County Life

People, places, politicos, lawmen, muckrakers, card sharps, & other assorted scalawags & neer-do-wells, plus tall tales & ghost stories.

Best Place to Get Lashed
The Brig Pilgrim
24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr., Dana Point
(949) 496-2274
The Ocean Institute in Dana Point currently houses the Pilgrim, a full-sized replica of the ship from Richard Henry Dana's novel Two Years Before the Mast. Staffed by knowledgeable tour guides in period costume, the Pilgrim offers guests the opportunity to get a taste of 19th-century life at sea without the pesky scurvy and pirate attacks. For the sea-chantey enthusiast, the Pilgrim hosts musical events throughout the summer. The ship sets sail annually up the coast on a goodwill tour (which is how Dana Point has maintained such good trading relationships with the East Indies). Get a closer look every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when the institute hosts a sort of open house.

Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.
Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.

Best Gondola Ride
Gondola Getaway
5437 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach
(562) 433-9595
Romance rises from its watery grave at Naples, where the lovely folks at Gondola Getaway ferry visitors under bridges and through canals over the still waters of Alamitos Bay. The group owns 10 gondolas—the smallest of which can carry two, the largest 14. Gondoliers wear the traditional striped shirts and provide their fares with a basket of French bread, cheese and salami, as well as an ice bucket and glasses (though you have to bring your own champagne or coffee). Blankets are thrown over the wooden gondolas for guests to wrap themselves in as the motorless boats float through the canals. The 50-minute cruise drifts through the ritzy homes of Naples, providing even Long Beach residents with a view of their city they've never seen. Cruises start at 11 a.m. and go on till 11 p.m., when street lamps light the journey. Prices start at $75 per boat. And yes, you can get married in them. Though gondoliers will tell you that's overdone.

Best Place to Catch a Titillating Glimpse of a Woman's Ankle
Heritage House
Fullerton Arboretum
1900 Associated Rd., Fullerton
(714) 278-3579
This preserved Victorian-era home was originally built for and occupied by Fullerton physician Dr. George C. Clark and stood at the corner of Amerige and Harvard (now Lemon). In 1972, the house was moved to its current location in the Fullerton Arboretum and now hosts tours and workshops that present the lifestyle and culture of Victorian America to guests. It's sometimes hard to imagine a Victorian Orange County—hell, it's sometimes hard to imagine an Orange County pre-South Coast Plaza—but Heritage House is keeping the flame alive.

The house also hosts a collection of Victorian medical artifacts, so if your kids seem uninterested in the idea of an educational experience, you can always punch it up by telling them the house is haunted by the victims of turn-of-the-century medical practices.

Best Altarpiece
Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano's Grand Retablo
31522 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano
(949) 234-1360
If you're going to fall to your knees in front of something representing the highest power, it better be something pretty darn bitchen. The folks at Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano must have had this in mind when they commissioned 85 craftsmen in Spain to create the Grand Retablo, the massive golden altarpiece that adorns the mission chapel today. A very grand $2 million was poured into this masterpiece of Brazilian cedar and 24-karat-gold flakes, which stands more than four stories high and is adorned with swallows and saints. It brought tears to the eyes of parishioners when it was unveiled in March, and rightfully so.

Best Way of the Cross, or Via Dolorosa
Trinity Christian City International
3150 Bear St., Costa Mesa
(714) 708-5405
Many churches line their pillars with crosses to signify each segment of Jesus Christ's painful journey to Calvary. Come Easter time, the faithful make the trek from station to station, reading passages to re-create his ordeal. At the Trinity Broadcasting Network's Costa Mesa headquarters, they pull out all the stops to make the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross) experience hit home. Instead of simple stations, visitors walk through a dimly lit movie set resembling a Jerusalem street, which leads to a small diorama of Calvary—complete with thunder and lightning effects. It's as good as it gets for a tangible walk in Jesus' shoes. But for the masochists who truly want to take in Christ's sweat, blood and tears, this may be too hokey. For those special people in the room: You'd be better off renting a certain Mel Gibson DVD.

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