California Fool's Gold -- Exploring San Clemente, The Spanish Village in Orange County

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 10, 2013 03:28pm | Post a Comment

Mid-20th century postcard from San Clemente

Until the visit that Una and I took to San Clemente this past weekend, I don’t think that I’d ever visited the place. I’m not entirely sure because nearly all of my trips south on the 5 have ended in Mexico and the stretch of freeway between South Orange County and San Diego County has blended together in my mind into white-walled, red-roofed blur. I may very well stopped in San Clemente to refill the gas tank on at least one occasion but, again, I have no recollection. Now, however, after having spent a weekend there and exploring mostly on foot (the best way to explore) I promise that I won’t confuse San Clemente for any other red-tile community.


San Clemente is the southernmost city in South County. This is inarguable in a geographic sense and arguable in a symbolic sense as well. South Orange County is generally and night entirely inaccurately characterized as a predominantly white, politically conservative, and wealthy place.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of South Orange County

San Clemente is predominantly white -- 76% white (compared to 44% for the county as a whole) although to me it seemed even whiter. However, slow change is afoot and in the past thirty years, the Latino population has more than doubled whilst the Anglo population has shrunk by 14%. According to the 2010 census, the population of San Clemente is 17% Latino but that seemed to me much lower. My perception versus the facts might have to do with the fact that I stayed near North Beach and spent most of my time exploring Downtown and the area next to the ocean -- areas that are possibly much whiter than others. In two days I only heard Spanish being spoken on three occasions, including once in the kitchen of a Mexican restaurant. Asian-Americans make up just 4% of San Clemente's population, and blacks and Native Americans both make up less than 1% of the population. 

Politically speaking, 56% of San Clemente's population are registered Republicans (compared to 42% for the county as a whole) which is, of course, a majority although maybe less of one than the prevailing stereotypes suggest.

Finally, although there are definitely some very rich folks in San Clemente, the median household income of the community lies somewhere toward the middle, not just of South County, but of all of Orange County. Those seaside and hilltop mansions surely command a high price but it's not every blueblood that would choose to live near an occasionally leaking nuclear energy plant and a military base.

The city seal and flower (bougainvilleas)

It's hard for me to generalize after one weekend but it does seem to me like San Clemente has accepted that it's not a village in Segovia -- white and brown residents alike seem to eat la cena when Spaniards would still be munching on la merienda. The prevailing fantasy nowadays seems to be that it's located not in South County but in the South Pacific. It seemed like everywhere I turned I saw Hawaiian shirts, tikis, and of course, non-native palm trees. I was more surprised to discover signs and menus containing terms like "a hui ho," "mahalo" and "haole." By the time I heard Israel Kamakawiwoʻole emanating from an unseen speaker, I barely took notice. I will also generalize that, aside from the truckload of town boys who yelled at me to "go back to" (something unintelligible), the populace struck me as one of the most friendly that I've yet encountered. 



San Clemente is a small city comprised of several areas and neighborhoods with various levels of distinguishability. Una and I stayed in the proposed North Beach Historic District which has a vibe different from much of the municipality. There’s also a small Downtown, as well as tracts and subdivisions, including Cantomar, Compass Pointe, Cotton Hill, Forster Highlands (including Ashton, Forster Ranch, Las Veredas, Marblehead, Marblehead Coastal, Montego Homes, Rancho Christianitos, Rancho San Clemente, The Reserve, Ridgemore, and San Angelo), Sea Point Estates, Shore Cliff Villas, Southwest San Clemente, Talega, and probably others. Shortly before returning to Los Angeles we took Big Red up into the Santa Ana foothills where ridiculously grand triumphal entrance signs proclaim the existence of seemingly brand new suburban tracts that seem to have been just planted at the edge of civilization. 
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of San Clemente

Beyond these scrubby hills to the northeast are the peaks of the Santa Ana Mountains and the largest of the unincorporated areas of Orange County. Beyond that lies Riverside County. To the southeast is the mostly undeveloped northwestern corner of San Diego County that’s home to a nuclear station and military base. To San Clemente’s northwest are the communities of Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano. To the west is the Pacific Ocean. About 70 kilometers across the water is Santa Catalina Island and south of that, San Clemente Island -- the two large, actual Islands that are part of LA County.

Although you can't really make it out in the photo, that's San Clemente Island on the horizon


For most of human history the area that’s now home to San Clemente was home to the Acagchemem nation. For about 8,000 years their homeland extended from Aliso Creek in the north to Las Pulgas Canyon in the south. One of their largest villages was Panhe, situated near San Mateo Creek and home to an estimated population of 300 or so people. Nearby to the south, along San Juan Creek,  was another significant village, Sajayit.


In 1769 (long before Ole Hanson dreamt of a Spanish Village by the Sea) actual Spaniards arrived in the area as part of Gaspar de Portolá’s overland expedition to Monterey Bay in the north and claimed the land for New Spain. The expedition passed through modern-day San Clemente in late July and, while there, Father Crespi baptized two Acagchem in Cristianitos Canyon which are said to be the first baptisms conducted in Alta California. An historical monument, La Cristianita Monument, commemorates the occasion. The Spanish established Mission San Juan Capistrano nearby (in modern-day San Juan Capistrano) in 1776 and re-named the newly-subjugated aborigines “Juaneños.” The mission imported herds of cattle to graze the area and produce tallow and hides, much of which was traded at the embarcadero in what’s now Dana Point.


After eleven bloody years of conflict, New Spain achieved independence and Alta California became part of the new nation of Mexico. Under Mexico the Spanish Missions were secularized and their lands divided amongst private owners. The lands formerly belonging to the nearby Mission first became the property of Mexican Governor Pio Pico. In 1837, Scouse-Mexican John “Don Juan” Forster married Pio Pico’s sister, Dona Ysidora Pico, and therein acquired part of Pico’s lands. Much of the land that now makes up San Clemente was also part of Rancho Los Desechos, which was granted to Felipe Carrillo and subsequently acquired by Don Juan. Rancho Boca de la Playa (the lands of which included parts of modern day Capistrano Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente) was granted to Emigdio Véjar, who’d overseen operations at the mission until 1845.


The US conquered California in 1848 and admitted it to the Union in 1850. As required by the Land Act of 1851, the previous land owners continued their ownership under their new rulers. Véjar sold his ranch to Juan Avila, who already owned Rancho Niguel, and who passed away in 1863. After that, the land passed to Avila’s son-in-law, Pablo Pryor, who died of poisoning in 1878. In 1883, a large portion of land passed to John Forster’s son, Marcus, and by 1887 the Forster family had acquired most of the land in the area.


The Transcontinental Railroad extended into Southern California in 1876 but the lands that would become San Clemente were still primarily traversed by stagecoach along the Spanish El Camino Real until 1888. That year the Santa Fe Railroad arrived from the south, terminating in neighboring San Juan Capistrano and thereby linking southernmost Los Angeles County to San Diego. In 1901, rail reached San Francisco. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe ultimately built a train depot in San Clemente in 1931 although it closed in 1940 and was demolished in 1964.


Orange County seceded from Los Angeles County in 1889 and Santa Ana (about 50 km away) was made the new seat of the newly formed county. In 1906, Max and Herman Goldschmidt formed a partnership with Cornelio Echenique (one of Don Juan’s grandson-in-laws) and they acquired 10,500 acres of land. The Goldschmidts planted vineyards in what has been cow pastures but, with the advent of Prohibition in 1919, their booze farm fell on hard times and they sold their land to millionaire oil baron, banker, cotton broker, businessman, rancher, and DemocratHamilton H. “Ham” Cotton.


The next significant figure in the history of San Clemente was the most important -- Ole Hanson. Ole Hanson was a Norwegian-American born in Racine, Wisconsin in 1874 and passed the Wisconsin bar in 1893. He began working in real estate and co-founded the planned community of Lake Forest Park, Washington in 1912. In 1914 he ran for US Senate on the Bull Moose ticket but lost to a Republican.

In 1918 he was elected mayor of Seattle. Early in Hanson’s mayorship, the Seattle General Strike of 1919 took place in which over 65,000 workers attempted to gain higher wages and better working conditions by staging a general work stoppage. Hanson compared the striking workers to Bolsheviks (this was the beginning of the Red Scare), claimed that the strike was a Communist revolution (although he acknowledged that their means were non-violent), and brought in thousands of police and special deputies who he threatened would shoot any man who attempted to take over the government. The strike ended after five days.

Two months after the strike was broken, an attempt was made on Hanson's life by anarchist disciples of Luigi Galleani and four months after that he resigned. Hanson next toured the country lecturing audiences about the dangers of Bolshevism in America in which he warned audiences that unless the American labor movement was squashed the country would witness widespread “murder, rape, pillage, arson, free love, poverty, want, starvation, filth, slavery, autocracy, suppression, sorrow and Hell on earth.” [The fact that "free love" is included in that list of terrors amuses me endlessly].


In the 1920s, Hanson re-entered the real estate development world, this time in Southern California. The Spanish Colonial Revival fad had really taken off after the 1915 The Panama-California Expositionin San Diego and in 1921 Hanson bought and developed the Slauson Tract in South Los Angeles with 2,000 Spanish Colonial Revival homes. He also became part owner of the Potter Hotel in Santa Barbara and, after the 1925 earthquake that destroyed much of town, saw Santa Barbara rebuilt as a Spanish Colonial community. 

In 1925, Hanson and a syndicate headed by Cotton designed an 8km2 planned community located roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego and named after San Clemente Island. It too would be a Spanish Colonial village and all plans were required by deed to be reviewed by an architectural board to ensure that they were in keeping with his vision, which he described as “…hundreds of white-walled homes bonneted with red tile, with trees, shrubs, hedges of hibiscus, palms and geraniums lining the drives, and a profusion of flowers framing the patios and gardens.”
Architects employed in the design of early San Clemente structures included Carl Lindbom, E. W. Klausen, Eli Simonson, J. H. Nicholson, J. Wilmer Hershey, Leo Smith, Paul McAlister, Paul R. Williams, Richard Sears, Virgil Westbrook, Wessel Kousen, and LeRoy and Arthur Sprang.


San Clemente was officially founded on St. Nicholas Day (6 December) in 1925. The earliest buildings of this instant Spanish village were spread around 125 acres crisscrossed with freshly laid and deliberately winding roads. Hanson wanted the community to be self-contained and self-sufficient and established an iron works, encaustic tile manufacturing plant, a school, a church, a hospital, and other things he thought a self-sufficient town might need. Hanson's vision seems to have convinced others and just 22 months after its foundation, the Los Angeles Times declared the overnight city as “a complete modern community.”


Hanson’s family home, Casa Romanticawas designed by Carl Lindbom and built overlooking the sea in 1927. It was actually named “Casa Romantica” in 1946 by its then owners, Lambert and Patricia Schuyler.

In 1952 it was re-named “Casa Blanca” by Muria and Leslie Whitehouse, although its name at some point reverted. In 1960 it became a home for seniors, which it operated as until 1984 when it became a private event space. In 2000 it became a cultural center and garden and to this day its open to visitors and is asolutely a must-visit both for the home itself and the amazing views of the Pacific, the Channel Islands, and Dana Point that it affords. 


Carl Lindbom also designed the Cotton Estate, with the centerpiece home modeled after a country home in San Sebastian, Spain. When Cotton lived there he hosted on at least one occasion, President Franklin Roosevelt. In 1969, newly-elected president (and Orange County native) Richard Nixon bought the home from Cotton’s widow. Nixon christened the home La Casa Pacifica but it was more popularly known as “The Western White House.” During his presidency Richard and Pat played host to political figures like Eisaku Sato, Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, Hennry Kissinger, Leonid Brezhnev, Lyndon Johnson, Nguyễn Văn Thiệu as well as Richard's buddy, Bebe Robozo.

After his resignation from office in 1974,  the Nixons lived at Casa Pacifica and the former president there wrote his memoirs. During the same period Pat was the subject of Lester David’s The Lonely Lady of San Clemente (1978). The famous Frost/Nixon interviews were planned to be taped there but were moved due to radio interference. In 1980 the Nixon’s moved to Park Ridge, New Jersey but Nixon still has a special place in the hearts of many in San Clemente and there's even a Nixon Room downtown, which looked from the outside to be a sort of restaurant/museum/exhibition room. Meanwhile over at Casa Pacifica (4100 Calle Isabella) a guard and gates prevent visitors from finding out whether or not the private home has been preserved as a sort of '70s time capsule.

The exterior of the Nixon Room (note the chimney)


The Administration Building (1926), which originally served as Ole Hanson's offices

The Bartlett Building (1926), built for Edward Barlett, is the second oldest building in town

the Ann Harding House (1926), built for actress Ann Harding

418 Cazador Lane, built in 1926

Hotel San Clemente (1927) -- now apartments

The San Clemente Community Center, the Ole Hanson Room of which dates from 1927

Sea Cliff Villas (aka the Robison House), built in 1927 for Bertha and Emma Wierk

San Clemente was incorporated as a city on 27 February, 1928. A few months later, Tod Bates wrote a piece about the fledgling community titled “City of Spain Reproduced in Southern California” for an issue of Saturday Night, echoing the Times' amazement at the development.


