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  • Writer's pictureHeidi Waite

Exercise and Outdoor Activities

Calling all beach bums and gym rats!  If you’re anything like me, you’ll find any excuse to go outside or get some exercise. I work in a windowless laboratory and find that I need to get out, get some sunshine, and get my body moving. Exercise and the outdoors are a perfect way to de-stress and have fun. UCI and the areas around Irvine got you covered! 


Exercise opportunities:

The ARC- UCI Gym UCI has a great gym commonly called the ARC ( It has a pool, indoor running track, lots of sports courts (e.g. basketball, tennis, racquetball), soccer fields, a climbing wall, two fitness rooms with cardio equipment and weights, showers & locker rooms, and several exercise rooms for dance practice to name a few. As a UCI graduate student, you can use the gym for free. There are gym classes (e.g. Zumba, cycling) that would require an extra payment (see below, #2). The gym is open 7 days a week except on holidays and non-term time. Hours vary day-by-day, but the gym normally opens at 6 am on most weekdays.  Tips

  • The gym is extremely busy at the start of each quarter. 

  • Busy hours of the day are afternoon and evening. Beat the crowd and head to the gym early (before 8 am)! Friday nights and weekends are also usually less busy. 

  • If you’re like me and like to avoid crowds, there is a smaller workout area upstairs (2nd floor) next to the indoor track that is usually less crowded and tucked away. The area has smaller weights, mats, a few exercise machines, water fountain, and exercise balls.

  • You can use the exercise rooms when there isn’t a class in progress or occupied by another group. I sometimes bike alone or with a few friends in the upstairs cycling room when it’s not in use. You can check the Group Exercise schedule ( to plan around the classes. 

  • Bring your own lock or rent a lock with your student number to use the lockers in the locker room. You can rent locks, towels, and more from a kiosk across from the basketball courts on the ground floor.

Group Exercise classes at the ARC If you like to work out with other people, gym classes may be perfect for you. To learn more about the different classes and how to sign up, see Nailah’s post: Sport and other Activity Lessons @ the ARC (

Do you want to learn to dance salsa? Or maybe, take a Judo class? Perhaps you’d like to give a new sport a try? Or even try to rock climb? The ARC has lessons in dance (ballet, salsa, ballroom, hip hop, jazz, and more!), martial arts (judo, karate, kendo, etc.), sports (boxing, fencing, guitar, tennis, swimming, etc.), and even rock-climbing lessons. These lessons usually range from $40 to $75 for 1 quarter-long lessons about once a week. I personally took the salsa lesson and had a blast! I made several friends through the class. You can sign up for these classes through the ARC website and in the same way you would sign up for group exercise classes. 


Sports: If sports are your thing, why not try intramural sports? ( It’s a great way to meet new people and exercise. Play the stress away! If you prefer to organize your own sports or games with friends, you can use the different courts at the gym. Don’t have your own racquetball racket or basketball? The ARC has sport equipment you can rent short-term.  I have also used websites such as and to find tennis partners. I even posted a notice in the Palo Verde laundry room! 


Outdoor Activities: When I first moved here, I was told I could ski, hike, and go to the beach all in one day! That might be a little bit ambitious, but southern California really does provide all those activities. 

Hiking and Running Irvine and neighboring areas have some great nature spots. I mainly use an app called AllTrails to find the best places to hikes. You can search by location, difficulty, etc. The app will give you a brief description of the hike, what you might see, photos, and comments from previous visitors.  My favorite spots:

  • Bommer Canyon: This is a great nearby and easy hike or trail run. It’s about 2 miles from graduate housing. I run to the trailhead on the sidewalk along the street (Shady Canyon Drive) from my apartment in the Palo Verde housing and then run a few miles into the trail. You will find several other runners, mountain bikers, and hikers there. It can be busy on the weekend.

  • Laguna Coast Wilderness Park: This hike is a little further away and you would need to drive. There are lots of different trails and places to park. If you want to feel like you are in nature and away from buildings, this is a great spot. There is a parking fee for day parking (~$5). You can get a county park annual pass. 

  • Top of the World: This trail connects to Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. I usually hike down, around, and back up. You can get a great view of the city and beach. Free parking at W Ridge, Laguna Beach near a community park. 

  • Crystal Cove State Park: On this trail you can hike all the way to the beach. This state park includes lots of great hiking and an incredible beach. Great for beach runs (stretches about 3.2 miles total), a beach day, snorkeling, or surfing. You will need to pay for parking (~$15 day pass) or buy an annual California State Park Pass which will get you entry in all state park passes. Many beaches along the coast are state parks, so it’s nice to be able to visit them all with an annual pass. 

  • Blacks Beach, Torrey Pines Reserve, La Jolla Cove, & Scripps Coastal Reserve – these are in La Jolla in San Diego, but great spots! At Black’s Beach, you might catch some hand gliders.  La Jolla Cove has lots of smelly, but cute sea lions and seals. Don’t get too close though – they bite!

Another great way to go on a hike with a group is to go on an outdoor trip with the ARC (see below, #5) or maybe through apps like Meetup


Other activities:


  • Crystal Cove State Park: Close to UCI, great views, beautiful, cool tidepools, surfing and snorkeling opportunities (if you have your own equipment). Parking fee (~$15). 

  • Little Corona del Mar Beach: Free neighborhood street parking, close to UCI, great tidepools, small beach (it’s mostly a rocky beach), showers and bathrooms

  • Corona del Mar: Close to Little Corona del Mar, free neighborhood street parking, very popular, fire pits for beach bonfires, can see lots of sailboats leaving the harbor; If you want to have a bonfire on the beach, you’ll need to come early before night fall to save a fire pit. They can get busy on the weekends, but a super fun way to spend a Friday or Sunday night.

  • Many others: Dana Point, Back Bay, Shaw’s Cove, etc.

Kayaking & Boating

  • Back Bay: there are several rental places around the lower back bay area. You can rent kayaks, duffy boats (great for when friends or family visit), stand-up paddle boards, etc. 

  • The ARC provides paid sailing lessons and discounts on kayaks from the Marina Park in Newport Beach ( 


  • Big Bear 

  • Mount Baldy

(Both are about 2-3 hours by car)


  • National Parks (see below)

National Parks We have some great national parks nearby. Joshua Tree is the closest (3-4 hour drive) and really cool. I’ve heard that camping there is great! Other national parks nearby: Death Valley, Angeles National Forest, and Sequoia National Park. A bit further away is the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, etc. which are good weekend trips. 


Outdoor Green Spaces UCI has a great green space in the middle of campus called Aldrich Park. It’s a great space for working or studying, playing frisbee, walking your dog, or having lunch. I also sometimes run in here on the weekends when its less busy.  William R. Mason Regional Park is a bike ride away and has great open green areas. It also has tables and a playground.  Graduate housing communities have barbeque areas.

The ARC ( A great way to meet people, discover new places, try a new activity, and get outside is to join an outdoor trip. The ARC has outdoor trips including local sunset paddle board or kayak trips, hiking day trips, weekend rock-climbing trips, and more. Some trips are free and some have fees (beginning at about $15), but equipment is usually included.  

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