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BEST Things To Do In Irvine, CA: Free, Fun Places

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With parks, trails for running, hiking, and biking, life revolves around leisure. For couples, it's one of the best cities to raise kids with highly rated schools. It does not offer any real nightlife per se. Still, there's an array of things to do in Irvine, CA that's fun and free.

Located in Orange County, Irvine is home to several universities, colleges, and companies. A city heralded for having one of the best educated citizenry, it's very safe and clean to live in. A family community with a diverse ethnic makeup, it continues to evolve. 

Bloomberg Businessweek declared Irvine in 2011 as the 5th best U.S. city to live. Weather during the winter months falls between cool to warm with the summer months typically very warm to hot. For beach, bars, and lounges, Newport Beach and Huntington are about 20 to 30 mins. From Los Angeles, it's about 1 hour and 30 minutes. John Wayne is the closest commercial airport in Santa Ana. Amtrak provides rail north and south. Here's our list for things to do in Irvine.

1. Swim at William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center. Cost: Lap swimming from $4 (adults 18-54) The city operates year round swimming programs and pool safety classes. It features two 50 meter pools and a 25 yard instruction pool. They also host children's birthdays. 4601 Walnut Avenue, Tel: (949) 724-6717.

2. Chocolate History Tour. Cost: $20.00 for adults, 10.00 for kids. Group rate of $17 for 3. Take a 1 hour, full factory tour about how chocolate is made. Includes samples. CHOCXO, 9461 Irvine Center Drive. Tours start at 2 pm. 

  • Free Samples of Chocolate Making Process
  • Learn how chocolate is made
  • 3 tastes from chocolate case at end of tour
  • Take Home Bag: chocolate tastings squares
  • Watch chocolate making machines

4. Visit Irvine Park. Wheel Fun rentals offers paddle boat rentals that can accommodate 2 to 3 riders. $15.00 for 30 minutes. Although Not technically within the city. it's nearby. For things to do in Irvine for families, this has a lot of options.  1 Irvine Park Road, Orange, CA 92869. Hours: weekdays 10:00 am - 4:00 pm, weekends 10:00 am - 5:00 pm. Parking is weekdays: $3.00, weekends: $5.00 and holidays: $7.00

5. Visit Farmer's Market. One of the best reasons to get up early on Saturdays. Although you'll find many fresh fruits and vegetables, it also offers a number of cooked foods, bread, dairy, pastries and juices. Mariners Church, corner of Bonita Canyon and Turtle Ridge Road. Saturday hours: 8 a.m. to noon rain or shine.

6. Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream. Made to order organic ice cream. Endless selection. Cost: Starts at $5.50. 3972 Barranca Parkway. Mon - Sat: 12PM - 11PM, Sun: 12PM - 10PM

7. Visit the Irvine Spectrum. With a number of shops and restaurants. it packs a lot. The ferris wheel and carousel are free on Friday & Sat nights, otherwise $4. Great view during sunset and one of the more affordable things to do in Irvine. 670 Spectrum Center Drive. Parking: recommended to park outside if possible.

8. Play 18 Holes of Golf. Oak Creek Golf Club is a public course. Cost: $55 to 135. Their practice facility is highly regarded. With LED lighting, you can practice into the evening. They offer membership programs to lock in savings. One Golf Club Drive. Tel: Tel: (949) 653-5300 

9. Visit Boomers! An amusement park that has go-karts, laser tag, bumper boats with water sprayers, mini golf, and an arcade. Right off the 405. free parking. Save with a group and yearly pass. Pros: free parking. Cons: some equipment issues at times. 3405 Michelson Drive. (949) 559-8341

10. Visit Tanaka Farms. As a 30-acre responsible farm since 1940, it  produces fruits & vegetables. Crops in danger of failing may deviate from the practice. They hold a variety of great tours and events throughout the year. For Irvine date ideas, you can't go wrong with this one.

