Surf City USA Day Trip – 7 Family Friendly Things To Do in Huntington Beach

StillLivingTheDream.com

While you can definitely fill a full week relaxing in Huntington Beach, California, if you only have a limited amount of time to play in Surf City USA, no worries. We have the perfect itinerary for a full day of family-friendly fun in this casual and cool Pacific Coast community.

My family and I stayed in the beautiful Irvine and Costa Mesa areas while visiting Southern California this summer, the perfect home base for a vacation in Orange County. The Costa Mesa Marriott is 10 minutes from Huntington Beach, so we had just a short, 20-minute drive back to the hotel after a full day of fun. For information about things to do in the Irvine and Costa Mesa areas, be sure to visit my post: Family Travel – Fun Things to Do in Irvine, California #OrangeCounty.

Our friends at Visit Huntington Beach hosted our visit for the day and helped us coordinate a schedule that included a combination of water sports, good food and relaxation that was perfect for me, my 10-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son. If you are planning a girl’s getaway, romantic weekend or vacation with younger kids, they have a lot of other ideas about things to do in the area – so be sure to check them out for ideas before you arrive.

A DAY IN HUNTINGTON BEACH

stilllivingthedream.com

1. Learn to Surf – When in Surf City USA, you gotta surf! After all, Huntington Beach has the most consistent waves on the West Coast. If you don’t know how to hang 10, surf lessons from Toes On The Noes is the perfect thing to do in Huntington Beach.

Located at the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa in the Retail Courtyard, Toes On The Nose offers lessons for those of ages 6 and up with any level of experience. As first timers – we were so excited about the opportunity to hit the waves with a little help from the pros. 

StillLivingTheDream.com

After putting on wetsuits (provided by Toes On The Nose), we walked across the street from the hotel to the beach with our two instructors, Brock and Paul. Our 2-hour morning lesson started with a brief explanation about technique and we practiced going from the paddling position to standing on our surf boards while we were still on the sand.

stilllivingthedream.com

stilllivingthedream.com

StillLivingTheDream.com

Then we hit the water. Jackson went up immediately and Annie was soon to follow. It took a few more tries for me – but it turns out you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. I wasn’t going to win an award for style, but I had a blast riding a wave all the way in to the beach.

StillLivingTheDream.com

Brock and Paul were so patient and nice. They’ve both been surfing for a long time, especially Brock who started surfing when he was just a little one in preschool. It’s clear they are in their happy place when in the ocean. Even though they are clearly very experienced, they seemed to really enjoy surfing with us rookies and were excited for us when we got up on our boards. We all enjoyed getting to know them…it’s always awesome to meet people who are living their dream.

StillLivingTheDream.com

After a while, it was clear that Jackson was really progressing quickly. Brock took him out to work one-on-one with him so he could experience as much as possible before the end of our lesson. It was so fun to watch Jackson feel the thrill of catching waves on his own. While Paul and I watched him from the beach, Paul told me that he could tell he had the bug. Paul got it when he was 13 years old and has been hooked on surfing ever since. He could tell Jackson was heading there.

Jackson stood a little taller when Brock and Paul asked him to come see them next time we visited Huntington Beach so they could go surfing together again.

StillLivingTheDream.com

While surf lessons are a bit of a splurge – it’s totally worth it if you’ve never done it before. I also felt so much more comfortable knowing the kids had experienced surfers with them who knew about rip currents and how to be safe while having fun. Our instructors really maximized our time in the water, giving us the chance to catch waves immediately by telling us when to pop up…timing is everything.

stilllivingthedream.com

StillLivingTheDream.com

Many thanks to Brock and Paul and Toes On The Noes for an epic morning.

Jackson said it was lit.

StillLivingTheDream.com

2. Ride Bikes Down the Boardwalk – After your surf lessons, rent bikes at Toes On The Noes (they also offer hourly and daily bike rentals) and cruise down the Boardwalk. There’s an 8.5 mile paved beach path perfect for pedaling around. It’s a great way to soak in the sun, the views and the relaxing vibe of Huntington Beach and the Pacific Ocean. We worked up an appetite after hitting the waves, so we rode our bikes from the Hyatt to Sandy’s Beach Grill for lunch. Bike rentals come with locks and you’ll find bike racks all along the paved path, so you can stop to shop or eat or just relax on the sand.

