By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Lake Forest Test test test Lake Forest: neither a lake nor a forest. Discuss!
Actually, the city of Lake Forest has a short history, seeing as how it only incorporated near the turn of 1992, meaning you were born by then (and if you weren't born by then, put this paper down RIGHT NOW! What, you want to grow up to be a pervert?). But the area from which the city sprouted has what tired hacks call a long and storied history. Like most of what is now Orange County, it began as an agricultural area—if by "began" you mean "once Westerners arrived." José Serrano, grantee of the Rancho Cañada de los Alisos, erected a number of adobes at what is now the northeast corner of Lake Forest Drive and Serrano Road, and the one that remains, Serrano Adobe (circa 1842), is now a California State Historical Landmark. Like most of what is now Orange County, the area boomed after World War II, with houses, stores and boxy industrial plants replacing citrus groves and other agricultural fields. The area was known as El Toro, but the closest beasts to actual bulls were jarheads at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Perhaps you've heard of it? It was certainly in the news in 1965, when a U.S. Air Force C-135 crashed into Loma Ridge nine minutes after takeoff from the El Toro runway. The plane's 12 crew members and 72 Marines headed for Vietnam perished. You'd also hear El Toro on the news whenever Richard Nixon would land there en route to his Western White House in San Clemente. And, beginning in 1996, El Toro frequently made headlines as the Orange County Board of Supervisors, upon discovering the Marine base would be decommissioned, approved a plan for a round-the-clock, international commercial airport handling 38 million annual passengers. Residents from Lake Forest and other communities ringing the base galvanized, first getting takeoff patterns changed and then getting the passenger numbers scaled back. But that wasn't enough, and two years after the Marines heaved ho in 1999, airport foes gathered enough signatures to place a measure on the ballot that would kill the airport and put a park in its place. The park won, the former base land got swallowed up by the city of Irvine, and the rest of El Toro's history no longer belongs to Lake Forest. But at least they don't have to hear those goddamn planes!
These days El Toro is more a home for daredevils planted firmly on the ground, going very fast on two or four wheels (as you'll read below). And it's also home to one of the county's most-mega megachurches, which may not have anybody in town seeing a lake through a forest, but at least they know home is firmly located somewhere between heaven and hell.
Best Place to Get Your History On Heritage Hill Historical Park. Four historical buildings representing distinct eras in the early history of the Saddleback Valley and El Toro areas are found in this park: the aforementioned Serrano Adobe, El Toro Grammar School (1890), St. George's Episcopal Mission (1891) and the citrus-farming Harvey Bennett Ranch House (1908). 25151 Serrano Rd., Lake Forest, (949) 855-2028.
Best Pupusas in Town—Hell, South County El Paraíso. Everyone who comes here forks through at least two chewy, sweet pupusas, the Salvadoran griddlecake that's the sole unifier of the fractious Central American nation. If there's a better pupusa in South County, you're eating a gordita. El Paraíso prepares sit-down platters as well: aromatic soups of chicken, beef or cow's foot with about four different squashes and potatoes; nicely grilled meats; and yucca sancochada, a golden and chewy version of the tuber doused with lemon. 25252 Jeronimo Rd., Ste. B, Lake Forest, (949) 770-2775.
Best Appetizer in Town Empanada Man. You've heard, "Hey, Pizza Man!" And, "Hey, Culligan Man!" And, "Hey, Assman!" (if you watch Seinfeld). But no call is sweeter than "Hey, Empanada Man!" Who hates empanadas? No one, that's who. The very thought of those chicken and beef empanadas, those mini-stews of joy, the meats moist and accompanied by corn kernels in the former, hard-boiled egg slices in the latter—OH DEAR GOD I JUST 'GASMED!!! Was it good for you? 20761 Lake Forest Dr., Lake Forest, (949) 855-9257; www.empanadaman.com.
