The mural on Lemon Street says it all: "Fullerton is the town I live in." I have lived here most of my adult life, I hold degrees from two of its colleges, and I work a couple of days a week at the Back Alley Bar and Grill. I have passed out on its streets; dined at its finest restaurants; thrown up in its bars; spent a night in its jail; performed my plays, music and poetry here; ministered to its sick; provided succor to its poor; and, well, you get the picture. It's my town—a distinction I share with Jackson Browne, who grew up here; Tommy Lasorda, who lived here; Richard M. Nixon and Walter Johnson, who went to high school here; and Leo Fender, who perfected the electric guitar here.
This said, Fullerton lacks the natural beauty of the beach cities and a good shopping center that would give it consumer cred. Its City Hall is one of the ugliest extant examples of '60s civic architecture, and its workings are a typical labyrinth of bureaucracy. There's a gaping economic divide here between the mostly Latino working poor and the mostly white and Asian rich—and a cadre of business owners and local officials who walk around as if they own the place, which they mostly do.
But it also has a great park in its center—ideal for family functions during the day and gay cruising at night. Fullerton has its own lake and 28 miles of horse and biking trails, five colleges and 60,000 students, a 24-block wireless Internet zone, more theaters than any other county city, a train station, an airport, two museum complexes, stately old buildings, wonderfully bucolic neighborhoods, and a great downtown.
Downtown is where most of the action happens these days—fittingly, for its heart, the intersection of Harbor and Commonwealth, is where two brothers named Amerige drove a stake into a mustard field in 1887 after striking a deal with a railroad guy named Fullerton to divert his railroad through what was then quiet farmland. That started it all, and strangely, not much has changed: this is one historic area that still lives and breathes today—and stays up late.
Radiating out from downtown are the working-class neighborhoods and manufacturing zones to the east and west, dominated by large companies like Hunt-Wesson, Kimberly Clark and Raytheon. The farther north you go, the pricier the real estate, with neighborhoods like Sunny Hills and the fine St. Jude complex. But why go north? Why go anywhere? Like so many county hamlets, Fullerton is a place some people—myself included—never want to leave.
Best Place for Good Old-fashioned Sleaze Erogenous Zone and California Girls. This city once had 27 massage parlors, a sleazy adult bookstore called Fantasy Books—even a salon on Harbor Boulevard called Circus Maximus that was really a brothel the cops called Circus Jerkus. They're all gone now, save a few non-happy-ending massage parlors. All that's left is the relatively tame Erogenous Zone, where one can buy all kinds of oils and double-headed dildos, and California Girls, a topless club formerly known as Cherries. Erogenous Zone, 2449 E. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, (714) 879-3270; California Girls, 1189 E. Ash Ave., Fullerton, (714) 447-0692.
Best Murals Under a bridge in Fullerton's historic barrio are Chicano-themed murals dating to the 1970s—a seorita in a sombrero, a lowrider, the Mexican flag, the Virgin of Guadalupe. They're badly faded, but any neighborhood with the slogan "The Town I Live In" painted on its bridge will always be a grimy slice of heaven. And just a couple of feet down, near the AMC 30, is an Emigdio Vasquez mural of kiddies from around the world in their native garb. 701 S. Lemon St., Fullerton.
Best Song "Kids of the Black Hole," the Adolescents. Sample lyric: "House that belonged to all the homeless kids/House of the filthy, house not a home." They weren't all from Fullerton (Steve Soto was), but this classic was a "We're Desperate"—crash pads, no visible means of support, no direction home—for Orange County.
Best Cholo Gear El Pachuco. World's finest store for custom-made zoot suits. Everything is here—obsidian-shiny Stacy Adams, fat ties, crucifix tie clips, wide-brimmed fedoras and pants as baggy as trash bags. And, if you ask nicely, the store owners will open up a musty folder and share with you clips about the real-life Zoot Suit Riots of 1942 Los Angeles. 801 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 526-3743; www.elpachuco.com.