StillLivingTheDream.com

3. Have Lunch at Sandy’s Beach Grill – While on your bike ride down the boardwalk – stop in Sandy’s for a bite to eat. This casual restaurant serves authentic California cuisine and is right by the iconic Huntington Pier. We had delicious scallops and mushroom flatbread at a table with a great view of the ocean. It was so yummy and relaxing and we were able to lock our bikes up on a bike rack right outside the restaurant. Check out my full review of Sandy’s Beach Grill in the post, 8 Great Restaurants in Orange County.

StillLivingTheDream.com

4. Stand Up Paddleboarding at Huntington Harbor with OEX Sunset Beach. We fell in love with Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) last year in Florida. So much so, that we bought our own paddleboard before we left Sandestine! We don’t get the chance to go out as often as we’d like in Houston, so whenever we are by the water – we always try to squeeze in some time to SUP. OEX Sunset Beach, a kayak and SUP rental shop only a short drive down the Pacific Coast Highway from Sandy’s Grill, is a great place to grab a board and get on the water.

StillLivingtheDream.com

Since we’ve been stand up paddleboarding before, we each got our own paddleboard – but two people can easily fit on one board if you are new to the sport and have younger kids. OEX Sunset Beach also offers lessons if you want to learn before you head out on your own, but SUP is really easy…you just have to find your balance. While it’s a lot of fun, relaxing and a great way to explore – it’s also a great workout. We went out around 3:30 p.m. so we had two hours to play. OEX Sunset Beach closes at 5:30, so all kayakers and paddleboarders have to be in by then.

The harbor is beautiful and there were a lot of kayakers and paddleboarders out on the water. We had fun exploring the area and looking at the boats and homes along the way. Paddleboarding is very calming to me. I love falling into the rhythm of paddling as I glide across the water. The kids love it, too. It’s a great way to see the water from a different perspective and while we didn’t talk a lot – it’s fun to experience SUP together with your family.

We went pretty far out, around several bends in the Harbor and before we knew it, it was time to head back. It was a little windier then we anticipated and because we were going against the wind on the way back, we made it back with only about 10 minutes to spare! With tired arms, tighter abs and full hearts – we turned in our equipment.

Tip: Parking is limited in their parking lot but you can park for free along the highway. You can also store your valuables in the shop (car keys, etc.) so you don’t have to worry about taking things on the paddleboard.

5. Shop at Pacific City If you have time and want to do some shopping, Pacific City is a fun place to visit. Right on the Pacific Coast Highway – they have big stores like Free People and LUSH (our favorite bath products!) as well as smaller specialty shops. We went after we finished SUP and before dinner and really enjoyed CherryHills Market. They also have restaurants and live entertainment. While we just visited for an hour, we could have been here much longer.

StillLIvingTheDream.com

6. Eat Dinner at Cucina Alessa – Just a short drive from the Boardwalk to Main Street is a delicious Italian restaurant, perfect for dinner. While you don’t want to wear a bathing suit or cut offs, it’s not too fancy. We were very comfortable. Jackson got lasagna, I ordered lobster ravioli and Annie had pasta with grilled shrimp and everything was delicious. We heard that all their handmade pastas are yummy – especially the Butternut Squash Ravioli. For a full review about Cucina Alessa, see my post: 8 Great Restaurants in Orange County.

StillLivingTheDream.com

7. Bonfire on the Beach – While there are several public fire pits available for use on a first come, first serve basis on the beach each evening, there’s a special area across the street from and between the Hilton and Hyatt hotels where you can reserve a private bonfire. Waterfront Adventures, part of the The Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, allows you to enjoy watching the sunset on the beach and making s’mores by the fire without any of the fuss. They provide the beach chairs, fire pit, wood, soft drinks and water, and all the fixin’s for s’mores.

StillLivingTheDream.com

This was an amazing way to end the day. We just showed up on the beach and checked in with the attendant at about 8:30 p.m. Our private fire pit was already set up. During the evening he continually checked on us and kept the fire going so all we had to do was get comfortable and curl up by the fire. We loved visiting together about our Huntington Beach adventures in such beautiful surroundings.

StillLivingTheDream.com

Tip: Be aware that the beach closes for everyone at 10:00 p.m. Starting at about 9:45 p.m. police vehicles begin to patrol the beach – so be prepared to pack up or pay a fine!

The kids happily dozed off during our ride back to Costa Mesa after the Bonfire. Before they were out like a light, both of them smiled and said…”Today was the best day. Ever.”

