Wild Rivers Water Park? Twenty thrilling slides and attractions spread across 20 acres deliver fun for everyone. Whether you want a heart-pounding adrenaline rush or a relaxing afternoon on the lazy river, there is a match for your speed. Board the Bora Bora Boomerang for a weightless water adventure like no other. Jump in for an exciting frolic in the Shaka Bay Wavepool. Or escape the sun in your private cabana after a dip in the Castaways River. Three options for dining ensure you’ll be well-fed and hydrated. Special events this year include themed dance parties for kids featuring Pirate Day (July 10), Christmas in July (July 25) and Science Fair Fun (Aug. 7). For adults, there’s a tribute to the ’90s on July 13, and the School of Rock Santa Ana House Band performs July 14 for audiences of all ages.

4. Tour the state’s most unique park

Join a walking tour of Irvine’s famed Jeffrey Open Space Trail led by Richard Roy, one of the 76-acre park’s original designers. Get a behind-the-scenes perspective on the park’s 3.5 miles of uninterrupted meadows, woodlands and trails that run through the heart of the city. “There’s nothing in California or maybe anywhere in America like this trail,” says Roy, whose tour covers the history of the land and the collaborative effort that brought this $30 million linear park to life. “Fifty years from now, landscape architects will be studying this as a prime example of open space in a city.” Art installations along the trail trace 500 years of local history, while stacked-stone monuments and underpasses give a national park vibe. Sign up for a complimentary tour at irvinecommunityconnection.com/jeffrey-open-space-trail.

5. Stroll through an artists’ village

The Sawdust Art Festival celebrates its 58th season now through Sept. 1 in the heart of Laguna Beach. Meander the namesake sawdust pathways while perusing artisan crafts, listening to live music or taking in the glass-blowing demonstrations. More than 180 local artists, makers and musicians will participate this season. President of the Sawdust Art Festival board of directors Andrew Soliz says, “I am honored to be one of the many artists who created this multigenerational art festival to share with our community under this ancient eucalyptus forest.” Purchase tickets at sawdustartfestival.org/summer. Irvine residents enter free on Mondays.

6. Find a favorite pastime at Upper Newport Bay

It’s easy to get close to nature in the way that suits you best at Upper Newport Bay: Hiking, kayaking, riding horseback and nature journaling are all good options for the summer. Join a guided kayak tour on Saturday mornings or rent your own at the Newport Aquatic Center. Get a glimpse of a variety of birds from blufftop walking trails on the northwest side of the bay. The Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, which has no entry fee and is open Tuesday through Sunday, offers a nature journaling class (July 5) where you can capture the scene and your mood with prompts to help you take in the surroundings. Bring a journal, art materials and a chair, and revel in the moment.

7. Sign up for farm cookouts and tours

Wagon rides, walking tours, cookouts – these are just a few ways to enjoy Tanaka Farms this summer.

The 30-acre family farm grows more than 60 varieties of fruits and vegetables, which you can pick yourself to take home – or enjoy in a gourmet meal prepared on-site.

“Farm-to-table dining doesn’t get much fresher than this,” says fourth-generation farmer Kenny Tanaka, whose family has run Tanaka Farms for nearly four decades. “Everything is a few hundred feet away.”

The farm also features a barnyard of animals you can visit, a produce stand and a fresh-produce delivery service. We spoke with Tanaka about summer events.

Are you hosting special events this summer? We’re hosting more of our popular Farm-to-Table Cookout Tours throughout the summer. Last year we started doing them at night, and they’ve been really fun. Visitors pick produce in the field, and then we’ll prepare and cook meals while music plays. It’s a great atmosphere during the summer when it’s warm during the day and cools down at night.

What are some other popular attractions? In July, we host melon-picking tours. Nothing beats the summer heat like a big slice of juicy watermelon. You can also get canary melons, cantaloupe, honeydew and the rare yellow watermelon.

What’s your favorite part about the farm? Seeing kids pick fruits and vegetables and then try them. They’re having fun, and it’s great to see them getting hands-on experience learning about where their food comes from.

What makes Tanaka Farms special? Our farm is unique for this area. There aren’t many opportunities today to see how a real working farm operates. We feel like we’re a part of everyone’s family. People who grew up visiting the farm as children are now bringing their own kids. It’s special to see.

Learn more about summer events at Tanaka Farms at tanakafarms.com.

