Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Orange County - College Visit Weekend Trip


My sister is currently studying in community college and is researching various universities to transfer. I raised the idea to do a quick weekend trip together to Orange County to visit UC Irvine. My hidden motivation was to eat the yummy food in OC! :)

We quickly booked tickets via Southwest. For hotel, there's a new Courtyard Marriott Irvine Spectrum that was pretty reasonable, so I booked that for us. I also rented a car via Advantage (more on that later). The trip was coming together and I was really looking forward to it.

Courtyard Marriott Irvine Spectrum

When I was researching hotels, there were actually plenty of available chain hotels like the Fairmont, Hyatt, Marriott, etc. -- with pretty reasonable weekend rates.

The main reason I booked this hotel was because it was close by the university and was brand new. Even though it's not a luxury hotel, Courtyards are usually pretty decent and the fact that it's brand new was nice. The hotel was located across the street from the Irvine Spectrum outdoor mall. Parking was free of charge and pretty easy to find.

Lobby area

First impression was the newness, and the decor seems to be a bit more sophisticated than the usual Courtyard. There's a large lobby/seating area, and there's a nice outdoor seating area with fire pit.

Nice outdoor area

The room was neutral in color and quite spacious. I liked the color choices in the room which felt more neutral/zen-ish than the typical red/green at the Courtyard.

Courtyard Marriott Irvine Spectrum
Nice seating area

The bathroom included a single sink and shower.


For our quick weekend trip, this was a great choice due to the location, great price, and the hotel being brand new.

Where We Ate in Orange County

Again, one of the main reason we did this trip was to eat :) As usual, there's too many places to eat than what we have slots for, so I have to prioritize!

Ritter's Steam Kettle

Our first stop was Ritter's Steam Kettle Cooking. I heard so much about the Oyster Bar in Vegas, and because of my bad planning when I went to Vegas (putting it off until our last day, and the restaurant happened to be closed! -- even though it's supposed to be open 24/7), I really wanted to try this restaurant by the same owner. We met up with my friend and her adorable daughter.

My friend ordered the baked oyster to share, which was pretty good. Very cheesy + bacon :) Can't go wrong with that.

Baked Oyster

We ordered the famous Combo Pan Roast. The Pan Roast was a creamy, tomato based soup-- reminded me a bit of a gumbo. It was pretty good, but not out of this world. I heard the Oyster Bar's version IS out of this world and is better than Ritter's. So I still have it on my list to try Oyster Bar next time in Vegas.

Combo Pan Roast

My friend got the shrimp po boys and we both thought it was just ok.

Shrimp Poboys

Overall we both liked the Combo Pan Roast. But I still feel like the Combo Pan Roast could be better and I now really have to try it at the original Oyster Bar in Vegas.

Ohshima Japanese Cuisine

A friend suggested Ohshima for good, authentic Japanese food. This restaurant is pretty popular and I had to call a week in advance (they don't take reservations any sooner than that) between 5-5:30 PM to make reservation. 

They told us that they would only hold the reservation for 15 minutes. There was heavy traffic on our way to this place, and we made it just in time. There was already a line when we arrived.

The restaurant was small and did feel pretty authentic (even though the majority of the patrons are Westerners).

We started off with the seared cherry sashimi. I love that this place offers an option to sear your sashimi lightly, which I feel brings out a wonderful flavor.

Seared Cherry Salmon Sashimi

We also ordered their Seared Black Cod which is one of their most famous items as well. Again, it was so yummy! One thing to mention is that they also smear some "special" sauce on top so you don't need to use any soy sauce to dip.

Seared Black Cod

We ordered the 8 piece Omakase to share and everything tasted great and fresh!

8 Piece Omakase

They are also famous for their Uni Spaghetti. I'm a sucker for Japanese pasta so this was definitely something I knew I had to order. It was very creamy (as I like it), and the pasta was cooked al dente. I am actually not a huge fan of Uni (as they have a strong smell), but the Uni on this pasta was probably fresh and didn't have much of a smell so I thought it was delicious!

Uni pasta

Sprinkles Ice Cream

Sprinkles is actually one of my favorite cupcake shops. I especially love their red velvet cupcake. So when looking for dessert places in OC, I was happy to find that they opened an ice cream store! We went to the one in Newport Beach after our massage.

They actually had a huge selection, ranging from ice cream sandwiches with cupcake or cookie!

I ordered the red velvet ice cream with chocolate cupcake sandwich. The red velvet ice cream was actually a little disappointing (considering how good their cupcakes are).

My sister got the cereal ice cream with red velvet cupcake. We both liked hers better :)

Overall it was good to try, but was pretty pricey ~$7-ish per cup.


We definitely fit a lot to eat in 1.5 days. :) The actual UC Irvine campus tour went fine, and I kind of hope she gets in, so I can visit her and try more yummy restaurants!

One thing that was a hiccup was our reservation at Advantage Rental Car. I thought that all rental cars were the same. After our experience this weekend, I will ONLY rent cars from Hertz or Avis. I had such a bad experience (long waiting lines, car not ready and had to wait 45 minutes -- almost missed our campus tour!), and confusion over which car we were getting, and their process was very, very manual. So bye bye random rental car places.

Outside of that one negative, the overall trip was a success.

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