Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Sure, it's a man-made pond created expressly for lakeview homes, but as the sun sets and the lights come on, grab your lover's hand and take a stroll around the lake, beginning and ending at the plaza, where you can have a bite to eat and a glass of wine. You might almost forget where you are—you know, Rancho Santa Margarita, the place boring people go to become even more boring.
Yes, we know it's not a traditional dog park. But it is the best place to take your dog. After all, it's named for a dog-lover, James Irvine Jr. Not far from the boathouse, on land that used to be his "picnic grounds," stands the iconic statue of the onetime landowner, whose name is on, well, an entire city, with his dogs. You and your pup can happily—and leashedly—roam trails along the back of the park, stroll by the lake, or climb hills. There will be the occasional peacock, maybe a trainload of kids bustling through, perhaps a family on bicycles. But otherwise, it's a serene, mostly shaded walk (or run, depending on your dog), unencumbered by dog owners who couldn't care less whether their Rottweiler is trying to mate with your schnauzer.
The cliff behind silences Coast Highway, so all you hear are waves, the wind flapping at your umbrella and an occasional gull outburst. If not for swimsuit styles, it could be 1918, when the first film was shot here, or 1970, when it was common for people to ride horses bareback by the surf. Time passes, 21st-century tensions vanish, and you stop grinding your teeth. Slowly it dawns that people are relishing what they are doing: floating beyond the breakers or peering into tidepools ("We saw opal eyes!"). Children are reading, and adults are getting buried to their chins. After watching a mom take a picture of her kid looming high above her on a rock, you find yourself actually volunteering to take a picture of the whole family as they stand close and grin ridiculously. Now you are grinning, too. You don't even wait to get back to your spot, but drop your hat and sunglasses and dive in at Muddy Creek because that's one of the best spots for bodysurfing at the park. Sandy bottom, not too shallow, no mud—the creek peters out up in backcountry. Back on your towel, the onshore breeze blows your body dry. Being at this beach is an actual vacation, completely worth the $15 entrance fee. Better yet, join the California State Parks Foundation (www.calparks.org) for $25, and get seven day-use passes to visit whenever you want during the year that follows. This beach is safe from wanton development forever. The only worry will come in some future form from the sea—tsunami, the Fukushima radiation leaks—all the more reason to enjoy the here and now. To get to Muddy Creek, park at Reef Point and take the steep, south ramp down, or park at El Moro and go through the tunnel where creek meets sea to the beach, walk north and pick a spot.
These trails overlap to provide a raucous mix of steep canyon plant life, gnarled geologic formations, an ancient beach, and helicopter-high views of the coastline and ocean. You get all that, plus an excellent—okay, 50/50—chance of seeing a roadrunner on an easy-to-moderate hike of less than 3 miles. Wild local kids of the '60s and '70s called the area Sands and would ditch school to hang out or camp overnight on the 10 million-year-old sandy beach. Sandstone cliffs line the ancient beach, which now looms 780 feet above sea level. Early OC builders pillaged the sand to make their cement, stripping away topsoil in the process, so the cliffs began to erode because of the rainwater rushing down from Laguna Ridge. If you have a thing for badlands and have seen the Arizona and South Dakota specimens, you'll enjoy this miniature version. Along the trail, a glance can become a mental snapshot of blooming anise in the foreground, the badlands below, and, way down and beyond, ocean and sky. On the next clear day, take this hike—you'll see from Palos Verdes to South Laguna. After exploring the Badlands, walk farther south on the trail to take mental or actual panoramas sweeping from Saddleback Mountain to San Clemente Island, from Salt Creek past the Harbor to San Clemente and on toward San Diego. While you're enjoying this mad beauty, get a perverse pleasure from how annoyed the mansion owners must be that we have access. Badlands Park was dedicated in 1990 and became a county park in 1992. In 1995, the battle to stop the housing development from destroying the Laguna Ridge was lost. But the county successfully sued the developers who had painted the curb red to prevent access. So park freely on their hoity-toity street. There is one handicapped parking space near the picnic tables, but several sets of stairs and sandy or gravelly inclines may thwart wheelchairs on the trail.
If it's a resort you want, spend the weekend at Harrah's Rincon, they have "adult swim" Saturdays and a long, lazy river, in addition to single-deck blackjack. But they don't have $5 blackjack tables—not even close. For that, it's Ocean's Eleven, baby. Close by in Oceanside, it has long been a favorite destination for poker players. You'll see a lot of congenial tables full of people hard at play at Hold 'em and Omaha. Jackpots start at $20,000. Ocean's blackjack rules give the player a bit of an edge over other casinos; you may double on any two cards, surrender and split any two cards of the same value up to three times. The casino offers a steady stream of promotions for Pai Gow, EZ Baccarat and Three-Card Poker, but none is more of a thrill than the No Bust 21st Century Blackjack. That's right, it's possible to not lose even if you go over 21. When the player busts with three cards totaling 23, 24 or 25, and the dealer busts with a higher count, it's a push. That's at no extra cost. You can also make bust bets in which you get paid a higher amount depending on how many cards it took to go over. But it just doesn't seem right to bet against yourself in this way. You are already shooting yourself in the foot by gambling in this economy. Since Ocean's Eleven is technically a "poker club" rather than an Indian casino, there are no slots, and a 50-cent ante on each hand goes to "The Corporation." "Please gamble responsibly." Hah!
