Airplane Races at Atria Woodbridge

As I did when I visited Belmont Village Cardiff, I try and share my tour experiences when possible as there are some very dedicated people out there building and operating great communities.

I had a unique opportunity a few weeks ago to spend some time with the executive director of Atria Senior Living’s community in Irvine, California.  Atria Woodbridge is a relatively new community built in 2001.  The executive director, Ladd Roberts, has only been there a few years, but you can tell in the way he speaks about the property that he has an enormous amount of pride in what he does.  That’s one of the main things I look for in an assisted living community, so it was refreshing to get the vibe from the beginning of our discussion.

Convenient Location

Atria Woodbridge is set between two major freeways in Orange County – the 5 and the 405 (yes, Californians actually do say “the” in front of highway numbers).  This makes the community easily accessible from Los Angeles, San Diego and the Inland Empire (an area east of Orange County).  It’s also only about 8-10 miles from John Wayne Airport, which I would argue is one of the easiest airports in the country to fly through.

Atria Woodbridge is tucked between two upscale strip malls, making shopping, dining and small conveniences only a few steps away.  They’ve done a good job lining the community with trees to present a clean separation between the shopping center and the community.  Outside the entrance sits a very inviting social area with outdoor furniture.  I spend many evenings at home on the patio, and this subtle touch brought some nice memories and made a good impression.

A Grand Entry

Walking in, the first thing I noticed was the cathedral ceiling.  The ceiling had exposed beams much like you would see at a ski lodge and serve a great purpose in opening up the entrance and “presenting” the community to new visitors.  Under the rotunda a few steps down the hall sits a grand piano.  It is the focal point of the room and the divider between the residences to the right and the activities and dining room to the left.

Real Librarians?

Most all assisted living communities have a library or community room of some sort.  A few things struck me as unique at this community.  First, a second piano was placed just to the left of the entrance. Ladd Roberts told me this particular piano belonged to one of the residents.  I smiled because I can imagine the sense of homeliness that resident must feel knowing their “baby” is here with them.  It was certainly a nice touch by Ladd to make this a centerpiece of the room.

Second, a two-sided fireplace separated the room, which added a great deal of privacy and enabled it to be used for multiple things.  In fact, it was well before lunch and several groups of residents were gathered in their own groups having a nice time.  (Note: if you’ve read my book, you’ll know that I recommend visiting communities outside of dining hours to measure the social level of the residents and staff)

Finally, Ladd told me the library is staffed with retired librarian residents.  I thought this was a clever way of providing a sense of purpose to these ladies who no doubt have a great deal of pride in their former careers.

Confident Quality

In my book, I share tips on how to measure the quality of a community by interviewing general and executive staff.  I do this because many communities don’t make quality assurance and audits a focal point of their prospective resident tours, so the burden is on the customer to perform that level of due diligence.

Surprisingly, Ladd brought this up proactively during the tour and told me a little about how Atria performs internal audits.  After probing a little as to the depth of the audit, Ladd chuckled and told me that his 700 item internal audit was so detailed that he didn’t have to prepare much for the state health inspection.

To be fair, I didn’t dig into their audit paperwork and processes, but it’s been my experience that those who confidently share their quality plans and audit processes are the ones who deliver a quality product.

The Zen Master

As one might expect, Ladd was saving the best for last.  The activity area of the building wraps around a courtyard.  Ladd calls it the Zen Garden.  Why?  It was authentically decorated in a Japanese theme with waterfalls, fish and plans all over.  It was very quiet with the exception of running water from the waterfall.

Ladd says this is his place to come think, and you could tell that it was a warm and happy place for many residents.  For those residents that want a complete change of scenery, the Zen Garden will transport them to a different time and place.

Got plane?  Wanna race?

Earlier in the tour, we were walking through the activity room and there were several model planes hanging from the roof.  Ladd told me these were built by one of the residents.  He shared with me a story about how they had model airplane races in the dining room one day.  He boasted he had it on video and I convinced him to let me share it.

But before I show the video, I’ll end by saying that I was impressed with Atria Woodridge.  I was also really impressed with Ladd Roberts and his team.  I could tell he cared a great deal about his impact on the residents, and it was obvious he ran a high quality community.

Nice to meet you Ladd, and thanks for the tour!

Here’s the video:

  • Lou

    I have been following the progress of your site from day one. I have watched you struggle as a novice who took a burning desire for knowledge of the elder care community and transform that desire into a well-thought-out, much needed source of accurate information. Your blog now reflects the leader that you have become in this field. Kudos to you and continued success.

  • Bob Sparanese


    Thank you for spending the time to write this great review on Atria. Not only did it analyze the features and benefits of that facility but you made some excellent points on how to determine if an assisted living facility is suitable for a loved one. Furthermore, I had never heard of Atria before reading this article and I thought I knew about all of the options we have in Orange County.

    Keep up the good work and I’ll make sure that all my friends hear about your website.


  • Gary

    Ryan -

    That’s a quality review on the center. I thought the part about having retired librarians available is a very nice touch. That would make it much more enjoyable for people to utilize the space.

    Hopefully, a lot of people will check out the article to learn about Atria from a first-hand account. Well done.


  • Tom

    Nice piece on Atria. Although I’ve lived right near there I was unaware of it presence and its attention to quality of life. As I’ve mentioned to you, my parents are approaching the state where they will require assisted living, and your pieces are especially informative. Keep up the great work.

  • Teresa Jacobelli

    Thanks for the great review of Atria. Being a former English teacher, I was especially intriged by Mr. Ladd’s deligence with his facility library. Not only do the retired librarians get a chance to use their skills, but the residents actually have a chance of access to a well-stocked library. Many of the facilities that I have visited on the behalf of my mother have obviously stocked their “libraries” with books bought by bulk or color-coordinated covers. How refreshing to know that the library resource in this facility is actually a resource and not window dressing.
    I can visulize many happy hours in the Zen garden with a good book.


  • Mary

    Going off of Teresa’s and Gary’s comments, it is nice to see a facility that recognizes the skills and assets of its community – and seems to actively engage people. Do you get the feeling that this is a unique feature of this facility or is it true of all Altria communities? Will you be reviewing any of their locations on the east coast?



  • Amarah

    Hi Ryan. Thanks for sending me a copy of your book–I’ve read it cover to cover and I’ll be sending it on to my father-in-law, who is looking for a place for his parents. Great review, as well–it’s so difficult to find non-biased reviews of these facilities, this site could really be a tremendous resource. I’m looking forward to hearing your reviews of places in other geographic areas–Florida and New Jersey, in particular!

    Be well,

  • Julie


    Wow-thanks so much for writing this. The community you described sounds amazing. It is so nice to read an article like this and know that there are places out there where my grandmother (for whom we are now looking into assisted living options) can go to to be well cared for and still have fun and enjoy life, which she very much wants to continue to do. I think that she and some of her friends had heard some of the common stereotypes about assisted livings and it is great to have a resource like yours that can dispell some of these and show what a truly wonderful next step assisted living can be if you find the right place. Keep up the great work!

  • John


    Excellent review. I felt like I was there from your description. I was really impressed with the facilities and the amenities available. The librarians on site is a nice touch. Thanks for sharing the video and your review.


  • Kamau


    Thanks for sharing your experiences, wisdom and resources via this website. As you probably learned the hardway there is precious little information to help guide families through the seemingly “sudden” and confusing world of elder care and this is the best how-to that i have found.

    Your webaddress is now one of my favorites and i will share it with all that have a need.

    Best, Kamau