The first San Clemente Pier was built in 1928 (it was rebuilt in 1939 and 1983). When we visited there was a clam chowder contest (part of Seafest, I think) underway. Unfortunately for many, the urge to gratingly attempt to yell in the non-rhotic New English dialect proved impossible to resist. The lines were really long -- as is the 365 meterlong pier. At the shore end is Fisherman's Restaurant but it also had lines out the door so we returned to the land.

Looking back at San Clemente from the pier


San Clemente’s first fire house and city jail were built in 1928 in what's now called Old City Plaza. An iron works and warehouse were added shortly after. Most of the plaza's municipal facilities relocated in 1962 although the building was still used as a maintenance yard until 1974. 

Historic City Yard Restaurant -- obscured by a windowless vehicle demanding that you "get stung"

Now the Old City Plaza is a quaint shopping center although both times I visited the jail house I found a heinous yellow vehicle parked in front -- apparently a TARDIS that blew its chameleon circuit in the totally eXtreme 1990s.


Ole Hanson Beach House (built in 1928)

The second story of the Ole Hanson Beach House

The San Clemente Inn (1928)

The Goldschmidt House (1928) designed by architect Paul R. Williams for Adlai Goldschmidt

Historic City Hall (aka the Easley Building), built in 1929 for Oscar Easley and never actually used as the City Hall

 the Easley Building/City Hall (1929)...

The Moulton House (1929), designed by Virgil Westbrook  for H.G. Moulton

The Swigart House, designed by Virgil Westbrook in 1929 for electrician Ralph Swigart

The Warner House, built in 1929 for Judge Warner -- founder of the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce

St. Clement's By the Sea (1929)


The Stock Market Crash of 1929 and ensuing Great Depression changed San Clemente’s course for ever. After 1931, the further development of subdivisions ceased. From 1930 to 1940 the population of San Clemente plummeted from 1,200 to just 479 people. Hanson himself lost his home in 1932 and moved to Los Angeles where he died of a heart attack in 1940. In 1937, in order to encourage new development, Bank of America successfully lobbied city officials to loosen its Spanish Colonial Revival restrictions to encourage growth.


Some of the first new buildings constructed in the late 1930s incorporated a mix of architectural styles. Architects like Aubrey St. Clair, E.A. Myhre, Fay R. Spangler, Herman Light, and William Ayer mixed Spanish Revival with Modernist elements as well as others to create a interesting hybrids. Still extant examples from this era include the Casino San Clemente (1937), the San Clemente Theatre (1937)...

The L.S. Frasier House, built in 1938 for Thomas Loncono

...and the Hollywood Regency-style Campbell House (1941) which proved too difficult to do justice to with my camera.


Construction of Casino San Clemente began in 1936 and was completed in 1937. Like Catalina Casino, it’s not a casino in the common gambling sense but rather in the antiquated sense of a sort of social gathering place.

Inside the Casino San Clemente

Early on, casino entertainment was provided by orchestras including Bert Smith and the NBC Orchestra, Dean Holt and his Trocadero Orchestra , and Sterling Young’s Columbia Network Orchestra.

The casino was a popular hangout for Hollywood stars such as Dorothy Lamour, Mickey Rooney, Pat O’Brien, Vivien Leigh, and others. One frequent guest, Judy Garland, took to the small stage and treated guests to a rendition of “I Cried for You” from Babes in Arms in 1939 (the event is one of many documented on wall displays in the venue). During World War II the casino was commandeered by the military who used it was a lookout station. In 1961 it became a Moose Lodge. From 1973 until 1980 it was home to Sebastian’s West Dinner Playhouse. In 1980, Southhampton Dinner Theatre took over. for a spell. In 1991 it became something called Cabos ‘n’ Wabos Caberet Cantina which sounds atrocious but still preferable to it being shuttered, which it was in 2004. Thankfully, in 2009 it was acquired by new owners who renovated it and re-opened it as an event space -- and one devoid of any suggestions of Sammy Hagar.


The 650-seat San Clemente Theatre was constructed next to the casino in 1937 and opened in 1938. It was designed by celebrated Clifford A. Balch, and also included a bowling alley and used to host live music performances. At some point it was renamed The Miramar Theatre. It was restored in 1986, closed in 1995, and placed on a list of the nation’s most endangered historic theatres in 2001. It currently it remains boarded up.


As mentioned previously, Casino San Clemente was occupied by the military when the US entered World War II in 1941. Not in San Clemente, but no doubt far more impactful on the community, was the establishment of a marine base just on the other side of the county line to the south. Camp Pendleton was established by president Franklin Roosevelt in 1942. Economically, it helped revive San Clemente, providing a large customer base who spread word of the quaint Spanish hamlet. The war ended in 1945 and many military families stayed in the area. In 1946, the base was declared a permanent installation and suburban development in San Clemente resumed for the first time since its cessation fifteen years earlier at the dawn of the Depression. 

The Beachcomber Hotel, established in 1947, and the city's longest continually-running business


By 1950 the population of San Clemente had once again climbed, reaching 2,000. That year and for the next three, the US fought in the Korean War and more military personnel were drawn to the nearby base and in many cases settled after war in San Clemente with their families. At the same time the Downtown business district experienced a new wave of commercial development along its core around Avenida Del Mar and El Camino Real.

San Clemente Chamber of Commerce

Freed of the Spanish Colonial Revival restrictions, architects turned to other styles and like Googie and Tiki. Two of the finest examples – both still existent – are Pedro’s Tacos and the Chamber of Commerce building. I’m not sure what occupied Pedro’s Tacos before they moved in and introduced Orange County to fish tacos in 1986 but my guess is that it was formerly a burger stand.


San Clemente’s population reached 8,500 in 1960 – the same year that the 5 Freeway reached town. The freeway’s construction came at a cost – the destruction of many of San Clemente’s older buildings. In that era of destruction and construction, the huge Shorecliffs development was San Clemente’s first big, modern housing tract, begun in 1963.


The SONGS, a cute acronmyn for San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, was the world’s largest nuclear plant and was constructed just south of San Clemente. The first reactor began operation in 1968, four years after construction began. The second and third reactors followed in the 1980s. If you’ve driven this section of the five you probably know them as the “Giant Boobs" that serve as a gateway to San Diego County. In 2012, radioactive mist leaked from reactor three and nearby residents were issued iodine tablets. The rising water temperature and increased cloudiness around the reactor devastated the local marine ecosystem and a 150-acre kelp forest/artificial reef known as Wheeler North Reef was planted in 2008 to help mitigate the damage. The plant was shuttered in 2012 and the kelp on the artificial reef seems to be thriving although the population of marine fauna hasn't yet rebounded.


Before the 1960s, gangs seem to have been unknown in San Clemente. Back then San Clemente’s Varrio Chico (SCVC) gang and San Juan Capistrano’s Varrio Viejo were car clubs rather than gangs in the way that we think about them now. In the decades since they've evolved into street gangs and there are still unfortunate incidents of gang violence but the idea of anyone being afraid to visit San Clemente is ludicrous. 


Until 1972 the stunning Bartow Mansion stood as a symbol of San Clemente. Unfortunately, it was reduced to rubble by its final owners and replaced by an exceptionally hideous condominium. By then, roughly 500 of the old Spanish Colonial structures in the small city had been razed. The silver lining of the destruction was that it served as a catalyst for the organization of the San Clemente Historical Society in 1973. In 1999 the society received a grant to establish the San Clemente Historical Museum (although right now it's closed).


In 1974, Jay “Sparky” Longley founded Rainbow Sandals, which, in researching this piece I learned are "world famous." I'd never heard of them but then again, the only sandal brand that I'm familiar with is Germany's Birkenstock. I asked Una if she'd heard of them and she said that she hadn't. Then, after paying attention to the footware of people at her work, she told me that a patient had been wearing them. As we walked around San Clemente, she pointed out a group of people wearing them on the pier. 


 n 1975, a sex motel called Riviera Adult Motel opened in San Clemente. According to the OC Weekly it boasted theme rooms with large bathtubs and offered guests toys, complimentary adult movies and more. It seems as though it was demolished a few years ago. I doubt the Historical Society made saving it one of their causes. 


As with World War II and the Korean War, nearby Camp Pendleton trained thousands of marines that were sent off to fight in Vietnam. 50,418 refugees from Vietnam entered the US through the camp. 165 children were born there. Although presumably a significant number of Vietnam War veterans settled in San Clemente after the war, most of the Vietnamese settled further away in North Orange County (where they established Little Saigon) and the San Gabriel Valley's Far East Side.


By 1980, the population of San Clemente passed 27,000, 8% of whom were Latino. By 1990 that percentage had increased by 4% as the Anglo population decreased by the same. Some tensions arose, particularly between young men from both communities. High school Greaser vs Surfer rows go back at least to the 1950s. The most famous violent incident between young Latinos and Anglos occurred at Calafia Beach County Park in 1993, which ended in the death of 17-year-old Steven Woods. Like the Sleepy Lagoon Murder of 1942, it serves as a lightning rod for ethnic hostility, especially after the victim’s mother (a legal immigrant from the UK) blamed the violence on illegal immigrants. After throwing her weight behind Prop 187 -- which aimed to deny education, healthcare and social services to the undocumented -- it picked up considerable steam. Meanwhile anti-gang organizations formed, high school students staged a walkout, and a banner stating “Take Back our City” was hung from the 5 Freeway. Prop 187 passed with a large margin.




There are several train options to San Clemente: Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and Metrolink’s Orange County and IE/OC Lines. Metrolink began service in 1992 and yet I've still yet to ride one of their trains. Until the morning that we headed to San Clemente I had planned on us grabbing $10 weekend passes and taking the train to the pier station but it turned out that service was temporarily halted while crossing improvements were made and the closest that we could get via Metrolink was to Laguna Niguel.

Unable to get a picture of an OCTA bus, here's a green Studebaker that I liked 

From Laguna Niguel we could've taken advantage of Orange County's other great public transit service, OCTA, but that would've added another 80 minutes to the already long commute so we decided to drive this time. Orange County Transit Authority was formed the year before Metrolink when seven separated transit agencies combined forces. In 2005, OCTA was proclaimed "America's Best Public Transportation System" by the American Public Transportation Association. The organization serves Orange County with 77 bus lines, four of which (1, 91, 191, and 193) serve San Clemente. Not long ago, in 2011, San Clemente and OCTA made headlines when someone briefly stole one of their buses and abandoned it after an apparent joyride.

I mostly got around San Clemente on foot and found that it's not the most walkable city. Although most of the sites of interest to visitors are located within a small area that is fairly flat, it's iverall much hillier than I expected. Furthermore, sidewalks are quite rare and usually only exist in small, disconnected sections. Therefore, I did most of my walking in the street, something which local drivers seemed tolerant and respectful of -- probably because so many people do so. For the record, Walk Score gives the city a ranking of 47, on par with notoriously sprawling places like Phoenix and Dallas


Of course no visit to any destination is complete without sampling the local cuisine. San Clemente's main claim to culinary fame might be that it's home to a chain called Pick Up Stix Fresh Asian Flavors. In November is the Taste of San Clemente and many other events throughout the year involve food. The food scene of San Clemente, it has to be noted, isn’t the most diverse. The most numerous type of restaurants are American followed by Mexican, pizzerias, Italian, and burger joints.

We first ate, on recommendation, at one of the burger joints -- The Riders Club Café. There we enjoyed some rather messy (silverware recommended) sandwiches and beer. A lot of the dining options were too upscale for my taste and my favorite meal was a good, filling and very cheap dinner at La Tiendita, a Mexican restaurant and mini-market. Out of sheer desperation we ate at a noisy sports bar, Sunsets at the Pier, which was fine and afforded a lovely view of the ocean if also -- and expectedly -- sports blaring in every direction and boozy jocks grunting with excitement. Afterward I took off to explore more and Una went to the pier to eat a lobster at 26th Annual Seafest and reported that it was very good.

