It hasn't always been easy living in Garden Grove. Heavy flooding gutted the city in 1916, and an earthquake did severe damage to buildings in 1933. But after World War II, hordes of veterans and their families moved here, making it the fastest-growing U.S. city in the 1950s. Since then, the home of the Strawberry Festival has undergone quite a transformation: from dull suburban landscape to, well, a suburban landscape with a new nostalgic downtown area. Downtown Garden Grove re-creates a time when huge metal cars ran on leaded fuel; American flags hung on every corner store; and the influx of Korean, Mexican and Vietnamese immigrants had yet to arrive.
SEEING THE GROVE
The Crystal Cathedral. Orange County's most recognizable church is made up of more than 10,000 windows of tempered, silver-colored glass that highlight the Garden Grove skyline. It looks more like Superman's Fortress of Solitude, if you ask us, only without the Marlon Brando cameo. Before you leave the cathedral, you must go to the gift shop and pick up something for your loved ones. Nothing says "I love you" in a religious way like a bronze angel sculpture, a "Glory of Christmas" glitter T-shirt or a "Glory of Easter" decorative mug. 12141 Lewis St., (714) 971-4000. Atlantis Play Center. This is the coolest park in Orange County, even though we couldn't get in to research it properly because the Nazi teenagers who work there wouldn't let us. "You have to have a child with you before you can come in here, sir," the pimply-faced kid said emphatically through his braces. Come on, buddy! It's perfectly normal for a couple of grown men to come to the park to jump on the swings, play in the enormous pirate ship or walk around the maze of trails, right? 9301 Westminster Ave., (714) 892-6015. Hip Pocket Adult Books.What trip to Garden Grove would be complete without a tour of the city's historic pornography houses? The police have cracked down on the rampant transvestite prostitution rings that plagued the city a decade ago, but the dozens of adult bookstores lining Garden Grove Boulevard remain, and the coolest of them is Hip Pocket Adult Books. It's coolest due to the fact that the porn is pretty damn cheap. Do you know how much it costs to buy a squirrel-shaped dildo, a stainless-steel cock ring and the latest issue of Gams? Hip Pocket makes the experience pleasant with fair prices, an extensive selection of pornography and adult toys, and workers who politely don't look you in the eye when you make your purchases. 8745 Garden Grove Blvd., (714) 534-9823.
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EATING THE GROVE
Kaju Soft Tofu Restaurant. Garden Grove is home to the Korean business district, where more than 6,000 Korean-Americans live and work every day. One of the coolest restaurants in this area is Kaju Soft Tofu Restaurant, an idyllic eatery with one of the nicest interiors in the area that specializes in a soft and spicy tofu soup. Depending on what you want to put in the soup—we ordered the clam, oyster and beef tofu soup—it becomes a sort of paella, except that with paella, the waitress doesn't drop a raw egg into it as it is being served. The Boolgogi—thinly sliced, seasoned beef with sweet caramelized onions served on a fajita-like skillet—is a good complement to the soup. 8895 Garden Grove Blvd., (714) 636-2849. Regina's Pizza. Regina's is a curious place. Set behind a car-radio-installation boutique, the bistro is nearly invisible from the street, and you probably won't notice the blue and white walls and curtains bearing Argentina's national flag until you reach the parking lot. Regina's is a pizza joint only in name: hearty portions of South American influences have been injected into the Italian cuisine. The traditional parillada (a ton of barbecued sausages and juicy cuts of beef) is a must-order for carnivores without enough protein in their diet. The olive oil and garlic sauce that comes with the meat is to die for. 11025 Westminster Ave., (714) 638-9595.Pho 79. Pho is old-school. Celebrating its 22-year anniversary, the Vietnamese restaurant is still going strong. They have a vast selection of foods from different regions of Vietnam. Try the egg rolls: the egg rolls' deep-fried rice paper filled with lettuce, mint, thinly sliced carrots, crab, pork and mushrooms has an intensely delightful flavor. All of the soups are also excellent. 9941 Hazard Ave., (714)531-2490.
GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS
Crooners Lounge. Although nightlife and Garden Grove may sound like a contradiction in terms, Crooners Lounge downtown is genuinely jumping on the weekends. Crammed with Elvis memorabilia—Elvis' first paycheck, first gold album, first baby tooth, first patch of excess back hair—the dive bar has a certain classy flair to it. But the drinks are hard, and the jukebox is jamming with tunes from Social D to Johnny Cash. If you're sick of only listening to music, go next door and sing a few bars at the Azteca Mexican Restaurant's karaoke bar? We got up, sang "Danke Schoen," and killed it. The ladies love Wayne Newton. Awww, yeaah! 12911 Main St., (714) 638-3790. Fraternity House.Garden Grove was the hub of Orange County's gay community until police officers began harassing club patrons in the 1980s. The scene has since dwindled considerably. But Fraternity House, the city's last remaining gay bar, marches on. Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays are popular nights thanks to the Latin drag shows, said bartender Martin. But Friday is when everyone comes in. "We have whites, blacks and Mexicans come in on Friday," Martin said. "You don't even have to be gay to come here." A real equal opportunity place, that Fraternity House. 8112 Garden Grove Blvd., (714) 373-3728.