So, yeah. This mom’s kinda loving Huntington Beach.

What is your favorite thing to do in Orange County?

As guests of  Visit Huntington Beach our meals and activities were provided in order for us to experience Surf City USA area attractions. No other compensation was received and, as always, all opinions expressed are my own or taken from input received from my kids.

Share

8 Great Restaurants in Orange County

StillLivingTheDream.com

When planning a family vacation, I pack our itinerary with fun things to do, but don’t always have a lot of ideas about where to go eat. Dining can be an event in itself and is a great way to soak in the local scene as well as fuel up – so I try to find fun restaurants that are different, offer food and drinks that are unique to the region and/or are where the locals like to go, but if we wait too late to make a decision – we end up going somewhere “safe” like a chain restaurant that we have back home.

You don’t want to be around me when I’m hangry!

How to find a good restaurant when you are on vacation:

1. Before leaving for your trip, ask friends who have been to where you’re going (or those that live there) where they recommend going.

2. Look online. I got a lot of great dining ideas from the folks at Destination Irvine and Visit Huntington Beach/Surf City USA who also helped coordinate some of our activities in Orange County. Other great resources that were helpful while I planned my Orange County vacation were Travel Costa Mesa and Visit Laguna BeachI highly recommend visiting these sites to prepare for your perfect Southern California family vacation as well as blogs and travel review sites specific to Orange County, California.

3. Ask those you meet during your trip. When we were in Laguna Beach, we stopped in the Visitor’s Center to get some ideas about when low tide was that day and where the best tide pools were. While talking to Peggy, we mentioned that we were going to dine at a well known restaurant overlooking the ocean. She said that it was good, but always busy, very expensive and a little more formal than what we were looking for. She suggested we go to The Cliff Restaurant, which was more casual, less expensive and great for kids…with the same awesome view.

If you are going to Orange County, here are a couple ideas to get you started. These were our favorite restaurants we visited during our 6-day family vacation to Southern California.

StillLivingTheDream.com

1. Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine and Cocktails – Irvine

We LOVE this restaurant. Located just 1/2 mile from the Embassy Suites Irvine and the John Wayne Orange County airport, Andrei’s Executive Chef Yves Fournier uses fresh, local and organically grown produce and naturally raised meats and sustainable seafood to create a “Conscious, California Cuisine” menu with Mediterranean flair.

StillLivingTheDream.com

You can’t go wrong with any menu item – but you must…I repeat…YOU MUST start with an order of the homemade chips.

Heaven.

StillLivingTheDream.com

For lunch, I had the Pacific scallops with organic yellow corn goat cheese risotto, avocado emulsion and oven roasted baby carrots. I just can’t even describe how yummy this dish was. I swear it wasn’t Andrei’s Summer In Provence cocktail talking (champagne with lavender essence and white grape juice).

StillLivingTheDream.com

Which was also…Amazing.

Jackson ordered a new dish to the menu – the Quail Ravioli: free range quail, ricotta and sage ravioli, sundried tomato, pancetta, fava beans, burley buss cheddar and braising jus. I was pretty impressed that my 14-year-old ordered this… and he loved it. My 10-year-old picky eater who is slightly less adventurous was as happy as a clam to see a kid’s menu with items she knows and loves (if you happen to have a “I only like pizza and chicken nuggets” eater – you know what I mean!)

Then there’s dessert.

StillLivingTheDream.com

Andrei’s had me at Warm Beignets.

StillLivingTheDream.com

But then they brought out the accompanying tray of homemade chocolate and caramel sauces with whipped cream and I suddenly understood why locals went loco when they tried to remove this item from the menu a while back.

In addition to outstanding food and comfortably sophisticated surroundings (I just came up with that description. I’m feeling like a J. Peterman catalog writer!), what makes this restaurant truly unique is the story behind it. After the owner’s son, Andrei, was diagnosed with a retinal eye disease, he embraced a healthful diet comprised of organic and locally sourced food. He dreamed of opening a restaurant, but he passed away after being involved in a car accident in his 20’s. To honor his memory, Andrei’s was opened in 2009 and 100% of the restaurant’s net profits benefit The Andrei Foundation, which supports many charitable causes and organizations.

What a beautiful way to honor his life.