Other local food options include: Adele’s Café, Antoine’s Café, Avila’s El Ranchito, The Bagel Shack, Bamboo Bamboo’s Chinese Cuisine, Beach Garden Café, BeachFire, Biggie’s Burgers, Billys Meats Seafood and Deli, Board & Brew, Bread Gallery, Brick Pizzeria, Bud’s Famous Hot Dogs, Bull Taco, Buonos Pizza and Pasta, Burger Junkies, Burger Stop, Butterfly Orchid, Café 207, Café Calypso, Café del Sol, Café Mimosa, Café Rae, Calafia Beach Café, Captain Mauri’s Counterculture,

Carbonara Trattoria Italiana, China Well Restaurant, Chronic Tacos, Cinnamon Productions, Corky’s Family Restaurant, CourtsideDaphne’s California Greek, El Jefe Café, El Mariachi Restaurant, Fratello’s, Golden Chicken, The Grill at Surfin Donuts, Guicho’s Eatery, Hapa J’s, Hot Dog Heaven, Ichibiri Restaurant
, Inka Mama’s, Italian Cravings, Iva Lee’s, Izza Pizzeria, Kahuna’s Grill at North Beach, Kelly’s Donuts, The Kultured Kitchen, La Cocina de Ricardo, La Galette Creperie,

La Rocco’s Pizzeria, La Siesta Restaurant, Las Golodrinas Mexican Food, Little Thai Hut, Los Patios, Maxim Restaurant, Miyako, Mongkut Thai Restaurant, Mr. Pete’s Burgers, New Mandarin Garden, Nick’s San Clemente, 9 Style Sushi, Nobu Sushi
, Nomad’s Canteen, Olamendi’s Restaurant, Pacific Taste Restaurant, Pada Sushi at Albertson’s, Papa Murphy’s Take N Bake Pizza, Peppino’s Italian Family Restaurant, Pho Thanh Binh, Pier Shack & Grill, Pipes Café,  Pizza Port,  Poke + Roll 808,

Rice Temptation, Rocco’s Restaurant, Romano’s, Rose’s Sugar Shack Café, SC Café, Selma’s Chicago PizzeriaThe Shore, Signature Grille, Sonny’s Pizza and Pasta, South of Nick’s, Stillwater Café, Stuft Pizza & Brewing, Sundried Tomato Café, Sunrise Café, Super Bowl Express,
Super Suppers, The Surferosa Café, Surfin’ Chicken, Surfside Pizza, Sushi Sono, 

Taka-O Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar, Taste of China, Tequila’s Chophouse, Thai Palace SC, Thai Paradise Restaurant, Tina and Vince Italian Deli, Tommy’s Family Restaurant & Coffee Shop, 2 For 1 Pizza Company, Two Guy’s Pizza, Village Mediterranean Rim
, and  Waba Grill Teriyaki House


Inside the Red Fox Lounge

Although the dining scene overall seems kind of fancy (a place with $35 entrees is listed as “$$” out of “$$$$” on Yelp), the drinking scene occupies a similar range. Bars include Big Helyn’s Saloon, Board & Brew, The Cellar, Chill Lounge Via Fontibre, Duke’s, Goodys Tavern, Molly Bloom’s Irish Bar and RestaurantMulligan’s Sports Bar, OC Tavern Grill & Sports Bar, Ole’s Tavern, Outrigger, Pride of the Pacific Bar & Grille, San Clemente Wine Company, St. Roy Chef’s Pub at Vine. If you prefer coffee, there's Zebra House Coffee. We checked out the Red Fox Lounge, one of the older bars in the city, having been established in 1955.


Walking around San Clemente I couldn’t find any dedicated music venues. Back in the day, in addition to the Casino, City Hall was home to the House of Music. On Yelp, places like Adele’s Café, Knuckleheads Sports Bar, OC Tavern Grill & Sports Bar are all listed as music venues although I’m not sure how accurate that is. The sign on Goody’s Tavern, established in 1929, promised live music, dancing, pool and other sinful activities but we didn’t venture inside to confirm. From May to August, since 1999, San Clemente has hosted the annual Summer Beach Concert Series

There was music everywhere, however and in the course of my walks I also heard music bouncing around the hills and canyons. There was pop-punk coming from somewhere near the pier at one point. A day earlier I could hear a band run through a medley of Bee Gees, Wild Cherry and other ‘70s tunes. As I walked down Avenida Del Mar, a man on the sidewalk plucked at his banjo. Floating from store, car and home windows (and jukeboxes) I heard Snoop Dogg, C.W. Mccall, death metal, Michael Jackson, Metallica (which Una asked me to stop singing along to), Willie Nelson, and more. I saw a Rasta hawking CDs of his reggae to a tie-dyed family whose patriarch gushed “I love Bob Marley” but passed on buying the disc. 

Probably the best known musician from San Clemente is Annie Hardy of Giant Drag, who if I'm not mistaken, was at one point something of a regular on Amoeba's mezzanine. Other local performers include Absynth & Orange, American Restless, Buddhafinger, Brewcifer, Clam, Collective (And the Influence of the Individual), CursorDavid Greenwood, Dr. Bob's Nightmare, Dubluva, Dustin Franks, Garrett Grimm, Grady Penna, Half Blonde, Maddie Miller, Man Flesh, Mario Di Sandro, Methadone Kitty and the Daily Dose, No More Saints, Phigure, Red Asphalt, The Red Kapps, The Resurrectionists, Rock Bottom, Scarletfields, Shit Wizard, Shtar, Skunkemusic, Sunday Night Drive, and Tony Milosevic.


Probably the best-known film that really made use of its San Clemente setting was Rian Johnson’s neo-noir film Brick (2005). Ron Howard’s Frost Nixon (2008) included some shots of San Clemente -- possibly of the Western White House (I didn't see it). Clint Eastwood’s Heartbreak Ridge (1986) featured a scene filmed in San Clemente’s storied Wagon Wheel bar (now Mulligan’s). At least some scenes of Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and The Naked Gun (1988) were also filmed in San Clemente. On television San Clemente was featured in at least some episodes of Dynasty, Sports Talk, and Not Now John. San Clemente is the setting for an MTV show called Life of Ryan, although I don't believe that it's filmed there. San Clemente is also the birthplace of actress Cara Fawn (aka Cheyenne Silver).

After the old San Clemente Theatre was permanently shuttered in 1995, Krikorian San Clemente Cinema 6 opened in 1997 and is currently the only movie theater in town. San Clemente is also home to Inspirational Films, a production company that produces Christian-themed films. Their biggest hit to date was Jesus (1979), the three (!) directors of which were John HeymanJohn Krisch, and Peter Sykes (To the Devil... A Daughter, The House in Nightmare Park, Demons of the Mind).


Though not quite a South County art mecca on the same level as Laguna Beach, San Clemente is home to a vibrant and well-established art scene based around galleries, street art, surf boards, public art, tattoo parlors, &c.

Mint Fine Art Gallery 

The San Clemente Art Association first organized back in 1953 with seven members. They had their first show in 1954 and opened an art gallery in 1972. Nowadays they host eight art shows a year, including the August Art-Craft Fair in the third week of each August which has taken place since 1960. The city and the Art Association have paired together to turn traffic control boxes into art canvasses. The Village Art Faire takes place on the first Sunday of every month and Una and I checked it out as we made our way toward the sea. San Clemente is also home to a street artist who goes by Bandit. Bandit organized the first Public Art of San Clemente Art Show in 2012.

Art supply stores and galleries including Bamboo and Beyond, Gallery 104, GRC Ceramic Design, Ink Gallery, Jennifer Joyce Ceramic Arts, Kona Gallery and Photojournalism Center, Liquid Art Studio, Solitary Exposure Ocean Fine Art Gallery, and Studio Artique. We stayed near San Clemente Art Supply which offers classes. I’m not sure if it’s connected to the store, but in an alley nearby a garage has a mural celebrating the first half century of The Rolling Stones. A bit further up the road I snapped a picture of the Mint Fine Art Gallery and met the owner as he was leaving.


Surfing has been popular in San Clemente at least since the 1930s and really took off in the 1950s. Popular surfing areas include the Trestles (mentioned by the Beach Boys in “Surfin’ USA”), the Lowers, the Middles, the Uppers, the Riviera, Lost Winds, the Hole, T-Street, the Pier, Linda Lane, 204, North Beach, Calafia, and Poche Beach.

There are several surf-centric shops and manufactures like Cole Surfboards, Dewey Weber Surfboards, Lost Surfboards, San Clemente Surf Company, Son of the Sea, Stewart Surfboards, Terry Senate Surfboards, and Timmy Patterson Surfboards. There’s also an annual San Clemente Celebration of Surf Music and Art Festival. For more than 20 years, San Clemente has also annually hosted the largest Woody exhibition in California.

They used to show surf films at the Miramar and surf films and series like Innovators (2005), School of Surf (2009), Farmer’s Tan (2010), and BoardRoom (2012) were filmed in San Clemente. San Clemente is also home to the Surfing Heritage Foundation and the Surfrider Foundation. The publications Longboard Magazine, Surfer’s Journal, and Surfing Magazine are (or were) all based in San Clemente.


Max Berg Plaza Park

San Clemente is home to a number of beaches, parks and hiking trails. The oldest beach is San Clemente State Beach, established in 1937 and home to the Historic San Clemente Cottage.

San Clemente Historic Cottage 

Inside the historic cottage

Other parks include Bonita Canyon Park, Calafia Park, Forster Ranch Community Park, La Pata Vista Hermosa Sports Park, Leslie Park, Liberty Park, Linda Lane Park, Marblehead Park, Max Berg Plaza Park, Parque del Mar, Rancho San Clemente Park, San Clemente Dog Park, San Gorgonio Park, San Luis Rey Park, Sunset Park, Verde Park, and part of Rancho Mission Viejo Ecologia (part is within San Diego County).

Most of the hiking trails are in the semi-arid, rather forebodingly tree-less (and therefore shade-less) foothills. They include the the 8km Prima Derecha Trail, 6.75 km Forster Ridgeline Trail, 5.5 km Cristianitos Trial, the 5.5 km Rancho San Clemente Trail, and the 4.5 kilometer Talega Trail. Nearer the coast there’s the 5km San Clemente Pedestrian Trail.


There are, of course, other things to do when in San Clemente.

Cabrillo Playhouse (1953)

As a fan of live theater, I was pleased to stumble upon the Cabrillo Playhouse, established in 1953 and home to the San Clemente Community Theatre. Every August for the last 60 years the Annual San Clemente Fiesta Street Festival has taken place and offers attendees bands, beer, games, arts and crafts, car and motorcycle shows, and a salsa challenge. There’s also the Rancho San Clemente Tennis & Fitness Club. The family-oriented Ocean Festival has taken place annually since 1977. On the 13th of October is the Carnival Colossal & Expo

More entertainment options: parking lot grill-outs and laundromat arcade games

For golfers, there are a few options. In addition to the Bella Collina Towne & Golf Club and Shorecliffs Golf Club, there’s the San Clemente Golf Club. The San Clemente Municipal Golf Course was designed in 1928 by the renowned golf course architect William P. Bell, initially as a nine hole course. It was touted as the only all-grass course between Long Beach and La Jolla. Nine more holes were added in 1956. Sadly, the elegant clubhouse was destroyed to make way for an apartment complex.


In addition to the aforementioned San Clemente Historical Society, San Clemente is home to the San Clemente Junior Women's Club and San Clemente Women’s Club (established in 1948), Kiwanis Club of San Clemente, San Clemente Rotary Club, San Clemente - Capistrano Bay Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), and the San Clemente Friends of the Library, among other organizations.


There are several bookstores in San Clemente including Joy’s Christian Bookstore, Mathom House Books, and Village Book Exchange. Additionally, there's the San Clemente Library

If you’d like to read more about San Clemente there have been several newspapers including the first, El Heraldo de San Clemente and currently the San Clemente Times, the Orange County Register's Sun Post News, and the online San Clemente Patch.

There are also books worth checking out such as Homer Banks’s The Story of San Clemente: The Spanish Village (1930), Lloyd Hanson’s Inside the Casa, Elizabeth Mcmillian and Melba Levick’s Casa California: Spanish-Style Houses from Santa Barbara to San Clemente (1996), Doris Walker’s The Heritage of San Clemente (2000), Mike Newel’s San Clemente California Spanish Village by the Sea (2009), and Jennifer A. Garey and The San Clemente Historical Society’s San Clemente (2010). There’s also a children’s book from 1973, Blythe Welton and Mary Lou Nicolai’s From Fishcarts to Fiestas.

And if you want, check out Lucas “Toddler Boy” of “Look Who’s Traveling” (who beat me to San Clemente by a week or so!) by watching the clip below:


To vote vote for other Orange County communities, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, vote here. Please leave any additions, corrections, or shared memories in the comment section. Aloha!


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California Fool's Gold -- A South County Primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 31, 2013 04:44pm | Post a Comment

Most of us know the stereotypes and are familiar with the frequent characterizations of Orange County. It’s supposedly culture-less and even somehow history-less. Anyone who’s spent any time in Los Angeles has no doubt heard the same hollow, bafflingly ignorant observations made of about that richly cultured city yet sadly, many Angelenos (who ought to no better) still nevertheless cling to the dated, and increasingly disconnected stereotypes about their neighbors to the south.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of South Orange County

Of course anyone who’s spent any time in Orange County knows that the popular images of that County have as little in common with reality as the prevailing stereotypes of Los Angeles do. I'll acknowledge that there’s a degree of truth to some of them but as Orange County grows more urban, more diverse, more liberal, and more interesting, spreading them reveals more about the vastness of the spreader's ignorance than their insight or knowledge about the subject.

