Irvine is one of those California towns that is surrounded by so many other action-packed places, that it often gets overshadowed. Drive your car a few miles and you are headed through Costa Mesa, on the beach in Newport or Laguna, or sitting in the heart of L.A.
After visiting for the first time last March for the Women In Travel Summit, I learned that this overshadowing is most certainly undeserved. That’s why I decided to reach out to Destination Irvine when I learned that my husband’s Dave Matthews Band concert agenda would take to Irvine in August.
The fine folks there helped us organize our weekend and as a result I have three things you must do if you find yourself there in the near future.
Be a Chocolate Person
You know there are people out there who don’t like chocolate, right? Yeah, it surprises me, too. I assure you, I am not one of them.
So that is why I gladly accepted an invitation to tour ChocXO, a bean to bar chocolatier that makes its sweet stuff in Irvine. During the 45 minute tour, our guide took us through the chocolate making process, including sourcing and all the steps it takes to reach our favorite bite of chocolate. It’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
ChocXO sources their high-quality beans from Peru and Ecuador. In addition to some excellent straight-up 70%+ dark chocolate, they make some really creative chocolates as well. At the end of the tour we each got to try 3 truffles.
Insider tip. Go with someone you love and then you can split them and try 6. Heh.
The one closest to the front there was our favorite – spicy peanut butter and jelly. And I’m not even a PB&J fan. There’s a white chocolate birthday cake and a coconut ginger lime chocolate in there, too. Not my usual choices, but samples mean a time to experiment.
The shop has a small bar displaying all the chocolates as well as the option to order coffee drinks. Sitting atop the counter was a sign that my husband spotted before the tour begin. Should you be as addicted to peanut butter and chocolate as I am, you could order a peanut butter cup.
Not just any peanut butter cup. The one peanut butter cup you must try. No exceptions.
What you see here is honey roasted peanuts, ground in front of you into a nut butter. Then it’s topped with ChocXO chocolate sauce. It was recommended that we choose the 80% sauce and I couldn’t agree more. The nuts are sweet, so the slightly bitter dark chocolate was perfect to round out the dessert.
Insider tip. Get the small if you are eating alone. This is the large and was almost too much for the both of us. It’s some rich stuff, but worth every bite.
Relax at the Hotel Irvine
I was first introduced to the Hotel Irvine during that conference I mentioned last March. I still remember checking in and thinking, wow, everyone here is so nice. I think it takes me by surprise these days because it’s rare in hotel stays. It’s a big reason why we use rental services now.
When Destination Irvine let me know that they had arranged a media rate for us at the hotel, I was thrilled that I’d be able to go back and show my husband the place.
This hotel radiates with the feel of a small resort, but with amenities that are incredibly accessible. By accessible, I mean you can head down to their lovely Marketplace that is open 24 hrs and filled with snacks, beer, wine and coffee, and spend the same as you would if you were not at a hotel.
On my first visit, this was the second wow factor for me. I remember browsing their bottles of craft beer thinking how nice it was that everything was so reasonably priced. It’s a sure sign that Hotel Irvine values there guests and wants to keep you there and not send you away hunting for better deals.
The hotel is newly renovated with spacious, comfy rooms. The grounds are beautiful with palms and Birds of Paradise plants around every corner. Upgrades continue with plans to revamp their self-park area for a more efficient flow of traffic.
I can’t say enough good things about the place. My husband and I have already talked about going back, simply for a relaxing weekend.
While we were there, the hotel was kind enough to give us access to Club 12, their indoor and outdoor lounge on the 12th floor. The huge spread of snacks and drinks provided in the evenings was more than enough for our quick dinner. It included these bacon burgers. Y-u-m. They also left us the nicest stash of snacks when we returned from the concert on Saturday. Nice as in macadamia nuts and truffle almonds. Completely spoiled.
And one final note. They are pet-friendly. I feel a pug vacay might be in order.
Eat at EATS
When we travel, we do our best to avoid easily accessible restaurants attached to busy hotels. These places are so often a tastebud death sentence of boring, unappetizing food. They are places to turn to only when you are so exhausted you can’t bare to walk another step.
This could not be further from truth at Eats Kitchen & Bar. This place redefines the hotel restaurant. First, they have California craft beers on tap. Second, the menu. Chef Jason has really worked some magic with the offerings. Not only will his twists on American Classics catch your attention. You will love the Filipino-food touch with the items available.
The hotel hosted us for brunch and from the second we were handed the menu, I knew I would have a tough time choosing. Would it be the Portabello Benedict, the Morning After Burger or the Steak & Tots? Then we spotted the Filipino favorites. Sold.
I had Lugaw. Garlic, ginger and scallion congee topped with chicken and an egg. My husband had the Chicken Adobo. I want every brunch to be like this from here on out.
Oh and did I mention the Bloody Mary bar? Give me a cocktail buffet over a food buffet any day. EATS Bloody Mary Bar allows you to select from house-infused vodka (I got the jalapeno, my husband the cucumber) and then top it with housemade Bloody Mary mix.
Then the fun begins as you stuff as much into it as possible. Or maybe that is just my strategy. I ended up with a masterpiece of shrimp, asparagus, celery, bacon, lemon and lime.
Regardless of whether you are staying at the hotel or passing through, EATS is worth a visit.
If you are headed to the Irvine area soon, try these spots and feel free to send me a note or leave a comment. I’m always thrilled to help with travel suggestions.