When you visit Andrei’s, ask for Rob (he’s orginally from Liverpool). He was our server and was absolutely fabulous and fun. If you ask – he’ll send out Chef Yves so you can gush over the meal (and you will). Chef Yves, who is from Paris, is pretty fabulous, too. In addition to a great regular menu…he also whips up some fun offerings. For example, from July 8 – 16th, they had French Week with several special entrees and desserts that looked tres bien. We were sorry to miss it.

After talking to Rob and Yves together with their accents and stories from home, we felt like quite the international travelers. My kids and I agreed that if we lived in Irvine, we would be great friends with both of them and their families.

Seriously – go to Andrei’s and tell them we said hello and we miss them. And eat a beignet for me.

StillLivingTheDream.com

2. 85 C Bakery and Cafe– Irvine

If you like pastries, then get yourself to Diamond Jamboree, a multicultural dining plaza in Orange County, and visit 85 C.  We fell so hard for this delicious Taiwanese bakery, we went back twice for breakfast on the go. When you enter, you grab a tray and tongs and serve yourself to the huge selection of goodies like sponge cakes, mango and chocolate breads and egg custard tarts. Jackson and Annie loved the iced chocolate milk drinks as well. If you are anywhere near Irvine, visit 85 C Bakery.

Just do it.

Unfamiliar with the different pastries? Just grab a couple that look good…you can’t go wrong. You’ll thank me later. Now that I’m hooked, I’m so sad we don’t have one in Houston.

StillLivingTheDream.com

3. Honey & Butter Macarons – Irvine Spectrum Shopping Center

Rob at Andrei’s told us to be sure to grab a macaron from Honey & Butter and we were so glad we listened to him. They were as cute as they were delicious. Annie was THRILLED to score the last pig-shaped macaron (she’s crazy for micro pigs). Check out my previous post about fun things to do in Irvine for more about Honey & Butter.

StillLIvingTheDream.com

4. Cucina Alessa – Huntington Beach

I can’t wait to tell you all about our adventures in Huntington Beach. Stay tuned for an upcoming post about what to do in a day at Surf City USA. We had the best day. EVER.

(Spoiler alert) – Eat at Cucina Alessa. We had dinner at this quaint Italian restaurant on Main Street just a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the Boardwalk. What a great way to end a day in the sun…relaxing with a glass of Pinot Grigo, delicious food and my kiddos.

StillLivingTheDream.com

We started out with the Nodini – fresh Mozzarella, aromatic focaccia breadcrumbs, lightly fried, served with pomodoro basil sauce.

I had the Ravioli D’Aragosta (Lobster, fennel, sherry reduction stuffed ravioli, vodka cream sauce), Jackson had Lasagna Napoletana (Original recipe, ricotta cheese, mini-meatballs, ragu’, mozzarella, and basil) and Annie had pasta with grilled shrimp.

Tip: We were all so thrilled with our selections, we didn’t leave room to enjoy dessert. Be sure to pace yourself (and package leftovers to enjoy for lunch the next day) so you can get the tiramisu or creme brulee.

StillLivingTheDream.com

5. Sandy’s Beach Grill – Huntington Beach

After learning how to surf at Huntington Beach – we rode bikes we borrowed from Toes on the Nose (located at the Hilton) to grab a bite to eat for lunch at Sandy’s Beach Grill. Just a short bike ride down the boardwalk, Sandy’s offers authentic California cuisine with locally sourced ingredients. Located right by the Huntington Pier and below Duke’s, we ate outside with a great view of the beach. It was so relaxing and yummy.

stillLivingthedream.com

Jackson loved the mushroom flatbread. I devoured the seared scallops with yam medallions and sage brown butter and Annie ordered the kid’s cheese pizza (I’m telling you – she is nothing if not consistent!)

stilllivingthedream.com

We loved this casual restaurant because of the great service, super location and yummy food.

Tip: Try Sandy’s Surf Burger (shrimp and tuna cake instead of beef). We hear it is to die for!

StillLivingTheDream.com

6. Medieval Times – Buena Park

While staying at the Costa Mesa Marriott, we visited Buena Park to attend a 7:15 p.m. dinner jousting show at Medieval Times. We live in Houston and there is a Medieval Times in Dallas that we’ve always wanted to go to, but never had the opportunity – so we were really excited.

