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Irvine, California: A master planned community becomes a convenient vacation hub

Winds of Change statue of James Irbine II and his hunting dogs at Irvine Regional Park, Irvine, California
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Winds of Change statue of James Irbine II and his hunting dogs at Irvine Regional Park, Irvine, California

Ahh, the sunny climate and attractions of Southern California’s Orange County–Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Angel Stadium, the Nixon Library and birthplace, Crystal Cathedral, California Adventure, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Balboa Island, and beaches like Laguna, Newport, and Huntington–Surf City USA…The list goes on and on. With a little planning you can avoid some of the congestion that can accompany a vacation to some of these popular and populated areas.

Irvine is a centrally located master planned community within a twenty-five miles radius of Orange County’s beaches, theme parks and other major attractions. With a street system designed to avoid traffic jams and a network of protected open space, parks, and trails, it’s the paragon of what can be accomplished when a city is designed from scratch with the resources to do it right.

Mayor Sukhee Kang, Improv Comedy Club, Irvine, California
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Mayor Sukhee Kang, Improv Comedy Club, Irvine, California

The comforts and conveniences created for its residents make it a great place to stay. There’s a full range of arts and entertainment options, outdoor recreation, festivals and cultural events, fine and casual dining, and shopping galore. The abundance of greenspace makes it an ideal setting for enjoying the great outdoors.

Developed by the Irvine Company when the University of California’s Irvine campus was established, this culturally diverse and architecturally coordinated community is designed to offer a full range of options for today’s active lifestyle. With a sun-drenched Mediterranean climate–mild winters and dry summers, low crime rate (The FBI has named it the safest large city in America six years in a row), and the highest median income for a city its size, it’s little wonder CNNMoney.com named it one of the best places to live.

History

Irvine is a microcosm of the history and development of the state of California. It is the product of interactions between the indigenous people now known as the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe and the Spaniards who brought the presidio (fort), pueblo (town), and mission system after the Spanish-born Pope’s Papal Bull of 1493 gave Spain unlimited rights to this part of the world.

Hearing that the Jesuits who had established missions along New Spain’s coast were amassing great wealth and power, Spain’s King Carlos III ordered them replaced by the Franciscans, led by Father Junípero Serra. Father Serra arrived in what is now the state of California in 1769 with Spanish soldier and explorer Don Gaspar de Portola. Other soldiers, missionaries, settlers, mules, and servants accompanied them to assist with maintaining the Spanish crown’s control, “civilizing” and spreading the faith to the native population, and with colonizing the area.

The indigenous Gabrielino-Tongva, who acquired their present name from the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, were among those subjugated and relocated to that mission,and provided the labor necessary for building construction, agriculture and the production of goods. The Native Americans lacked immunity to European diseases brought in. Women of childbearing age were cloistered, and European crops took over native food sources. Much of the indigenous population was wiped out.

For more on the plight of the Gabrielino-Tongva, officially recognized by the state of California in 1994, and to gain a perspective not included in conventional historical texts, see http://www.gabrielinotribe.org/TribalHistory/tribal_history.cfm

Mexico gained independence and control in 1821 and the Secularization Act granted or sold mission land to Mexican applicants for ranchos. Twenty-five years later, Mexico’s army was defeated in the Mexican-American War and these lands were ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Guadaloupe. The Congressional Act of 1851 required landowners to reapply to the Board of Land Commissioners for title to their land grants, or ranchos, which by then had often changed hands or been divided, creating a tangled web of claims.

As a result, three large Spanish and Mexican grants were acquired by a partnership that included sheep rancher James Irvine:

Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana was an early Spanish land grant to Jose Antonio Yorba and his nephew and partner Juan Pablo Peralta. Lawsuits over titles in the 1860s divided the land among prosperous American sheep ranching claimants, including Mr. Irvine.

Rancho San Joaquin included San Juan Capistrano mission lands granted to Don José Andrés Sepulveda in 1837. With one of the largest cattle ranches in the state, Sepulveda supplied beef to the 49ers in the California Gold Rush and is said to have been the richest man in California. He lived lavishly and gambled extravagantly. By 1864, with his herd devastated by the Great Drought, he was forced into foreclosure. Irvine and his partners bought 50,000 of Sepulveda’s acres for $18,000.

Teodosio Yorba was granted Rancho Lomas de Santiago in 1846 on the day California became a US Territory. Irvine and his partners bought the 47,000 acre Rancho Lomas de Santiago, which borders the Santa Ana River, for $7,000.

In 1878, Irvine acquired his partners’ interests for $150,000 for what became the Irvine Ranch. Once one of the largest private ranches in the United States, its more than 100,000 acres stretched over 22 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Santa Ana River.

When James Irvine died in 1886 the property passed to his son James II, who incorporated as the Irvine Company a year later. He grew field crops and olive and citrus orchards–products introduced by Spanish missionaries. The ranch became one of the world’s largest producers of Valencia oranges.

