Irvine is an Orange County Road Trip Gem

IMG_4095We’d heard Irvine, California was steeped in arts, dining, nightlife, shopping and all the typical things that we gravitate to when planning a getaway, but Irvine exceeded all our expectations which is quite a feat when you consider our diverse interests.

We used the Atrium Hotel right across from Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, as our hub and home away from home. We chose to drive on this particular trip although other previous excursions to Orange County have found us flying in before.

So note to self, was what a great location the Atrium would provide if we had flown in. It was equally well situated for this car-centered road trip to Irvine. The boutique style resort property has a beautiful pool and a very satisfying breakfast buffet that we all appreciated for fueling ourselves for our exploration of Irvine.

Our first introduction to Irvine’s diverse offerings was during our delicious dinner at Tokyo Table at the Diamond Jamboree. Tokyo IMG_4083Table was superb with each and every offering we sampled, brimming with delicious flavors stemming from fresh, seasonal ingredients. We had to try the OMG Roll and it is definitely appropriately named.

After our sumptuous meal we decided to check out a few of the amazing cultural offerings at the Diamond Jamboree. We sauntered over to the Plush Karaoke Lounge where we thoroughly enjoyed sipping tea while belting out some songs together in the posh nightlife style of a classy lounge with 17 private rooms, touch screen monitors and technological equipment.

We could have stayed all night having our own little all night Karaoke party but eventually we called it a night to rest up for our marathon of cultural immersion the next day.

First on the next day’s list was a fabulous visit to the Irvine Museum. This proved the perfect place for art newbies to explore the Impressionist Period. Numerous beautiful works of art depicting California landmarks, National Parks and scenery were on exhibit in this rather small and intimate setting. A docent led tour was lovely and allowed us time to enjoy each beautiful piece in an un-rushed manner with some light education leading to more appreciation of the exhibit.

IMG_4103Our next stop was the University California Irvine Arboretum. A fabulous assortment of succulents, cacti and other native plants kept us interested for over an hour as we walked the lovely 12.5 acre grounds and enjoyed both the plant specimens and the majestic view of the valley.

Any getaway to Irvine must include a trip to the Irvine Spectrum Center, a unique retail and dining experience, so off we went ready to shop, browse, and eat. Dozens of specialty stores, high end retailers, and nationally acclaimed restaurants as well as entertainment venues make this a family or a girlfriend paradise. The Spectrum Center also houses one of the country’s largest movie theater complexes, live entertainment, an antique carousel and a 108 foot Giant Wheel.

No wonder 15 million visitors enjoy the Spectrum Center every year. The top of the 108 foot Giant Italian crafted Wheel afforded us a remarkable view of the area and we could even see the Orange County Great Park with its 30 person balloon soaring at 400 feet above the 1300 acre landscape.

IMG_4110Soaking in the ambiance of the best shopping and dining in the country, we worked up an appetite for dinner at Paul Martin’s American Grill. The cedar planed salmon was delightful, moist and melt in your mouth quality. The Chimichurri all natural grilled chicken was excellent as well.

We loved the fresh quality of this classy establishment with impeccable service. “Eat organic. Believe in sustainable. Buy local. Love fresh.” is the mantra of Paul Martin’s® back-to-the-farm American Bistro. This top California restaurant, with locations in Roseville, Irvine, and El Segundo, is the long-nurtured dream of restaurateurs Brian Bennett and Paul Fleming.

After a delicious dinner we were ready to enjoy yet more artistic gems of Irvine by taking in a play at the gorgeous South Coast Repertory. A fabulous theater venue, our play and the ambiance were both exceptional. Easy parking, comfortable seating, and an excellent performance made the experience lacking in nothing. Irvine does art and culture well.

On our last day in Irvine we spent quite a bit of time again at the Diamond Jamboree. We found so many excellent things to taste, see and experience there. It’s truly a rich cultural experience with so many unique samplings of so many different cultures and counties.

IMG_4119We had a wonderful lunch at Papaya Thai Bistro where delicious Thai and Asian cuisine can be tailored to your taste by your ability to choose which protein you’d like to pair with which sauce or noodle dish. We mixed and matched curries, satays, and noodle dishes with lamb, beef, fowl, and seafood. Each one was fresh and exceptional. We mixed and matched and shared and had a delightful lunch.

We also partook in the ultimate indulgence at the Majestic Spa where we were massaged with our clothing on, in a central massage room, with very unique Asian style reflexology massages.

Fabulous Asian style coffee houses, yogurt shops, drink vendors, and bakeries are peppered through the Diamond Jamboree and we had to try the unusual novelty offerings of Lollicup’s Boba Tapioca drink and 85C’s sea salt latte.

Having been successfully dined, refreshed, massaged, indulged and immersed in the arts, in lavish  style, we were ready to hit the road. Sad to see Irvine in our rear view mirror, we were richer for having visited and we now know where the hidden gem of OC resides.