Nearly 20 years ago, the largest aircraft in the US Military, including Air Force One, landed at the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Irvine. The nearly 5,000 acre airfield featured four runways and was the West Coast home of Marine Corps aviation. Today, the air field is now home to the Orange County Great Park. Owned by The City of Irvine, the park will eventually span 1300 acres, will join America’s inventory of national treasures and set a new standard for metropolitan parks around the world.
At present, The Great Park features a tethered, helium balloon which can hold 30 guests and soars 400 feet into the air, a weekly certified farmers market, a farm and food lab (hands-on gardening), a carousel, a historic hangar, and a brand new sports complex.
Over the weekend, the first phase of the Sports Park opened to the public. When complete, the Sport Park will span 194 acres and will include a softball complex (five fields, a championship stadium, four batting cages), a baseball complex (seven baseball fields, a championship stadium, four batting cages), four basketball courts, six soccer fields, and flex fields (ideal for rugby, cricket, and lacrosse). The Sports Park will be the largest public multisport facility in California and one of the largest in the US.
7 Things to do at the Orange County Great Park
In addition to the Sports Park, you could easily spend a day exploring all there is to see and do at the Orange County Great Park.
- Ride the Great Park Carousel: The Carousel features hand-painted artwork inspired by vintage orange crate labels and scenes from Orange County. The price for a single ride is $2, or ride all-day for $3.
- View the City from the Great Park Balloon: Standing at 118 feet, the Great Park Balloon offers a unique view of the city. On a clear day you can see all the way to the ocean. A single ride is $10 for adults and $5 for kids (free with a paid adult).
- Flex Your Green Thumb: Get hands-on at the Farm + Food Lab, which features a two-acre urban agricultural garden. Themed planters include a “Pizza and Spaghetti Garden,” an “Ethnic Garden,” a “Fruit Salad Garden,” and a “Sensory Garden.” The lab also features a chicken coop, a worm compost bin and solar and wind-powered lights. Open daily, 10 am – 3 pm, free.
- Shop Local at the Farmers Market: Every Sunday, the Great Park Certified Farmers Market sells locally grown produce, handcrafted and artisan products. Bring the entire family out for live entertainment and gourmet food trucks. You will also enjoy health clinics, nutritional seminars and author meet-ups. Sundays 10 am – 2 pm, free.
- Go “Rock” Climbing: The Kids Rock Playground was designed to teach children about conservation ecology and the water cycle. The playground features a group of misting shade structures, climbing rocks, “underground” tunnels, seating made from recycled runway concrete and illustrated lakes/streams on recycled rubber flooring. Free.
- Get Your Game On: Check out free sports equipment including footballs, soccer balls, a Bocce ball set, frisbees and jump ropes, then head over to one of your favorite Great Park spaces to play. Our pick? The South Lawn Sports + Fitness Complex which includes four lighted soccer fields, four basketball courts and a mile-long health and fitness path with interpretive signs and markers.
- “Walk” Through the History of the Great Park. The Walkable Historical Timeline spans 2604 feet and includes 162 significant events that connect the Great Park Balloon, the reflecting ponds and the viewing pier.
Before your visit to the Great Park, check out their calendar of events for workshops, storytime, yoga, parent and me classes, outdoor concerts and more.