8. Visit the state’s best parks – in Irvine

Ready for some good news?

Investments in parks in America’s 100 most populous cities climbed to a record high of $11.2 billion in 2023, according to a new survey by Trust for Public Land.

Parks – the heart of city planning – are more popular than ever. Research shows parks can improve physical and mental health and even make cities friendlier. The latest Trust for Public Land survey shows residents of cities ranked highest for access to parks are more engaged with their neighbors than lower-ranked cities.

All of this is extra good news for Irvine, which TPL ranked first among California cities and fourth in the nation for the quality and quantity of its public parks.

Like many other good things about the city, Irvine’s parks are a product of careful design. The city’s Master Plan was ahead of its time in providing abundant open spaces and hundreds of miles of public hiking and biking trails. Irvine’s continuing investments in its 300-plus public parks are more than five times the national average.

“Irvine has a great park system and is doing a lot of things right,” says Will Klein, TPL’s associate director for parks research, who elaborates more.

What’s so special about Irvine’s parks? Irvine is the only city I’m aware of that was master planned with consideration of the benefits of physical activity in parks as well as a focus on nonmotorized mobility – biking and hiking – as part of the design.

The open space is so copious and well-distributed that about 94% of Irvine residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park. That’s compared to an average of 76% in the 100 ParkScore cities.

The average annual investment in Irvine parks over the past three years is $643 per resident. That is the most of any of the 100 ParkScore cities, which average $124 per resident.

How do parks improve people’s health? Research shows that when people have a quality green space close to home, they’re more physically active. This helps prevent chronic conditions like obesity and high blood pressure. Time spent in nature is also shown to reduce stress and relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Are there surprise benefits to parks? One of the newest findings, revealed in our recent survey, is that a good system of parks can help city residents be more connected to each other, more likely to volunteer and to form friendships across diverse income groups. The surgeon general has said America is facing an epidemic of loneliness. Our research suggests more and better parks might be part of the remedy.

9. Attend a sunset concert or movie at Irvine’s parks

This summer, enjoy movies under the stars, rock out to live music and savor the symphony at Irvine’s favorite parks, including the brand-new Great Park Live. Located in the Western Sector of the Great Park, Great Park Live is a temporary amphitheater that opened this summer near Corsair and Phantom, transforming the former North Lawn into a vibrant venue for live music, community events, and food and beverages through summer 2026. From this exciting new location to energetic concerts at Mike Ward Community Park, there’s something for everyone, all for free.

10. Let your inner artist get creative

Whether you’re an experienced craftsman or a curious novice, the Irvine Fine Arts Center will nurture your creativity. Catering to four age ranges (early childhood, youth, teen and adult), the center offers dozens of classes across every artistic medium.

Culinary arts: From French cuisine to the fine art of Thai fruit cutting, uncover the secrets behind international cooking.

Printmaking: Discover traditional printmaking techniques, including relief, monotype, collagraph and more.

Ceramics: Learn to throw and trim clay on a potter’s wheel by creating cups, mugs and bowls.

Ikebana: The ancient art of Japanese flower arrangement facilitates both creativity and quiet meditation.

11. Indulge in Pelican Hill’s five-star experience

No need to board a plane to feel like you’re on vacation this summer. Slip behind the secluded walls of the Forbes five-star Resort at Pelican Hill for a fully immersive getaway experience. The 504-acre resort provides all the luxuries of the Italian Riviera in your own backyard. Take in a few rounds of golf on the two world‑class courses designed by the renowned Tom Fazio. Every hole takes advantage of the natural landscape, with opportunities for ocean views. Afterward, dip into the spectacular Coliseum pool or relax in the spa. This summer, Pelican Hill also offers free courses in lawn bowling, badminton, croquet and bocce ball. Young guests can partake in storytime, complete with cookies and crafts, and evening s’mores around a cozy fire. Your European escape awaits, no passport required.

12. Make a splash at the Woollett Aquatics Center

Dive into summer at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center’s premiere pools. Designed to attract our nation’s most elite swim competitions, Woollett offers two 50-meter pools and one multiuse pool for instructional, recreational and competitive programs. From lap swims and water aerobics to swim lessons and lifeguard certifications, there are plenty of ways to work out this summer while staying cool or just escape the heat and lull away the day. The center is well-equipped with diving pools, slides and boards. Recreational hours offered every day include a waterslide, springboards and an inflatable obstacle course (Tuesday-Thursday). At 6:30 p.m. Aug. 24, visit Woollett for a splash-in movie and evening swim. Lifeguards will be on duty, and the movie begins at dusk.

