By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Laguna Hills is next door to the City of the Elderly, Laguna Woods, which was once part of Laguna Hills until its residents revolted with military precision—gotta have the satellite hooked up in time for California's Gold—and formed their own pleasuredome between the Laguna Hills golf course and the mall. (They all still come back to go to the Laguna Hills Mall.) Otherwise, it's Pleasantville up here—read: pleasant for some. There are officially two Republicans for every Democrat, and everything closes around sundown, except the Starbucks (10 p.m.) and the In-N-Out (1 a.m.). There was a Del Taco once, but it closed permanently, possibly following its best customers, the kids, to the Shops in Mission Viejo—where you shop if you wouldn't be seen at LHM.
Children here, many of them, attend the same schools from kindergarten through 12th grade—starting as the Valencia Oranges, ending as the Hawks. And during Halloween and Christmas, those from the north head south, to admire the lit-up mansions and to trick-or-treat. Treats are usually better in the culs-de-sac, where people tend to be richer, where they can have horses, where their houses sit on one-third to three acres and can fetch $1.5 million to $4.5 million. The slightly less wealthy live closer to the new community center, built in 1999—where archaeologists found numerous fossils including that of a 50,000-year-old mastodon. The living arrangements there are tighter; you can smell cooking and overhear people living lives of quiet dedication. That's how they do it in a modern suburb.
Best Museum Laguna Hills Community Center and Sports Complex. Part of the mastodon is carefully ensconced in the lobby, along with a short, jokey audio history tour about how we're lucky saber-toothed tigers are no longer around. Reminds us of the one about the rabbi, the saber-toothed tiger and the Catholic priest who walk into a bar . . . 25555 Alicia Pkwy., Laguna Hills, (949) 707-2680.
Best Middle Eastern Market Two Iranians I found insisted Irvine's Wholesome Choice market was the most, darling, but in Laguna Hills, it's the Jordan Market. Produce is inexpensive, and the market also sells sheets of flatbread, all kinds of lamb cuts, jars of many different olives, and rich pastries like baklava and napoleons. 24771 Alicia Pkwy., Laguna Hills, (949) 770-3111.
Best Hike the trail behind Sheep Hills Park. Get off the bike-trail pavement and explore branching trails like "Heather's Loop" to the right, or left of the small bridge, a path that leads to a trickle of a stream. Just be careful; several of these trails are not recommended after dark because they're secluded and unlit. Immediately southeast of Moulton Parkway and Laguna Hills Drive, Laguna Hills.
Best Skate Park Laguna Hills Community Center. It's free, and like a drag strip, you can run what you brung—skateboards, scooters, even bikes and in-line skates. Good mix of bowls, rails and transitions, though of course you'll disagree. 25555 Alicia Pkwy., Laguna Hills, (949) 707-2680.
Best Soccer Field Laguna Hills Community Center. In the summer evenings here, you see people from the neighboring Via Lomas kicking the ball around: fathers practicing with their daughters or a group of men putting together a pickup game using their own makeshift goals. 25555 Alicia Pkwy., Laguna Hills, (949) 707-2680.
Best Kosher Nosh Kosher Bite Deli, which hides in an aging plaza but has all the fresh, flavorful, dependable classics you can eat. There are flaky pastries stuffed with spinach or mashed potatoes, matzo-ball soup, sandwiches—and for decoration, there are hanging beef franks. Mmm, beef franks. 23595 Moulton Pkwy., Ste. H, Laguna Hills, (949) 770-1818.
Best Playground the prehistoric playground at Laguna Hills Community Center. It features various dinosaur-related elements—including a nifty, though admittedly fake, hadrosaur skeleton in the sand, and a sign explaining that hadrosaurs never existed in Laguna Hills. They lived in Santa Ana. There's gotta be a joke in here someplace. 25555 Alicia Pkwy., Laguna Hills, (949) 707-2680.