Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Irvine, CA

  • Published 2022/11/25

Irvine is a beautiful city in the heart of Orange County in California.

James Irvine founded the city officially formed in 1971; it started as a cluster of lands made for sheep ranching in 1878.

Irvine is known today as one of the country’s biggest master-planned communities.

It is also popular for being among the happiest cities in the country and the gateway to an authentic Southern California trip.

With its convenient location right next to one of the most passenger-friendly airports in the nation, it is no surprise that many tourists visit to check out what Irvine has to offer.

From extraordinary outdoor spaces to extensive shopping centers, you can enjoy exploring various exciting areas in the city!

The best part about Irvine is it has a diverse range of options if you want to have fun in the city without spending a dime!

Don’t worry about leaving your wallet behind because here are the 15 free things to do in Irvine, California:

Enjoy Unparalleled Views of the City on the Great Park Balloon

A Great Park Balloon mid-air

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Soar up high in the sky and take in the breathtaking sight of the whole city by going on a ride on the Great Park Balloon!

The Great Park Balloon is a popular attraction in Great Park on Great Park Boulevard.

This ride is one of the biggest tethered balloons, which contains helium rather than hot air in the country.

It goes up to 400 feet in the sky, letting its riders see the stunning landscape surrounding the area.

Looking up a Great Park Balloon

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This ride will give you a unique perspective from high up, and you’ll be able to see for 40 miles in every direction.

Enjoy unobstructed views of the beautiful city when you try this fun activity.

The best part is that you can ride this balloon without charge!

Make sure to head to the park early since the queue list for this ride fills up quickly.

A Great Park Balloon decorated for Halloween

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Observe Majestic Birds in Their Natural Habitat at IRWD San Joaquin Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary

Swift bird at IRWD San Joaquin Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary

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See extraordinary avian creatures when you visit IRWD San Joaquin Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary.

Located on Riparian Way, IRWD San Joaquin Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary is a haven filled with luscious greenery and local wildlife.

This sanctuary spans over 300 freshwater wetlands with unique plants and extraordinary creatures.

If you want to visit a destination that will allow you to freely immerse yourself in nature and enjoy the beauty of the environment, this is the perfect place for you!

A pelican on the waters of IRWD San Joaquin Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary

Kannan Sundaram /

You can walk through the nature trails and try to spot all the different birds.

This is a great place to go birdwatching because it features over 200 bird species.

You can also snap pictures of the scenic views in the area or unwind under a shady tree as you listen to the soothing sounds of nature.

A heron at IRWD San Joaquin Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary

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Have a Fun-Filled Day with Your Whole Family at Adventure Playground

Take the kids out for an adventurous day and let them explore their wild side at Adventure Playground!

Adventure Playground is a massive play area on Beech Tree Lane that’s filled with numerous amenities.

There are giant bricks that look like Legos, a ping pong table, a large play structure, and even a play area with mud.

If your kids love playing pretend or using their imagination, this is the perfect place to take them.

With its big play structures, you might even find yourself having fun reliving your own childhood!

Collaborate with your kids and build unique structures using the massive Lego bricks.

You can also assume fun characters and engage in role-playing games at the castle-like play structure.

This huge playground offers endless opportunities for fun, so make sure to stop by and spend quality time with your family here!

Snap Photos with the Giant Wheel at Irvine Spectrum Center

Giant ferris wheel at Irvine Spectrum Center

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Head to Irvine Spectrum Center and take pictures with the majestic Giant Wheel ride as your colorful backdrop!

Irvine Spectrum Center is a shopping and entertainment center on Spectrum Center Drive.

It’s popular among the community in the city, and it’s known to be the go-to destination for some retail therapy.

While it features popular brands like Anthropologie, Nordstrom, and Target, many people stop by this center to check out the fun amusement rides, including the iconic Giant Wheel.

Gondolas of Irvine Spectrum Center's ferris wheel

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The Giant Wheel is a Ferris wheel ride that’s considered the focal point of this shopping center.

Standing at 108 feet, the Giant Wheel is illuminated with bright LED lights at night and is surely a sight to behold for all visitors.

Stop by this area and have a quick photoshoot with your friends with this colorful ride as your backdrop!