On a narrow strip of land, above Corona Del Mar State Beach, sits a grassy knoll, upon which you can spread your picnic blanket and feel the majesty of Inspiration Point. Graze on your delicious feast as you survey the ever-changing landscape that are the million-dollar homes across the street. (When do they stop renovating? Ever?) Look down upon the beach-goers on the sand below; you could visit them if you brave the very steep, concrete ramp leading to the slightly rocky shore. Or you could stay dry and grit-free where you are, gazing at the sunset. This—THIS—is why you live in Southern California, where the sun sinks into the ocean, after its long day of blazing a trail across the contiguous United States. It rose to greet the Statue of Liberty, but it drifts off to slumber on the Best Coast, where life is just that much more fabulous. . . . Ahem. Perhaps we got too inspired.
One of the few silver linings to Orange County's depressingly mediocre gay-bar scene is its egalitarianism. There aren't enough gay bars for specialization, so everyone goes to those that do exist. At the Tin Lizzie, perhaps the best known of the five, everyone has a chance to find Mr. Right Now: twink or bear, jock or chub, or anywhere in between. You don't even have to be gay to make the scene there—we've seen more than one would-be fag hag leaving on the arm of an opportunistic bi guy.
Set aside your memories of being 19 and stupid in crappy bars on Calle Coahuila, and ignore the media frenzy over the violence that happened in 2008; Tijuana is blossoming, and you're the last one to realize it. Shop in the artisan markets, browse the central food market, then wander the newly gentrifying Avenida Revolución. Have a mind-blowing dinner at a fancy Baja Med restaurant such as Misión 19 or La Querencia, or maybe order the original caesar salad from Caesar's, and then a craft beer from one of the city's two dozen craft breweries. Come back through the Otay Mesa crossing, though; otherwise, your day trip will have turned into a rage-filled overnight debacle.
Goaltender Viktor Fasth's inaugural season in the NHL may have been only half a season, but he seemed determined to make up for lost time. Seriously, he's not a goalie; he's a man-shaped wall in a goal net, racking up a 15-6-2 record after spending the lockout playing hockey in his native Sweden. Fans everywhere were stunned when Fasth wasn't invited to play in the post-season and left wondering whether the Ducks would have advanced had he been there.
There is a man who resides by the creek, under the shade of many oaks, and his name is Frank Fitzpatrick. The owner of 5 Bar Beef is the only grass-fed-beef rancher in Orange County. As well as being a flirtatious bachelor and a no-apologies hard ass, he is also the best unlicensed nutritional adviser—and his methods are completely unorthodox. Meet Fitzpatrick at the farmers' market, and he'll tell you the best diet you can have is a purely organic beef one. That's right: Vegetables? Screw that shit, according to Fitzpatrick. Not that he doesn't add some tomatoes and onions to his fantastic beef tacos, but it's only for flavor. He lives off his beef and sausages made from the leftover organs (always cooked in coconut oil) and preaches it's the only way to go. When he's not wrangling steers, he's running a marathon or meditating in his hyperbaric chamber. And despite how completely nonsensical his advice sounds, the man is fit as hell and could kick your ass any day of the week. Go figure.
There's something kind of awkward about an upscale bowling alley. No matter how many velvet couches where people can lounge while drinking a cocktail and listening to some kind of music that's supposed to get them laid there are, the place still smells like feet and you're still sharing shoes with strangers. That's what is so awesome about La Habra 300 Bowl. It isn't trying to hide anything. It's just a straight-up bowling alley. From the outside, it looks exactly like the alley from The Big Lebowski. The inside is no different from the one in the film: terrible lighting, worn-down lanes and plastic bucket seats. But the bar is half the reason to visit. The Bowl has been open for more than 50 years, and like the décor, the bartenders are sweet and unassuming. It's a total dive, with dark red carpets and low wooden tables with red-leather swivel chairs. And the smoking "room" is really a dark, glass box with ventilation—kind of. Linbrook may be open 24 hours, but you can't beat drinking and bowling in such a fantastic, rundown throwback. Did we mention the coffee shop adjacent to the bar serves Chinese food?
Pool ought to be played in the kind of bars you see in the movies under low light, late at night and with a regular crowd. Games Plus Billiards gives you just that. It's essentially a laid-back dive bar, serving beer and wine for cash only, but with enough pool and game tables to fill up a Dave and Buster's. Plus, there's an outdoor smoking patio and an arcade! You won't have to wait to play, and rounds are cheap—especially when paired with $1 beers on Tuesdays. Grab a friend—or maybe a lot of them. There's definitely room for everyone.