Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Dollar Book Fair is another one of those small-chain bookstores that, as you enter, will have you feeling as though you walked into the home of a hoarder: There's a makeshift sense of organization, with expansive rows and a random selection of items. But, hey, if you're that kind of open-minded, freewheeling reader who can peruse a place for hours in search of the obscure, then you'll feel every bit as welcome here. Plenty of vintage and new books, manuals, records, CDs, road maps (remember those?!), VHS and cassette tapes, and other lost items have found their way here as donations from previous owners, so there's bound to be a number of things that'll catch your fancy—all available to you on the cheap.
Given the crises in Orange County, with so many judges rubberstamping corrupt law-enforcement actions, we sadly have to depart our boundaries and fly 3,000 miles to find the winner: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Who could have predicted a Roman Catholic, Republican, Ronald Reagan appointee would be the conservative member of the highest court with the maturity to secure gay-marriage rights? "The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy and spirituality," Kennedy wrote in the historic, majority opinion. "This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation." Put your dildo down, Reverend Lou Sheldon, and chew on that wisdom.
Many folks have bad lawyer stories in which emptying your bank account was the priority while providing lackluster, if not downright lousy, legal service. Sadly, that type of scenario plays out every day in Orange County's courthouses. There are, however, dedicated, professional lawyers here, and easily one of the best is Scott L. Sanders, an assistant public defender. A tireless worker and crafty courtroom strategist known to outfox prosecutors, Sanders rightly treats his clients as if their lives depend on him—which is appropriate, given many of them face life-in-prison punishments or the death penalty. If he ever hangs a private-practice shingle, he'll deservedly command top dollar.
Officials at John Wayne Airport claim a 95 percent passenger approval rate for their facility, and there's no mystery why. In comparison to the unwieldy, sprawling mess known as Los Angeles International Airport, this place—though much smaller—feels like heaven. It's clean, comfortable and continually modernized for visitor convenience. Plus, the airport is an annual moneymaker.
Looking to fill a spot in your home or apartment with a bit of Eastern/Buddhist flair? Head to Maikong Arts & Crafts. Located on an unusually quiet Little Saigon street, this warehouse-style shop sells Buddha statues, ceramics and colorful wall art for reasonable prices. The location, off Bolsa Avenue next to Asian Garden Mall, also means there are more than half a dozen competitors nearby for shopping comparisons.
Newport Beach's is the most sleek, Fullerton's just received a modern overhaul, and Huntington Beach probably has the best grounds, complete with a spiffy 319-seat theater. But what about SanTana? If a library's role is to "transform lives," as Fullerton College Systems Librarian E.H. Bennett says, then Santa Ana gets her vote. The library earned the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award for its young-mentoring programs, one of 11 libraries across the country singled out for its comprehensive after-school and art-and-humanities programs in underserved communities. Michelle Obama presented the award to youth librarian Cheryl Eberly and 18-year-old Josue Rodriguez Espinoza, and if it's good enough for the First Lady, it's good enough for us.
Vapers in the know say joints such as Vapor Bombz in Anaheim have a killer selection, but if you want the ideal combination of choice, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and environment, then crosstown compadre the Vintage Vape is the place to get your puff on. It has a groovy selection of mods, pens, vaporizers, drip tips and accessories, some 32 juices to sample in its tasting room (Space Jam and Mythic Haze sound rockin'!), and publishes a blog meant to educate people about e-cigs in a climate in which hysteria often trumps solid information. Add the comfy lounge (TV, music, pool table, dart board) and the easygoing atmosphere, and it's the perfect place to chill as the war against vaping rages on outside the doors.
Liquid nitrogen really blew up in 2014, but we kind of felt that was more gimmick than anything else. After all, science classes have been making ice cream with the stuff since the first science teacher could afford his or her own dewer. This past year, though, people started shoving nitrogen into beverages that weren't stouts. In a little less than six months, nitrogenated drinks in OC went from one or two coffee shops serving Stumptown's cold brew to nearly every coffee shop, beer hall and tap room with a keg. And now crazy OC kids such as the pair at Contra Coffee are taking it over for themselves, dishing out nitrogen Vietnamese iced coffees, Thai teas and whatever else pops out of their brains.
What more do you really want in a car wash in 2015 than running water that doesn't drain a reservoir? It'd be nice if it were cheap, too—and Oasis Car Wash in Garden Grove definitely is. At $1 per minute, you can have yourself a washed car for as little as a buck or two if you've got your plan down. And the thriftiness doesn't come at a cost: The place is neat, new-looking and just off the 22. It's even open 24 hours a day, for you night owls who get that cleaning itch at 3 a.m.
Excited co-workers, proximity to cool shit and great food right next door is what you want in a co-working space, and the best place to get all of that is right in the heart of Downtown SanTana. Effectively across the street from 4th Street Market, just a hop, a skip and a jump from the DTSA Farmers' Market, Batch has the last two down pat. But the first? It was founded by the wonderful Sarah Armstrong, the designer behind all of the Playground's new ventures, Hopper & Burr, and many more food favorites, and her space has been so successful that you have to apply to get in. They're remodeling now to add more square footage, but you can still apply in the meantime. Fingers crossed you make it!
Orange County's too big for effective public transit, biking farther than your own city is almost impossible without getting sweaty, and most other transportation methods are too slow to get you anywhere. What else are you to do but root for the underdog? It doesn't really matter anyway, since there's probably no Uber in which the driver wasn't also giving Lyfts.
It's been a few years since SanTana won our Best Downtown award, but it's not winning for the same reasons it did in 2012. Yes, some of the best restaurants in Orange County are there. Yes, there's some artsy fartsy stuff. Yes, it's heaven if you're into street wear. But the reason DTSA is winning in 2015 is that between the test kitchens and co-working spaces and food halls and mixed-use thingamabobs, the area has become home to more local young talent than any other in OC. Can you believe it? Young talent isn't brain-draining to LA or San Francisco or wherever else anymore; they're staying right here, and it's thanks in part to "Downtown Orange County." (Barf. That still doesn't work.)