As of 2012 roughly 31% of Orange Countians were registered Democrats whereas 42% were registered Republicans so neither corporate political party can claim the majority (for now although the percentage of the former grows whilst the latter declines). Of all Orange Countians, 45% speak a language other than English at home. With a population that is 44% white*, 34% Latino**, 18% Asian, 2% black, and 1% Native American, there is no racial or ethnic majority. Forbes magazine recently placed Orange County above Los Angeles County in its list of the most diverse communities. Orange also has the third largest county population in California, just behind that of San Diego. But Orange’s population density is contained much higher. 1,472.3/km2 versus San Diego’s is 260/km2,making it more than five times as dense as the second biggest county in the state and therefore hardly a big, sleepy suburb.

I suspect that part of the Orange County's continuing image problem stems from the fact that whereas Los Angeles has an army of intelligent, informed academic, intellectual, and literary boosters, many of Orange County’s enthusiasts are rather less convincing. In my view, The OC Weekly is now superior to the LA Weekly in almost every regard. However, when it comes to their annual "Best of Orange County" lists, a disproportionate amount of winners are puzzlingly in Long Beach – the bustling Los Angeles County (not Orange) Medina to Los Angeles’s Mecca. Saying that the best things about one's county are located outside of it isn't exactly a ringing endorsement and seems to betray a disappointing sense of inferiority. I, for one, would love to see a "best of" list that only includes Orange County. 


In my North Orange County primer I pointed out that Orange County that North Orange County is home to the largest population of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam as well as home to the vibrant ethnic enclaves of Little Saigon, Little Arabia, and Little Seoul. Most of the great Italo and Euro Disco performers (and their fans) bypass Los Angeles to play and dance in venues like Avec Nightclub, Bleu, the Observatory, and Shark Club. There’s lots of great architecture – the City of Orange includes three Eichler Tracts (three times as many as are located in Los Angeles) in addition to its many, lovely Craftsman homes. Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts is a major hub of high culture. It’s also, of course, home to the popular Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm theme parks.

“What about South County?” you may well be asking at this point. Well, admittedly I know a lot less about South County than North (and still have loads to experience in the North). There certainly seem to quite a few more (frequently gated) master-planned communities in South County than in North County. Many of the towns seem only to have incorporated in the last couple of decades -- although their histories could be said to begin with the earliest human habitation thousands of years ago.

Even within clusters of red tile uniformity there are surprises and delights, sometimes all the more enjoyable because they're unexpected. Exploring Tustin I was surprised to find two enormous World War II era blimp hangars – two of the largest freestanding wooden structures on the planet -- and a surrounding, abandoned military base. Irvine’s prescribed and managed normalcy is clearly the work of a unique brand of madness that I enjoyed trying to wrap my head around. And most recently I rediscovered Laguna Beach -- a left-leaning arts colony full of rich hippies and gays (as well as stunning natural scenery). So to encourage more votes (and therefore more explorations by me of South County), here’s a primer to introduce you to the essentials about the region’s communities to entice you to vote.


The great Missourian Mark Twain famously said that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” He was right, of course, and I suggest that anyone eager to characterize Orange County explore it first -- preferably on foot. The worst way to see Orange County is probably from a car speeding down the freeway, which will limit one's experience to views of architecturally impressive freeway interchanges, freeway walls, and tree tops. If you're not up for walking or biking, there are also several public rail options including Metrolink'91Orange County, and Inland Empire/Orange County lines. It's also traversed by Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner. The dominant bus system is the OCTA (Orange County Transit Authority), the 78 lines of which access every city in the county. Smaller bus lines include Irvine's iShuttle and Laguna Beach Transit. If you're taking a boat from Catalina Island, you can take a Catalina Express boat.


Of all communities in the South County, right now Balboa Island (in Newport Beach) and San Clemente in are tied for second place and representing South County. To vote vote for Orange County neighborhoods and communities, vote here. To vote for other Los Angeles County communities to be covered on the blog, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, vote here.  



For thousands of years before the Spanish Conquest, what’s now South Orange County was home to the Acagchemem nation. All of California was claimed for Spain in 1769 and the conquerors called the indigenous people Juaneños. In 1822, what's now South County became part of the newly-independent country of Mexico. Orange County remained part of Mexico until 1848, when the US defeated Mexico in war. In 1850, when California became a state, what’s now Orange County was made part of Los Angeles County. Orange County remained part of the County of Los Angeles for almost half a century, until 11 March, 1889 when Orange County seceded.

In 1900 there were still fewer than 20,000 residents spread across the then-new, mostly agricultural county. The 1920s saw significant growth and the region’s population first surpassed 100,000. In the 1950s and ‘60s Orange County grew incredibly quickly. Since then, every decade has seen further growth although most of the stereotypes seem to be trapped in this era from half a century ago. The South County region is bordered by Riverside County to the northeast, San Diego County to the southwest, North Orange County to the northwest, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest. And now for the communities... 



City of Aliso Viejo Theatre Complex

Aliso Viejo had been an unincorporated community since around 1990, and incorporated as a city in 2001, making it the newest city in the county. As of 2010 the demographic breakdown was roughly 62% white, 20% Asian, 17% Latino, and 2% black. Its primary attractions are the Aliso Viejo Town Center and Renaissance ClubSport. In 2006 the community gained widespread attention when the principal of Aliso Niguel High School banned school dances in a Footloose-like situation covered by the BBC and Geraldo at Large.


Image source: At Home in Coto

Coto de Caza is a guard-gated community founded in 1968, one of Orange County's oldest and most expensive master-planned communities. As of 2010 the population was 82% white, 8% Latino, 6% Asian, and 1% black. Coto de Caza (meaning "game preserve") was envisioned as a hunting lodge. It’s currently home to two eighteen-hole golf courses and two clubhouses as well as the Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park.


Dana Point harbor as seen from the end of Blue Lantern St.

Dana Point is named after the headland of Dana Point, a popular port for ships involved with the hide trade with nearby Mission San Juan Capistrano. It was in turn named after Richard Henry Dana, Jr., author of Two Years Before the Mast. The harbor contains a replica of his ship, The Pilgrim. The hide trade reached its peak in the 1830s and 1840s and nowadays people are more likely to visit to attend the Festival of Whales, which has taken place annually since 1972. The Tall Ships Festival is also held annually, in September. The population is roughly 76% white, 17% Latino of any race, 3% Asian, and 1% black.


Irvine Business Complex (image source: Irvine Chamber)

Irvine is a master planned community mostly developed by the Irvine Company after the 1960s. It incorporated as a city in 1971. The layout was designed by the great architect William Pereira and Irvine Company employee Raymond Watson and is nominally divided into housing developments euphemistically referred to as townships. Although one of the safest cities in the country, it’s also one of the most disparaged for its sterile and managed Utopian aspirations. To read more about Irvine, click here.


Ladera Ranch (image source: DMB)

Ladera Ranch is a planned, unincorporated master-planned community. Construction of the community began in 1999 on portions of the Rancho Mission Viejo cattle ranch, at that time the largest remaining working ranch in Orange County. Like Irvine it consists of neighborhood "villages" includingOak Knoll Village, Bridgepark, Flintridge Village, Township, Wycliffe Village, Echo Ridge Village, Avendale Village, Terramor Village, and Covenant Hills Village. As of 2010 the population was 69% white, 13% Latino of any race, 12% Asian, and 2% black. 


View from Crescent Bay Point Park

Laguna Beach is a quirky, affluent community in South Orange County. It is widely known for its vibrant arts scene and environmental treasures. It has far more registered Democrats than Republicans and is home to an well-established gay scene. It's quite possibly the most beautiful spot in the county. To read more about it, click here.


Taj Mahal Medical Center

Laguna Hills incorporated in 1991. It annexed North Laguna Hills in 1996 and the Westside Annex (including Sheep Hills Park) in 2000. For several decades before incorporation the Taj Mahal Medical Center has been a local landmark (since 1964). As of 2010 the population was 73% white, 21% Latino of any race, 13% Asian, and 1% black.


The Chet Holifield Federal Building 

Laguna Niguel is a master planned community. In 1959, Boston’s Cabot, Cabot & ForbesLaguna Niguel Corporation established Laguna Niguel one of the first master planned communities in California. In 1973, Laguna Niguel Regional Park opened. A one-million square-foot ziggurat built for Rockwell International and designed by William Pereira was featured in the films Death Race 2000 (1975), Deal of the Century (1983), and Outbreak (1995). The city incorporated in 1989. As of 2010 its population was 73% white, 14% Latino of any race, 9% Asian, and 1% black.


Laguna Woods 76 - 1966

About 90% of the city of Laguna Woods consists of Laguna Woods Village, a retirement community formerly known as Leisure World. Construction of Leisure World began in 1963. The city’s median population is 78 years old. The city of Laguna Woods incorporated in 1999. As of 2010 the population was 84% white, 10% Asian, 4% Latino, and 1% black.


Serrano Adobe - Lake Forest

Lake Forest grew out of the community of El Toro, which was established in the 1880s. It’s named after two artificial, condo-lined lakes. Lake Forest incorporated as a city in 1991. Since incorporation, Lake Forest has expanded its limits to include the communities of Foothill Ranch and Portola Hills, two master planned developments. One of its parks, Heritage Hill, is home to some of the oldest buildings in the county including the Serrano Adobe, the old El Toro School House, and St. Georges Episcopal Church. As of 2010 the population was 57% white, 25% Latino, 13% Asian, 2% black, and 1% Native American.


Las Flores (image source: OC Real Estate Voice)

Las Flores is a small, unincorporated community with a population that in 2010 was about 65% white, 17% Latino, 13% Asian, and 2% black. It’s home to the Rancho Santa Margarita dog/skate park and Cosmo's Italian Kitchen.


Mission Viejo Lake (image source: Kelly Law Office)

Mission Viejo is located in Orange County’s Saddleback Valley, and was developed by Donald Bren, current president of the Irvine Company. The master-planned community is the second largest in the country, exceeded in size only by Highlands Ranch, Colorado. By several measures it’s one of the safest communities of its size in the country. It was for much of its existence undeveloped grazing land. The population as of 2010 was roughly 69% white, 17% Latino, 9% Asian, and 1% black. In entertainment it was the birthplace of actor/musician Noah Munck , actor/writer/producer David Henrie, actor Kristy Swanson, and drummer Matt Sorum (Guns N' Roses, The Cultand Velvet Revolver).


Madame Modjeska in the garden of "Arden"

Modjeska Canyon is an unincorporated suburban community on the western slope of the Santa Ana Mountains. Most of the canyon is bordered by the Cleveland National Forest and it’s home of the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary. Modjeska is named after Polish stage actress Helena Modjeska, who between 1888 and 1906, made her home, "Arden" (now a National Historic Landmark) there. Later, in 1966, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love was incorporated in Modjeska before moving to Laguna Beach.


Newport Beach Skyline at Night  (image source: Fine Art America)

Newport Beach began after Captain Samuel S. Dunnells defied naysayers by successfully navigating a 105-ton steamer named The Vaquero into a then-unnamed harbor. This prompted San Franciscan Robert Irvine to buy a large ranch that included the port. Newport Beach incorporated in 1906, a year after the Pacific Electric Railway arrived from Los Angeles making it the oldest city in South County. In 1923 it annexed Corona del Mar. In 2002 it annexed Newport Coast (which has Orange County's highest per capita income), East Santa Ana Heights, and San Joaquin Hills. In 2008 it annexed annexed West Santa Ana Heights. Completed in 1970, Newport Beach’s 17-story 620 Tower is the oldest skyscraper in Orange County. The population today is roughly 82% white, 7% Latino, 7% Asian, and 1% black. The TV show The OC was set in Newport Beach (although mostly filmed in Los Angeles's South Bay). On the other hand, much of Arrested Development was actually filmed there.


Cowan Heights in North Tustin (image source: Jansen Team)

Unincorporated North Tustin is Orange County’s largest Census Designated Place (CDP). Its population is roughly 75% white, 13% Latino, 8% Asian, and 1% black. Communities within the North Tustin CDP also include Cowan Heights, East Tustin, Lemon Heights, Panorama Heights, and Red Hill.


Rancho Santa Margarita (image source: OC Book)

Rancho Santa Margarita is a master planned community named after Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores, in San Diego County. The city is located on lands formerly owned (along with Rancho Trabuco and Rancho Mission Viejo) by James L. Flood and his partner Jerome O’Neill, who purchased the ranchos in 1882. Despite its relatively long history, it only incorporated as a city in 2000, at which point it took the “Longest City Name in California” title from La Cañada Flintridge in the Verdugos. The population today is roughly 67% white, 19% Latino, 9% Asian, and 2% black. Supposedly it is the most frequent filming location for a television series titled The Real Housewives of Orange County.


