Photo by Keith MayCalifornia adventure? Forget Anaheim and its new amusement park of spit-shined clichs. Stanton's three square miles of callused suburbia represent what the Golden State is really about. Well, don't forget Anaheim completely because without it, there might not be a Stanton at all. The little city named itself in honor of Phil Stanton, a resident of Seal Beach who, in 1911, helped save the flat, dry slab of nowhere—until then known as "Benedict"—from Anaheim's plan to use it as a sewage farm. That's adventure! Stanton's ensuing history has been a series of similarly hardscrabble episodes, wins and losses that make it something—or other—worth celebrating. Or at least driving around in once.
The closest thing Stanton has to a Main Street is Beach Boulevard, a.k.a. State Highway 39, a six-lane artery that most drivers use to pass right through town. The city lies amid a grid of thickly trafficked roads that slice its sprawl of fading middle-class housing tracts into portions serviced by a rotating procession of merchants in corner strip malls and big-box chain stores. Stanton's best restaurant may be the new Mimi's Caf, unless you're partial to one or another of the excellent roadside taco stands. Its only movie theater is now a store. Its golf course is miniature.
But standing out is not what Stanton's about. It exemplifies the everyday California that most residents live but few tourists see—unless they stare out the car window on their way to Stanton's only tourist attraction, the beguiling Adventure City. Yes, Stanton has an amusement park, too. Take that, Anaheim!
Bauman's Fabulous Market. There's a wooden Indian at the door and some ma-and-pa mannequins slouched on chairs inside this Old West-style general store, which was the Stanton City Hall when it was built in 1917. The Bauman family has been running it since 1950—Vance inheriting it from his dad and hoping to pass it on to his son. "But with all the chain stores around," Vance says—and doesn't finish the sentence. Bauman's Fabulous Market isn't as fabulous as it used to be. Stock is scarce on a few shelves. But you can still buy hot tamales and popcorn, beer and wine, basic groceries, and a few novelties. And you can always talk to Vance, who loves telling people about the history of the market. "A year ago," he'll say, "an old guy came in and told me he was in jail here once." 10692 Beach Blvd., (714) 527-1941.House of Cactus. There are more than 1,500 species of spiny succulent plants from around the world in this stucco bungalow. Some flower in red, yellow, pink and purple. Some stand at threatening attention. Others are aswirl in seductively long or fuzzy hair. It's an amazing sight, and it has been since 1959, when the House of Cactus was founded. "Yep," says proprietor Richard Higgs, who has owned the place since 1978 and looks a little prickly himself, "that's a lot of cactus." 10580 Beach Blvd., (714) 828-4298.SQUID Music. For eight years, the walls have been a gallows of clean, classic guitars and the floor a gantlet of shiny, pre-banged drum kits. But how much longer can this little store survive in a world lousy with massive Guitar Centers? "We're not worried in the least," says Jay Adams, stroking his scraggly goatee. "We serve different customers." Depending on his mood, Jay will tell you that SQUID got its name from a fishing guitarist who used to work there—or that it's an acronym for Superior Quality Used Instrument Dealer. "We know our instruments, and we beat their prices," he scoffs. "Musicians know." According to local legend, Noodles Wasserman from the Offspring is a semiregular customer, and a guitarist from Kiss came in once. "Not one of the main guys from Kiss," Jay says, "but some guy who was in Kiss for a little while but left before he was on an album or anything." 10742 Beach Blvd., (714) 826-4000.Indoor Swap Meet. A half-dozen flags elegantly flap, United Nations-style, outside the grand white edifice of this local landmark. Inside, however, the place teems like a open-market bazaar. You can get everything from pants to toys to hot dogs to a haircut, and you might pick up the rudiments of a new language before your shopping day is through. 10401 Beach Blvd., (714) 527-1234.
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CITIES WITHIN A CITY
Adventure City. This two-acre amusement park is actually amusing, as opposed to overwhelming and exploitative. It's got a carousel in the middle, little roller coasters and whirly rides. The staff are real people, not cast members. The fun is real, too, with puppet shows, face painting, and an area where kids can dress up like firefighters and cops and ride around a track in cop cars and fire engines. And there's a miniature train that circles the whole place. It's just nice. 1238 S. Beach Blvd., (714) 236-9300.Hobby City. Some of this collection of funny-looking buildings that surround Adventure City are actually in Anaheim. They get even funnier on the inside—unless you're a serious collector of whatever they've got for sale. There are stores for (deep breath now): rocks and gems, stamps and coins, stitchery, antiques, sports collectibles, miniatures, models, Indian artifacts, guns and leather, a doll and toy museum, seashells and chimes, stained glass, reptiles, and timepieces. Have at! 1238 S. Beach Blvd., (714) 527-2323.
The Golden Steer. This is what a family restaurant used to be—not just inexpensive enough to feed a family, but tasty and wholesome enough to feed it well. It also hearkens back to the time when a family meal meant meat, meat, meat. 11052 Beach Blvd., (714) 894-1208.Mad Greek. They say they started the zucchini stick "craze" and are advancing their own brand of gyro "fever." Go ahead: test your sanity and your temperature. 12120 Beach Blvd., (714) 898-5181.Cabo's Mexican Food. A lotta pescado. 10922 Beach Blvd., (714) 527-0162.