It took 50 years, but Anaheim—read "Disneyland," just like every other literate human on earth would—finally lost its place as the most public face of Orange County, surrendering—thanks to Fox—the rest of the world's perception of the Happiest Place on Earth to a newer, Newport-ier slogan for a leaner, meaner generation: "This is how we do it in the OC, bitch!" Didn't John Wayne say that first? Too bad Newport got the last laugh, bulldozing his iconic retirement house so some cavemen could build a hotel—even hiring a John Wayne impersonator to strut around during a last tear-down-the-walls party. Truly, that is how we do it in the OC: money talks, and usually it says, "What's all this old crap?" Or "No, officer, I'm not drunk, I swear!" Or "What do you mean, 'I'm not on the list'?" Or, more happily: "It's ham and cheese time!" Because there are great things in Newport too, beyond the new international reputation as a playground for the rich and scandalous: the clapboard-shack charm of the old peninsula; the wealth-as-self-parody strip leading from Dennis Rodman's restaurant to some guy's too-garish-to-be-true yacht; the time John Waters spoke at the Hard Rock Cafe; the time the Hooters guy got so mad at OC Weekly he threw a rack in the street—in a way, that's all so beautiful, the sort of happy taste for excess that Fitzgerald was so fascinated with, until it killed him. In a lot of ways, Newport is the OC, and we love it even when it pitches a hissy and yells at us about something. Drinking all night at the Blue Beet, where everybody knew Anthony Pignataro's name? Also how we do it in the OC. Bitch.
Photo by Tenaya Hills
Best Place to Catch a Case of CrabsThe Crab Cooker. Okay, so the original Crab Cooker near Newport Pier does not serve the best seafood in Orange County, let alone Newport Beach—hell, let alone the Newport Pier area, probably. No, you go here for a dependable meal, the funky nautical atmosphere—assorted seafaring junk, penniless estate-sale paintings and cute homemade signs like the one at the top of the joint informing fish, "Don't look up here"—and a no-nonsense staff that's so overworked they're willing to overlook your obvious inebriation. And there is one great food item—okay, two if you count the free jawbreaker-sized sourdough croutons: the red Manhattan chowder, which tastes best ordered from the counter, served molten-hot in a paper bowl and slurped up outside on the bench while awaiting your table. It's the quicker sober-upper, and coupled with those croutons and the dcor and temptress Madge in her 42-inch waitress uniform, you'll forget all about having come here for a ho-hum seafood meal. 2200 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 673-0100.
Best Walk (Or Ride) on the Wild Side Back Bay Drive and San Diego Creek bike trail. Stretching from Newport Beach to the Irvine Spectrum, this route is 14 miles of nearly traffic-free bliss. Begin on Back Bay Drive (near the intersection of Coast Highway and Jamboree)—a road popular with cyclists, skaters, runners and walkers. Automobiles are limited to one-way travel here, so traffic is light. Ride along the coast of Upper Newport Bay and in the shadow of towering coastal bluffs. After three miles, climb a short, steep hill and turn left on Eastbluff Drive. Stay on the sidewalk and turn left again at Jamboree. Pick up the bike path as it parallels Jamboree, ducks through an underpass and continues through all of Irvine, eventually ending at Alton Parkway near the Spectrum.
Best Bar in Which to Drink and Dance But Mainly Drink The Blue Beet. People don't go out in Newport Beach to dance. They go out to get so pathetically shitfaced that the emptiness of their regular social routine will fade away for yet another night. But at the Blue Beet, at least you have the option. It's been there since the dawn of time in Newport terms (1912), and its history helps it avoid the fluid-soaked freak-a-thon that is the modern drunken-dancing experience. Decent bands, occasional semiprivate parties and an outdoor patio on the third floor make the ol' Beet anything but. 107 21st St., Newport Beach, (949) 675-2338.
Best Last Gasp of Class Regency Lido. This gem brings a touch of regality to an otherwise painfully pretentious Lido Village, though some of their more cinematique fare skews to the film pinhead crowd. But still: recall the glory days of cinema as you decide between sitting downstairs or ascending to the balcony; gaze in awe at the softly glowing walls, decorated with ultraviolet-sensitive paint in oceanic themes; maybe even roll an empty whiskey bottle all the way down the aisle, just like F. Scott Fitzgerald might have done. The seats will numb your ass, but when the blood flow ceases, the enjoyment begins. 3459 Via Lido, Newport Beach, (949) 673-8350.