Note, though, that you have to pay if you wish to ride on the Giant Wheel.

Shops along Irvine Spectrum Center

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Journey into the Great Outdoors at the Trails in Bommer Canyon

Trail at Bommer Canyon

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Lace up your hiking shoes and prepare to explore the gorgeous natural surroundings near the trails in Bommer Canyon!

Accessible on Shady Canyon Drive, Bommer Canyon is a beautiful outdoor area with nature trails anyone can hike.

These trails are also open for mountain biking and horseback riding.

While you explore these trails, you can find historic structures from the old Irvine Ranch Cattle Camp, which used to stand in the area and makes for a great photo opportunity.

Bridge trail at Bommer Canyon

Sueswim03, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Although the trails at Bommer Canyon are described to be moderately challenging, beginners will still enjoy taking on the trails because of the scenic views the area has to offer.

There are also many birds around the area, so you can go birdwatching while roaming the trails.

This is the perfect spot for outdoor enthusiasts who want to spend the day taking on a scenic hike!

Spend Quality Time with Your Loved Ones at Turtle Rock Community Park

Catch up with your friends or family and spend the day outdoors at Turtle Rock Community Park.

Turtle Rock Community Park is a large park on Sunnyhill that houses a community center, tennis courts, and many other amenities.

Here, you can hang out with your loved ones and relax while gazing at the greenery around the area.

Play areas also allow kids to run around and be active.

You can also bring snacks or a full-blown meal and enjoy dining outdoors at one of the picnic tables within the park.

This is a great spot to go if you’re feeling a bit cooped up at home and need some bonding time with your loved ones.

See the Extraordinary Architecture of the Mariners Church

Exterior of the Mariners Church

Steve Cukrov /

Marvel at the beautiful architecture and stunning landscaping of the Mariners Church!

The Mariners Church is a nondenominational Christian institution on Newport Coast Drive.

When you first lay your eyes on this property, you probably won’t think this is a church because of its breathtaking architecture and overall look.

California Construction Magazine has hailed this master church as one of the best in the Worship Category.

If you give this church just one glimpse, you’d probably think it’s a shopping center.

The lawn of Mariners Church

Steve Cukrov /

The Mariners Church features a Worship Center, a Lawn, a Chapel, and even play areas for kids.

There’s also a Youth Building where students can gather for age-specific services.

Explore this church’s grounds and step inside the gorgeous chapel, which features an extraordinary wooden ceiling.

You can also roam around the man-made lake within the premises and take in the scenic landscape of the property.

A chapel at Mariners Church

Steve Cukrov /

Practice Your Slick Boarding Tricks at Harvard Skate Park

Work on your skateboarding skills or enjoy watching other skaters do their thing at Harvard Skate Park.

This skate park is located on Harvard Avenue and is open to the public for free.

Whether a beginner or an experienced skater, you’ll enjoy skating around this place.

With a skating surface of about 10,000 square feet, this park is the best place to practice your tricks!

It features a spine where you can try aerial tricks and a bowl where you can ramp up your speed before soaring into the air.

You don’t have to worry when it gets too dark because lights are installed all around the park, so you can skate all day until the sun goes down!

Pay Homage to the Heroic Veterans of the Nation at Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial

Welcome sign of Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial

Brian MacIntosh, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Take a moment to remember the brave veterans who passed away in Iraq and Afghanistan at Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial.

This memorial on Bryan Avenue was officially dedicated to veterans in 2010 and features marble structures that bear the names of the soldiers and service members lost during the wars.

It’s known by many to be the first-ever permanent memorial that honors fallen service members for their sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Memorials at Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial

Brian MacIntosh, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stop by this memorial and pay your respects to the brave individuals who laid their life for the country.

Read through the inscriptions on the plaques to learn more about the veterans.

If you’re lucky, you may even catch an event that celebrates the life and works of the American service members at this memorial.

The grounds of Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial

Brian MacIntosh, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Gaze at Exceptional Artworks at Jack and Shanaz Langson Institute and Museum of California Art

Spend a day appreciating exquisite works of art by a diverse range of artists at the Jack and Shanaz Langson Institute and Museum of California Art.

This gallery was established by the University of California and can be accessed through the university.