StillLivingTheDream.com

This 2-hour jousting tournament complete with horses, knights and a falcon also includes a 4-course dinner. When we arrived, we were assigned a table and knight to cheer for (the green knight) and given green paper crowns. We got our picture taken with the Queen (you can purchase photos at the end of the show) and while we waited for the doors to the arena to open, we walked around the Hall of Arms where you can see the weapons, coat of arms, horses and the falcon up close. They also have a bar where you can purchase refreshments in souvenir cups as well as a gift shop with all things medieval.

StillLivingTheDream.com

Trumpets sound, the doors open to the 11th-Century, European-Style Castle, and you are escorted to your table in the color coded area that matches your knight. As a guest of the King, we watched knights engage in a jousting competition using weapons including a sword, lance, alabarda and mace. We also experienced a falcon flying over our heads and a dressage show performed by Andalusian horses.

We had a great time. While you know that the sword fighting is rehearsed, they take great care to make sure the show is authentic while protecting the performers and animals.

StillLivingTheDream.com

I’ve heard great things about the show, but didn’t know what to expect from the meal itself since the same thing is served to everyone. We were pleasantly surprised! It included tomato bisque soup with garlic toast, roasted chicken with buttered corn on the cob and potatoes and an apple turnover for dessert. The chicken was really good (my picker eater cleaned her entire plate!) and we liked dipping our garlic toast in the tomato bisque. The old school apple turnovers reminded me of when I was younger and I may or may not have stolen a couple bites from Annie’s dessert (I mean – it was dark in there so no one actually SAW me eat anything!)

StillLivingTheDream.com

Tip: Arrive early to get your seat assignment and walk around the garden and castle. A lot of families upgraded their tickets (there are several packages to pick from) which include a group photo, premiere seating and a flag to wave in honor of your knight. Even though we had the standard tickets, we were able to buy a green knight flag for $5.00 so we could join in and show our “green” support!

StillLivingTheDream.com

7. ChocXO – Irvine

While not a restaurant, we definitely ate a lot of great chocolate during our tour of ChocXO. Check out the details in my earlier post, Family Travel – Fun Things To Do In Irvine, California. We loved learning about how chocolate is made and sampling all the yummy goodness. You could probably count a visit here as a meal.

Or two.

The Cliff Restaurant Laguna Beach

8. The Cliff Restaurant – Laguna Beach

We loved Laguna Beach so much, we went back on the last day of our trip to say goodbye to Shaw’s Cove and stop by a few shops in town. Peggy at the visitor’s center had recommended The Cliff Restaurant to us when we visited earlier in the week, so we stopped in and had a wonderful brunch by the ocean.

The Cliff is located within walking distance of Main Beach – so it’s a popular place for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We had tried to go for dinner once earlier in the week, but the wait was too long. We were happy to have some time on our last day to enjoy the good food and fabulous view.

StillLivingTheDream.com

Jackson had eggs and bacon, Annie ordered waffles and I got the California Benedict with crab meat. Everything was really yummy and the portions were generous, so Annie had plenty of waffles to share with me and Jackson!

StillLivingTheDream.com

It was so peaceful to overlook the Pacific Ocean while we talked about our fantastic week together in Orange County. We had such a great time and The Cliff made our vacation even more memorable,

Tip: The Cliff doesn’t accept reservations, but you can call ahead to get your name on the waiting list. I highly recommend doing so – especially for dinner.

What are your favorite restaurants in Orange County?

As a guest of Destination IrvineSurfCityUSA, and Medieval Times some of our expenses were covered in order for us to experience Orange County area restaurants and attractions. We also happily paid for some of our own travel, food and activities during our journey. No other compensation was received and, as always, all opinions expressed are my own or taken from input received from my kids.

Share

Family Travel – Fun Things to Do in Irvine, California #OrangeCounty

Family Fun Things To Do In Irvine, California

Are you planning a family vacation? If your travel plans include California, you don’t want to miss visiting Irvine in Orange County. During my recent 6-day trip to Southern California with my two kids, we found Irvine to be the perfect destination for family-fun as well as a great home-base for several day trips we took to the Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach areas.

Many thanks to the folks at Destination Irvine who set-up travel and coordinated some of the activities during our trip. I highly recommend visiting this site to prepare for your perfect Southern California family vacation.

At the center of Orange County and just minutes from John Wayne Airport, Irvine is a beautiful community filled with shopping, bike trails, good food and fun things to do. I’ll be covering details of places to eat and our day trips in future posts, but first I want to share some tips about what to do in Irvine proper….a fabulous destination in itself!