13. Savor more than shopping at The Market Place

The Market Place offers more than premium shopping and delectable dining this summer. It promises an immersive, full-day experience. With live music on Sundays, food specials for kids, a crafts event and discounted movie tickets, there are plenty of opportunities to indulge your every whim this season.

14. Dive into the Irvine Swim League

The Irvine Swim League, established in 1985 with just five teams, has grown into a vibrant community tradition involving nearly 2,800 young swimmers.

Hosting weekly competitions among teams from more than 20 Irvine villages each summer, the league has emphasized water safety, individual improvement and camaraderie for almost 40 years. These efforts have created lifelong memories and friendships for Irvine’s youth.

We asked Executive Director Lizzie Howard to share her insights on the league’s impact.

What makes the league special? Every team has social events throughout the summer, and some even continue year-round. The goal has always been more about community and water safety than competition. Long days at the pool, enjoying snow cones, candy, doughnuts, music, volunteering, and even staying after practice are all part of the experience.

What has been your most memorable moment? We put a lot of effort into our opening ceremony each year, acknowledging special people in the league – coaches, parent volunteers and legacy swimmers who have been with us from age 5 to 18. Seeing how far the ISL’s reach extends and the impact it has on so many people is always memorable.

Any success stories of past swimmers? We have swimmers who have gone on to attend Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Duke, NYU and all of the UC schools, including Berkeley. The league sparks an interest in swimming at a young age, and many of our swimmers go on to compete year-round and then in college. Amanda Beard, a past Olympian, swam in our league.

What advice would you give to parents considering enrolling their children? Ensure your kids are water-safe before joining. This isn’t a learn-to-swim program; kids need to be able to get across the pool safely. Beyond that, embrace the experience, get involved and enjoy the sense of community.

Visit irvineswimleague.org for more information.

15. Delight in cool treats

Partake in some global cooling with a frozen concoction from these spots, each one specializing in a unique international delicacy.

Handel’s – Alton Square, The Market Place
Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream has been serving its quintessentially American house-made ice cream since its beginnings in Ohio in 1945. Owner John Wolikow, who is eager for opening day at the new Alton Square location, says Handel’s success is based on “the quality of our ingredients and the fact that we make the ice cream fresh daily at each store.” Visit on Tuesdays for a $3 deal on any of the more than 100 homemade flavors, such as Graham Central Station.

SomiSomi – Irvine Spectrum Center
The dessert shop offers Korean ah-boong – which uses a fresh waffle in the shape of a goldfish as a soft-serve cone. Rotating soft‑serve flavors include matcha, ube, cookies ’n cream and black sesame. Choose from over a dozen additional toppings and fillings.

The French Avenue – Irvine Spectrum Center
The new patisserie is best known for its French pastries and savory crepes, but amid its other artisan desserts, there are a half-dozen flavors of gelato, including pistachio, raspberry and cappuccino.

16. Enjoy a night of Shakespeare at the new Swan Theater

“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare said. But even the Bard needed room to perform. UC Irvine answered the call in 2012, constructing a scaled-down replica of London’s Globe Theatre. Assembled each summer for the annual Shakespeare Festival, New Swan offers a 130-seat outdoor, mini-Elizabethan space. This season, audiences will be treated to the comic masterpiece “Twelfth Night” and “Measure for Measure,” one of Shakespeare’s most challenging and rarely performed plays. For information and tickets, go to newswanshakespeare.com.

17. Bike from mountains to sea

Feeling adventurous? Hop on your bike and ride from the untamed mountains of Weir Canyon to the shores of Upper Newport Bay on Irvine’s 22-mile Mountains to Sea Trail. There’s no better way to see the rich diversity of The Irvine Ranch – from its oak-filled canyons to meadows of poppies to vast bird sanctuaries – in a single day. Many cyclists can complete the round trip in about five hours. But for a shorter route, park and join the trail at Peters Canyon Regional Park (for $3), Orchard Hills Shopping Center or the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve. It was designated a National Recreation Trail in 2006.