San Clemente in the 1950s

San Clemente is the most southern city in Orange County, located more than 200 kilometers from the furthest reaches of Northwest Los Angeles County, and is considerably closer to San Diego. It’s named after San Clemente Island, one of the California Channel Islands. It is mostly the result of the vision of Ole Hanson, a former Seattle mayor who purchased 8.1 km2 which he wanted to resemble a Spanish resort town. Indeed, its slogan is “Spanish Village by the Sea.” It was the setting of the film Brick (2005) and the MTV series, Life of Ryan. It’s also the birthplace of actress Clara Fawn (aka Cheyenne Silver) and musician Annie Hardy (Giant Drag). The population is roughly 76% white, 17% Latino, 4% Asian, 1% black, and 1% Native American. To read more about it, click here.


Mission San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano is centered around Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776. As with San Clemente, many of the strip malls and homes are built in the Spanish revival style. It was until recently the famed, springtime home of an iconic population of American Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) that wintered in Goya, Argentina. Leon René’s song “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” was recorded by The Ink Spots, Fred Waring, Guy Lombardo, Glenn Miller, The Five Satins, and Pat Boone.


Cook's Corner in Santiago Canyon (image source: The Hamblogger)

Santiago Canyon
is an unincorporated community in Silverado between Trabuco and Modjeska Canyons. Within it are the smaller developments of Santiago Canyon Estates and the Falcon View Estates as well as Cook's Corner, a biker bar built in 1884.


Silverado, California (image source: Captured By Mark)

Unincorporated Silverado was founded in 1878, at the edge of Cleveland National Forest. As its name suggests, it was located near several silver mines. In the 1940s it became a popular vacation retreat for the area’s hot springs. 


Trabuco Canyon (image source: Shawn Barry)

Unincorporated Trabuco Canyon is a small community located in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains and partly within the Cleveland National Forest. "Trabuco” is Spanish for “blunderbuss.” Legend has it that it’s named after one such firearm that was lost in the canyon by one of Gaspar de Portolà’s expedition’s party in 1769.


Tustin blimp hangars

Tustin includes the neighborhoods of Old Town, planned community Tustin Legacy, and upscale, golf-centric Tustin Ranch. Tustin’s Old Town arose in the 1880s and still contains several buildings from the era as well as some lovely Victorian and Craftsman homes nearby. One well-known house, The Rock House, was built in 1950 by a civil engineer who collected the rocks on various job sites in the Rocky Mountains. The most impressive structures, however, are the aforementioned 29,000 square meter, 59 meter high blimp hangars which were used as Starfleet’s Hangar 1 in Star Trek (2009). To read more about Tustin, click here.

*For the purpose of this blog entry, “white” refers to non-Latino whites only
** For the purpose of this blog entry, “Latino” refers to Latinos of any race and ethnicity


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Laguna Beach

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 15, 2013 02:45pm | Post a Comment


Laguna Beach is an quirky, affluent community in South Orange County. The city is the third oldest in Orange County, after San Juan Capistrano and Anaheim. It is widely known for its vibrant arts scene and environmental treasures.

It's long seemed to me that dated and inaccurate stereotypes of Los Angeles often get transferred by Angelenos who should know better to Orange County, particularly South County. Perhaps as a whole they apply more accurately to the overall suburban, right wing-leaning and WASPy southern end of the county but Laguna Beach is a lesson in why we should only make broad generalizations with caution (or not at all). In Laguna Beach there are more registered Democrats there than Republicans. By the largest majority in the county, Laguna Beach residents voted for marriage equality. There seems to be a consensus that Laguna Beach, especially South Laguna Beach, is Orange County's gay mecca. Its hilly neighborhoods look almost nothing like those in, say, Irvine. And even though I think that there's a lot more culture in Orange County than haters give it credit for, even the most stubborn denier would have to except Laguna Beach.

I've visited Laguna Beach a few times in the past, mainly for the food and the beaches. Driving through Laguna Canyon has inspired dreams of living in the chaparral-covered hillside like some Mediterranean strain of Hobbit. On another note, the trip to Laguna Beach that led to this piece was more about going to the beach than blogging, so if it seems as though I didn't spend as much time exploring on foot as I usually do, that's because I didn't. It was a friend's birthday to go (frequent travelling companion Tim Shimbles) and I didn't want to completely hijack his and his girlfriend's day with my agenda.

Long Beach Transit Free Shuttle

Most people probably visit Laguna Beach as we did, with a car. For those without cars or unafraid to take public transportation, you can also easily get to Laguna Beach on OCTA's Lines 1 and 89. Within the city, the three Laguna Beach Transit lines will take you just about anywhere a visitor would want to go. Furthermore, from 28 June until 1 September there's a free trolley which we hopped on.


As of 2010 Laguna Beach's population was 22,723 people. The ethnic makeup of Laguna Beach was 91% white, 7% Latino, 4% Asian, and 1% black. It's one of the wealthiest communities in the county. The oddly shaped city, roughly laid out along three spokes like a three-pronged Glaive, is bordered by Dana Point to the southeast, Aliso Viego and Laguna Niguel to the east, Laguna Woods to the northeast, a large wilderness area to the west and the even larger Pacific Ocean to the southwest.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's maps of South Orange County and Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach includes the neighborhoods of Aliso Beach, Alta Vista, Arch Beach Heights, Blue Lagoon, Bluebird Canyon, California Cove, Canyon, Canyon Acres, Central Bluff, Civic Arts District, Diamond/Crestview, Crown Royal, Downtown, Emerald Bay, Emerald Terrace, Irvine Cove, Laguna Royale, Laguna Village, Laguna Village North, Lagunita, Lower Bluebird, Main Beach, Mystic Hills, North Laguna, Park Avenue Estates, Portafina, Rancho Laguna, Smithcliffs, South Laguna Bluffs, South Laguna Village, Temple Hills, Top of the World, Treasure Island, Upper Diamond, Upper Victoria Beach, and Victoria Beach.



The Old Spanish and Mexican Ranchos of Orange County California

The area around Laguna Beach is estimated to have been continuously inhabited for about 8,000 years. The Tongva arrived to the area as early as 5,000 years ago. To the south, across Aliso Creek, they were neighbored by the small Acagchemem nation, who like them spoke an Uto-Aztecan language. The Spanish arrived in 1769 and named the area La Cañada de Las Lagunas and later conquered the land -- the Laguna Lakes are the county's only natural ones. Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821 and thus future Orange County became Mexican. The lands that now include Laguna Beach were divided between Rancho San Joaquin, Rancho Niguel (named after the Native village, Niguili), and public lands.


Arch Beach Hotel - 1880 (image credit: LightHeaded)

The US defeated Mexico in 1848 and took over California. The Timber-Culture Act of 1871 encouraged settlement of the west and the first American to arrive, Eugene Salter, claimed part of Aliso Canyon and South Laguna. More families followed. The first permanent homes were built by William and Nathaniel "Nate" Brooks in 1876. A small settlement called Arch Beach was established at the mouth of Bluebird Canyon. Arch Beach got its own post office in 1889. In 1886, Hubbard Goff opened the Arch Beach Hotel.

Laguna Beach c. 1890 (image credit: Orange County Historical Society)

In 1887, a settlement called Lagona was established at the mouth of Laguna Canyon. A book, Laguna Beach of Early Days (1947), was written by one of the first inhabitants, Joseph Thurston. By 1888, Lagona had two schools. Lagona got its own post office in 1891. In 1889, Orange County seceded from Los Angeles County. In 1904 the residents of the community officially renamed their community Laguna Beach -- the community of Three Arches was renamed South Laguna. In 1905, Laguna Cliffs to the north were subdivided by Howard Heiseler, L.C. McKnight, and the Thumb Brothers, and were the first to offer running water to every lot.


Hotel Laguna

Although by 1900 there were only five families of permanent homesteaders farming Laguna Beach, by the 1880s the California Riviera was already attracting many tourists. The Laguna Hotel was built, burned down and rebuilt in 1888. After both it and the Arch Beach Hotel were purchased by the same owner, they were moved to the present site of the Hotel Laguna and rechristened the New Hotel Laguna. After being condemned, it was demolished in 1928 and replaced by another structure in 1930. One of the most iconic structures in town was for decades topped by a beautiful neon sign. However, in 1996 the sign was removed.

Laguna Lumber (image credit: Laguna Historical Society)

Laguna Beach was almost urbanized during the 1890s but a depression and change in the plans of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway spared the town. In 1903 Elmer Jahraus arrived from Santa Ana in and soon after opened a cigar factory. In 1913 he opened Laguna Lumber which allowed for an acceleration in Laguna Beach's growth, albeit at a measured pace, and one oriented toward tourists on stage coaches rather than steam trains.


Laguna Beach Art Association c. 1925 (image credit: Laguna Art Museum)

Artists were drawn by the beautiful and dramatic landscapes. The first painting done in Laguna Beach was done so in 1878. Some of the earliest painters to come to Laguna Beach included plein air masters Anna Hills, Frank Cuprien (aka the "Dean of Laguna Artists"), Gardner Symonds, William Alexander Griffith, William Daniell, and William Wendt (aka the "Dean of Southern California landscape painters"). In 1913, a group led by Missouri-born muralist Edgar A. Payne established an artist commune. Their first public exhibition, held in 1918, attracted thousands of attendees. Bolstered by this success, Payne later founded the Laguna Beach Art Association.

Wendt later co-founded the California Art Club, and served as its president for six years. In 1961, the Laguna Beach School of Art (now known as the Laguna Beach College of Art + Design) was established.



The beautiful scenery of Laguna Beach attracted not just vacationers and artists but filmmakers, who shot a handful of silent films in the area including Neal of the Navy (1915), The Lash (1916), The Mystery Ship (1917), The Hope Diamond Mystery (1921), The Queen of Sheba (1921), The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1922), and Captain January (1924).


Recreation of The Last Supper in 1936

The Pageant of the Masters began as an event called Kitshi Manido in 1921. The second Kitshi took place in 1927. The Spirit of the Masters was added to the Festival of Arts in 1933. In 1936 it was renamed Pageant of the Masters. The pageants centered around living artists staging recreations of famous artworks. It still takes place today. 

Aliso Beach 1923 (image credit: Light Headed and the Howard Wilson Collection)

Also in the 1920s, dozens of cabins were built in Crystal Cove Park for the growing number of tourists whilst others opted to sleep in tents on Aliso Beach. The city of Laguna Beach incorporated in 1927.

Fire Station One -- Orange County's oldest operating fire station (since 1931)


By the 1930s Laguna Beach was one of the most popular destinations for Hollywood movie stars. Many silent era and Classic Hollywood era stars made Laguna Beach their home (or one of them), including Bette Davis, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Judy Garland, Mary Pickford, Mickey Rooney, Rudolph Valentino, and Victor Mature among others. In James Cain's 1941 novel Mildred Pierce, the heroine opens her third restaurant there. Alongside the Hollywood crowd, a Laguna Beach's gay scene began to emerge with several gay bars operating by toward the end of the 1930s. Gay actor Rock Hudson was first a staple of the Laguna Beach social scene and ultimately bought a home there.


The real Larsen, Hello-o-o-o-o-o-o- How Ar-r-re You? (image credit: Joe Orman) and Guy Angelo Wilson's sculpture (image credit: Chris Jepsen of OC History Roundup)

Eiler Larsen, aka the Laguna Beach Greeter, was a Dane who settled in Laguna Beach in 1942 after first visiting the Pageant of the Masters in 1938. It seems that then as now, most motorists were miserable and Larsen made it his habit to wave to them and yell "Hello!" "Too many people driving along the highway are frowning and look unhappy. By waving, I make them smile and thousands of people have a happier day before them," he explained. In 1963,  "The Greeter" was released on OBO records, composed by Paul Blaine Henrie, sung by Rochelle Battat and featuring Larsen. In 1964, the cultural icon was proclaimed Laguna's Official Greeter by the mayor. He died at age 84 in 1975. During his life he was depicted in paintings, postcards,  and sculptures. One such sculpture stands in front of The Old Pottery Place and another in front of Greeter's Corner Restaurant.

                      Griggs and the Learys                       Flyer and stage at the Laguna Beach Christmas Happening

Loved by and friendly to actors, artists, gays and others; Laguna Beach was firmly established as the epicenter of Orange County Bohemianism by the rise of the counterculture in the 1960s. In 1965, the celebrated Sawdust Art Festival was inaugurated when a group of artists "splintered" from the Festival of Arts. In 1967 a group of artists splintered from them and started the Art-A-Fair Festival.
In 1967, John Griggs led the Brotherhood of Eternal Love relocated there and opened their head shop, Mystic Arts World. In 1968, Timothy Leary was busted for possession in Laguna Beach. The Hare Krishnas arrived the same year (although they didn't open their temple until 1980). In 1970, Laguna Beach hosted the Laguna Beach Christmas Happening.


