Irvine

Best Non-threatening Skate Experience Active Ride Shop. Sometimes you just want to hug a skater and get a hug back, and for that you take your 4- to 25-year-old here for all the commercially sanitized skate gear you can shake a deck at. I say that like it's a bad thing, but Steve Alba can havethe peely vintage tees, the empty pools in the boonies and the tetanus shots. We'll rock the curb outside our house—and some skinny purple cords. 3851 Alton Pkwy., Stes. C and D, Irvine, (949) 955-1058.

Best Mitigating Factor Jack-in-the-Box. Fast food destroys the environment. Solar power saves the environment. So standing inside a solar-powered Jack restaurant is the perfect way to balance the guilt you feel at eating detritus for dinner. Also, the franchise owner, John Lin, runs his Mercedes (bio-diesel) on its used vegetable oil. Everyone wins. 4289 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 823-8983.

Best Private Parties Jimmy Z Grill. Jimmy Z is Jimmy Parvin, former owner/chef of Forty Carrots in South Coast Plaza: an Iranian, married to a Californian, who has projected his marriage onto his menu: American cuisine with a Persian sensibility. Jimmy's other brilliant idea is to eagerly host private parties—with one caveat: the place is still open to the public for a bargain $10 cover, making them apparently semiprivate parties. Who cares? It's still great food, good ambiance, hookahs, fire—all life's pleasures at hand. 4517 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 737-6700.

Best Scandal Great Park, brought to you by Larry Agran. When Irvine's token liberal politician first proposed replacing the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station with a park to rival New York's Central Park, it seemed the perfect response to what the county had in mind: the nation's fifth-largest airport. And so came much ado about rolling hills, meadows, tree-lined walks, the Bronx Zoo—except now it's becoming increasingly obvious we'll actually get less park and more great housing and shopping. And Agran's friends will likely have a disproportionately great role in its construction. The Weekly has revealed three people with Agran ties who have started five businesses geared specifically to capitalize on the Great Park—and critics caught Agran's top adviser, Ed Dornan, promising to comp a partisan poll in the 2004 mayoral election. How the mighty have fallen . . . Great Park Conservancy, 1100 Irvine Blvd., Irvine, (714) 544-5410.

Best Miniature Golf Boomers! You can't miss this gigantic pink castle jutting out of the ice plant next to the 405, and there aren't many finer escapes from reality to be had. Stay till midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, then wander over to Irvine Lanes for cosmo bowling. 3405 Michelson Dr., Irvine, (949) 559-8341.

Best Bike Path Path from Sand Canyon to Portola Parkway. This section of bike path is short, but a good connector to other trails. Beginning at Sand Canyon, follow the path as it parallels the train tracks. Cross Jeffrey Road and continue to Harvard Avenue. From here, take a short dogleg to the right, cross the train tracks, and pick up the path again on the other side of Harvard. Continue for several miles and end up on Portola Parkway. If you turn left on Portola and right on Jamboree Road, you can climb for several miles and reach Santiago Canyon.

Best New Bike Ride Quail Hill Bike Trail. This relatively new trail cuts through the Shady Canyon. Short in length, it is mostly valuable as a connector between Irvine and Corona del Mar (via Bonita Canyon and Newport Coast drives). Begin at the intersection of Sand Canyon and Quail Hill. Follow the bike path up a steep climb and then through Shady Canyon. Construction is being completed on a pedestrian bridge (over the 405 freeway) that will allow you to ride from Shady Canyon to the San Diego Creek bike trail.

Best Dim Sum China Garden. Tastiest, plain and simple; worth waiting for one of those little carts to bring you a bellyful of cha shu bao (sweet barbecue pork bun) and the obligatory oolong tea. Also, the de rigueur fortune cookie, which isn't even Chinese. 14825 Jeffrey Rd., Irvine, (949) 653-9988.



Photo by Alex Brant-Zawadzki

Best Place to Farm Tanaka Farms. A true landmark, and not just because its strawberries ooze wonderful juices or because its tours teach county kiddies about farm life. It's run by the Tanaka clan, one of many Japanese-American farming families that are Orange County's last ties to its agricultural past. The farm's primo location in Irvine—you can see Fashion Island from the highest hill—is a stubborn, beautiful patch of undeveloped territory in the face of the ever-enveloping Irvine Company. And its manager Aimee Buck has the most infectious laugh since Krusty the Klown. 53803/4 University Dr., Irvine, (949) 653-2100; www.tanakafarms.com.

Best Secret Genius Breeding Pens University High School (whose mascot is either the Trojans or the Philosophes, can't remember) is ranked No. 53 in the nation—No. 4 in the state—for brains. They've got 35 National Merit Scholars for 2005-2006, and their most recent SAT results were the best of any school in the county. Whatever they're putting in the drinking fountains, it's warping Irvine's mental mojo something terrible. 4771 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 936-7600.

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