Best Bar That Is a Thing to Eat, Not a Structure in Which to Drink Dad's Donuts. Best and nicest Balboa-bar-a-torium, where the famous Balboa bars come so heavy with toppings that you'll wonder how the stick stays in. Plus fresh doughnuts daily! 318 Marine Ave., Newport Beach, (949) 673-8686.
Photo by Heather X
Best Place to Feel Like You're Camping in Newport Gulfstream. Inside, Gulfstream offers the glass, wood and rock architectural clues that suggest you're eating at the parent company's Bandera (Corona del Mar) or Houston's (Irvine), or at the wildly upscale Claim Jumper at South Coast Plaza. But outside, on the Gulfstream patio, you're in New England, man, at someplace in the Berkshires in early fall. It's all warm light, open fire in rock pits, a sand-and-gravel floor and weathered Adirondack chairs. While the clientele looks distinctly Newport Center business-class (a lot of Friday-casual, cigar smoke, and BlackBerry communication), there's no meat-market vibe. The menu on the patio is limited—and thank God because, really, I don't want the steaming clam chowder you've balanced precariously on the arm of your Adirondack chair dumped in my lap—but the appetizers are solid and not outrageously priced; I'm just out of the camera's view, enjoying smoked trout on Saltines—yeah, I said Saltines—a cigar from Teri's (about which see our Santa Ana section). 850 Avocado Ave., Newport Beach, (949) 718-0187.
Best Place to Kill Stuff Davey's Locker. Each morning, before God is awake and watching, sportfishermen file onto the decks of these mobile killing platforms. By sunrise, their rails bristling with rods, these ships will be hauling in every live sea creature stupid enough to fall for the old bait-on-a-hook thing—most powerful evidence against evolution we've seen. It's a family event, all this killing, with dads shipping out alongside their boys—boys wearing shirts that say things like "I LOVE ANIMALS. THEY TASTE GOOD." You can join them—and the fishermen who prefer Newport Landing (same idea) just a few blocks up the street—for half-day, three-quarters and full-day runs, some ranging as far as Catalina (my favorite) and the end of the Sanitation District's poop pipe, a few miles off Huntington. Across the peninsula is the Dory Fish Market—"dory" being the nautical word for, like, tiny vessel, and "dorito" being a smaller, crunchier version of same—where hardy seafaring men haul their dories onto the sand, display their early morning catch (a lot of great halibut on a good day) and then head inland for, I don't know, some tofu. 400 Main St., Balboa, (949) 673-1434.
Best Thing to Savor Now While There's Still Time Cassidy's. Go there now, young scum, and have them grill up a burger for you while you've still got the leisure time to enjoy it and the digestive capacity to process it and the good luck to live within easy driving distance. Because one day you'll wake up in a bed far away and hear a sad and muffled gurgle from your sagging belly, and you'll realize how much time has suddenly passed, and then, for a moment, you might almost weep. Oh, get drunk while you're there, and then chase some slimy maybe-sex partner around too. Omnia vanitas, slut! 2603 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 675-8949.
Best Dumb Business Idea Hooters on the Peninsula. We like the Hooters girls as much as the next guy—and the next guy is a really horny lesbian—but who thought charging men to eat around girls in shorts, T-shirts and these really awful libido-stalling nylons would work a mere two blocks from a beach in Southern California? This Hooters is gone now, a victim of the samples being given away for free nearby. But Hooters removed to a location farther inland, next to a La Quinta Inn in Costa Mesa that seems to cater to expense-account business travelers our dad's age, men whose sinister politics, rigorous churchgoing and treadmill marriages—we're just guessing—portend great things for Hooters next year.
