Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Let's face it: Though Orange County has an international reputation for glamour thanks to cable-TV shows, huge chunks of our region are grotesquely ugly. But the most invigorating spot in Southern California is also within our boundaries: Heisler Park in Laguna Beach. With incredible views of the hillside coastal town, as well as of the Pacific Ocean and beach, the palm tree-loaded park might be the cheapest cure for the blues on the planet—well, if you don't count those greedy city parking meters. On a sunny weekend, go early so you can find parking and enjoy paradise.
When one thinks of a park in Orange County, it usually brings up images of finely manicured grass, perfectly placed shade trees and a nice man-made pond with some intrusive ducks. These types of green spaces have their place of course, especially when it comes to family outings, but they are a dime a dozen. Yet parks that can offer a real natural setting are few and far between, especially when you consider how many of those places are being hoarded by the darling Irvine Co. Ironically enough, Irvine Regional Park offers both sides. Do you like ponds and swing sets? It has those. Do you enjoy riding bikes? It has paved sidewalks and a bike trail along the riverbed. Or do you enjoy meandering along dusty trails where critters scurry about? Half of the park is composed of such wilderness-esque areas. This is all before we even talk about the railroad, the horses, the lake, the zoo and the ridiculous amount of peacocks pecking around. With 477 acres, you can have the quintessential American picnic, or you can try to get lost, if even for a little while.
Whether you're coming from as far south as San Clemente or as north as Yorba Linda, it will usually take between two and three hours to get to Big Bear. You can be snowboarding, hiking or boating in the same amount of time it can take to get to downtown Los Angeles on a weekday. It's far away enough and has such a drastically different setting that it can truly feel like a vacation. Plus, one-third of the drive is through scenic mountain roads. If you leave early enough, you'll bypass traffic, and if you stay late enough, you can see the incredible night sky with much less light pollution than you'll find down here. In winter, the lake is breathtakingly crisp and beautiful, and it's easy to find deals on lift tickets; in summer, it's less crowded, and you can explore the wilderness with no one else in sight. Stay for a while, and leave in the dark: The drive home will be quick—a relaxing end to your day.
We'll have to double-check with Webster, but we're pretty sure feeding a flock of ducks by a lake is pretty much the definition of leisure. It's one of the many activities you can get in on at Yorba Regional Park. Situated at the mouth of Santa Ana Canyon, this mile-long expanse of lush grass, serene lakes, softball diamonds, modern playgrounds and bike trails is one of the few things about the eastern end of Anaheim that helps cultivate the identity of one of the most delightfully slow-paced areas of OC. Among its biggest draws are its diverse stable of rental bikes, paddle boats (yes, you can actually get out on the water!) and Big Wheels for the kids. Local school troops and party planners get plenty of use out of this local haven for daytime diversions, and the huge shade trees, gazebos and barbecue pits make this an easy place to bring people together.
Unfortunately, we cannot give you the address to our friend's house, but we can tell you about a lovely place to light up that you may have never been to—or even heard of. Many factors go into choosing the best place to get high, but atmosphere and stealthiness are at the top of the list. So, go down by the river at the northern end of the Santa Ana River trail in Yorba Linda, and you will find exactly that. It takes a little bit of effort because you will have to park in a neighborhood or at Yorba Regional Park, then take a bit of a walk. You will find the entrance to this peculiar place at the end of the paved trail, underneath the Weir Canyon overpass on La Palma Avenue. Follow a sandy path into a swampy-looking forest; you will wander along lightly treaded paths and, if you're lucky, stumble upon the walls of bamboo, but ultimately, you can make your way to several sandbars along the river. It feels like being in a different state, literally and figuratively. Just watch out for spiders, snakes and perhaps even rodents of unusual size.
In Orange County, the best thing to do in the dark involves getting wet. Hey, get your mind out of the gutter! We're talking about stand-up paddleboarding, better known as SUP. During the day, it's a fun fitness activity, but when the sun goes down, it's a truly magical experience. In the summer, Pirate Coast Paddle Co. hosts Full Moon SUP Parties, in which paddlers of all skill levels can grab equipment and some glow sticks, then glide alongside trained professionals onto the calm, glistening waters of Newport's Back Bay. You never know what you might see along the way—sea life down below, Orion's Belt up above, a hottie straight ahead. After the night's voyage, the party continues with snacks and chatter. Aside from the fact that you may get a little muddy, the event proves that you can have good, clean fun with the lights off.