Photo by Keith MayLet's not kid ourselves: the only reason anyone has heard of this colorless, 18.6-square-mile collection of strip malls and white-bread housing tracts that bills itself as "The Land of Gracious Living" is because a lying, conniving, manipulating, scheming, malcontent ex-president named Richard Milhous Nixon was born there.
More than 60,000 people dwell in Yorba Linda, which translates as "Beautiful Yorba," referring to the Spanish explorer Jose Yorba, who took possession of the city in 1809 as part of a 62,000-acre land grant from the Spanish king. For most of its life, the city was nothing but a bunch of small farms. Nowadays, it's not much more than a bunch of half-million-dollar tract homes.
There aren't that many places in Yorba Linda to get a good meal, and as far as anyone knows, the city has just one bar. Its old-timey historic district is nice and quiet, but its also small and not particularly tourist-friendly. For years, the city has been trying to bill itself as "Spectrum North," a kind of Irvine-like home to high-tech companies, but that idea is pretty much dead—the concept of vast technology parks overtaken by vastly more profitable retail giants like Home Depot.
Original Pancake House. Located in what was once a Koo Koo Roo chicken place, the House sells, well, pancakes. And they do so with all the homey innocence of a Little House on the Prairieepisode. Where else can you get something called Cottage Cheese Pancakes? How about Coconut Waffles? And since this is a breakfast place, it closes at 2 in the afternoon, so eat fast. 18639 Yorba Linda Blvd., (714) 693-1390.Fitness Pizza & Pasta. Sure, the interior resembles an ugly LA industrial-dance bar, but the food is great. The oval-shaped thin-crust pizzas have sporty names like Triathlete, Iron Man and Soccer Player. I've always preferred that chicken sandwich thing—you know, the one with the chicken? The salads have all the exotic-looking plants that yuppies and healthy types like to graze on. 18246 Imperial Hwy., (714) 993-5421.Blue Agave. This is about the best thing going for Yorba Linda. Ostensibly the Blue Agave is a Southwestern restaurant, and the native desert dcor mostly makes that point. But the best item on the menu is the Montego Bay coconut-shrimp appetizer: big, plump prawns fried in shredded-coconut batter and served with an orange-chipotle marmalade for dipping. 18601 Yorba Linda Blvd., (714) 970-5095.La Betolla. In English, the name translates as "The Tavern." A cavern lined with stucco walls, bad art and terrible murals, this little Italian joint serves fantastic food. The focaccia is fresh and hot, and the butter is all buttery and garlicky. Try the homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach, slathered in a tomato cream sauce and tossed with crisp broccoli. 18504 Yorba Linda Blvd., (714) 695-0470.
YORBA GETS BOMBED
The Canyon Inn. The sole bar and grill in Yorba Linda. Wednesday nights feature Steve the Karaoke Dude. Other late-night entertainment includes the Pacifico Girls, the Miller Girls and the ever-popular Bud Light Girls on various nights. Taco Thursday features $1 tacos. Hey, who's going to argue with a place that has Newcastle on tap and kielbasa and eggs for $6.50—including country potatoes and biscuits and gravy? 6821 Fairlynn Blvd., (714) 779-0880.
YORBA REWRITES HISTORY
Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace. This is where the old guy came to remake his legacy as disgraced president who resigned from office amid the greatest scandal in American political history into something more palatable: elder statesman. In fact, the museum is essentially just Nixon's attic—rows of exhibits of all the junk he collected during his quarter-century of pissing people off while on the public payroll. For the $5.95 admission price, they even allow you to visit the house in which Nixon was born and the grave in which his cheating, thieving body is buried. The gift shop is also a swell place to get those classic Christmas stocking stuffers like Nixon-meets-Elvis float pens. Coming attraction: the soon-to-be disinterred corpse of Checkers, the dog that masterminded Nixon's upset victory in the 1952 vice presidential race! 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd., (714) 993-3393.
Old Towne Yorba Linda. If you're expecting a quaint, historic, tourist-friendly shopping district like the Orange Circle or downtown Seal Beach, think again. Barely a block long, Old Towne features a travel agent, chiropractor, hair stylists, numerous antique stores and a Masonic Lodge. But it is a quiet place, with lots of benches and tables where you can sit and relax. And there's a Farmers' Market every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. On Main Street just off Imperial Highway.Vintage Radios. Got a beat-up old Philco radio that gets lousy reception and needs new tubes? Want one? This place has your RCA, your Zenith and your GE radios, all from a time when radios were huge, heavy boxes that had a million knobs. 4893 Main St., (714) 970-1928.
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YORBA GETS ALL WEIRD
Old caboose abandoned on side of road. That's pretty much it—a big, yellow-with-red-trim Union Pacific Caboose with boarded-up windows and just enough track under its trucks to hold it off the dirt. I think this is where the old Richard Nixon railcar "museum" was located, but that's long gone. At the intersection of Park and Lemon, just off Imperial Highway.Yorba Linda lakebed. Thirty years ago, this was a beautiful lake, with lots of homes built around it to take advantage of beautiful lake views. Then all the water in the lake started going away, until it became the bone-dry desert it is today. Today, most guys just go here to drink beer and get in trouble. Like that guy who got killed here a couple of years ago. For a time, the city wanted to call it Richard Nixon Regional Park, but that idea dried up, too. And that's too bad because we can't think of a better name for a wasteland populated with lizards.
YORBA GETS BACK TO NATURE
Richard M. Nixon Park. This tiny scrap of a park is on the intersection of Imperial Highway and Yorba Linda Boulevard, just behind a Mimi's Caf. Unlike its namesake, it's quiet and unpretentious. Chino Hills State Park. There are many entrances to this large state park straddling the Orange County-San Bernardino County line, but the best is in Yorba Linda. You can't get away from the smog, but you can enter a peaceful, natural world far removed from the beige stucco that fills so much of the city and county. There are enough shady nooks and trickling streams to cool off the hottest summer day. Watch out for mountain bikers and hardcore runners. Take Fairmont Boulevard north from Yorba Linda Boulevard. Turn left on Rim Crest. Take it all the way to the end. Then start walking.