They ("Ellen Griley") call La Palma the Luxembourg of Orange County: with only 1.9 square miles in area (much smaller than Disneyland), only 15,000 residents (fewer than the visitors to Disneyland each day) and only one bar (luckily less exclusive than Club 33), it's almost a scale model of the giant bedroom communities next door, a miniature version of an ideal Orange County city that offers plenty of real-life California Adventure—like, er, banning skateboarding in 1991. (Or like hosting two quarter-million-dollar robberies in two years, but that's pretty out of character for La Palma.) You'd never even know you were there—La Palma is better known as a street in Anaheim than an actual place with a utility tax—if you didn't look at the street signs, which quietly change from flashy Buena Park to homey La Palma (is that Times New Roman type font?) as soon as you cross (and slow down) on Valley View Street.
But for a small town, La Palma is growing: originally founded as Dairyland by a consortium of enterprising cows, La Palma incorporated as a human village in 1955 and developed on its own the authentic small-town R.F.D. feel that its neighbors lost long ago. That real-deal camaraderie—everyone chatting amiably with everyone else, the needle skritching off the turntable when a stranger walks in the room—isn't flashy, but it's attracted an influx of new La Palmans. Particularly Asian La Palmans, who are settling in such numbers that La Palma is currently OC's most Asian city. In some ways, the city is still adjusting—as of April, it had only one Korean police officer. But in other ways—evident in the all-Eastern shopping plaza surrounding Hannam's Asian supermarket—there's room for everybody in the county's tiniest town. This is a city that puts a tract house on its seal—civic motto: "Aw, shucks!"—and keeps an old cash pouch from "Dairyland" proudly under glass at City Hall, just like a copy of the Constitution: a city with wide streets, big parks, plenty of parking and only one place to get drunk. You know, we don't care what they say on the TV shows, because this is how we really do it in the OC.
Best Place to Fall Down Drunk Cliff's Hideaway. La Palma's only bar (next door to Paesano's, La Palma's only homemade meatballery), where the drinks come stiff as a streetlight for only $3.50. Living in OC, you come to recognize distinctions like "good strip mall" and "bad strip mall." Cliff's anchors one of the good ones, a thriving member of the dying hometown-corner-bar breed, with vague nautical hoohah on the ceiling and a football game on the TV. At 5 p.m., jowly dudes were already slurring. Is this a great country or what? 442 Orangethorpe Ave., La Palma, (714) 521-7883.
Best Baloot Ellen's Pinoy Grille. There's 69 other entres on the menu, but it's a soft-boiled egg holding a partially developed duck embryo—a baloot—that makes this place a standout. There's still a lot of 1955 in La Palma, but Ellen's marks in microcosm the changing face (and palate) of the whole county. Welcome to the partially developed future. 7971 Valley View St., La Palma, (714) 522-8866.
Best Chopper King Roland Sands. Custom wheel and motorcycle designer Roland Sands might not be a household name like Jesse James, but his groundbreaking work at Performance Machine has made him a celebrity among those in the know: his designs have made international biker-mag covers, and his occasional—and outrageous—customs (like the built-for-Discovery-Channel, born-for-the-street Glory Stomper) are built with technique and attitude that should—and will—make them just as famous as anything from Long Beach. Already Brad Pitt knows who he is. Performance Machine, 6892 Marlin Circle, La Palma, (800) 479-4037.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Best Place to Kalam Your Petha Haldiram's. The Indian snack food company opened a distribution office in La Palma for reasons certainly as cosmic as they are complex; what this means to you is that the results of 3,000 years of munchie evolution are suddenly local. Chum chum, jam phal, kalam petha, karachi halwa, raj bhog, rasgulla—sure, it sounds exotic, but that's just an exciting way to rephrase something like, say, "Sugar, liquid glucose, saffron, cardamom seeds, amaranth, spinosus, sesame seeds, peanuts and added flavors." God, you already love it. 5122 Bransford Dr., La Palma, (714) 739-1175.