On the Range
Yes, it's baseball, and technically, he's a manager, but we're going with the Soshon this one. He's won two division titles and a World Series, has a winning record, and is fluent in Spanish. If there's one thing Orange County likes more than a winner, it's one that is fluent in Spanish—except maybe Walt, but he's dead now, at least until they thaw him out. OC sports fans (or the Los Angeles fans of Anaheim, if you believe Arturo Moreno) are lucky enough to have Scioscia, which offsets the terrible luck that landed Angels fans that insufferable rally monkey. Scioscia has a distinctly National League style, which seems to work well against an unsuspecting American League defense. His coaching has seen the departure of the "Cowboy Curse," a reference to original owner Gene Autry's haunting due to the rumored Indian burial ground in the outfield. Scioscia has done away with the patented August Angel Fade that typically saw them blowing huge leads late in the season. He also got rid of those cheesy, periwinkle, angel-winged-logo uniforms ESPN lovingly referred to as the "softball beer league" threads. Scioscia has turned the Angels into an American League powerhouse to be feared and respected—and given the once-notoriously sit-on-their-hands Anaheim fans something to stand up and clap about.
Readers' Choice: Mike Scioscia
Best Angels Player
Vladimir Guerrero gets the big money, Francisco Rodriguez sports the cool goggles, and Orlando Cabrera deserves all your love after that All-Star Game snub. But the man who embodies why your Anaheim Angels are no longer a pendejada is Reggie Willits. He's homegrown, not brought in as a free agent; a scrapper, not naturally gifted; humble, a sleeper prospect and plays the small ball the way the Los Angeles Dodgers did for years and are starting to do again. His unlikely story—an Oklahoma stopgap for oft-injured outfielder Garrett Anderson who built his home around a batting cage—has already graced the pages of The New York Times and the blathering tubes of ESPN. More important, though, the squirt has continued to hit above .290 through this long, hot summer. Finally, someone at whom fans can chant "Reg-gie, Reg-gie!" who actually deserves it.
Readers' Choice: Vladimir Guerrero
Best Ducks Player
When the Anaheim Ducks acquired Teemu Selanne for a second stint in 2005, many fans figured it was just a sympathy signing, allowing one of the most popular players in franchise history to retire a Duck. But Selanne proved doubters wrong last year, winning the National Hockey League's Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy (for comeback player of the year) and helping the Ducks to the Stanley Cup semifinals. But the eternally smiling Selanne outdid himself this past season, becoming the first player in NHL history older than 35 to record consecutive 40-plus goals seasons while leading the Ducks to, well, if we have to tell you what they did this past season, you deserve deportation from Orange County. Even if Selanne retires, as he's hinted recently, he's made no secret of his love for the county, for Ducks fans—and even if he hated us, we'd still love him forever for the goals he produces in buckets.
Readers' Choice: Scott Niedermeyer
Best Mixed-Martial-Arts Fighter
Ultimate Fighting Championship icon Tito Ortiz, a.k.a. The Huntington Beach Bad Boy, has not only helped to elevate the "fastest-growing sport in the world," but also brought a tough-guy, kick-ass notoriety to Orange County. Ortiz hasn't been winning much of late, most recently taking a beating at the hands of Chuck Liddell, followed by a draw with Rashad Evans, but that's not important. He's still basically a rock star who beats the shit out of people. Flaunting bleached-blond hair and porn star-turned-business mogul Jenna Jameson draped over his arm, Ortiz's flamboyancy brings out the bad boy in us all. Mixed martial arts is now huge here, with training gyms—some even equipped with UFC octagonal rings—peppering almost every city. If you're a guy, walk into a bar in H.B. and be prepared to be sized up by nearly every Tito-wannabe in the place. They will undoubtedly be mentally preparing to kick your ass. (If you're bigger, he's planning an arm bar or rear naked choke. If you're smaller, he'll probably just punch and kick the crap out of you.) Either way, if he knows what he's doing and you don't, buy him a beer and shut your mouth.
Best Girl Gang
OC Roller Girls
There's a certain segment of our society that seems fascinated with the idea of watching women fight one another. What seems sleazy and exploitative in front of a bar is elevated to high art, though, when transferred to the roller rink. Roller derby is a sport that thrives on rough, high-speed physical contact. Heather Shelton, a Tucson transplant, founded the OC Roller Girls in 2006, and since then, the team has competed against other women's roller-derby teams from across the country (even braving the notorious ladies of the Inland Empire earlier this year . . . and you know those IE women know how to take a body down!). Best of all, the OC Roller Girls devote much of their energy to charity work, raising money for breast-cancer research, Roll for a Cure, the Irvine Animal Shelter, and more—which makes attending one of their bouts feel a little less bloodthirsty. Hey, when these strong women body-check one another, they're doing it for love!
