Best Park Orange County 2009 - Bonita Canyon Sports Park and Arroyo Park
Is it weird to give the same award to two separate parks? Yes, but no weirder than giving two separate parks the same name. Bonita Canyon Sports Park comprises both a larger area—which offers the baseball fields its name implies, along with an impeccably manicured (Newport Beach! Hello!), verdant stretch of lawn that screams to be picnicked upon and a playground full of safe, modern equipment mostly designed for older kids (ages 5 to 12)—and a smaller one, over where Ford Road dead-ends, with more impeccably manicured, green grass and playthings for the toddler/preschooler set. Confusing as hell, we know. Bear with us. Now, little Arroyo Park, fewer than two miles to the north, also has impeccably manicured fields (a soccer pitch and a baseball diamond), along with more slides and climbing structures for the kids and picnic tables shaded under an elegant pergola. Soooo . . . why do they both win? Because they're connected—by a mostly dirt trail that leads steeply down the hill across Ford Road from the little-kids playground, under the Bonita Canyon Drive viaduct and through Bonita Canyon itself. The ridges on either side are lined with multi-unit dwellings, but the trail itself is a serene slice of chaparral, all skinks, scrub jays, ground squirrels and black phoebes—who scatter when the locals descend with their dogs. Our recommendation: Park up on Ford; go down the hill; saunter over to Arroyo (seriously, this is more of a walk than a hike, great for families with kids); and spread out your wine, cheese, caviar and vanilla Joe-Joe's on one of the pergola tables. On your way back up the hill, turn left through the tree branches, scramble down a steep incline, and you'll find yourself on the banks of a tiny creek trickling out of a pond in a hidden grotto, complete with waterfall, where feral koi swim and crayfish scuttle, a wild gem of a suburban oasis, anything but impeccably manicured.