Photo by Tenaya Hills
Best Gourmet Mexican Food According to the Mexican Taco Rosa. Ask for the aguas frescas, and instead of horchata, waiters will recommend a frosted, freshly squeezed cup of cantaloupe or melon. Most meals come with a mini-sweet corn tamale coated with a light strawberry cream and yellow-red tortillas that are fabuloso. The house salad is actually escabeche: pickled, peppered vegetables more common to coastal Mexico than the Sonora-style cuisine so familiar to Americans. But the most impressive thing about Taco Rosa, the factor that pushes it from the domain of the gabachos to the realm of a must-eat? The music: actual conjunto norteo on the speakers by icons such as Los Tigres del Norte and Los Rieleros del Norte. None of that Shakira shit. 2632 San Miguel Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 720-0980.
Best Cops Newport Beach Police Department. We've bagged on the Newport Beach PD, still remembering the time in the early '90s when they rolled to the scene of a reported shooting and gunned down the first black doctor they encountered before realizing the shooter was some frat boy from SC or something, the time they fabricated evidence in a traffic stop, the time that exceedingly gorgeous officer refused our offer to trade sex for leniency. But the Haidl case has changed our thinking about the men and women who serve the county's richest neighborhoods. When vacationers presented them with evidence—video—of young Greg Haidl and two of his buddies raping and pillaging an unconscious girl on a pool table, they could have done what most officials do when cornered: destroy the evidence. Haidl is, after all, the son of Don Haidl, a Newport Beach homeowner of immense wealth (as if that needed to be said) and at the time an assistant sheriff. Instead, they launched the investigation that, years later, put Haidl, Keith Spann and Kyle Nachreiner in the OC Jail.
Photo by Tenaya Hills
Best Sea Lion Sanctuary Newport Harbor. Your average male California sea lion weighs in at 1,000 pounds. And so in September they sank Jerry Dunlap's sailboat Razzle Dazzle by sheer fatness, piling aboard to warm themselves in the sun until the Razzle could pile no more. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 prevents killing or harming such animals, much to the chagrin of Newport Harbor's boat and dock owners, whose last best line of defense at press time was a guy hired to go around smacking the dock with a stick to scare the sea lions away. Of course, there's some mammals that just never get the hint: "The problem isn't so much the sea lions," reported one Lido Isle resident, "as much as all the idiots passing in boats who feel obliged to slow down and shout, 'Aarp, aarp, aarp!'"
Best Replication of New Orleans Fun Zone. The entire peninsula is as close to the late, lamented Big Easy as we get in OC. But the Fun Zone is its heart—tourists jacked up on booze and sun, the stink of unbathed flesh, rotting fish, popcorn and cotton candy, the occasional pile of vomit—and a Ferris wheel. You could play spot the smell here and never lose. Life in Orange County doesn't get better. Or stickier. Bonus points: The Adolescents borrowed the name for one of their, er, lesser albums.
Best Place to See the Real Power in OC The Irvine Co. When Irvine Co. officials heard that the Los Angeles Timeswas going to run a humor piece suggesting that Irvine Co. boss Don Bren was the inspiration for The O.C. bad guy Caleb Nichol, they went nuts. But consider: aging but vital developers who father children out of wedlock with far-younger women and who run local politics through the great wealth generated by their real estate firms (one "The Newport Group," the other "The Irvine Co.")? The story never ran. We're just saying. Like Jesus (John 14:6), no man gets into political power without first going through Don Bren. See Bren's headquarters at 550 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 720-2000.
Best Place to Suck on a Hot Mug Alta Coffee. They roast their own beans. You can bring your own mug. The walls are covered in unpretentious art, and there's a sign asking people not to study at tables during peak hours. The menu has great omelets, salads and sandwiches, and many a patron can be heard asking, "What's hominy?" Top this off with live music, charming service and a lush outdoor patio, and the Alta is revealed as the ultimate vanilla soy chai latte hot spot. 506 31st St., Newport Beach, (949) 675-0233.
Best Spirit Guide John Wayne. Nixon beat him to a library, but he beat Nixon to an airport. They don't make Americans like they used to.
Best Destination at Ham & Cheese O'clock Last night, someone outside the bar said it was ham & cheese time. As a somewhat-recognized local down there, I incited stares and shouts when I said, "Whaddaya mean? Where?" A 6'6" Viking turned on me and shouted, "You know damn well what I mean!" and walked off grinning. I do now. Seaside Bakery, 2108 W. Oceanfront, Newport Beach, (949) 675-2533.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.