Happy quasquicentennial, Orange County!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 11, 2014 03:00pm | Post a Comment
On this day in 1889, Orange County, California was born, making it 125 years young today. 

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Orange County

In early 1889, Pemberton Medicine Company (later Coca-Cola) incorporated in Atlanta, Colombia Phonograph (later Columbia Records) launched, Japan adopted the Meiji Constitution and the Eiffel Tower opened in Paris. Meanwhile in Southern California, the communities on Coyote Creek's left bank seceded those on the right bank and incorporated as the County of Orange. More precisely, on 11 March a bill was signed into law which allowed for voters to vote whether or not to approve the motion to incorporate -- which they did (2,509 to 500) on 4 June, 1889. But today's date is the one that is observed by most of Orange County's friends and family as its birthday.

It wasn't the first time county borders within California had changed. In the first half century after the US invaded and conquered Alta California from Mexico, the county borders have changed several times; San Bernardino County split from Los Angeles County in 1853, parts of Los Angeles County became Kern County in 1866, and in 1893 Riverside County was formed out of what had been parts of San Bernardino and San Diego counties. Several attempts were made and failed to establish Orange County in the 1870s and '80s.

Today Orange County includes the incorporated communities of Aliso Viejo, Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Cypress, Dana Point, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Habra, La Palma, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Los Alamitos, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, Orange, Placentia, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, Tustin, Villa Park, Westminster, and Yorba Linda

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of North Orange County

Orange County's unincorporated communities include Coto de Caza, Cowan Heights, Emerald Bay, Ladera Ranch, Las Flores, Lemon Heights, Midway City, Modjeska Canyon, North Tustin, Orange Park Acres, Rancho Mission Viejo, Red Hill, Rossmoor, Silverado, and Trabuco Canyon.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of South County

Unlike Los Angeles County, which is usually viewed as comprising about twenty regions (unless you're one of those unfortunate bipolar "Eastside vs Westside" types), Orange County is usually just divided into two -- North County and South County -- and the dividing line between the two is considered by most to be California State Route 55.


Most peoples' ideas about Orange County probably owe more to television series like The OC (primarily filmed in Los Angeles's South Bay) and quasi-scripted "reality" series like Real Housewives of Orange County and Laguna Beach... or perhaps to films like Gleaming the Cube, Suburbia, Brick than they do to firsthand experience. Of course any sensible person knows better than to trust Hollywood when it comes to depicting the reality of Southern California so set aside our preconceptions and consider some facts. 


recently named Orange County one of the country's most diverse places (placing it above even Los Angeles County). There is no ethnic or racial majority in Orange County (or Los Angeles County, for that matter).  Roughly 44% of Orange Countians are non-Latino white, 34% are Latino of any race, 18% are Asian, 2% are black, and 1% are Native American. It's home to the largest Vietnamese-American community in the world and three widely recognized ethnic enclaves: Little SeoulLittle Arabia, and Little Saigon Additionally there are large populations of Armenian, Chinese, English, Filipino, German, Irish, Jewish, Lebanese, Mexican, Persian, Salvadoran, Scottish, and Taiwanese-Americans. 30% of Orange County's residents were born in another country and 45% speak a language other than English at home. Roughly 31% of Orange County voters are registered as Democrats (the same as the national average) and 42% are registered Republicans -- meaning of course that there's no political majority. 



Garden Grove's Little Seoul is indeed quite little although it's nonetheless the second largest Korean-American community on the West Coast, after Koreatown in Los Angeles. Although it emerged in the 1980s, at just three kilometers long, Little Seoul is still more of a Korean commercial corridor than residential enclave -- Buena Park, Fullerton, and Irvine are all home to much more of North County's Korean-American population, the county's second largest Asian-American population after Vietnamese-Americans. Little Seoul is home to offices of Korea Times; various Korean-American community services; an annual Korean Festival; and many Korean markets, BBQ, cafés, lounges, noodle houses, churches, plazas, and seafood restaurants.


Little Arabia, in Anaheim, is by some estimates the second largest Arab enclave in the country after the one in Dearborn, Michigan. It's also sometimes referred to as Little Gaza on account of the fact that many of its Arabs have roots in Palestine (as well as Palestine's neighbors Egypt and Syria) and that the neighborhood's original designation is Garza Island. There are numerous bakeries, beauty salons, halal butchers, hookah cafés, markets, restaurants and jewelry stores in the neighborhood today that reflect the Arabic community's presence, which began to flourish in the 1990s


Orange County's Little Saigon is the largest Vietnamese-American enclave in the country. The neighborhood is also colloquially known as Bolsa, after the main thoroughfare (Bolsa Avenue) of the neighborhood's original borders, which contained a small overlapping area of Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, and Westminster. Much as with Koreatown in Los Angeles, the Vietnamese-American population and character has since massively expanded since the original borders were officially designated in 1988 and now parts of Huntington Beach, Midway City, and Stanton also have a strong Vietnamese character. As of the 2010 census, Westminster's population was nearly 48% Asian-American (mostly Vietnamese) and Garden Grove's Vietnamese-American population exceeded 54,000. This translates to vibrant annual Tết Nguyên Đán festivities; more than 500 Vietnamese restaurants (time to move beyond phở and bánh mì); Euro-disco/Vietnamese New Wave; "ethnic" malls; lingerie cafés; and Vietnamese-language television stations, radio stations, and newspapers.

