One perfect day in Irvine's Great Park

Orange County has its own destination oasis that’s reinventing the grand public park for the 21st century

Point me to the park: It’s smack in the middle of the O.C., near the intersection of the 5 and 405 freeways.

What it used to be: El Toro U.S. Marine Corps Air Station, from 1943 to 1999. And now? 160 acres of green glory have opened since 2007, with 1,187 more acres opening in stages in the years to come.

The park's greatest hits: The art gallery, North Lawn, community gardens, soccer fields, and visitor center.

Forgot your wallet? No biggie—it’s all free. Balloon and carousel rides, movies on the lawn, garden workshops, working farm, outdoor concerts, everything.

Years away: Wetland and forest preserves, cafes, and a military museum.

See the future: The visitor center has completed park renderings.

Ride in the big orange balloon: The park’s iconic balloon puts the orange back in Orange County, and from 400 feet up, you can see forever (or at least most of the O.C.). While it’s not quite an around-the-world-in-80-days ride, the 10-minute float in the tethered balloon’s open-air gondola is utterly charming. Sign-ups at visitor center.

learn more

Chris Alexakisart, parks