Rancho Santa Margarita

Rancho Santa Margarita is still in its fourth trimester. Founded in 1995 and incorporated five years ago, it's a newborn by civic standards: the second-newest city in Orange County, it's toothless, living on mush, sleeping intermittently and without a clear voice or identity to differentiate it from, say, Irvine. Its nightlife is sparse, well-rested, and largely confined to the upscale restaurants in three shopping centers in the middle of town, connected by walkways like conjoined siblings. A bustling business district composed of industrial parks lets many people who live here—like, we're sure, some of the folks at RSM-based Cox Communications—spend entire days in their own South County world. For homeowners, the biggest news thus far probably came last year when the city grudgingly rolled back restrictions on what shade(s) you could paint your (usually) Mediterranean-style stucco home. Borrowing from the Henry Ford color wheel—any color as long as it was black—the palette had previously been set on peach. Now gray and beige have been added to the, er, mix—confirming that we are doomed to live in graphically uninteresting times.

Best Restaurant Hostess Sade at Agave is polite and helpful. We love what she's done with her hair, and she even reads. The OC Weekly. Regularly. She will go far. Agave, 22322 El Paseo Town Center, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 766-9033.

Best Spring Trail Trabuco Canyon. After the winter rains, this trail is lush and awash in color. Wildflowers, oak, alder, bay laurel and much more can be found on the canyon's floor and steep sides. There are few more beautiful hikes in OC. From the trailhead, follow the path as it ascends the canyon. After 1.7 miles, turn right at the intersection with West Horsethief Trail, cross the creek and continue climbing. Sun-drenched rocky sections will lead to shaded switchbacks and, eventually, thick stands of coast live oaks and Douglas fir trees. Enjoy the long descent back to the trailhead (especially if you are on a mountain bike). Park at the intersection of Trabuco Creek Road & Holy Jim Canyon Road or at a small parking area at the trailhead, one mile farther up Trabuco Creek Road, Trabuco Canyon.

Best Party Invitation The U.S. Army-style "You've been recruited!" invitations at Dana Party Supply. Close enough, typographically, to the real thing to make soccer moms lose their Campbell's Soup At Hand. In fact, the only difference between these and genuine Armed Forces recruitment techniques is that the party invitations work. Don't tell the government. And see you in 2009! 22401 Antonio Pkwy., Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 766-6488.

Most Popular Restaurants The generically American Opah and the slightly more authentic Agave, which serves Mexican food—both owned by the quartet of Marc Cohen, Jerry Rothbard, Mark Singer and Jules Swimmer, who we're guessing are slightly in demand themselves. Weekends find the smarter set languidly shifting camp from one to the other until it's Monday again. Opah is a franchise; Agave, the better of the two, is not. It also sells churros to children, which we like. Opah, 22332 El Paseo Town Center, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 766-9988; Agave, 22322 El Paseo Town Center, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 766-9033.

Most Polite Statues Plaza el Paseo shopping center. Outside nearly every store are statues of kids dressed in their Dust Bowl-era best: Laura Ashley dresses for the gals, collared shirts for the boys. They're frozen in time, spinning a hoop—waiting, as Dave Alvin said, for the hard times to go. Plaza el Paseo, El Paseo Road at El Portal, Rancho Santa Margarita.

Best Light Fixtures The Café del Tropico Bistro, which houses its halogen track lights in huge, upside-down coffee cups that we're guessing from the size aren't ceramic. They don't really shield the light bulbs, but they are inventive, in a slightly corporate sort of way. Also, the Cuban sandwiches here are clones of the ones at Diedrich's, but tasty nonetheless. 30622 Santa Margarita Pkwy., Ste. D106, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 858-1150.

Best Use of the Color "Light Peach" Ninety-nine percent of the houses here. And the offices. And the police department. And the storefronts. And the sky. No, not the sky. On the plus side, light peach packs a heckuva visual punch next to taupe or beige or slate gray.

Best Use of Adjectives in Street Names Meandering Trail Road. Because sometimes a long walk up a Winding Trail or a Twisty Trail just doesn't cut it. You want something different, something you haven't had in a while—maybe ever. Then it's time for a stroll down Meandering Trail Road.

Best Contribution to the English Language Gloria at CVS Pharmacy, reacting to the complexity of OCWeekly's questions: "Seabiscuits! I don't know!" Now let's all make it the equivalent of Lil Jon's crazed "Whaaah?" No, let's not.

 
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