The Orange Grove at Santa Ana and Helena streets, Anaheim
Have you noticed those concrete slabs with bas-relief oranges that decorate Highway 22? Don't you think it's hilarious the county still propagates its bucolic orange-crate myth, even though the county's citrus industry has been reduced to nothing? Isn't it hilarious that the nothing is really just a fenced-off orange grove on the corner of Santa Ana and Helena streets in Anaheim? Is the fact that this grove—the place where the county's 1936 Citrus War started—was twice the size just a couple of years ago and is now slated for demolition just so appropriate for who we are, where we're going and how we just don't care? What was it that Smokey Robinson said about clowns again?
Taco Bell Discovery Science Center
2500 N. Main St., Santa Ana
Admit it: The first time you drove past that giant, angled black cube beside Insterstate 5, you thought the actual kids' museum it belongs to was inside. Later, maybe you caught the light shining through it, realized it was hollow, and wondered what the point was. Did the designer of the Discovery Center just really, really like Pink Floyd and somehow figured kids could learn about the actual dark side of the moon? Turns out it's actually a massive solar-panel array that powers the museum—if you pay admission, you can find out all the groovy details and, yes, even get inside it. If solar power is indeed the future, could it be that one day we'll all have trippy black cubes attached to our homes? We can but hope.
Best Evidence of a Town In Need of a Proofreader
Golden West, or Goldenwest?
Come on, people. Even Google Maps chokes on this. Pick one and stick with it. Our copy desk will back you up 100 percent.
Best Use of Stucco
The Irvine Co.
You really shouldn't be a stranger to that 140-year-old real-estate development giant. Based in Newport Beach and owned by squillionaire Donald Bren, the Irvine Co. is responsible for implanting all those suburban master-planned communities you and the rest Orange County are so very fond of. Looking out the window of your basic Irvine Co.-owned apartment in the city that bears the name, you will behold rows upon rows of these planned communities. A truly depressing sight: the nearly identical, neatly trimmed trees, identical neatly trimmed lawns, identical streets of identical houses and identical apartments, all in varying shades of beige stucco.
While the place looks nice (if you dig uniformity), the bland suburban stucco thing just isn't for everyone. But, it must also be said: The Irvine Co. is ultimately partially responsible for UC Irvine, having donated 1,000 acres (and sold 500 acres) to the school in 1959. And in the years to come, the company and Bren himself have also donated oodles of cash to UC Irvine. As the name of one of UCI's most popular Facebook groups goes, "I Hate the Irvine Company but Don't Tell Them or Else They'll Stop Giving UCI Money."
Best Example of Gentrification
Floral Park, Santa Ana
Santa Ana stands as one of Orange County's least upscale cities—and is, as a result, its most soulful. While the lack of general affluence has resulted in some run-down neighborhoods, "Orange County" has reared its wealthy head even here. Located off Broadway, just off Interstate 5, Floral Park is a neighborhood of wide, peaceful streets, huge lawns and beautiful architecture . . . and nary a tagger in sight. Built between the 1920s and the 1950s, the neighborhood features tasteful farmhouses, Tudor- and ranch-style homes, and well-kept lawns. The homes are painted tastefully, and the air is filled with the sounds of lawn mowers and children's laughter. This is Santa Ana? Sure, the price of a home in this neighborhood far exceeds the kind of money most SanTanans will ever see, but even Orange County's grittiest town has to have its glamour.
Best Local Legend
The Poker Game That Named OC
It's not nearly as creepy as it sounds. Promise. You've passed it dozens of times on the way to the beach—a faded, sky-blue sign in curlicue script, amongst commercial buildings, fast-food joints and plazas, announcing a . . . pet cemetery?
Rest assured: It's nothing like Stephen King's pet cemetery ( . . . or, er, Sematary) of 1989. In fact, it's pretty much the opposite: rows and rows of tiny graves belonging to some of the most loved creatures in all the county—our pets. Sure, it sounds kind of strange, but really, it makes plenty of sense. Over time, our pets—our dogs, cats, rats, and even some raccoons and monkeys—come to be part of our families. And why not give a family member a proper goodbye? Granted, visiting the cemetery's office (which houses a dim visitation room, some tombstones and a display of teeny pet coffins) is a tad unnerving, but a walk through the actual cemetery, littered with artificial flowers, American flags, banners and even pets' favorite toys, can actually be kind of soothing. Exploring the cemetery's paved pathways, you can read the last messages dedicated owners had for their animals on their headstones. It can be sweet (the cap-wearing, rose-adorned monument for World War II canine hero Sarge), funny (a pet rat that lived to be 7 years old named Willyum Yummers), amazing (parakeet Katie Teeter was born in 1883), or just plain heart-wrenching (on a headstone for "Our Big Goofy," K.K. the cat: "The day you reached out your paw to us through your cage door at the shelter was the luckiest day of our lives. So long, for now").
Best Place to Get Lashed
The Brig Pilgrim
24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr., Dana Point
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.
Best Gondola Ride
5437 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach
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.
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Best Place to Catch a Titillating Glimpse of a Woman's Ankle
1900 Associated Rd., Fullerton
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.
Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano's Grand Retablo
31522 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano
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
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.