Best Batting Cages
3405 Michelson Dr., Irvine
Ahh, the batting cages. The underachieving brother of the driving range, the redneck cousin of the racquetball court, the Okie-in-law of the lap pool. When it comes to solitary versions of large-scale sports, it doesn't get much better than the batting cages, does it? And batting cages don't get much better than Boomers. Whether you need a few brush-up swings, or you're working on your comeback, à la The Natural, Boomers' cages have everything you'll need. Grab Wonderboy, or one of the battered aluminum sticks they've got behind the counter, and go rope a few: 70-mph stingers, fast pitch, slow pitch, softball—even bumper boats! Ahem, not that that has anything to do with batting cages; they're just fun, okay? Buy 30 pitches for 2 bucks, or have your own personal home-run derby with an hour's worth. Sure, you'll have a monster blister, but that's what all those skeeball tickets are for: the free batting gloves! Do yourself a favor: Get in good with the staff, and when that time comes along in your life that leaves you at your most desperate, you'll be able to get a job working the cages. It's a step up from the ball-shagger on the driving range, and you'll get the respect of a carny—but with more permanence.
Best Golf Course for the Common Man
Costa Mesa Country Club
1701 Golf Course Dr., Costa Mesa
Where is my gopher? Where is my possibly drug-addled assistant groundskeeper and his stories of hitting the links with the Dalai Lama? Where is my polyester-pants-wearing foul-mouthed friend with a killer golf bag and fuck-you money?
Ah, Caddyshack: the sole connection for many of us commoners to the greatest game ever played. But it ain't gotta be that way. The Costa Mesa Country Club provides a great experience, with just about everything you'll need to eat up the weekend. Two full courses, the Mesa Linda and the Los Lagos, have weekday rates from 20 bucks (weekends from $30), plus discounts for fogies and kiddies. There's a driving range, hunky golf pros, daily tournament play and, of course, a full bar for that little drinkie-poo at the 19th hole. So even if you're a terrible golfer with hand-me-down clubs who couldn't get on a top-notch course even if you could afford it, you can still find total enlightenment on the links of Costa Mesa.
Best Place to Mountain Bike
San Juan Trail, Cleveland National Forest
Take the I-5, and exit at Highway 74. Drive east about 12.5 miles. Just before the ranger station, turn left down a dirt road. Head through the canyon about one mile and park. Trailhead is to the right.
This winding, twisting spin through the wilderness is widely known as one of the most beautiful and frustrating trails imaginable. Long hours of furious uphill pumping can earn you an unmatched panoramic view, but going too fast and paying too much attention to the rewards could land you in a body cast. Experts say, if something looks too difficult for your skill level, get off the bike and walk. The walking portions shouldn't be so long as to ruin your trip—and you'll live to talk about it. The journey is rigorous, so do not attempt if you are out of shape. The trail cuts through some 20 miles of wilderness so uninterrupted you might forget that a monolithic concrete slab swallowed the rest of the county.
Readers' Choice: Aliso Woods
Best Place to Run
Any beach in our lovely, beach-rich county will do. Here are the advantages to beach running: You don't need fancy shoes—or any shoes at all; you get a better workout per minute while running in sand, which provides natural resistance, building more endurance/burning more calories per stride; the Pacific Ocean is seconds away from you when the heat gets unbearable; no !@#$%^&* cars; near-nude sunbathing humans everywhere you look (okay, this is often a mixed blessing); and if you're really cruising impressively, your odds of hooking up increase exponentially.
The disadvantages? No shade; you may have to weave around several of your fellow beach bums; unpleasant aquatic aromas may waft into your nostrils; and whales have been known to wash ashore, which could really slow your pace. But overall, beach running rules, and we've got miles of the sandy stuff.
Second-Best Place to Run
Tewinkle Memorial Park
849 Junipero Dr., Costa Mesa
If you absolutely hate running on beaches, try this lovely Costa Mesa green space. It has lots of soft grass, drinking fountains, restrooms and all sorts of people engaging in relatively interesting activities for visual stimuli. And there's the natural beauty, too, if you're into that sort of thing.
Best Place to Kayak
Fisherman's and Diver's Coves
600 block of Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach
These well-hidden coves look like private property from afar, but the pristine mounds of sandy beach found at the end of a trail of stairs offer serene waters for the adventurous kayaker. The coves are also great snorkeling sites and are usually quiet and unpopulated. There are no facilities here, so you'll need to bring your own kayak. Bring quarters for the metered parking along Pacific Coast Highway and Cliff Drive.