Seal Rock

Hippies were largely responsible for some of Laguna Beach's passion for preserving and protecting the both Laguna Beach's environment and historic homes. The Pacific Marine Mammal Center was established in 1971 to protect, rescue and rehabilitate marine mammals. Thanks to the efforts of Laguna Beach preservationists there are still Craftsman bungalows from the early 20th Century and large undeveloped wilderness areas. The first Laguna Beach Historic Survey was undertaken in 1980 to determine historic significance of the town's remaining pre-1940 buildings. Old home and architecture fans should consider taking the Village Laguna Charm House Tour


Art-A-Fair Festival (1967) and the Sawdust Festival (1968) (image source: OCInSite)

With art one of Laguna Beach's main draws, it should come as no surprise that it's become a big commodity. Laguna Beach still hosts several art events including the aforementioned the Pageant of the Masters, the Sawdust Art Festival, and Festival of Arts, as well as the Art-A-Fair (founded in 1967), Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting Invitational, the First Thursdays Art Walk, Laguna Craft Guild Art Show, Open Artists' Studio, and likely others -- please let me know. There's also the Laguna Art Museum. Laguna Beach is also home to the Southern California Artist Association, Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, and Laguna ART Group.

Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art

By no means do I want to suggest that I'm terribly knowledgeable about Laguna Beach's huge art scene but it seems to be dominated by two major strains -- the plein air landscapes with which it made its name, and a kitschy strain of of pop surrealism. I have no desire to belittle people for their tastes but I've got to say that it's not my thing. I've seen melting harlequins, ex-presidents playing cards, and rainbow striped elephants but my snickering at the photorealistic depiction of Disney's Ariel in a romantic embrace with a Humpback whale led to my ejection from the Wyland Gallery. I'm sure non-believers like me don't bother the Laguna Beach art establishment too much though. If the prices these pieces command and the proudly-displayed photos of artists with guys like Sting and Dave Matthews suggest anything, it's that these painters are crying all the way to the (to paraphrase Liberace).

This here is my attempt to list all of the current Laguna Beach galleries and shops: Amy Rose Art, Anthropos Gallery, Art Affair, Art Classes & Artist Bobbi Boyd, Art for the Soul, Artist Eye Laguna Gallery, Auster Ken, Aviation Arts Gallery, Avran Art+Design, Bluebird Gallery, Casa Caroni, CES Contemporary, Cheryl Ekstrom Studio, Cheyne Walls Fine Art Photography, Christy Larry Studio Gallery, Clark Little Gallery, Coastal Eddy a Gallery,

Contemporary Chinese Fine Art, Corbett Colleen, Cove Gallery, Davy Liu Studio Gallery, De Franco Studio, DeBilzan Gallery, Deborah Carman Gallery, Delgado Water Colors, Demossa Gallery, DeRu's Fine Art, Diana Ferrone Gallery, Exclusive Collections Gallery, Faux Paw Productions, Fil Mottola Gallery, Fine Art Laguna Beach, Fingerhut Gallery of Laguna Beach, Gallery 1951, Gallery McCollum, Gallery One of Laguna, The George Gallery, H Gallery,

Handmade Hearts Gallery & Art Glass Studio, Hidden Dream Fine Art, How Original, J Kamin Fine Arts, JoAnne Artman Gallery, Joseph Wise Fine Art Gallery, Katie Clark Fine Art, Kuhnert's Art Gallery, Kush Fine Art, Laguna Fine Art, Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art, Laguna North Gallery, Las Laguna Art Gallery
Len Woods Indian TerritoryLu Martin Galleries, Maki Gallery, Mandarin Fine Art Gallery, Marion Meyer Contemporary Art, Martin Roberts Gallery, McKibben Studios

Melange, Messenger of the Sun, Mian's Art Gallery, Miranda Galleries, Pacific Edge Gallery, Pacific Gallery, Peter Blake Gallery, Pure Color Mike Kelly Photography, Quorum Art Gallery, Redfern Gallery, Richard MacDonald Galleries, Roark Studio Gallery, Rohrer Fine Art, Ruth Mayer Gallery, Salt Fine Art Gallery, Sandstone Gallery, Seven-Degrees, The Signature Gallery, Simard Bilodeau Galerie, Situ Art Gallery, Skylab Modern Art,

Sokolov Vladimir Studio & Gallery, Studio 7 Gallery, Studio Gallery Laguna, Sue Greenwood Fine Art, Surf Gallery, Swenson Fine Art, Townley Gallery, Tracey Moscaritolo Studio Gallery, 225 Forest, Verna Glancy Fine Art, Village Gallery, The Vintage Poster, Viszolay Walter, Wassmann Cliff Fine Arts, The Watercolor Gallery, William Merrill Gallery, Wyland Galleries
, and Xanadu Collections.

More interesting to me are the many examples of public art located throughout the community. There are so many statues and installations that one could spend a whole day just checking them out. Here's a link to a map that covers the more than 65 pieces and provides information about their creators.


Laguna Concert Band performing a suite of John Williams's music from Harry Potter

I'm sure that there are musicians born in and bands formed in Laguna Beach but I haven't been able to locate many. The Laguna Beach Chamber Music Society was founded in 1959 by cellist and Russian émigré Nicolas "Kolia" Levienne. They perform an annual chamber music festival in the winter. I'm not sure when the Laguna Concert Band was founded but it includes several smaller units too: The Bolling League, Brass Ensemble, Third Street Strutters, Laguna Flutes, SwingSet and Laguna Swing Society. Laguna Beach's gay men's chorus, Men Alive, includes over 130 singers and was founded in 2001 by Richard Cook.

Men Alive performing Morten Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium"

Local music events include Bluegrass & BBQ, Fête de la MusiqueJazz Wednesdays, Laguna Beach Live!, Laguna Beach Music Festival, Live! at the Museum, and Live! Music 4 Kids. And music shoppers will find no better store than Sound Spectrum, which opened in 1967 and still sells vinyl, video, and other music paraphernalia.


View from Crescent Bay Point Park

If I haven't made it abundantly clear, Laguna Beach is one of the most naturally beautiful areas in Orange County and its numerous parks are often both lovely themselves and afford stunning views -- as well as places to play baseball, basketball, American football, real football, volleyball or do some grilling. On the day of our visit we enjoyed the amazing view from Crescent Bay Point Park.

Iconic Lifeguard Tower (originally part of a gas station) moved to Main Beach Park in the 1920s

Over in Main Beach Park the tables have chess tables embedded in them. Crystal Cove State Park includes 46 historic cabins, a visitors' center, more than five kilometers of beach, and 2,400 acres of wilderness.

Aliso and Woods Canyon

Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
has 30 miles of trails spread over 3,900 acres of wilderness. Biggest of all, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park offers 7,000 acres of wilderness.

Other parks include Aliso Beach County Park, Alta Laguna Park, Bluebird Park, Boat Canyon Park, Heisler Park, Jahraus Park, Laguna Beach Dog Park, Lang Park, Moulton Meadows Park, Nita Carman Park, Ruby Street Park, Swanson Park, Top of the World Park, Treasure Island Park, Victoria Beach, and Village Green Park. Not exactly a park but worth a mention is South Laguna Community Garden. And shout outs to the Laguna Canyon Foundation.


For my money, the beaches in Laguna Beach are the best in Orange County. Visiting Laguna Beach often involves passing through the large green belt that practically surrounds it but one can't ignore the blue belt! The Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve was dedicated in 2012 on every Earth Day the city hosts Kelpfest. Out on the water there are divers, snorklers, body boarders, paddle boarders, skim boarders, kayakers, swimmers, and surfers. Laguna Beach hosts the Spring Fever Surfabout as well as the Victoria Skimboards World Championship. The marine environment is preserved and protected by the non-profit Laguna Ocean Foundation.

In the past I've swum at Main Beach (Laguna Beach). On the day of our visit we hit Crescent Bay Beach for about three hours. Aside from anemones, crabs, small gray fish, gulls, pelicans, and mussels, I didn't see a lot of wildlife although some kids on the shore yelled that there were rays swimming near me. And once at night I walked along the beach and accidentally annoyed a massive seal or sea lion bull that I thought was a rock.

Crescent Bay Beach

Other beaches include Agate Beah, Aliso Beach, Anita Street Beach, Bluebird Canyon Beach, Boat Canyon Cove, Brooks Street Beach, Camel Point Beach, Cleo Street Beach, Cress Street Beach, Diver's Cove, Moss Street Beach, Mountain Road Beach, Oak Street Beach, Pearl Street Beach, Picnic Beach, Rockpile Beach, Shaw's Cove, Sleepy Hollow Beach, St. Ann's Beach, Table Rock Beach, Thalia Street Beach, Thousand Steps Beach, Treasure Island Park Beach, Victoria Beach, West Street Beach, and Woods Cove.


Taco Loco

Food is also serious business in Laguna Beach, although the restaurant scene isn't the most diverse, offering as it does mostly fancy New American, Mexican, and Italian food. Thankfully, though, there are very few global chains. I've eaten at a few Laguna Beach restaurants but they all run together in my mind except for Taco Loco, which is where a former roommate of mine was discovered on one of the many pilgrimages one of my Angeleno friends has undertaken to that destination.

Laguna Beach is home to the Laguna Culinary Arts. The town offers the Flavors of Laguna tours, Laguna Beach a la Carte - A Food & Wine Experience, and the Laguna Beach Farmers' Market

Local restaurants include Active Culture, Adolfo's, Adonis Mediterranean Grill, Alessa Laguna, Andree's Patisserie, Broadway by Amar Santana, Asada Laguna, Avila's El Ranchito Mexican Restaurant, Beach House, Breakers by the Beach, Broadway by Amar Santana, Brussels Bistro, C'est La VieCafé AnastasiaCafé HeidelbergCafé Zoolu, Carmelita's, Chapleau Restaurant, China Bistro 1, Chinese Combo, Chocolate Soldier, The Cliff Restaurant,

Coyote Grill, Deb's Deli, The Deck on Laguna Beach, Dizz's As Is, Dolce Gelato, Eva's-A Caribbean Kitchen, 5', Gallo's Laguna Beach, Gauranga's Vegetarian Buffet, Gecko Cookie Company, Gelato Paradiso, GG's Café Bistro, Gina's Alfresco, Gina's Pizza & Pastaria, The Greeter's Corner Restaurant, Hapi Sushi, Hawaiian Charcoal Broiler, House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer, Husky Boy Burgers, Johnny's New York Pizza & Sandwiches, K'ya Bisto Bar,

The Koffee Klatch, La Rue du Chocolat, La Sirena Grill, Laguna Feast Authentic Mexican Cuisine, Laguna Subs, Laguna Thai By the Sea, Las Brisas Restaurant, Living Juice, Loft Restaurant, Lumberyard, Madison Square & Garden Café, Mama's Bakery & Lebanese Café, Mandarin King, Mare Culinary Lounge, Maro Wood Grill, Medici Bistro, Mirepoix, Mosaic Bar & Grille, Mozambique Steakhouse, Natraj Cuisine of India, Neapolitan Pizzeria & Birreria,

Nick's Laguna Beach, Nirvana Grille, O Fine Japanese Cuisine, Ocean Avenue, OceanView Bar & Grill, Olamendi's, Orange Café, Orange Inn, Papa's Tacos, Pappou's Den, Penguin Café, Peony Chinese Cuisine, Pizza Lounge, Polina Salerno Italian Restaurant, ReMark's, Ristorante Rumari, Rock'N Fish, Romeo Cucina, Royal Thai Cuisine, San Shi Go, Salerno Italian Restaurant, Saphire Laguna, Selanne Steak Tavern, Splashes, The Stand, Starfish,

Studio Restaurant, Sundried Tomato Café, Sushi Laguna, Tabu Grill, Taco Laguna, Taco Mesa, Taz Asian Fusion, Thai Bros, Thalia Beach 
Café, Three Four Five Restaurant, Three Seventy Common, Ti Amo Ristorante, El Torito Mexican Restaurant & Cantina, 230 Forst Avenue, 242 Café Fusion Sushi, Velvet Yogurt, Watermarc Restaurant, White House, Zeytoon, and Zinc Café & Market.


There are a few places to grab drinks (and often eats) in Laguna Beach including Bamboo Bar and Grill, Bounce, Hennessey's Tavern, Marine Room Tavern, The Rooftop Lounge (which is perhaps more of a nightclub), The Saloon, The Sandpiper Lounge, Laguna Beach Wine Gallery, Laguna Wine Coffee & Specialty Foods and Serra's Bar & Grill.


South Coast Theatre in 1940 (image credit: OC Cinema)

Laguna Beach has been home to several movie theaters in the past including Bill Alford's Nickelodeon Theatre (fka The Movie Barn fka The Liberty Theater) which showed silent films in the 1950s and was later demolished. There was also the Lynn Theatre (built around 1915 and long since demolished), the Coast Highway Theatre (opened 1935 and since demolished), and the Ocean Avenue Theatre (later renamed the Laguna Theatre). Today the only remaining movie theater is the two-screen Laguna South Coast Theatre which opened in 1923 as the New Lynn Theatre and was dedicated by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. It became the South Coast Theatre in 1937 and was divided in two after being acquired by Edwards Cinema in 1982. Around 2001 it was taken over by Regency Theatres. The Laguna Beach Film Society also hosts the Third Thursday Film Screening at the theater

In the post-silent classic era, several movies were filmed in part or in whole in Laguna Beach including Tanned Legs (1929), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), A House Divided (1931), Doctor X (1932), Forbidden (1932), Captain Blood (1935), The Life of Emily Zola (1937), The Sea Hawk (1940), Now, Voyager (1942), Lassie Come Home (1943), Sentimental Journey (1946), The Long, Long Trailer (1953), A Star Is Born (1954), The Sand Castle (1961), Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962), Locked In! (1964), and Stop the Wave I Want to Get Off (1965).