Best Place to Get an Owie (and Love It!) Etnies Skatepark of Lake Forest. Lake Forest's "world-class" skate park has drawn the attention of the free-spending board world and has been so well-received that Sole Technologies, the company that makes Etnies and other shoes, has underwritten all fees for 2005, which means skaters get to use the park for free so long as they sign an insurance waiver (or get one signed by their parents) and wear a helmet, knee and elbow pads. There are also special hours set aside for BMX riders. And you can arrange to get skate lessons if you're lame. Or old. 20028 Lake Forest Dr., Lake Forest, (949) 916-5870.
Best Let-Them-Eat-Mud Makers Felt Racing. This local company makes dirt bicycles that go very fast and sponsors riders who win races on Felt bikes around the world. Felt also recently teamed up with other notable designers to knock out special limited edition bikes. Felt and Troy Lee Designs of Corona just developed one such cruiser called the Happy Hour. The $499 bike was inspired by A Day in the Dirt, an annual event dedicated to the spirit of Steve McQueen that gathers motocross and bike riders, film celebrities and aficionados. Weeks earlier, Felt and vintage MX restoration gurus Vintage Iron produced another special limited edition cruiser called the 400 Cross. 20372 Hermana Circle, Lake Forest, (949) 452-9050.
Fastest Man in Town Kenny Bernstein. The owner of the 26-year-old Budweiser King Racing team began his pro career in the late 1960s in Top Fuel dragsters and funny cars, reaching the funny car finals at the Winternationals at Pomona in 1973 and winning in that division at the NHRA Cajun Nationals at Baton Rouge in 1979. He began his association with Anheuser-Busch in 1980 and earned the title "King of Speed" on March 20, 1992, when he became the first NHRA driver to break the elusive 300 mph barrier (he was clocked at 301.7 mph). He later pushed that up to 310 mph and later still to more than 311 mph. And he's the only race-team owner to have collected wins in each of America's three major motor-sports series: NHRA Winston Drag Racing, NASCAR Winston Cup and IndyCar. A year before calling it quits behind the wheel in 2002, Bernstein set world performance records in speed (332.18 mph) and elapsed time (4.477 seconds). Besides his duties running the Bud team, these days Bernstein rides motorcycles, plays golf and—naturally—speed walks.
Best Place to Round Up a Bunch of Baptists Saddleback Community Church. At least, we think they're Baptists. Pastor Rick Warren told journalists in May that his 40,000-member church no longer is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. But on Aug. 20, he retracted that statement. "I'm Southern Baptist," he said. "Our church is Southern Baptist. And we are a leader in SBC missions support in our state." Whatever they are, they're big. Huge. A megachurch. And Warren's book The Purpose-Driven Life has sold a record 20 million copies. He started the church with his wife, Kay, in 1980, and its claims of 40,000 members and regular attendees make it the largest church in the country. 1 Saddleback Pkwy., Lake Forest, (949) 609-8000.
Best Place to Holla "Challah!" Abel's Bakery. One of OC's few Jewish bakeries, Abel Salgado's place keeps the challah coming, with trays buckling with rugala, small cookies moist with chocolate chips and the holy hamantashen. 24601 Raymond Way, No. 7, Lake Forest, (949) 699-0930.
Best Place to Drink to That The Wine Artist. You may not know wine, but you know what you like, and that's where the Wine Artist comes in. Located in an industrial park, of all places, the Wine Artist encourages visitors to describe what they like their wines to taste like, and the helpful staff helps them make it on the spot. Having a hard time putting that description into words? No worries: there are vats of elixir around for you to sample (and sample and sample) before screaming, "EUREKA! THAT'S IT!" Or collapsing in a pool of your own drool—whichever comes first. Either way, a fine way to kill time before you die. 21064 Bake Pkwy., Ste. 100, Lake Forest, (949) 297-3656; www.thewineartist.com.
Best Meat Market El Toro Gourmet Meats. Owner Bob Bacca has created a mecca of high-quality meats and seafood. The carne asada is artfully butterflied open, sliced very thin, and then marinated for one to two days in a mixture of soy sauce, orange juice and, of course, secret spices—one of which Bacca let slip out is red pepper. 23522 El Toro Rd., Lake Forest, (949) 855-0215; www.eltoromeats.com.