Best Sports Mascot
Peter the Anteater
Enter "black star canyon" into Google, and the first hit that comes up is a site called ghosts.org, which tells a first-person story of rabbits that won't die—even when shot at close range—and shadowy figures who may be the specters of Spanish conquistadors believed to have slaughtered the indigenous inhabitants back in 1832 (it used to be called Cañada de los Indios). Others tell tales of seeing UFOs and KKK meetings; the canyon is listed on the Shadowlands national index of haunted places (theshadowlands.net/places/california1.htm).
But the dangers aren't merely supernatural: Some less-than-benevolent local residents often aggressively dispute the idea that the canyon road is public property. It is, and you're entitled to go through, should you so desire; explain this calmly if confronted.
Best Flamenco Dance Classes
Claudia de la Cruz Flamenco Institute
Grand Central Art Center, lower level
125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana
At Tierrita Flamenca, a flamenco-dance company populated by little girls with slick black hair, long colorful skirts and hand fans, the girls are encouraged to have attitude. The baby troupe is the brainchild of Claudia de la Cruz, who runs the Claudia de la Cruz Flamenco Institute at her "underground," lower-level studio at Cal State Fullerton's Grand Central Art Center in downtown Santa Ana. She created the dance company in 2004 after she noticed that some of the students in her kids' classes were harboring dreams of becoming professional flamenco dancers. The institute offers classes in the form, which evolved from Moorish, Sephardic and Gitano musical traditions in southern Spain, to children as well as adults at all levels. Students can learn everything from traditional Sevillanasto castanet and palma(palm) techniques. Those who become addicted to what de la Cruz calls the "flamenco lifestyle" can audition for her adult dance company, Tierra Flamenca, after one year. After several years, she says, students may be invited to join her professional dance company, which tours nationally.
"If I don't dance, I die," says de la Cruz, a native of Monterrey, Mexico, with family roots in Jerez, Spain. De la Cruz's institute gets our hearty olé: If we didn't have the mighty little piece of Andalucía that she brings to OC, surely we would die.
Best Samba School
210 Promenade N., Long Beach
Few places invite people in to learn the art of Afro-Brazilian percussion and dance the way SambaLá does. Their weekly classes, plus their once-a-month Saturday Samba night at Blue Cafe, are nearly enough to transport you to the stomping, euphoric street throb that is Brazil's yearly Carnaval. SambaLá's Thursday-evening bateria (percussion) class teaches the caixa, pandeiro, surdo, tam-tam and a string of other instruments. Samba-dance classes are offered Tuesday nights (beginning/intermediate) and Wednesday nights (advanced and by invitation only) at the Blue Cafe. All classes cost just $15.
Best Lunchtime Yoga
The noontime crowd at Yoga Works in Costa Mesa, as with its other OC locations, is a mixed hungry bag. What this group gets is an hour of vigorous asanasguaranteed to change the course of the rest of their day. You'll be surprised by how much happens—and how good you feel—in one hour.
Best Nature Trail
Trabuco Canyon Trail
Cleveland National Forest, Trabuco Ranger District
You'll be handsomely rewarded, after driving through the unsightly OC suburban sprawl that clutters what were once acres of rolling hills, the moment you hit the tip of Cleveland National Forest. Once there, head toward our favorite trail, Trabuco Canyon, for one of the county's most serene hikes. Getting there is a little tricky, but worth it once you get past the bumpy Holy Jim trail entrance (not recommended for fragile cars). Only the beginning and end of the trail is shaded, but once you're well along the 2.6 mile jaunt, you'll be blissfully absorbed by wildflowers, huge sycamores, oaks and even an old gold mine filled with scurrying salamanders.
Orange Coast College
2701 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa
If you're not ready to sign a virtually unbreakable three-year contract with the nearest chain gym, which is probably an unsanitary sweat pool brimming with strippers and trolling dudes on 'roids, try going back to school. Enroll in a physical-education class at Orange Coast College, and you'll get access to one of the nicest, most recently remodeled gyms in the county. Also on-site are a full-sized track, swimming pool, and outdoor basketball and handball courts. There are rolling deadlines for enrollment on 16-, 12- and eight-week programs, all of which include open access to the facilities and admission to daytime workout classes. Plus, the people you'll be pumping iron with have more than endless staring into the mirror planned for the future. The best part is the cut-rate tuition at California community colleges, the lowest in the nation: The cost per credit hour is $20; another $29 in fees will get you through the semester.
