Stephanie Pacheco is president of the Environmental Coalition for the Great Park—the citizens advisory committee hoping to keep the project ecologically sensitive—so it raises eyebrows when she shows up for a meeting swigging Biota water from a plastic bottle. "This is a biodegradable bottle," she hastens to explain. "It's made of corn."
Pacheco, 56, was born and raised amid the natural beauty of Marin County in northern California, but originally appreciated it from a civilized distance. "When I went on my first hike—up Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, with the Sierra Club—I was very frightened of spiders and not at all used to nature," she admits.
Since moving to OC in 1973, Pacheco has become ubiquitous on the frontline of every environmental battle in the county—beginning at her Fountain Valley housing tract home, where she has filled the front and back yards with California native plants and covered the roof in solar panels. She earned a master's in environmental studies, policy and planning at Cal State Fullerton, and when she's not working to preserve OC's diminishing natural lands, she is hiking or kayaking in them. "Now," she says, "I thrive in nature."
Tree of Life Nursery. "The only place in OC completely devoted to California native plants, which have turned my yard into a natural habitat for rare birds, butterflies and other wildlife. The nursery is in a beautiful setting around a straw-bale house that features a great bookstore for gardening with natives." 33201 Ortega Hwy., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 728-0685; www.treeoflifenursery.com.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. "The four-mile Laurel Canyon trail through some of OC's last unspoiled coastal canyons is my favorite because it's a little cooler than some others and there are no bikes allowed." 20101 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 923-2235.
Mother's Market & Kitchen."Ma's flapjacks, three multigrain pancakes served with Vermont organic maple syrup, are great for breakfast after a hike." 19970 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 963-6667; www.mothersmarket.com.
Upper Newport Bay."The preserved nature here is best enjoyed from a kayak, which you can rent at Newport Dunes or the Newport Aquatic Center. Try to ignore the jets zooming along the airport flight path." 2301 University Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 923-2290; www.newportbay.org.
Haute Cakes Caffe."Obviously, hotcakes are the specialty, but after kayaking I usually go for the Haute Scramble, an eggs-and-spinach thing that comes with roasted potatoes, toast and a little fruit." 1807 Westcliff Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 642-4114.
Edwards University Theater."The closest thing OC's got to an art theater. It's where I saw Who Killed the Electric Car? and What the Bleep Do We Know?" 4245 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 854-8818.
Avanti Cafe."Hope it doesn't sound too weird, but when I think of this small, vegetarian restaurant, what comes to mind is its good tea and its great baked garlic." 259 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 548-2224.
Plowboys Market."Although it's a big market in the middle of town, the fruits, vegetables and meats are farm-fresh, and you can ask the manager what's best. Plus, they once let me set up a voter-registration table." 8930 Warner Ave., Fountain Valley, (714) 847-5762.
Irvine Train Station."A nice, clean place to wait for a train for short, carless trips to San Diego or Santa Barbara or even just Fullerton." 15215 Barranca Pkwy., Irvine, (949) 724-7777.
REI."I don't shop for a lot of clothes, but I can find almost everything I need for the outdoors at this store." 7777 Edinger Ave.,, Ste. 138, Huntington Beach, (714) 379-1938.
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