During World War II the Irvine Company sold some land to the government for Marine Corp facilities. In 1897 James Irvine II donated his favorite picnic grounds, 160 acres in the Santiago Canyon, to the public, establishing the Irvine Regional Park, the oldest county park in California. A statue of him with his beloved hunting dogs, facing the Santa Ana winds, was erected in the park in his honor.

When James II died in 1947 age 80, the company presidency passed to his surviving son, Myford. In 1959 the Irving Corporation gave 1000 acres requested by the University of California for a campus, and the University bought an additional 500 acres. The consulting architect and Irving Company drew up master plan for a city of 50,000 people around the university, and the expanding city was incorporated in 1971. Irvine’s descendants have since designated almost 60,000 acres that are now parks and wilderness.

What to Do

The abundance of open space makes Irvine an especially enjoyable place to live and visit. The diverse population drawn here has given rise to a wide variety of recreational, dining, and cultural options.

The Irvine Museum, founded in 1991 by Joan Irvine Smith, is the only museum in California dedicated to the preservation and display of California-style Impressionism or Plein-Air (fresh air) paintings. This style was popular from 1890 to 1930, before the large-scale urbanization and population growth.

The tethered bright orange Great Park Balloon at the soars hundreds of feet in the air for a birds-eye view of the 27.5-acre Balloon Park. On a clear day you can see to LA. It’s free–first come first served! Create your own picnic of fresh local fruits, vegetables, and more and browse the arts and craft at the park’s Sunday Farmer’s Market 10 am to 2 pm, rain or shine.

Spectrum Center, Irvine, California
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Spectrum Center, Irvine, California

You can’t miss the 108-foot tall Ferris Wheel that was custom-designed and hand crafted in Italy. It marks the Irvine Spectrum Center–a retail destination with over 130 shopping, dining, and entertainment venues. Whether you are in search of retail therapy in the shops, some laughs at the Improv Comedy Club, or some dizzying spins at the ice skating rink, you’ll find this and much more.

Pretend City Children's Museum, Irvine, California
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Pretend City Children’s Museum, Irvine, California

Traveling with children? Imaginations soar when playing grown-up at Pretend City Children’s Museum, a 15,000 square foot interactive play city. Visit the doctor, buy groceries, be an artist or firefighter or whatever strikes your fancy in this just-for-fun mini metropolis.

Stroll the campus of the University of California’s Irvine campus. Discover unique coastal California plants at the 12.5-acre Arboretum, a botanical garden and research facility. Check the schedule at UCI’s Barclay Theatre– the site of ballet, symphony, and other special performances throughout the year.

bears, Irvine Regional Park, Irvine, California
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bears, Irvine Regional Park, Irvine, California

peacock, Irvine Regional Park, Irvine, California
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peacock, Irvine Regional Park, Irvine, California

ocelot, Irvine Regional Park, Irvine, California
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ocelot, Irvine Regional Park, Irvine, California

Spend a day at Irvine Regional Park. Ride the miniature train, paddleboats, or trotting and walking ponies. Bike (rentals available) or hike the trails. See animals indigenous to southwestern US–bald eagles, porcupines, coati, black bears, ocelots, mountain lions, island foxes, red-tailed hawks–at the Orange County Zoo.

Want to get some exercise while enjoying the California sunshine? There are 44.5 miles of off-road bicycle trails and 282 miles of on-road bicycle lanes. Make a splash at Wild Rivers Water Park, where there are more than 40 inner tube rides, water slides, wave pools and other water adventures.

Check for access days and programs before hitting the trail at Bommer Canyon, owned by the City of Irvine. The almost 40,000 acres of open space was once part of Sepulveda’s Rancho San Joaquin and the former center of the Irvine Ranch cattle operations. It was designated a Natural Landmark by the State of California and U.S. Department of Labor.

Irvine celebrates its diverse interests and cultures with festivals throughout the year, like the Irish Fair & Music Festival, the Annual Greek Food Festival, the Pacific Symphony Summer Festival concert at Irvine’s Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, and the Irvine Global Village Festival, Orange County’s largest multicultural festival.

Getting to Irvine

John Wayne Airport, Irvine, California
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John Wayne Airport, Irvine, California

AIR: Enjoy the convenience of John Wayne Airport (SNA), owned and operated by the City of Irvine and served by airlines including Continental, Delta, United, USAir from both Providence and Boston, and Southwest from Providence.

CAR: Irvine’s master planned transportation and street system minimizes traffic congestion.

BUS: iShuttle runs weekdays connecting the Irvine Business Complex, local restaurants and retail stores, the Tustin Metrolink Station, John Wayne Airport, OCTS bus stops and more. Fare $1 peak hours and 59¢ off-peak.

TRAIN: The Irvine Transportation Center in the Irvine Spectrum offers Amtrak and the Metrolink commuter train as well as an Enterprise car rental counter. Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner travels the coast between San Luis Obispo and San Diego. Metrolink goes to the Inland Empire, North San Diego and Los Angeles. There is complimentary parking.

ACCOMMODATIONS: There are fourteen hotels in Irvine. The Hyatt Regency, Irvine’s only AAA 4 diamond property,offers complimentary shuttle service from the airport.

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