Readers' Choice: 24 Hour Fitness
Best Day Trip
Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve and Ecological Reserve
2301 University Dr., Newport Beach
It may technically be Newport Beach, but a day spent at the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve won't feel like it. Tucked behind Highway 73, the 1,000-acre preserve includes rolling bluffs that surround 752 acres of wetlands—which are home to 200 species of birds. Pack a lunch; bird-watch (best in the winter), hike or kayak; and forget you're as close to home as you are.
Readers' Choice: Catalina Island
Best Weekend Getaway
Crystal Cove Beach Cottages
35 Crystal Cove, Newport Coast
Admittedly, Crystal Cove isn't the best spontaneous getaway—you might have to reserve up to seven months in advance, and be on the ball at 8 a.m. on the first of the month in order to do so. But there's a reason for the insane popularity these beach houses have attained over the years. Beaches don't get much more unspoiled than the shoreline of a state park, and as beach cottages go, the average rental price of $165 per night is a better deal than you'll get at most of the fancy-schmancy corporate chains at more commercial beaches. Some of the cottages date back to the 1920s, but the amenities are all modern—including microwave ovens in the event that you tire of dining in the nearby Beachcomber restaurant, which specializes in seafood and Greek/Mediterranean cuisine (ever had nachos topped with hummus?).
Best Free Family Activity
Centennial Farms Tour
88 Fair Dr., Costa Mesa
The Orange County Fair doesn't operate year-round, but the adjacent Centennial Farm fills the gap when the larger agricultural expo isn't around. Four acres and fully functional, Centennial is primarily a venue for school tours, but families can just show up, too, for self-guided tours (the official website doesn't mention this, but you can just stop by on a whim or book a tour, even if you're not affiliated with a school). See the cows get milked! Pet the baby chicks! Check out how crops are grown! Best of all, it's totally free, and your kids might learn something, to boot (they may also demand a new pet afterward—be prepared!). Just don't leave it until too late in the day: Farms operate on an early schedule, and things close up at 4 p.m.
Best Leisure Activity Other Than Reading or Watching a Movie
Robert E. Badham Marine Life Refuge (Little Corona)
Irvine Coast Marine Life Refuge (Crystal Cove State Park)
Laguna Marine Life Refuge
South Laguna Marine Life Refuge
Niguel Marine Life Refuge
Dana Point Marine Life Refuge
Doheny State Beach
While shark attacks in Orange County waters are rare, it's hard not to worry about some great leviathan rearing its head and swallowing you whole while you wait for the next wave. On days when you're feeling too unlucky to surf, it's good to know the county's coastline is peppered with tidepools, those fertile rocky refuges for some of the sea's smaller creatures, where you can get your dose of ocean recreation without feeling overwhelmed by Mother Nature's top predators. Should you start to feel too intimidated by the grand scheme of things, find a sea anemone and run your finger along one of its wavy tentacles. Feel that stickiness? That's the anemone's attempt to paralyze and eat you. But you're too big and strong to be bested by that puny little animal. The knowledge that your finger is being bombarded with a dose of poison that would incapacitate a smaller organism is pretty empowering. Makes you feel good about being human . . . for once.
Aquarium of the Pacific
100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach
Top three cutest animals ever? Cats, sea otters and ducks. In that order. (No arguing.) Luckily for us, while you once had to journey a few hundred miles north to Monterey Bay to otter-watch, we've got our very own aquarium not too far away in Long Beach. Opened in 1998, the nonprofit Aquarium of the Pacific boasts a more-than-humble collection of 12,500 animals, all focusing on creatures that call the Pacific Ocean home. While the aquarium is still fairly young, it's actually flourishing quite well, with just more than 1.3 million visitors each year, helping to make Long Beach a family tourist destination. One of the most popular exhibits at the aquarium features Charlie, Brooke and Summer: Rescued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the three sea otters dip, dive, eat and snooze their way through the days, with the full knowledge that there's a room full of men, women and children cooing at their every move. Even if they're doing absolutely nothing at all. And to top it all off, the aquarium unveiled plans for an upgrade to their habitat in late June, including even more interactive and educational kiosks, flat screens, an improved water-quality system, and—most curiously—some type of water-jet system so that guests can join in on otter mealtimes.
Best place to Hang Out With a Feral Pig That Isn't Your Brother
Santa Ana Zoo
1801 E. Chestnut Ave., Santa Ana
Feral pigs, giant turkeys and lemurs, oh my! Santa Ana Zoo is a virtual haven for people who love staring at animals in cages. And for those of you out there who really like to pet these creatures of the wilderness, The Crean Family Farm is on the premises, complete with petting zoo and fun animal facts. You can feed the sheep and the goats. But whatever you do, don't feed the ducks!
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