Where to Stay:

Embassy Suites Irvine

Our home away from home for two days was the Embassy Suites Irvine – Orange County Airport. A comfortable place to rest and relax with plenty of room to spread out, the Embassy Suites, with separate living and bedroom areas great for families, also provides all guests a complimentary made-to-order breakfast each morning (hello omelets!) and snacks and beverages in the evening. We loved playing cards in the atrium before dinner while enjoying refreshments.

Embassy Suites Irvine

Plus – if you are smart enough to schedule some down-time during your vacation (I need to do a better job with this) you can swim in their indoor pool or take advantage of summer programming like a painting class we noticed they were offering on Wednesday evenings. Very cool.

Embassy Suites Irvine

We’ve stayed at Embassy Suites hotels in other states before. In fact, Annie still remembers staying at the one in Dallas when I took her to the American Girl Doll Store for her birthday when she was just five years old. Embassy Suites does a great job of providing consistently great service across their chain of hotels and the Irvine location just went through a $12 million renovation – apparent by the modern furnishings located throughout both the guest rooms and public areas.

Fun Things to Do:

Orange County Great Park and The Great Park Balloon Ride

The Great Park Balloon - Irvine, California

We made a stop here Sunday evening – the first night of our trip. Open Thursday – Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., The Great Park (once a Marine Corps Air Station) is now home to sports fields, a carousel, a farm and food lab with interactive fruits, flowers and vegetable displays (open from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.), a historical hanger with cool exhibitions including two World War II airplanes, a play area and visitor’s center, and probably the most recognizable attraction – the Great Park Balloon.

The helium balloon goes up 400 feet offering views of Irvine; however, wind prevented us from riding it while we were there. Because of this fact (we learned that it hadn’t been able to go up for several evenings the week we were there) and more activities offered earlier in the day then in the evening, I recommend going to The Great Park in the morning/early afternoon.

The Great Park Farm and Food Lab

If I was lucky enough to live in Irvine, I would be out here. A lot. They have a farmer’s market on Sunday mornings and host classes including sports and dance, yoga, photography, art, sustainable gardening, cooking and wellness throughout the year. They also offer activities like movies on the lawn and family craft and play programs. While we were there, a fencing organization was outside practicing. We heard they are building a new ice skating rink including a practice facility for the Anaheim Ducks there as well as well as fields for many different sports. My kids, who both play lacrosse, were happy to hear that lacrosse facilities were included in the plan.

The Great Park, Irvine CA

We were bummed we weren’t able to experience the 15-minute helium balloon ride, but we checked out a frisbee and soccer ball from the visitor’s center at no-charge and had a great time enjoying the sunset and beautiful evening playing together on the lawn.

We are slowly learning that when we travel, we have to be flexible and deal with the unexpected…making the most of the journey as it unfolds naturally. You can plan (and boy do I plan!) but certain things, like the weather, just can’t be helped. Getting stressed out doesn’t make things any better. We ended up having a great time doing something that wasn’t on the itinerary.

Tip: Bring a picnic and make a day at the park if time allows. Visit them online to see about free classes and activities that may be going on during your stay and take advantage of the Farmer’s and Artisan market with food trucks and live entertainment on Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Irvine Spectrum Center

Great Wheel - Irvine Spectrum Center

We learned pretty quickly that there’s no lack of shopping in Orange County. The Irvine Spectrum Center is an outdoor shopping center with two department stores (Nordstrom and Target), many full service and casual restaurants, tons of popular stores, and entertainment including a movie theatre, ferris wheel, carousel, kiddie train, Dave & Busters, and a comedy club.

Great Wheel Irvine Spectrum Center

Since we didn’t get to ride the Great Park Balloon – we were very excited to get a bird’s eye view of Irvine from the Giant Wheel, a ferris wheel in the middle of the shopping area with 52,000 energy-efficient LED lights. On a clear day when at the top, look towards the Santa Monica Mountains (53 miles away) and Downtown LA (40 miles away).

For the record….I was never scared. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Honey and Butter, Irvine

Tip: Visit Honey & Butter for the best darn macarons. Our friend Rob at the fabulous Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine and Cocktails restaurant recommended this to us. (I promise I’ll fill you in about Andrei’s later!) The character macarons are even more delicious than they are adorable. Annie was thrilled to get a Pig macaron – she is nuts about pigs. Other flavors to die for: milk and honey, sea salted caramel, thai tea and matcha. We bought a bag of assorted flavors to take back to the hotel to enjoy later but they were gone before we got back to the car.