More recent Laguna Beach-filmed movies include Adventures into Digital Comics (2006), Anokha (2004), Art Car: The Movie (2012), Beaches (1988), Black Star Canyon (2006), Boxboarders! (2007), Campus Girls of OC (2008), Cat Chaser (1989), Collecting Dust (2011), The Conrad Boys (2006), Crash Artist: Beyond the Red Carpet (2008), Criminal Love (2010), Dark Horizon (2009), Dating Games People Play (2005), A Few Good Men (1992), Gallagher: Stuck in the Sixties (1983), Gettin' It (2006), Hide (2011), Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean (2012), Kenjutsu: The Art of the Samurai (2005), Leestemaker: Portrait of an Artist (2003), Mamma Mia! (2008), The Mark 666 & the New World Order (2005), The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971), Mirror Image (2012), Murder Inside of Me (2009), Naked Under Leather (2004), Orange Inn (2011), Ornaments (2008), Passionata (1992), Presence (2008), Pygmy Spy Music (2006), Rate It X (1986), Road to Flin Flon (2000), Savages (2012), and Voices of War - WWII (2007).

Life as a House
(2001), whilst set in Laguna Beach but filmed in Los Angeles County.


After Fox's hit TV series The OC aroused interest in Orange County (despite being filmed mostly in Los Angeles), MTV jumped on the short-lived bandwagon with a reality show, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County (2004). Other series (none of which I've heard of) that have been filmed in part or in whole in Laguna Beach include Laguna Cafe (2000), MXG Beach Countdown (2000), High Chaparall (2003), Bikini Destinations (2003), The Heartbreak Cafe (1997), Generation 01 (1997), Action Figures (2004), and Inspector America (2011).


Forest Avenue

If you like live theater there's Laguna Beach Artists' Theater, the Laguna Playhouse, and No Square Theater. Dance fans can enjoy the Laguna Dance Festival. Bookworms are served by a public library, the Dennis and Leslie Power Library (at Laguna College of Art and Design), Laguna Beach Books, and Barnaby Rudge Booksellers (which also sells DVDs). Shop-aholics who like shady eucalyptus-lined lines will find few better matches than Forest Avenue. Golfers might want to check out The Aliso Creek Inn and Golf CourseGamers need to put Official Game Haven on their list. Lawn sports enthusiasts should check the schedule of the Laguna Beach Lawn Bowling Club

Tiny hillside lighthouse? No, a Mediterranean Revival sewage vent from 1935

For further reading look for George Wesley Wilson's From the Ozarks to Aliso (1975) and Claire Marie Vogel's Laguna Beach (2009), part of Arcadia Publishing's wonderful Images of America series. If you'd like more Laguna Beach history, consider supporting or joining the Laguna Beach Historical Society by sending $15 per individual, $25 per household or $50 per business/organization to 278 Ocean Avenue, Laguna Beach CA 92651. Historic photos of Laguna Beach can be enjoyed by clicking here


To vote vote for other Orange County neighborhoods and communities, vote here. To vote for other Los Angeles County communities to be covered on the blog, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, vote here. Please leave any additions, corrections, or shared memories in the comment section!


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Irvine, Orange County's City of Innovation

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 13, 2013 12:13pm | Post a Comment

Irvine skyline

For a while now Irvine has shared the top spot on my poll (see the end of the post to vote) but I’ve put it off because of the time required to explore such a sprawling, distant city. There was also a time when most of my blog’s non-LA fans were Irvine residents, which intrigued me. All of my business conducted there in the past involved getting lost several times and this time would prove to be no different.

Irvine - the Dead End Capital of Orange County

Irvine is a large (170 km2 – the largest city in the county, area-wise), planned, suburban city near the center of Orange County but generally considered to be part of the South County region. In 2008, named Irvine the fourth best place to live in the country. It has topped the FBI’s list of safest American cities with populations of over 65,000 for the last eight years.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of South County

When I told people that I was writing about Irvine, most people expressed the view that -- because it's a planned community -- it's an awful, boring place. Now some of the world’s great (or at least interesting) cities are planned communities: Brasília, Islamabad, Kyoto, New Delhi, and Washington, DC. I’m not going to suggest that Irvine is on the same level as those cities but there’s something uniquely attractive and Utopian about planned cities (I know I attempted many ambitious ones whilst playing Sim City). At the same time, there's a lot that's inhuman about them – which can be attractive to if you’re into artifice. But even if one considers Irvine to be the blandest, most sterile place on earth, where there are people there is life or, as a girl from Tustin recently said when we were discussing Irvine, "Well, people like me come from places like that."

                      Irvine planners                                                                Aerial view of West Irvine


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Irvine

Irvine is neighbored by Tustin to the north, Santa Ana to the northwest, Costa Mesa to the west, Newport Beach to the southwest, Laguna Hills onto the southeast, and Lake Forest to the east. San Diego Creek is the city’s primary watercourse and its largest tributary is Peters Canyon Wash. Most of Irvine is situated on a broad, flat valley between Loma Ridge in the north and the San Joaquin Hills in the south although the northern annexations of previously unincorporated Orange County is characterized by its hills, plateaus and canyons.

While Irvine is undoubtedly safe, its completely planned character and restrictions seem to have effectively stifled most unofficial, unsanctioned expressions of culture and individuality. Every neighborhood (subdivisions euphemistically referred to as villages) has its chosen, specific character and the same sorts of strip malls, commercial centers, churches, schools, and parks designed to make them self-contained and cut down on unnecessary commuting. People have come up with joking mottoes for the city including "Irvine: We Have 62 Different Words for Beige," "Where Bland is in Demand," "Sixteen Zip Codes, Six Floor Plans," "Sorry, I Thought This Was My House," and "City by the Beige." It's widely referred to as "The Bubble." In 2011, the OC Register ran a story titled, "Breaking News: Non-beige homes approved in Irvine."

A side effect of this is that it’s hard for the casual explorer. How to prioritize visiting one neighborhood over another? The overall effect is very samey (in spite of the attempts at varied village identities) and center-less. Few buildings rise above two stories and from the street I continually couldn't see much besides trees, walls, and rooftops. Few things caught me eye and piqued my interest.

View of Irvine from jet pack

Since it’s so spread out and mostly flat, the best way of exploring Irvine might be by bicycle -- or jet pack. There are 454 km (282 miles) of bike lanes and 71.6 km (44.5 miles) of off-road bike trails. The city is also served by Metrolink’s Orange County Line. Additionally, since 2008, Irvine has offered four bus lines as part of its appley, sorry, aptly-named iShuttle bus service.

Irvine's iShuttle (image source: So Cal Metro)


There are a few taller buildings. The tallest building in Irvine (and third tallest building in Orange County) is the 20-story Park Place Tower, completed in 2007. The previously tallest building in Irvine, the 19-story Jamboree Center, was completed in 1990. The third tallest skyscraper is the 14-story Opus Center Irvine II, completed in 2002. The fourth tallest structure is the 17-story Waterfield Tower, completed in 1987. The Irvine Marriott is also 17-stories and the 2600 Michelson is 16 stories.

As with everywhere, there is culture in Irvine, though it seems to occur in a controlled manner in pre-determined locations. Finding it was a challenge but one I relished undertaking. After all, when the OC Weekly trots out its annual “Best of OC” lists, Irvine always takes a lot -- maybe most -- of the honors.

First a bit of history…



Ranchos of Orange County, California

Archaeological evidence suggests that the area now occupied by  Irvine has been inhabited for between 12,000 – 18,000 years. Around 2,000 years ago the Tongva arrived from the Sonoran Desert to the east. Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portolà arrived in 1769 and claimed the land for Spain. In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain and secularized the Spanish ranchos. Portions of three of the ranches – Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, Rancho San Joaquin and Rancho Lomas de Santiago – would later become Irvine Ranch.

Map showing Irvine Ranch


In 1848, the Mexican-American War ended with Mexico’s defeat and California was admitted to the Union in 1850. In 1864, a calamitous drought convinced Rancho San Joaquin’s owner, the extravagant Jose Andres Sepulveda, to sell 200 km2 to Benjamin and Thomas Flint, Llewellyn Bixby, and Irish immigrant James Irvine (whose portion was by far the largest). In 1866, the group purchased the 190 km2 Rancho Lomas de Santiago. In 1868, lands of Ranch Santiago de Santa Ana were divided among the group, which founded Irvine Ranch as a sheep operation. Irvine Ranch’s lands included those of modern day Irvine as well as most of Newport Beach (aside from Newport Bay), Crystal Cove and Laguna Coast wildernesses, and more surrounding land.

James Irvine house, built in 1868 (image source: Irvine Historical Society)

Irvine commissioned a home to be built in 1868. It was ultimately demolished in 1961. Today, the oldest building on Irvine Ranch (built around 1877) is home to the Irvine Historical Museum and the Irvine Historical Society (established in 1977). Today the building is the oldest wooden home between Anaheim and San Diego

In 1876, after another devastating drought, James Irvine bought his partners’ interests. Irvine died in 1886. In 1887, the Santa Fe Railroad (actually the San Bernardino and San Diego Railroad subsidiary) extended its line south to Fallbrook Junction and a station was added on Irvine Ranch. In 1888, Orange County split from Los Angeles County. Irvine’s son, James Irvine, Jr, incorporated his father’s holdings as The Irvine Company when he inherited it on his 25th birthday, in 1892. He later began shifting the ranching focus from sheep to cattle. He also oversaw the diversification of the ranch's agriculture by planting olives, citrus crops, and lima beans. Irvine also began subdividing some of the land and allowing tenant farmers to work it.


Irvine Service Station (source: First American)

Around 1909 a town arose around the new stop named Myford (“Irvine” was already taken by a stop and town in Calaveras County, named after another Irvine in the family), after Irvine’s son when houses began to appear. A blacksmith’s had been built in 1888. In 1889 a barely warehouse was constructed, as was Myford’s first school. The Irvine General Store was added in 1912 after proprietor Kate Munger finally convinced Irvine to allow her to do so over his objections that working was unladylike. In 1913, the Irvine Hotel was built behind the general store. 

The Irvine Hotel (source: First American)


In 1912, a drifter named Joe Matlock asked Irvine Ranch resident William Cook for work and was told that there was none. He later returned and tied up Cook's thirteen-year-old daughter and attacked his sixteen-year-old daughter. He then retreated to Tomato Springs (now Portola Springs) and a posse was formed to pursue him. The next morning he forced a rancher at gun point to feed him. When the posse caught up with him, Matlock killed deputy sheriff Robert Squire after shooting him six times. Three other deputies were shot and wounded before Matlock was felled, most likely by his own hand. Unrecognized, his corpse was paraded around Santa Ana before his identity was discovered. It turned out he was son of a onetime Eugene, Oregon mayor. He was buried as Ira Jones to save his father from embarrassment.


Railroad passing through Irvine with bean packing plant (source: Dissent the Blog)

In 1914, after the death of William Irvine (the Irvine that the Irvine in Calaveras County was named after), that town was renamed Carson Hill. Soon after, the residents of Myford renamed their town Irvine. By the 1920s, the Venta Spur of the railroad shipped citrus from the many then-new processing plants in what’s now Northwood to the rest of the county. (The plants began to close in the 1970s and the line was finally abandoned in 1985 and converted to a bike trail in 1999. Another railroad spur, the Irvine Industrial Spur, is also currently being considered for conversion to bike path.) A second school was built in 1929 and the original school became a community hall. The second school was later destroyed by arson.

Irvine Ranch Historic Park avocado grove

Irvine Ranch Historic Park buildings -- tenant housing?


The Marine Corps Air Station El Toro circa 1947

During World War II, 4,000 acres of lima bean fields (Irvine was once the world’s largest producer of the legume) government for the establishment of the MCAS El Toro and the Tustin Marine Base. The loss of land to military bases, the loss of farmers to the war and the resultant changing tax base marked the end of Irvine’s agricultural period. James Irvine, Jr, died in 1947 aged 80. At that time, Myford assumed the presidency of the Irvine Company and began allowing for limited urban developments of select areas.


Jamboree Road

In 1953, Irvine Ranch hosted the Boy Scouts’ third National Jamboree in what’s now Newport Beach. Jamboree Road, which connects Orange to Newport Beach, was thus named in honor of the event. On 11 January 1959, Myford Irvine commit suicide by shooting himself with a .22 revolver, first in the abdomen and then the head.


