This was once the OC capital of Yawn: no record shops, no place to get a drinkable cup of coffee, no bookstore to special-order The Joy of Gay Sex,and no reservations needed at any restaurant. You could eat anywhere—so, of course, you ended up crunching down Super Stars at the 24-hour Carl's Jr. drive-through.
Incorporated in 1925 when the farmers and the ranchers momentarily agreed that, yes, they should be friends, La Habra—like much of Orange County—didn't take off until the 1960s, when most of the building happened. (1950 population was still stalled at a sparse 5,000 humans.) But when the suits torpedoed a proposed Orange-County-to-LAX freeway along Imperial Highway, they sank any chance this place had of one day becoming a destination. And it became what it is: a bedroom community that's still a five-mile drive to any freeway going anywhere and home to two big yearly events: the "I Love La Habra" fest, and the Corn Festival.
Fortunately, as the county matures, there are now a few decent reasons to either visit or stay, lending credence to the City Council folk who claim, slightly unconvincingly, that they never go out at night except to eat Chinese. It begins—began—in the late '90s, when evil empire/soul-crusher Chevron sold a huge tract of land southeast of the Beach Boulevard/Imperial Highway nexus to developers, who flipped it to corporate tools like Lowe's, Wal-Mart, Kohl's, Chili's, Baja Fresh, Borders, Panda Express. You're laughing, but this is still mega in La Habra, which goes begging for things like good Cuban food, a kick-ass vintage clothing store, maybe a martini bar. By the time this publishes, the little city that apparently could sell out should also have its own Costco—chicken bakes and 36-roll packages of toilet paper for all—a surge of development you hope will end cute.
Funny story about all that: it's 1999 and La Habra bags the first Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in the state, an event that so bathed the city in media saturation the citizens still postmortem it the way veterans of Operation Overlord do with Normandy. So how is Krispy Kreme these days?
Photo by Jack Gould
Best Strip Club Taboo Gentlemen's Club. Concerned city moralists in 1998 tried to stop what was then called the Pelican Theater from opening in this former bank building apparently for all the usual reasons—nekkid wimmens being the most prominent. Fortunately, they failed, leaving horny North County men and some women—though not as many women as men might hope—with plenty to see. 1001 E. Imperial Hwy., La Habra, (714) 447-3222.
Best Honorary Ambassador Paul Goldenberg. Who? He owns Paul's TV & Video; gives big money to the Democratic Party; and, through his TV, radio and billboard ads proclaiming him the "King of the Big Screen," has become the unofficial city ambassador. His actual shop is small, of course—half of the floor space is sales clerks chanting "We have financing available!" You've seen the TVs (big and expensive); more interesting are the glossy color photos of Paul cuddling up to various celebs: Sharon Stone, Hillary Clinton, Whitney Houston. Whitney Houston? 500 N. Harbor Blvd., La Habra, (714) 529-2314 or (562) 697-6751.
Best Taxidermied Dead Things La Habra Children's Museum. Many years ago, I took my son to the La Habra Children's Museum. It was delightful, like a crazy granny's attic, with bizarre "exhibits" for small children to play in (a them-sized grocery store, a real OCTA bus to drive, a model train village). But the best part was the "Nature Walk," an island of taxidermied creatures that kids are allowed to pet and snuggle. Looking mangy and mite-ridden, they'd clearly been loved by many small children over the years, and it was hilarious after the first few moments of shock. I told my boss to take his kids, and when the subject came up again the other day, asked if he ever had. "I did!" he exclaimed, remembering. "I loved it. It was gross!" Yes. Yes, it was. 301 S. Euclid St., La Habra, (562) 905-9793.
Best Urban Legend Nixon Law Office Marker. It sounded like a good idea at the time when Richard Nixon's former law office, which he occupied for only a few years in the late 1930s, was declared a state historical landmark in 1969 with a garish bronze plaque. That was after the inauguration and before Watergate; the marker has been considered something of a joke ever since, a desperate grab by city officials to have something—anything—of significance in their town. Several years ago, they seemed to wise up, and the office was razed for a spiffy community center. But the marker lives on—in the middle of the parking lot. And if you pee on it, a kitten's life is saved. Supposedly. Northwest corner of Euclid Street and La Habra Boulevard, La Habra.
Best Local Boy Made Good Glenn Allison. On July 1, 1982, Glenn Allison bowled a perfect 900 game at the La Habra 300 Bowl—36 straight strikes. The evil American Bowling Congress (ABC), which regulates these kinds of things, refused to recognize his feat, claiming there was too much wax on the lanes. No matter—Allison became a hero and briefly put the name La Habra on the lips of bowlers everywhere. Sports Illustrated wrote about it, and for years afterward, the alley's sign trumpeted proudly that it was HOME OF THE 900 SERIES, and now Allison—"Mr. 900"—is famous the world over. In bowling alleys. 370 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 691-6721.
Best Fancy Restaurant Cat & Custard Cup. We can't actually afford to eat here, but it stays open and people are always raving about it, so it must be good. The scene: well-made American food in an English-pub setting, only bigger. A massive array of steak, duck, seafood, pork, lamb and deer, and a nice variety of appetizers. 800 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 694-3812 or (714) 992-6496.
Best Dogs Jerry's Wood-Fired Dogs. This just-opened sequel to the original Santa Ana Jerry's also specializes in barbecued hot dogs, but these aren't ordinary weenies. You can order your salty meat roll skinless or with a casing; as an all-beef or turkey dog; or in chili-cheese or corn dog varietals. When you figure thatout, you must choose amongst a dizzying 21-item condiment menu—mustards, peppers, pickles, sauces, plus red, white, grilled or raw onions. Surrender? There's also Bavarian brats, Italian sausages, chicken sausages and a positively pornographic kielbasa. 1360 S. Beach Blvd., Ste. C, La Habra, (562) 697-4644.
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