By Eli Heller
Throughout my time at UCI, I have found that most students are generally happy with their decision to attend UCI. Yet among all students, there seems to be a recurring frustration with Orange County in general: there is nothing to do! “I eventually chose UCI because of its pretty campus, nice dorms, and great program for my major. I’m excited! But I’m still worried that it might be boring on the weekends. I’ve heard there is nothing to do in Irvine…” says an incoming freshman, just weeks before her first days at UCI. Flash forward six months: She’s browsing the latest fashions at the South Coast Plaza Mall in Costa Mesa. She’s walking down Newport Pier in Newport Beach –her long hair bathed in the rich Southern California sun. She’s staring into the ocean from an art gallery in picturesque Laguna Beach. She’s chowing-down on a freshly made taco from Chronic Tacos. In each of these instances, she’s wondering how she ever perceived Orange County as a boring place, and is feeling very lucky to be a UCI student.
UCI has been historically known as a commuter campus. Originally established as part of a planned community, with the intention of accommodating the surrounding neighborhoods, many of UCI’s current students commute to school, or live less than twenty minutes away. The university has successfully retained its reputation as a school from which many go home for the weekends, leaving the campus deserted and lonely. However, there are those that do not commute, including students from Northern California and those from other states. As a result, there is always someone to hang out with on the weekends. There are also a large number of exciting possible destinations for Irvine inhabitants, located in both Irvine itself and the surrounding area.
It is safe to say that students who live on a college campus often enjoy the same activities they did when they lived at home, prior to attending their respective universities. They go to the movies, eat dinner in restaurants, shop in malls, tan on beaches, or party with their friends. With a thirst for adventure and a fifteen-minute drive, all of these activities, and more, can be enjoyed in Irvine.
South Coast Plaza, one of the largest malls in the country, located in scenic Costa Mesa, can quench anyone’s everlasting thirst for unique new styles. High-end, high-heeled shoppers with short skirts, Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses, Coach bags, hundred-dollar haircuts and perfectly made-up faces strut through the main walkways. Men in fancy attire search for crisp new suits to wear to work. A variety of gourmet restaurants are evenly dispersed throughout the mall as well. Though many of the stores are quite pricey, the mall also contains stores such as H&M and American Eagle, which attract a younger, more money-conscious group of individuals. For those who prefer a less opulent shopping experience, there’s The Lab, an “Anti-Mall” down the street from South Coast Plaza. Thrift stores such as Buffalo Exchange are located here, as well as the ever-popular Urban Outfitters, and a funky Hipster-style café called the Gypsy’s Den. The Gypsy’s Den is one of many popular restaurants in Costa Mesa.
“When I go out, I usually go to Yardhouse in Costa Mesa for beer and nachos. Yardhouse plays classic rock, has a great selection of beer, and the atmosphere is nice,” says senior Kelsey Duckstad.
Another quick 15-minute-drive from the Irvine campus, this time down Pacific Coast Highway, and you’re in the beautiful city of Newport Beach, minutes away from Newport Pier, Newport Harbor, and a number of unique restaurants. At Cappy’s Café, located on Pacific Coast Highway, beach blonde waitresses in booty shorts and push-up bras will serve you steaming hot omelettes and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Il Faro has some of the most authentic Italian cuisine around. Looking for a romantic location to take a first date out to dinner? Look no further than Balboa Island, a straight shot down Jamboree Road, with some of the most romantic cafes and viewpoints in the area.
“My first year at UC Irvine, my RA took us to Balboa Island. We rode our bikes there in less than 20 minutes. There’s a lot you can do there like some light shopping, eating fairly inexpensive food and you can even take a short ferry ride to Newport and go to the beach,” recalls second year Alex Chan.
Other beaches located within a fifteen minute driving distance include Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach. Both have distinct cultures that are fun to absorb in a weekend visit. Koffee Klatch in Laguna Beach, an artsy coffee shop complete with cozy purple couches, old-fashioned curtains, antique chairs and tables, and a relaxing outdoor seating area is a pleasant place to enjoy a quiet cup of Joe.
“I love walking down the boardwalk in Huntington Beach, says third year Whitney Johnson. “It is full of culture and beautiful views.”
Two large shopping centers—The District in Tustin and The Spectrum in Irvine, the latter making use of 21 movie screens– provide many movie options for your viewing pleasure, as well as popular clothing stores, department stores, and restaurants galore. Some of the most popular restaurant and clothing store chains can be found in these two large outdoor shopping centers.
But wait, there’s more!
“The Back Bay Trail!” remarks second year Jasreen Gupta. It’s right across from Mesa Court and it’s a ten-mile trail. Once you run about three or four miles in, you approach this lake, and it’s literally the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. The sun gleams down on the water at sunset and I just like to call it my Zen because it is so peaceful and inspiring,” Gupta says.
“Irvine is the suburb city of Hollywood, Newport, Laguna, and San Diego,” explains third year Benjamin West. “If you look for fun, you’ll find fun. Venice Beach is a personal favorite of mine. Such a beautiful beach and crazy atmosphere there!”
Even commuters agree that there are plenty of ways to have fun here. Third year Political Science major Ryan Jenner, who commutes to UCI from his home in Mission Viejo, had a lot to say regarding his activities in the area.
“My favorite spot to go in Irvine is probably The Spectrum. You can usually see some familiar faces there at night. In the surrounding area, there’s always The Village hookah bar, which is the latest shop open within 15 minutes of UC Irvine. This is my favorite place to go because it is the only place you can go when you get out of class late and don’t feel like going home” Jenner said.
Concerning Irvine’s reputation as boring, Jenner offered a contrasting view: “I don’t think Irvine is a boring place to go to school in, you just have to know how to get around and know where the hot spots are. UC Irvine is the only school that you can drive to LA, San Diego, hit the snow up in Big Bear, or go to any beach along the coast within an hour of driving or less. I think it’s great and no other school really offers that many options. If I didn’t commute it would actually be more boring because it’s so hard to get around Irvine and Orange County without a car,” he remarked.
There you have it—the one catch to keeping yourself amused in Irvine—having a car. Yet many students, commuters and non-commuters alike, own cars and are more than willing to share them. It is extremely rare for one not to have at least one good friend with a car on campus. Overall, enjoying oneself in Irvine is easily achievable with a good attitude and a desire to explore.
To prospective students: If you think Irvine is too boring for your tastes, think again! Keep in mind that choosing not to attend UCI would mean missing out on a wide range of possible captivating activities, places to go, and fun to be had.
To current students: I hope this article relieves your self-induced boredom.