After Myford’s unexpected suicide, the University of California asked The Irvine Company for 4 km2 on which to build a new campus. Most of the land was basically donated (sold for $1) and an additional 2 km2 were purchased for a larger amount. University of California Irvine (UCI) opened in 1965 and is the second newest of the University of California’s campus, after the one in Merced. The UCI campus includes many of Irvine’s most interesting attractions. There’s Aldrich Park, Anteater Recreation Center, Beall Center for Art & Technology, Bren Events Center, CAC Gallery, Irvine Arboretum, Irvine Barclay Theatre, Room Gallery, The Hill, University Art Gallery, and the University Club. In 1967, famous photographer Ansel Adams photographed the campus, designed by futurist architect William Pereira -- best known for designing LACMA and later, San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid. (Click here to see a slide show of both Adams's photos and recreations called In Ansel Adams' Footsteps).


Nowadays UCI is joined in the field of academia by Brandman University, Concordia University, Irvine Valley College, the Orange County Center of the University of Southern California, and satellite campuses of Alliant International University, California State University Fullerton, University of La Verne, Chicago School of Professional Psychology-Irvine, and Pepperdine University


Ray Watson (in black hat) on the Irvine Ranch (source: Raymond L. Watson Papers) 

In the 1960s, Irvine Ranch employee Raymond Watson and the UCI’s consulting architect, William Pereira, drew up plans for a 50,000 population City of Irvine to surround the new school. The small agricultural town (formerly Myford) that had grown up around the train station and post office was re-named East Irvine. The early "villages" (again, Irvine's designation for neighborhoods) included Culverdale (now Westpark), El Camino Real, NorthwoodTurtle Rock, University Park, and Walnut. They were all incorporated along with Irvine on 28, December, 1971 with a combined population of about 10,000 people. Science-Fiction fan and idealist Pereira was quoted as saying of the planners' approach “An ounce of farsighted planning is worth a pound of urban renewal a generation hence.” 

William L. Pereira amongst renderings


Watson described each of the villages as “a series of pearls, each special in its own way.” Although obviously a booster of his planned community, the neighborhoods are all close to numerous recreational features like lakes, parks and open spaces as well as schools and shopping centers. A few, like Turtle Rock, are named after the natural features around which they are built.

Nowadays other villages include College Park, Columbus Grove, Deerfield, El Camino Glen, Greentree, Harvard Square, Heritage Fields, Irvine Groves, Irvine Spectrum (yes, the big mall is a village), Laguna Altura, Lambert Ranch, Northpark, Northpark Square, Oak Creek, Old Towne Irvine, Orangetree, Orchard Hills, Park Lane, Parkside, Planning Area 40, Portola Springs, Quail Hill, Racquet Club, Rancho San Joaquin, Rosegate, Shady Canyon, Stonegate, The Colony, The Ranch, The Willows, Turtle Ridge, University Hills, University Town Center, West Irvine, Windwood, Woodbridge, Woodbury, and Woodbury East.

Grand entrance into one of Irvine's currently-under-construction villages

Entry into each village is marked by triumphal arches with unused seating areas, towers, gates, or sections of walls that monumentalize the mundane – the same way Irvine does its shopping centers. This kind of architectural practice isn't unique to Irvine. I’ve seen many mid-century apartments with Polynesian elements billed with names like “The Sleepy Lagoon” or mock Tudor complexes named things like “Cavalier Arms Manor” or what have you. I often amuse myself with the hoity-toity names of banal strip malls... but Irvine does it on an almost Disney/Vegas/Dubai scale with a lack of whimsy that suggests to me a completely straight face. 


                                       Wild Rivers                                                                      The Marketplace - Irvine

The population of Irvine surpassed the planned 50,000 figure in its first decade of existence and surpassed 62,000 by 1980. That decade witnessed the formation of several new institutions. The Ayn Rand Institute was founded in 1985, three years after the founder of Objectivism’s death. Rand had earlier founded The Foundation for the New Intellectual but it was dissolved when the ARI was founded. A year after the ARI was established, the water park Wild Rivers opened on the site of the former Lion Country Safari, a drive-through zoo. Following the expiration of its lease with the The Irvine Company, it closed in 2011 but after a sale, is set to reopen in 2014. In 1988, the Irvine Company opened The Marketplace, a mall that straddles the border of Irvine and Tustin. It was designed by my least favorite architect (nothing personal), Ricardo Legorreta. Legorreta also designed the Camino Real Hotel in Mexico. Angelenos are probably more familiar with his brutalist/post-modern hybrid structures in Downtown's Pershing Square.


1990 saw Irvine’s population pass the 100,000 mark. A sort of downtown was constructed to serve the surging population, the Irvine Spectrum Center.


Moroccan minaret at the mall - a muezzin makes the call to shop five times a day

Before there were similar outdoor mall/ersatz downtowns like Fairfax's The Grove, Glendale's The Americana, Monterey Park's Atlantic Times Square, or San Gabriel's The San Gabriel Square and there was The Irvine Spectrum Center. The first part of it opened in 1995, when most suburbs were still in love with indoor malls. The final phase was completed in 2006. As with Irvine's villages, different areas of the mall have different architectural themes. There's also a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel, and in winter, an ice skating rink.


Intro to Evil Twins (including tacky "Asian" music)

The other big news of the '90s was the so-called Han Twins Murder Conspiracy. In November, 1996, Jeena Han supposedly conspired to murder her twin sister, Sunny. The Han sisters were born in South Korea and moved to Orange County when they were twelve with their mother, Boo I. Kim. Kim was a cocktail waitress and compulsive gambler who left the girls to fend for themselves sometimes for days at a time. After being sent to live with an uncle, they became co-valedictorians at their high school in Campo. After high school, however, their lives both went pear-shaped, culminating in a sensational series of events covered on an A&E documentary, Sister Against Sister: The Twin Murder Plot (1999), The Investigators episode "Evil Twin" (2001), the Snapped episode “Jeena Han” (2005), and the pilot episode of the Investigation Discovery show, Evil Twins. Meanwhile, the sisters have reconciled and many mostly Korean-Americans (including Sunny) have attempted to secure Jeena's freedom -- some apparently chalking up the whole affair to so-called "K Rage."


Orange County Great Park hot air balloon 

After a decline in Irvine’s growth in the 1990s, it once again increased in the 2000s. In 2003, the 19 km2 of land occupied by the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro (until 1999) was re-annexed by Irvine. It is currently being transformed into Orange County Great Park which will, when completed, be Orange County’s largest municipal park. Since 2007, visitors can visit and board a hot air balloon that climbs 500 feet into the air.


High profile crime returned to Irvine in 2000 when the Biofem, Inc’s chief executive, James Patrick Riley, was shot in the face at the firm's offices by a masked gunman who sped away in a van that turned out to be owned by Dino D’Saachs. Phone records showed that D’Saachs had spoken with one of Riley’s co-workers, Larry Creed Ford, that morning. After the police questioned Ford about the crime he commit suicide at his home in the Woodbridge village. A suicide note professed his innocence but added that there were things of interest to the police in his home. Upon investigation, the authorities discovered vessels buried in his yard containing C-4 and assault rifles. His refrigerator contained 266 bottles and vials of pathogens including Clostridium tetani and Clostridum difficile. It turned out that the company were close to developing a new female contraceptive and also had ties to South Africa’s biological weapons program. Suffice to say, it was all very odd. (Read a much more in-depth account here).


Pao Fa Temple (image source: Anita L.)

Pao Fa Temple (寶法寺), one of the largest Buddhist monasteries and temples in the US, opened in 2002. It was founded by Taiwanese abbot, Venerable Jen-Yi (真一法師), on advice he received from Venerable Master Hsuan Hua of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas back in 1990.

The Islamic Center of Irvine (source: Tashfeen B.)

The Islamic Center of Irvine was founded in 2004. It’s one of the largest Muslim congregations in California. A con man from Tustin, Craig Monteilh, claimed to have spied on the congregation on behalf of the FBI. The story was covered on PRI’s This American Life episode, “The Convert.”


The most recent population estimate, that of the California Department of Finance, estimates it to be 223,729. One time Irvine resident Zack De La Rocha (of Rage Against the Machine) once raged against Irvine, stating that it was "one of the most racist cities imaginable. If you were a Mexican in Irvine, you were there because you had a broom or a hammer in your hand." De La Rocha moved there in 1971, when the population was barely over 10,000 and the racial demographics were very different. Today Irvine is a fairly diverse city with a population that is roughly 45% non-Latino white, 40% Asian, 9% Latino, and 2% black.



Performers at the Irvine Global Village Festival 

The most celebrated cultural event in Irvine is the Irvine Global Village Festival, which takes place every annually and celebrates the ethnic diversity of Irvine’s populace. It began in 1998 as the Multicultural Festival and took its current name in 2001.

Outside the Irvine Fine Arts Center

Artists' Tales - Erin Dunn exhibit

Inside the Irvine Fine Arts Center

I actually started my exploration of Irvine at the Irvine Fine Arts Center. It opened in 1980 and offers both exhibition and education spaces. On the day that I visited the exhibit was titled “Artists’ Tales” (although the sign above the entrance said “Artist’s Tales.” It was a group exhibit featuring installations, video art, drawings, paintings, mixed media pieces, dioramas, sculptures and more from Erin Dunn, Kristi Kent, Nathan Margoni, and Siobhan McClure. In a classroom, adult students were busy making their own art.


Heritage Park 

After I left the Arts Center I strolled around Heritage Park, on which it is located. There was a multitude of Canada Geese and other species of goose as well as a large variety of ducks, and therefore an astonishing amount of guano to dodge. Heritage Park is a community park and includes the Heritage Park Community Center.

Heritage Park Community Center

The center is home to swimming pools, soccer fields, tennis courts, racquetball courts, grills, play areas, basketball courts, concession stands and (with reservation only) bounce houses.

Northwood Community Park soccer fields

Whatever criticisms one might have of Irvine, it is decidedly not park-poor. In addition to Heritage Park there is Alton Athletic Park, Colonel Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park, Deerfield Community Park (which includes a nine-hole Frisbee golf course), Harvard Athletic Park, Harvard Skatepark, Hicks Canyon Park, Jeffrey Open Space Trail, Lakeview Senior Center, Las Lomas Community Park, Lower Peters Canyon Community Park, Northwood Community Park, Oak Creek Community Park, Portola Springs Community Park, Quail Hill Community Park, Rancho Senior Center, Turtle Rock Community Park, University Community Park, Windrow Community Park, Woodbridge Community Park, and Woodbury Community Park.

Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial

Northwood Park includes the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial – the first war memorial erected in the country before the wars in question were over. In 2010 it listed the names of over 5,700 Americans who’ve died in the current military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s updated with the names of more deceased soldiers yearly and I stopped by. Other public spaces not part of Irvine’s parks department include the aforementioned Aldritch Park in the UC Irvine campus, the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, and William R. Mason Regional Park.

There are also, by design, neighborhood parks (as opposed to the aforementioned public, community parks) for the various villages including Alderwood Park, Blue Gum Park, Brywood Park, Canyon Park, Carrotwood Park, Chaparral Park, Citrusglen Park, College Park, Comstock Park, Coralwood Park, Creekview Park, Dovecreek Park, Flagstone Park, Hoeptner Park, Homestead Park, Knollcrest Park, Meadowood Park, Orchard Park, Pepperwood Park, Pinewood Park, Plaza Park, Presley Park, Racquet Club Park, Ranch Park, San Carlo Park, San Leandro Park, San Marco Park, Settler's Park, Silkwood Park, Sweet Shade Park, Sycamore Park, Trailwood Park, Valencia Park, Valley Oak Park, Willows Park, and Woodside.


Irvine has three public libraries: Heritage Park Regional Library (the collection of which is largely focused on business), University Park Library (the collection of which includes a substantial Chinese collection), and Katie Wheeler Library. Most of UCI’s libraries are open to the public as well.

Katie Wheeler Library

On the day of my visit I checked out the latter. Katie Wheeler was the granddaughter of James Irvine and the library is a replica of the home in which she grew up. I tried to glean what I could from the book Irvine Ranch – different by design: images 1960 – 2000 but couldn’t dally because I still had much ground to cover and the December day was short.


The marquee of the Irvine Improv

There aren’t many proper music venues for a city of Irvine’s size. There’s the whimsically-named Verizon Wireless Ampitheatre (opened as Irvine Meadows in 1981) and performers sometimes pop in at Bacchus' Secret Cellar Wine Shoppe and Bar but that seems to be about it. Irvine Barclay Theatre & Cheng Hall and Irvine Valley College Performing Arts Center both feature a wider array of performing arts. As far as proper theater there’s New Swan Theater. As far as dinner theater, there’s the annual Madrigal Dinner at UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts. For comedy there's the Irvine Improv.

Emily Sassy Lime from Sadie Shaw on Vimeo.