  • Strawberry Tours (March-June)
  • Watermelon Tours (July-August)
  • U-Pick: choose 3-5 different fruits and vegetables (March - August)
  • U-Pick Pumpkin Patch (October) 
  • Cookout Tour

5380 3/4 University Dr. Tel: (949) 653-2100. Hours: Monday – Sunday: 9AM – 5PM. Cost: Adult: $18, Child:  $18, 2 and under: FREE. PETS and WAGONS are not allowed.

11. Atomic Ballroom. Brush up on the dance moves or learn from scratch. Swing, salsa, tango, ballroom, hip hop, country two step. Yes country. They even have wedding dancing lessons. Private or group lessons to floor rentals. Voted best dance studio in Orange County by the L.A. Times in 2012. Cost: New single group lesson $16 or buy discounted group rates to save. 17961 Sky Park Circle, Suite C. Tel: 949.250.3332. atomicballroom.com

Entertainment & Nightlife

1. Irvine Woodbridge Movies. For inexpensive things to do in Irvine, it's tough to beat Woodbridge. $2 Matinees before 6pm, $3 tickets after 6pm and 3D films are $4 all day. How do you beat that? 4626 Barranca Pkwy. Movieline: (949) 733-0980.

2. Go Bowling. Irvine Lanes. Cost: $20/hour or $6 per game. Full bar. Hours: 10-12am mon-thurs, Fri, Sat to 1 am and Sundays to 10pm. 3415 Michelson Dr. Tel: (949) 786-9625

3. Laugh yourself senseless at The Improv. The premier comedy club in Southern California dates back to the early 1960s with its beginnings from Hell's Kitchen, NYC. 527 Spectrum Center Drive. Tel: 949) 854-5455 Cost: $12 to $45. 

4. Great Park Ballon. Ride 400 feet above for about 15 min. in one of the largest tethered helium balloons in the United States. Address: Marine Way and Sand Canyon Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for kids. Its become one of the must things to do in Irvine. Flight Info/Weather Visibility Tel:  949-724-6599.

Hours: Thursday–Friday: 10 a.m.–3 p.m. ; 7 p.m.–10 p.m.
Saturday–Sunday: 9 a.m.–3 p.m. ; 7 p.m.–10 p.m.
Monday–Wednesday: Closed

Things to Do in Irvine for Free

Not well known for having a lot of free things to do there are some.

1. Relax at William R. Mason Regional Park. Cost: FREE. With 339 rolling Acres, it's never overcrowded. With so many options, it's one of the best things to do in Irvine. It has a 9 acre lake with ducks, geese, turtles. There are pavilions, bathrooms, and playgrounds all with affordable parking. With so many options it's one of the best fun things to do in Irvine. A great place to just relax or for Irvine date ideas. It hosts events so check before going.

  • Model Boat Sailing
  • Playground for Tots (2)
  • Picnic Tables
  • Trails to Bike and Hike
  • Strawberry Farms Golf Course
  • Volleyball Courts (sand)
  • Permits for Private Events

Hours: Fall/Winter: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. PDT,Spring/Summer: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.  8712 University Drive, Tel: (949) 923-2220. Parking: $3 during the week, $5.00 on weekends. Dogs allowed on leash. (cleanup expected).

2. Visit the Irvine Museum. Cost: FREE. Considered a local gem, it offers California impressionist paintings (1890-1930). The collection rotates every 3 or 4 months and they validate parking. There is also a bookstore. Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 18881 Von Karman Ave. Tel: (949) 476-2565.

3. Global Village Festival. Cost: FREE. Typically held in September, it's a cultural festival that features over 100 performances on five stages with international cuisine, crafts, gifts, art, and interactive displays. It celebrates the cultural diversity of the city. Food tickets are $1 each; with prices for sample items from $1 to $3; recommended to purchase $10 per person. Bill Barber Park, located at 4 Civic Center Plaza. Shuttle Parking from Jamboree & Main at Mike Ward Community Park.

