If we're using our trusty Ron Burgundy Spanish translator, the name Aliso Viejo roughly means “Suburbs On Xanax.” At least that's what most of us think when we picture this peaceful, planned community. Truth is, this is not a city for sleepers. Like to run, pedal and climb? The first thing you'll wanna do is slither into your Tommie Copper spandex and hit the Aliso Creek Trail. This scenic corridor goes through many parks, with plenty of rest areas and kiosks providing information and recounting the area's history. And considering this is one of the cleanest cities in OC, you can actually run without worrying too much about smog alerts—unless Newport Beach's bluffs catch on fire.
Pound for pound, this community of roughly 50,000 people might be the most nature-friendly city in OC. Even the local liberal-arts college, Soka University of America (1 University Circle St., 949-480-4000; www.soka.edu), is surrounded by so much green it's like going to school in the fucking Shire. This dedication to maintaining beauty throughout the city gives the place character.
At the same time, the average person won't find it too rich to enjoy. If you don't have a car, all the better. For one, it's a pretty walkable city; you don't need a Beemer to fit in—just a fresh pair of kicks. There are liquor stores here—yeah, big whoop, right? Well, try living in Irvine and walking from your house to get a six-pack sometime, and see how that works out. It's also a place that understands value—at Aliso Creek Market & Deli (23411 Aliso Viejo Pkwy., 949-362-7505), you can get a bomb pastrami sandwich and fries for $3. Any vacationer looking to save some dinero can respect those Tijuana prices!
If you're looking for breakfast, Aliso is just close enough to make a trip to Ted's Place (23990 Aliso Creek Rd., Laguna Niguel, 949-831-0061; eatatteds.com), which is technically in Laguna Niguel. Whether you like breakfast burritos as big as your arm or chicken fried steak and eggs, this casual eatery is one of the great greasy spoons of South County. As for bars, Stadium Brewing Co. (26731 Aliso Creek Rd., 949-448-9611; www.stadiumbrewing.com) goes above and beyond, offering dozens of rotating craft beers made in plain view of the customers, with a sports-bar vibe and fine dining mixed in (must-try: pepper-crusted ahi tuna).
One last thing that really helps us give Aliso a thumbs-up is the ethnic diversity. There's actually more beige people than there are houses here . . . blacks too! In fact, we kinda see Aliso as the Rancho Cucamonga of OC in that many working-class minorities started coming here in the mid-'90s to raise families when houses were affordable. Now that housing prices have skyrocketed, this really does seem to be a place where moving and movin' on up seem to coincide. And hey, if you get burnt out on the place, you're right at the center of the 73, 133 and 5 freeways—strap a surfboard to your car and go to the beach or something.