Don’t judge….we were on vacation!

Pedego Irvine Electric Bikes

Pedego Electric Bike Irvine

One of the absolute, hands down, top highlights for all of us during our week in California was our tour of Irvine with Bob at Pedego Electric Bicycles. I used to want a Vespa, now I want an electric bike. Bob, the store owner, is awesome. You couldn’t meet a nicer guy who truly loves SOCAL and Irvine.

Amazing bike trails begin literally outside Bob’s store’s door. One of the reasons we all fell in love with Irvine is because it’s truly a bike friendly city. We only experienced a taste of what the area has to offer in terms of trails….it left us wanting to experience more.

Pedego Electric Bike Irvine

These bikes have heavy frames compared to the road/race/triathlon bikes the kids and I are used to – but they are extremely easy to operate. Unlike Houston, Irvine is very hilly so riding up some of the inclines, especially on long rides, can be challenging. On a Pedego, you can either pedal like on a regular bike, stop pedaling and let the electric bike do all the work or do a combination of both. Pedegos can go up to 20 miles per hour and operate with a throttle. These are particularly wonderful if you are recovering from a sports injury (like my recent tendon tear in my leg).

Pedego Electric Bike Irvine

Bob sells bikes as well as rents them and offers guided bike tours. We went out for about 1 1/2 hours and experienced spectacular views along Shady Canyon Trail, University Trail by Quail Hill, Woodbridge Trail, and Turtle Rock Trail. We rode by beautiful homes, water, a golf course and even saw a road runner while we were out. Bob gave us a lot of background information about Irvine during the ride. If you really want to know a city, get out of the car and get on a bike. Irvine trails and Pedego bikes make it easy.

Pedego Electric Bike Irvine

Tip: If you’re shorter than me (I’m 4’10” – about the average size of a 5th grader) then you’ll probably have trouble riding these bikes on your own. But no worries. They have tandem bikes and my 10-year-old daughter, Annie, rode one with Bob (and loved it).

ChocXO Chocolate Factory

ChocXO

I may or may not be in love with chocolate.

Wait. Yes – definitely, yes. And Irvine is home to one of the best Chocolatiers, ChocXO…the only Bean to Bar Chocolate Factory in Orange County.

ChocXO

In addition to a shop full of goodies, ChocXO on Irvine Center Dr. offers 45 minute to 1 hour tours of the factory. For just $10.00 a person you can learn about how they make their specialty chocolate and the tour includes three, free chocolates from their chocolate case as well as samples of raw cacao pulp, cocoa nibs and cocoa liquor. Sasha, our guide, walked us along the educational wall of the factory with windows where we saw the machines they use to make chocolate. She told us what happens before they get their fine flavor cacao beans from Central and South America and what they do with them to make their products.

This tour was especially interesting for us since we just returned home from the Dominican Republic with Fathom Impact Travel were we worked at Chocal, the women’s chocolate co-op in Altamira. Many of the activities we did by hand to assist production at the co-op, like discard the bad beans and separate the shells from the chocolate nibs after they were ground up, are done by sophisticated equipment at ChocXO. It was eye-opening to see how chocolate is made here versus in an undeveloped country. While there are many similarities, ChocXO certainly has the advantage of technology and the chocolate we sampled was unbelievably delicious.

I highly recommend just about any of the chocolate squares and truffles in their chocolate bar. My favorite flavors: birthday cake, lemon meringue, spicy PB&J, salted caramel and creme brulee. You can purchase them while you are there as well as order them online, but sadly – cannot find them in stores in Texas. Sigh.

ChocXO

Tip: Request tour guide, Sasha. She’s fabulous! She’ll give you a ChocXO quiz at the end of the tour and you can score two more free chocolates if you turn it in…especially fun for the kids.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Irvine and Orange County?

Be sure to visit StillLivingTheDream.com again soon for posts about fabulous places to eat and details about our day trips to Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.

As a guest of Destination Irvine, some of our travel related expenses were covered in order for us to experience Orange County area attractions. We also happily paid for some of our own travel, food and activities during our journey. No other compensation was received and, as always, all opinions expressed are my own or taken from input received from my kids.

Share