4. Relax at Mike Ward Community Park. Cost: FREE. Hit the basketball court or play racket ball. Experience tranquility with Canadian Geese and ducks. Relax in one of the gazebos with views of the lake and a great spot for sunsets. It also offers some great opportunities for photographers. 20 Lake Road. Tel: (949) 724-6900

TIP: Park at Blue Lake or by the tennis courts by Clearlake and Springbrook for access to more lake paths.

5. Movies on the Lawn in Orange County Great Park. It's held during the summer months. Cost: FREE. Movies begin at dusk, around 8 p.m. watch classics and older blockbusters. Tel: (949) 724-6247

6. Play Tennis. Enjoy 64 public tennis courts and offers year round lessons. There is also a camp for juniors.  Tel: 949-724-6617

7. Skateboard at Harvard Skate Park. Open since 2000 with the help of local skaters. Skaters must wear helmet, elbow pads, and kneepads. 14701 Harvard Avenue. Hours: Monday through Friday: 2:00 p.m to 8:00 p.m, Saturdays 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m and Sundays 12:00 noon - 8:00 p.m. Tel: 949-337-6577. The park can be reserved for private parties.

8. Irvine's Open Space Preserve. The city has made a serious commitment to preservation. There are numerous ways to commune with nature. 

Hike/Jog at Bommer Canyon. Cost: FREE. With a cell phone audio guide. you can learn about the history of the area. A former cattle camp, it's an inexpensive option for weddings or company picnics. 6400 Shady Canyon Drive. Hours: 7 a.m. to sunset. Free Parking: read the signs for posted hours. 1 Sunnyhill for parking. Facility Reservations at 949-724-6620. 

9. Go Bicycling. The city has put together a combination of on/off street. 

a. Pedego. Rent or Buy. Cost: $14/hr or $50 daily. Peddle as much as you want or use the electric bike. 4624 Barranca Pkwy. Hours: Open Daily 10AM - 6PM. Tel: (949) 274-7944

b. Visit A Road Bike 4U. They rent and sell just about anything and offer tuneups. The SOCAL Endurance Lab with a massage therapist is affiliated with them. Try before you buy. These guys are serious. Tel: (949) 752-2080. 17985 Sky Park Circle. 

10. Hike up to Turtle Rock Viewpoint Trail. Rating: Easy. Get a little exercise in and experience stunning views of the Santa Ana Mountains and Views of The OC. Great spot for sunsets. Free street parking can be had. 19032 Turtle Rock Dr.

Annual Events

For annual events in Irvine, here are some you don't want to miss.

1. Attend the Korean Cultural Festival.  Cost: FREE admission, Free parking. Broaden your horizons. Experience Korean traditional music, dances, performances, eating contests, raffles, games. Sampling delicious cuisine from Irvine’s premier restaurants. Irvine Civic Center, 1 Civic Center Plaza.

2. Go Ice Skating. The Outdoor Ice Rink runs October thru February. $19, includes skate rental / $15, bring your own. adjacent to Nordstrom and Macy's. 71 Fortune Dr. Skate to 11 pm. Tel: (949) 748-8280.

3. Great Wine Fest.  An annual event that takes place each May, it features over 30 California wineries and offers cuisine. There is a silent auction withe live entertainment. Proceeds go to free legal services for the disadvantaged. Cost: VIP: $150, Regular Rate: $100 Early Bird Rate. $75 Non-Profit. Tel: (714) 571-5220 Held at The Orange County Great Park.

4. Summer Concerts. Cost: FREE.  Concerts typically start in June. Gourmet food trucks on site if you get hungry. Tel: 949-724-6606. Mike Ward Community Park.

Orange County parks also hold concerts at various parks bringing in talented musicians from all around from SOCAL.

5. Attend the Pumpkin Patch. There's a great weigh-off for the biggest pumpkin. The Pumpkin Patch at Tanaka Farms runs from September 29th to October 31st. Entry is $2.00. Hours: 9:00 am and closes at 6:00pm. No dogs allowed. 

Related Post: Things To Do In Huntington Beach CA

This article was first published in March November 2015 and expanded on Feb 2017

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