Of course "diversity" extends beyond humanity and Orange County is not just culturally diverse but extremely biodiverse, geographically diverse, and diverse in other ways too. Exploring its corners I've found faux-Spanish seaside villages (San Clemente), faux-Bavarian villages (Old World Village), faux-Utopian futurist villages (Irvine), Eichler tractsItalo-disco performers, great vegetarian Vietnamese food (Bo De Tinh Tam Chay and Au Lac), Isamu Noguchi's California Scenario, Pao Fa Temple, the Crystal CathedralDisneylandKnott's Berry Farmthe largest freestanding wooden structures on the planet (Tustin's WWII-era blimp hangars), Asian Garden Mall (Phước Lộc Thọ), Mission San Juan Capistrano, forests, city centers, parks, mysterious business parks, beaches, red-tile tract house tracts, chaparral-covered mountains, master-planned madness, and biker bars. 


Costa Mesa skyline

As with Los Angeles, Orange County is usually mischaracterized as a vast, sprawling, and completely flat collection of suburbs. However, thanks to nature (which such mischaracterizations conveniently ignore), Orange County actually rises rather dramatically from sea level at the coast to 1,337 meters high at Santiago Peak -- which positively dwarves cities more often characterized as vertical such as Hong Kong, New York, and Shanghai.

Newport Beach with the Santa Ana Mountains behind

Orange County's skyscrapers may provide no competition for height with the Santa Ana Mountains but there are more than of the towering structures in the region than the dated stereotypes suggest. Currently there are at least 27 skyscrapers rising above a height of thirty meters located in Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Garden GroveHuntington Beach, IrvineNewport Beach, Orange, and Santa Ana. What's perhaps more surprising is that according to the most recent census, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim area is the most densely populated region in the country. Orange County is also the sixth most populous county in the country (after Los Angeles, Cook County (Illinois), Harris County (Texas), Maricopa County (Arizona), and San Diego County).


Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Orange County has a thriving and diverse art scene reflected in the presence of its many museums, art festivals, art centers, and art galleries. In addition there are numerous theaters, cultural festivals, culinary festivals, opera, and Segerstrom Center for the Arts. I'm sure that there are a lot more but off the top of my head I can think of several talented Orange County born-and-bred musical acts such as Social Distortion, Emily's Sassy Lime, Agent Orange, The K-nobsThe VandalsThe Adolescents, Jeff Buckley, Giant Drag.



Orange County is home to one of the Southland's three international airports; John Wayne Airport (the other two are LA/Ontario International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport) which makes getting to it convenient. 

Once on the ground, exploring Orange County is becoming increasingly easy due to an expanding network of public transit options. The workhorse of the region is the Orange County Transit Authority (OCTA), which has existed since 1975 and currently operates 78 lines. Smaller local bus and shuttle companies include Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART), Irvine's iShuttle, and Laguna Beach Transit's trolley buses. 

Metrolink train to the sea -- source: AmtrakCal462

Orange County is additionally served by several commuter rail lines including Metrolink's 91, Orange County, and Inland Emp-Orange Co lines as well as Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner (which connects San Luis Obispo and San Diego). In the future (hopefully), Metro's 30 kilometer, planned West Santa Ana Transit Corridor will connect Santa Ana to Norwalk in Southeast Los Angeles County via light rail.

Ferries serving Orange County (from Santa Catalina Island) include Catalina Flyer, which connects with Newport Beach, and Catalina Express, which connects with Dana Point. There are also about 1,600 kilometers of bikeways in Orange County. Most of Orange County is also easily walkable although there sadly hasn't always been a lot of apparent thought given to pedestrians and frequently long stretches of unshaded sidewalk pass by commercial spaces constructed without walkers in mind. Hopefully that too will change as more and more people turn away from car-dependency for every single errand, which will make Orange County an even more vibrant place. 



In 2010 I expanded my blogs about local neighborhoods and cities to Orange County and ever since they've fairly dominated the poll. As I write this, Los Angeles's Glassell Park is in first place followed by the Orange County city of Anaheim in second and Yorba Linda in third. In Orange County I've so far explored and written about Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Orange, San Clemente, Santa Ana, and Tustin. To vote for more Orange County communities for me to explore and write about, click here

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


Follow Eric's Blog and check out more episodes of California Fool's Gold

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!


Follow Eric's Blog and check out more episodes of California Fool's Gold