Best Sushi Chomp. TV Guide Network executive Eddie Delbridge and talent scout Jon Messrah swear this big, bold, splashy sushi restaurant is the best in the city, if not the county. The seared albacore is particularly sumptuous. 181 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 738-3511.
Best Place to Dump Your Kid in the Summer Bob Burton Basketball Camp, Cal State Fullerton. For $200, your kid can up his basketball skills for a week (days only) while being coached in the fundamentals by the Cal State Fullerton Titans team. Weekend clinics, with a camper-to-staff ratio of about 3-to-1, continue through the fall and winter, and I'm guessing that some of the more shit-howdy-unbelievable players take them up on this. The kids love the coaches, who are incredibly nice and fun while also managing to be quite tall and handsome, if you're into 20-year-old basketball stars, which everyone knows you're not. (714) 278-3711; email@example.com.
Best Collectibles Bijou Collectables. Relive your childhood or nerd adulthood here amongst figurines, lunch pails and other assorted memorabilia spanning the spectrum from the Marx Brothers to Superman. 116 E. Amerige Ave., Fullerton, (714) 680-8799; www.bijoucollectables.com.
Best Place to Buy The Best of Blur Black Hole Records. The Anglophiliest record store in OC, with a comparable selection of rare old punk vinyl and all kinds of style boosters: posters, pins, clunky shoes—all somehow spiritually linked to Morrissey. 108 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 449-1788.
Coolest Shopping Area Villa Del Sol. It has fine restaurants, like the Cellar, Cafe Hidalgo, Brownstone Cafe and Stadium Tavern, a stuffy British grocer, a sports memorabilia store, and a salon stacked with attractive woman clients—all nestled in a 1920s building that used to be the California Hotel and is supposedly haunted. 305 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton.
Best Vintage Out of Vogue. This city's answer to Meow of Long Beach, only more so—a multidisciplinary take on vintage that embraces clothing, furniture and accessories, with a particular concentration on midcentury-type stuff. Clearly, the ex-punk rocker owner knows his stuff; most ex-punks with a pulse do.109 E. Commonwealth, Fullerton, (714) 879-6647.
Best Place to Do the Pop The Alley. Promoter James Barnum resurrects the spirit of Fullerton's old Backalley as the (non-back?) Alley, an all-ages punk rock club with a roster that reminds us of, say, early Chain Reaction—Public Storage, anyone? Think 4/4 beats, lots of octaves and no bouncers at the door: ah, to be young again. 139 W. Amerige Ave., Fullerton, (714) 738-6934; www.thealleyclub.com.
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Best Liquid Lunch The Continental Room. At night, it's swingers hell—swingers like the film, not the old guy with his hands deep in his wife's jeans pockets—but during the day, it's the air-conditioned, leather-cushioned sensory deprivation tank you need before you can go back for the rest of work/traffic school/middle school/whatever. Afternoons at the Continental are quiet, classy and somehow soul-renewing. If you're gonna be a daytime drunk, at least do it old school. 115 W. Santa Fe Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-4529.
Best Place to Smoke Kettle and the Keg. British tea room in the front and beer garden in the back, this place goes off several nights of the week. Twenty-one flavors of tobacco are available for your hookah enjoyment, from peach—the most popular—to cherry cola, the weirdest. 136 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton, (714) 447-3399.
Best VW Restorationists West Coast Classics Restoration. You'd walk right by head man Lenny Copp on the street, but he and his crack team of restorers revive bugs and microbuses to factory condition—making them big in France, New York and elsewhere. Not too long ago, they redid a VW bus for Jerry Seinfeld, much better known for his Porsche collection. 1002 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-1322.
Best Reason to Hope for the Future The Fox Fullerton theater. A tireless group of local volunteers helped save this venerable 1925 movie palace from demolition. They now need something like $10 million to create the multi-use performing arts facility that once seemed like a pipe dream, but in the meantime, they've cleaned up the exterior and launched an outdoor film series—projecting movies on a wall. They plan to have the rest finished in five years. Good luck. 512 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 870-0069.