You would not say time moves more slowly in Laguna Woods than out, but things are different here. It's all the old people—literally, not pejoratively: the Rambler convertible parked at the Starbucks, all the bridge-playing that must be going on behind closed doors. Either you or your spouse must be at least 55 years old to ride this ride: to own a house here, to bird watch with these Audubons, to serve on this City Council.
Described optimistically online as "one of California's newest and oldest cities," Laguna Woods actually dates back only about 40 years, to 1964, when developers began laying out 700 2,600-square-foot retirement homes on the former site of Moulton Ranch. Grady Yarborough, a real estate agent at Laguna Hills Resales in Laguna Woods, has been reselling them for 22 of those years—since Reagan's first term.
"Real estate has always been a good market," says the man who reminds you that his last name is "a bad hand in bridge"—though, ironically, the market was at its nadir when the Hollywood actor was president. It's since amply rebounded; Yarborough's company has more than 300 listings, and last year was a seller's market. One-hundred-fifty thousand dollars, plus monthly upkeep and association fees, buys you a one-bedroom here, and the attraction is not hard to see.
It's like buying a new car—your last—no service needed: the houses are usually in good repair, and association fees keep your lawn set to regulation crewcut height. Businesses are somewhat utilitarian and impossible to find—the usual infuriating Orange County curb setback—but they sell everything you need to run out the clock. No reason to ever leave Laguna Woods—now considering changing its name to something else containing the words "Laguna" or "Woods"—and some people like that.
Best Reality Check Adapt 2 It. Unlike Mother's, Starbucks, Long's or city libraries, this is neither chain nor cabal. Owner Leslie A. Gibola sells things like walkers, wheelchairs and those plastic toilet seats that fit over your toilet—so your knees and pelvis don't have as far to bend. And she does so with every bit of the care and, um, love that you want but so seldom get from a nation obsessed with youth, size zeroes and implants that don't leak. "When you can't change it" (adapt to it) is the store motto, and clearly, she can help. 24102 El Toro Rd., #H, Laguna Woods, (949) 457-1600.
Best Taxi Stand City Library. I visited the other day, and there was a line, which is to be expected: old people read a lot of books. As I waited, I realized the checkout woman at the front was soothing the jangled nerves of an elderly woman at the head of the line who suddenly wasn't feeling well—while asking the necessaries, like "What is your name?" And they called a cab to take her home. Good people. 24264 El Toro Rd., Laguna Woods, (949) 639-0500.
Best EZ-Read Bank of America. I can read the enlarged type at this ATM with one eye closed—and I discovered that if you hit the right combination of keys, Art Linkletter will read off your last five transactions. He doesn't do checks—just the mini-statement thing. No, I won't tell you which keys; you have to figure some things out yourself. 24211 Paseo de Valencia, Laguna Woods, (949) 837-3482.
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Best Meal of the Day Babe's Cafe. Breakfast here is served all day, in a place that looks just like your house—if your house is one of those van conversions George Barris did in the '70s: fake wood grain . . . The food, though, is hearty and quite good. A veggie and cheese omelet serves up red and green bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes; Babe's eggs Benedict features the usual suspects covered in—for a change from hollandaise—pepper country gravy. All served by a cheery woman in Dickies and a studded belt. 24310 Moulton Pkwy., Ste. L, Laguna Woods, (949) 380-0465.
Best Conversation City Library. Standing in line here and an old couple walks in and I'm reminded of the grim specter of . . . DEATH!!!!! No, actually, I'm reminded of what 40 years of marriage—to Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Alison from ninth grade—gets you. She says dismissively, "George, you can sit over there!" and aims him at some Steelcase lounge chairs. He fires back, "Can I?" I'll be eligible to live next door in . . . 20 years. Good times. 24264 El Toro Rd., Laguna Woods, (949) 639-0500.
Best Vegan Food Mother's Market. Free-associate old people and food, and you get things like creamed chipped beef and the early-bird special. But not here. Mother's offers such up-to-date specialties as chicken-free salad (chicken salad sans yard bird), organic vegetables (hippies!) and vegetable samosas (yum!). Now your kids in Laguna Hills will come visit you—and bring lunch, lousy moochers. 24165 El Toro Rd., Laguna Woods, (949) 768-6667.
Best Place to Travel Back in Time Longs Drugs. The magazine selection here is spare and hard to find; they hide 'em up near the front. But what's significant about this place is its dispersed lighting and small scale. Narrower aisles and dim lights remind you of what markets were like inside before they became mini-mansions with foreign-food aisles. 24167 El Toro Rd., Laguna Woods, (949) 586-3503.