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There are two Los Als: the neat rows of ticky-tacky houses and chain restaurants in horrid shopping plazas, and its kitschy, campy and dive-y bastard child. Stick with the latter, beginning at The Starting Gate (5052 Katella Ave., 562-598-8957; www.startinggateoc.com), a dark dance club across the street from the Los Alamitos Race Course that greets its patrons with saloon doors and cement-heavy pours. On the weekends, it opens at 8 a.m. for breakfast and bloody Marys—and closes with themed dance nights as late as 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Its calendar is chock-full of comedy, karaoke, bike nights, even some fund-raisers.
Entertainment a little more on the family-friendly side of things (and free!) is the mouthful that is City of Los Alamitos Recreation & Community Services Department's Music and Movies Summertime Series (www.cityoflosalamitos.org/recreation). On July 13 and 27 and Aug. 10, the fair Laurel Park comes alive with kids, parents, neighbors and people who just can't afford a non-matinee move ticket, all lugging lawn chairs, picnic baskets and greasy paper bags. The fun starts at 6:30 p.m., with live local bands, raffles and food trucks; a PG-13-or-lesser-rated flick begins at dusk. Finding Nemo under the summer stars? It's so wholesome we can barely stand it.
Hungry? The very idea of turning on an actual oven during the summer months can make us sweat—and when you're tired of salads and sushi and want something hand-held (say, with a pot of gravy for dipping), you've got to go out to the retro gem Pasty Kitchen (3641 Katella Ave., 562-431-9747). Established in 1963, it touts its signature dish as "a meal in a crust," and as any Anglophile knows, the pasty is a delight of simple perfections: warm, flaky crust skillfully wrapped around an array of savory fillings. You can watch bakers knead dough and construct these little delights right in the front window. And as with California's favorite burger chain, Pasty Kitchen keeps its menu basic: beef, chicken or veggie. (We love the veggie option, with its bright notes of red bell pepper and broccoli clusters.) Want gravy? Of course you do. Shell out an extra 35 cents for the small pot; it's enough for two pasties.
And few Fourth of July fireworks spectaculars are better than the ones held at the Joint Forces Training Base (11206 Lexington Dr., 562-296-5725), a patriotic bonanza held on a good ol' American airfield. There'll be food trucks, kids' activities, all sorts of entertainment leading to nightfall, when the sky explodes in a pageant of shimmering light. Come show your stars and stripes, then fall back to the base's Pub at Fiddler's Green (4745 Yorktown Ave., Bldg. 19, 562-795-2168) and buy a vet a drink or 30. Hoo-rah!