Photo by Jack GouldOnce, Placentia was on the cutting edge. That would have been about 100 years ago, when a group of vegans living in town practiced an unusual type of composting, a kind of organic farming that would have given the neighbors a case of the fantods—if the neighbors had known. The Grasseaters, as they were called, moved into a house on the corner of Palm and Placentia Avenues to launch a commune. Each room in the house was remodeled and rounded in accord with the group's belief that spirits linger in corners. Locals accepted the Grasseaters because—weird or not—they grew some of the best vegetables around. Maybe it was because they tended to bury their dead in the back yard—a fact that emerged only many years later, when a developer discovered human remains while grading the land for another set of tract homes.
The Grasseaters' home is long gone, along with the skeletons in the back yard, but there are other special places that make Placentia something to see. It may not have the E-ticket feel of Fullerton's downtown or Yorba Linda's Nixon Library, but Placentia has its own charm.
Ise. The little Japanese restaurant is located next to a Pick'n Save and a Jazzercise studio. Its white-and-blue interior with black booths is a simple frame, allowing the food to play the major role. Huge portions. Huge. A simple teriyaki dinner comes with two salads, California rolls, tempura vegetables, rice and soup. Not at all flamboyant, Ise is a small neighborhood place. 1241 E. Yorba Linda Blvd., (714) 993-6442.Tlaquepaque. For authentic Mexican food, go a few miles down Bradford Avenue to the Santa Fe district. This small old town is no more than a few blocks long and right in the middle of it is Tlaquepaque, serving Placentians since 1965. You might stop in for the food and the mariachi music on Saturdays, but don't leave without something from the bakery. The aroma of pan dulce is overwhelming and perfect with a strong cup of coffee. Don't forget to check out the murals and hand-painted tiles that decorate the outside of the building. 111 W. Santa Fe Ave., (714) 528-8081.Sophia's. Some of the best Greek cuisine in North Orange County. The food is simple and perfect for long lunches in the pretty dining room or the small garden patio. I love their chicken-and-lemon soup. They serve a whole range of roasted meats, including lamb and fresh seafood. Finish your meal with the pistachio baklava. You might want to split it; the honey-drenched filo dough tends to be very rich. 1390 N. Kraemer Blvd., (714) 528-2021.
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Heritage Day. Placentia still knows how to party like it's 1954. Community events have the feeling that nothing much has changed since Ozzie and Harriet moved in next door. Heritage Day in October is the best example, starting with a big pancake breakfast at Kraemer Park. Then every bloated person heads over to watch the Heritage Day Parade wind its way from Madison Avenue up to Tri-City Park on Kraemer Boulevard. It seems every school marching band from Orange County is in the parade, along with the local scout troops, the fire department and some guys on horses. But no Shriners or their little cars. And no Grasseaters. Kraemer Park, 201 N. Bradford Ave.
Tri-City Park. It's great for fishing, sailing model boats, and feeding the ducks and geese. (Note: be careful of the geese; they once tried to attack my sister.) The playgrounds keep my three-year-old nephew occupied for a few hours and guarantee a long nap. On the weekends, you'll see a dozen birthday parties, family picnics and some of those great inflatable jumping rooms. 2301 N. Kraemer Blvd.Bradford Park. For a more serene park with no waterfowl, try Bradford Park, which features the Victorian-era Bradford House. One of Placentia's founders, A.S. Bradford, built the house in 1902. While I had always heard the house was haunted, city historians assure me that the noises heard in the house were not ghosts: they were the sound of corks popping out of bottles. It seems that Mr. Bradford hid his liquor stash in the walls of the basement during Prohibition and then forgot them. 136 E. Palm Circle, (714) 993-2470.