Unique Places in Orange County

Sophia Chang/New University

For the regular Irvine kid, you wake up one morning and just know. As you open the window, a breeze of warm air wafts gently into your room and it suddenly clicks – it’s springtime! Personally, I enjoy the little things in life that are often taken for granted, and realizing that the day has finally turned into spring is one of them.

There’s the added benefit of knowing that summer is just around the corner. Now, I’ve heard a lot of complaints from students who do not reside in or near the Irvine area, who hail from more metropolitan, touristy cities like San Francisco, L.A. or the Bay Area.

All too frequently I hear low grumbles and complaints about how Irvine is “boring” because “there’s nothing to do,” and I can’t help but feel a pang of defensiveness.

Irvine is my home, and in my opinion, there are so many unknown places to explore, as long as you seek them out. Listed below are a few of my favorite nifty, hidden places, which are easily accessible and  sure to bring a jolt of excitement to your life in Irvine.

Crystal Cove Beach and Promenade

Crystal Cove Beach in Newport boasts a gorgeous landscape, a hiking trail and the most exquisite sunset. What sets this beach apart from the general and more well-known Newport and Corona del Mar beaches is its isolation. The only downside to Crystal Cove is that it requires a parking fee – however, do not let this deter you from making a trip down there one warm and vibrant day, at least once during your time here at UC Irvine.

This payment usually deters many people from going to the Crystal Cove, but if you are looking for a quiet, relatively uncrowded beach, then Crystal Cove is one of the most magnificent places in which to find that serenity.

There is not one piece of littered trash, just grains of warm sand and a procession of rocks that dot the whole stretch of the shore.

In order to get down to the beach, there is a little walking involved but before doing so, there is a field of open, green grass that has an absolutely breathtaking view of the beach down below, the rippling ocean and the wide blue sky. The view of Crystal Cove at sunset is by far one of the most spectacular views I have witnessed.

I would even go so far as to say that it is an upgrade from Newport Beach – because although it is free, often times it is overcrowded and completely trashed.

With Crystal Cove, you will be able to enjoy the serenity and tranquility that it provides – go with a car full of friends in the morning and split the cost of parking.

To top it off, as you wind your way back down the highway after spending a day in the sun, there is the “Crystal Cove Promenade” shopping center with clothing stores such as The Gap and Banana Republic, as well as the luxurious restaurant Javier’s. Be sure to drop by the Pacific Whey and Café & Baking Company eatery to grab a decadent bite of their chocolate cake (freshly baked everyday!) and a cup of coffee to unwind after your adventurous day.

If you’re interested in shopping in the Promenade during the day, I recommend grabbing a bite to eat at the same restaurant, but be sure to check out their breakfast menu of omelets and other breakfast entrees. Delicioso!

Suicide Hill

Another one of my favorite places about Irvine is a place called Suicide Hill — a misnomer. Although the name sounds awfully morbid and deterring, it is one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been to. Located in a residential neighborhood, Suicide Hill is a magnificent hilltop that affords a view of all of Irvine. On a clear day, one can see all the way out to the ocean breaking along the shoreline.

Climbing up Suicide Hill does require a bit of walking, and it will definitely tone your legs due to the slight incline, but the view is indescribable – it’s more of a feeling, an experience that cannot be expressed through words.

The tracks of houses, the outlines of the urban planning and streets that wind its way through the city are easily spotted below. Suicide Hill is the highest point in Irvine, and as day changes into night, the houses below flicker on their lights.

The Anti-Lab Mall

If you are looking for an ideal place to shop but are tired of The Irvine Spectrum and Fashion Island, then you’re in luck – The Anti-Lab Mall, located in Costa Mesa is not your average shopping mall.

Immersed with artistic paintings and creative graffiti, this lively shopping center has the largest Urban Outfitters in Irvine, the thrift shop Buffalo Exchange, American Apparel and other small stores.

With all this, the Anti-Lab Mall is a place that often satisfies my demand for a place to shop without encountering all the nonsense of long lines and overcrowding.

While you’re there, be sure to dine for dinner at The Gypsy Den. However, if you’re in the mood for something newly palatable and exquisite, I recommend going to a small place called Native Foods, which serves 100 percent vegan food but actually offers entrees that taste exactly like meat.

During your first time there, Native Foods lets you have a drink on the house, which is your opportunity to try each of their refreshing custom-made drinks, including pure watermelon juice as well as iced tea: they are incredible flavors unlike anything I have ever tried before.

It’s a perfect eatery to go to with a homey feel, located in Costa Mesa and fairly close to The Anti-Lab Mall. Happy hours are on Fridays from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. and all appetizers are half price. Bon appetite!

Sprinkles

Ah, Sprinkles. It is a magical world that will surprise your taste buds and cause you to fall under its spell of astounding, buttery cupcakes.

Located in Newport Beach a few minutes away from Fashion Island, Sprinkles is a small but ever so popular cupcake bakery, with exquisite flavors such as brown sugar praline, banana and chocolate marshmallows.

The most popular flavors offered are red velvet cake and vanilla milk chocolate.

Each cupcake is frosted with a smooth, enriched frosting and anointed with the signature Sprinkles icon on top, the icing on the (cup)cake, pun intended.

Each cupcake is $3.25 but the “wow” factor contained in each magical bite will leave you with nothing except happy, positive thoughts. Willy Wonka and his Chocolate Factory surely must not be fictional, because the creation of these cupcakes can only be a product of something mysteriously out of this world.

Sprinkles is the top-notch place to go to satisfy your sweet tooth cravings – it’s sugar and spice and everything nice.