Here, you can set your sights on beautiful artworks, photographs, and many other creations that reflect the stories of the talented artists who made them.

Some of the artworks here also reflect the stances of the creators on certain issues in society, which is a great way to stimulate discussions among other artists and audiences.

Explore this museum with fascinating artworks on display.

You can also ask the museum’s staff members about the artists to learn more about the works in the exhibit.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Although you can already experience a fun-filled trip when you check out all the must-visit destinations in Irvine, there are other exciting places nearby that you can check out.

Explore these places near the city to make your vacation more awesome and unforgettable!

Enter a Wonderland in Downtown Disney District

Rainforest cafe at Downtown Disney District

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Bring your fairytale dreams to life at Downtown Disney District!

Nestled on Disneyland Drive in Anaheim, just 20 minutes from Irvine, this attraction brings excitement to all kids and kids at heart.

Downtown Disney District allows visitors to experience Disney’s captivating and enchanting world without charge.

Dragon sculpture on the LEGO building

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Aside from themed boutiques and restaurants, numerous structures and decor around the district will transport you to a fantasy land.

Make sure to bring your cameras because you’ll want to take photos with all the decor around, which depict some of your favorite Disney characters.

Display in the LEGO building

Kit Leong /

Roam around a Prestigious Cultural Institution at Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Exterior of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts

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Segerstrom Center for the Arts is a must-visit place for artists and art enthusiasts.

Based on Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa, this renowned cultural institution is about eight minutes away from Irvine.

This center holds musical performances, broadway productions, and many other live performances.

Night lights of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts

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Join the tours and explore the stunning campus for free.

During the tour, you’ll be able to roam around the six beautiful venues within the center.

You’ll learn about Segerstrom Hall, marvel at the Samueli Theater, and even catch resident ballerinas training at the Judy Morr Theater.

Interior of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Kit Leong /

Pose with the Extraordinary Sculptures at California Scenario

Bring your friends and spend a day taking fun pictures with the stunning sculptures at California Scenario.

California Scenario, also called Noguchi Garden, is a sculpture garden featuring the works of Japanese artist and sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

This extraordinarily lovely garden is on Anton Boulevard in Costa Mesa, only seven minutes from Irvine.

Each piece in the garden symbolizes the geographical aspects of the state, which explains its name.

The focal point of this garden is the sculpture called The Spirit of the Lima Bean, which represents the artist’s friendship with Henry Segerstrom, a known philanthropist who also commissioned the garden.

Shoot creative pictures and do fun poses with this garden’s unique structures!

Dive into the History of the County at the Old Orange County Courthouse

Exterior of the Old Orange County Courthouse

Steve Cukrov /

If you want to learn more about the history of Irvine and Orange County in general, you should visit the Old Orange County Courthouse.

This courthouse is located on Santa Ana Boulevard in Santa Ana, which is only 14 minutes away from Irvine.

This institution is the oldest courthouse you can find in Southern California, dedicated in 1901.

Interior of the Old Orange County Courthouse

Steve Cukrov /

It has gone through many restorations to preserve its look from over a century ago.

On your visit, you can check out the different gallery exhibitions, which display artifacts that reflect the city’s history and the county.

A chapel in the Old Orange County Courthouse

Steve Cukrov /

Learn about Wildlife Conservation at Fullerton Arboretum

Daytime view of Fullerton Arboretum

Steve Cukrov /

Learn how to care for nature and wildlife when you head to Fullerton Arboretum.

Fullerton Arboretum is a botanical garden that spans 26 acres and is dedicated to educating its visitors about conservation.

This beautiful natural destination can be found on Associated Road in Fullerton, just 20 minutes from Irvine.

Welcome sign of Fullerton Arboretum

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Here, you can explore the gardens and take in the stunning sights of foliage, trees, and blooming flowers.

You can also observe the wildlife in the area and even take pictures of all the animals you can see.

This is a great destination where you can immerse yourself in nature while learning more about it and how to take care of it.

Vibrant flowers at Fullerton Arboretum

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Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a fun day out with friends or a weekend getaway with your loved ones, try visiting Irvine.

Each attraction in the city has a unique and interesting charm you have to experience.

Keep these 15 free things to do in Irvine, California, in mind to make the most out of your visit to the city!

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