Photo by Keith MayIf Lake Forest feels sprawling and lacking in any central downtown area, that's because it is and does. Incorporated in 1991, the city called Lake Forest—once known as El Toro—now includes the annexed Foothill Ranch and Portola Hills. It's composed of a number of small residential areas built around two lakes, connected by main thoroughfares, and decorated with a hearty smattering of characterless strip malls. But still, there are areas of Lake Forest—parks, bridges, walkways—that are beautiful and worth finding.
The Drink Rock N' Sushi. For some reason, sushi and dance clubs go hand-in-hand, and the Drink is Lake Forest's answer to, well, hipper places that offer sushi and dancing. But don't write it off yet: it has potential and is starting to draw some of the county's better DJs. The sushi bar is huge; the food is excellent; and the dance area is dark, shiny and black-lit. Bubbles are painted on the walls, in keeping with the rave-under-the-ocean theme. 23600 Rockfield Blvd., (949) 206-9390.
Gypsy Lounge. Formerly the Rockfield Tavern, this small-to-midsize venue is one of the few decent places for bands to play—and for people to watch bands play—in South County. It's also an excellent place to watch people go to the bathroom! We have it on good authority that the men's room features a urinal, a sink and a toilet, all without partitions or stalls. It's like a stage in itself! And there's a full bar! (But not in the bathroom.) 23600 Rockfield Blvd., (949) 206-9990; www.thegypsylounge.com.
Captain Creem Cabaret. Male strippers, female strippers, and they serve food! No word yet on whether the Cream in question was a true maritime hero. 23642 Rockfield Blvd., (949) 951-5052.
Peppino's. A big, homey Italian restaurant featuring zesty sauces, hearty portions and moderate prices. Family-run, but not that family. 23600 Rockfield Blvd., (949) 951-2611.
NATURAL AND HISTORICAL FOREST
Heritage Hill Historical Park. A park offering an excellent view into the history of old Orange County. Visitors can check out the El Toro Grammar School, an authentic one-room schoolhouse built in 1890 and used until 1914; it was donated to the county and relocated in 1968. The park also features the Serrano adobe, a turn-of-the-century ranch house, and St. George's Episcopal Mission, which dates back to 1891. A popular spot for Plein Air artists. 25121 Serrano Rd., (949) 855-2028.Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. Fifteen hundred acres of woodlands offering some of the county's best hiking and mountain-biking trails. Portola Hills Parkway near Bake Parkway, (949) 589-4729.
Illustration by Bob Aul
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Saddleback Valley Church. Huge, nondenominational, and touting upbeat music and practical messages, this church, which looks from the outside like a huge gym or convention center, draws crowds. This is the Wal-Mart of Christianity, and so it is our future. 1 Saddleback Pkwy., (949) 609-8000.
THE BIKE CO. Easily the best damn mountain-bike shop in the county. You tell them what kind of riding you're doing—and the kind of riding you want to be doing—and they will build you the bike you need. These guys know their stuff. Many of them are (or have been) racers, and I have yet to ask a question they can't answer. If you're in Lake Forest, stop in and chill on the couch. Check out the latest bike videos while you spec your killer new ride. 21098 Bake Pkwy, Ste. 112, (949) 470-1099. (Ryan Hills, Lake Forest)