18. Catch a pro soccer game at the Great Park

Irvine is crazy about soccer, and why not? The OC Soccer Club won the United Soccer League title in 2021 and finished second last year. This season, they’re seeking another title behind goalie Colin Shutler, who posted a 16-5-2 record last year. Parking is free, and fans say there’s not a bad seat in the house at Championship Soccer Stadium, which holds 5,000 and sold out the last seven home games last season. This year’s team brings back 16 returning players, including fan favorites Brian Iloski, Thomas Amang and captain Markus Nakkim. “Having all of those guys back is a dream come true,” Shutler says.

19. Behold the stunning beauty of Crystal Cove State Park

One of the most idyllic coastal spots at any time of year, Crystal Cove State Park in the summertime offers extra activities such as movies on the beach (July 25 and Aug. 22) and the annual Grunion Run (Aug. 20). In addition to tide-pool adventures and hikes, you can also take a one-hour historic district walking tour (July 27 and Aug. 24) with educators and former residents of the cottages to learn about the history of the area and its restoration. Hands-on activities at the Education Commons take place every Tuesday, and a full moon hike lures adventure seekers each month. It’s easy to spend a whole day learning about the area, checking out the marine life and cooling off in the ocean waves yourself.

20. Teens: Join the Youth Action Team

Irvine’s High School Youth Action Team is made up of 18 paid representatives and over 1,000 volunteer members. The program offers students the opportunity to engage in leadership, community service and recreational activities. Steve Knollmiller, an Irvine community services supervisor in charge of overseeing the Youth Action Team, explains.

How did the Youth Action Team start?
In 1991, representatives from the city, Irvine Unified School District and the community came together and recognized the value of input offered by young people to the community. The original group consisted of one student representative from each high school. Since then, it has expanded to 18 representatives – with over 1,000 volunteer members who complete over 25,000 hours of community service. There are over 500 volunteer opportunities.

Who can join?
To become a paid representative, you must be entering 11th or 12th grade at a high school in the city. Recruitment starts March 1 each year, with over 100 students applying for up to 18 positions.

What’s planned this summer?
The team offers weekly volunteer camps for students to accrue 10-20 hours of service in the community or at a community center. Transportation is included to Turtle Rock Nature Center, Irvine Ranch Conservancy, Pretend City, Families Forward, OC Rescue Mission, Child Creativity Lab and many more. There are also volunteer opportunities at the Great Park and other city events and programs, including our disability services program.

What impact does the program have?
It provides valuable support to our local organizations. And for participants, we hope it boosts their social skills, confidence and job skills. We also hope they have fun and it brings fulfillment to their lives.

How can students get involved?
To join or volunteer, register at yourirvine.org. To learn more, email hsyat@cityofirvine.org or call 949-724-6076.

21. Explore San Joaquin Marsh

Hidden in plain sight near UC Irvine lies San Joaquin Marsh. The 300-acre wetlands boasts more than 325 species of birds, 12 miles of trails, six ponds and a butterfly garden. Enjoy these unique summer offerings:

Sunday Bird Walks
July 14 & Aug. 11
Jeff Bray of Sea and Sage Audubon Society introduces visitors of all ages to migratory and resident birds. Roadrunners, pelicans and cormorants are among the dozens of varieties you might see.

Annual Barbecue
July 28
Dine under the stars with photographer and biologist Bob Allen. Enjoy an evening bird walk, stargazing with telescopes and a bat walk. Learn more at irwd.com/san-joaquin-marsh.

22. Discover new passions at Lakeview Senior Center

Lakeview Senior Center offers dozens of classes that are fresh and fun. Don your dance shoes and hit the floor. The center offers everything from salsa and cha‑cha to line dancing and go-go. Or try fitness classes such as Pilates, tai chi or Bollywood yoga. Game enthusiasts can take part in billiards, bingo and mahjong. There are matinee movies, book clubs and endless arts and crafts from floral design to calligraphy to bookbinding. Whatever your interests, you’ll find your crowd this summer. Go to yourirvine.org to register.

23. Take a yoga class in a grove of sycamores

Unwind with a yoga hike (July 17, 31 and Aug. 30) at Bommer Canyon. You’ll start with an easy meadow walk before settling into a yoga class among a grove of 100-year-old sycamores. The event – suitable for those with little or no experience – is highlighted with beautiful views of the 10,000-acre nature preserve’s meadows, woodlands and ridgelines that overlook the ocean. “During the hike, I look at nature and bathe in the beauty,” says regular Barbara Clark. “Then at yoga, I feel relaxed and energized at the same time.” Learn more at letsgooutside.org/activities.