In honor of the recent release of our 2014 Best Of issue, we've compiled a list of the greatest sports and athletic activities Orange County has to offer. The winners range from professional to amateur with awards for the Best Gym, Best Angels Player and even pole dancing gets an award this year. Enjoy!
This family-owned bowling alley is downright retro in these hipster, lounge-obsessed times. The bar offers a simple list of classics: beer, wine, shooters and cocktails that your Aunt Bess would order. There is no gastropub, just a snack bar stocked with pizza, nachos, pretzels and popcorn. You can hear the arcade room's beeps and bloops, as well as the occasional clink of billiards. The sign advertising laser tag reminds you of your misspent youth. And, lest we forget, there are 32 lanes down which you can hurl a green-and-orange-swirled ball. Leagues take over some of those glimmering aisles daily, and there are Rock-N-Bowl nights for kids and adults on weekends. It all comes together to remind you what drew you to Tustin Lanes in the first place: a fun night out with friends. Simple and classic and perfect.
1091 Old Irvine Blvd., Tustin, 714-731-5022; www.tustinlanesbowl.com
Reader's Choice: Lucky Strike
Best New Fitness Trend
Smoke and Mirrors Pole Fitness
Pole dancing has left behind its seedy nightclub taboo to be embraced by Orange County suburbanites as legitimate exercise, and it's awesome. The crepuscular interior of Smoke and Mirrors Pole Fitness, adorned with twinkling lights and chandeliers, has exactly the kind of mood lighting needed for budding pole dancers to learn the trade. The instructors are chipper, encouraging and impossibly flexible. They guide OC soccer moms and young people alike through lithe, sexy versions of classic warm-up exercises, and then impart their pole knowledge by demonstrating a bevy of spins and flips. The classes are fun, racy and an exhaustingly good workout. Be prepared for soreness and bruises: You are worming your body around a hard, metal pole after all.
2710 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, 714-801-5819; www.smokeandmirrorsfitness.com/
I Heart Yoga In the Park
What started as just a few friends of Elsa Stephen doing yoga in a park once a week in 2008 has grown through word-of-mouth at a tremendous speed. I Heart Yoga In the Park now meets every morning of the week and two evenings at Lantern Bay Park in Dana Point. Although you really can't beat the sweeping coastal views from the classes at Lantern Bay Park, there are also I Heart Yoga In the Park classes taking place three days a week at Historic Town Center Park in San Juan Capistrano. Stephen and four other expert instructors rotate leading the classes. Each of the women teach at brick-and-mortar studios as well as private classes. Dropping in at the park on different days is an excellent way to find your ideal teacher, if that's what you seek. Whatever motivates you to show up, know that newcomers are always welcome. And who knows what good might come just because you got up off your butt one day and decided to go to donation-based outdoor yoga.
Best Surf Spot
Salt Creek Point
Salt Creek Point gets the nod this year because, back in June, a sandwich-board sign was seen on the beach that read, "This area is for SURFING ONLY: No Stand-up Paddleboarding. Go North of Lifeguard Tower for Swimming, Wading and Bodyboarding." 'Nuff said. This is a point break with mostly lefts that gets consistent waves in most swell directions. Salt Creek is excellent for watching surfers up close while in total safety. Because of the deep curve of the shore, spectators standing on the point are very close to the lineup. You'll see lots of photographers there when the surf is big. No big surprise, but there are third- and fourth-generation surfers who've paddled out here since toddlerhood. So don't be a douchebag: Stay out of waves beyond your capability, respect the lineup and never drop in on anyone. If you're not into lefts, you can paddle out farther north at Middles or Gravels, but you'll have to contend with bodyboarders and the occasional international tourist from the Ritz in over their heads. If you don't mind a hike, there's free street parking to be had on Stonehill Drive.
33333 S. Pacific Coast Highway, Dana Point, 949-923-2283; http://ocparks.com/beaches/salt
Best Martial-Arts Studio
The Dragon Institute at Wing Chun Kung Fu School
Students commute several times per week from as far as Pasadena and Oceanside to study with Sifu Adam Williss, who is an inductee into the U.S. Martial Arts Hall of Fame. His teachers' lineage traces back to grandmaster Ip Man, Bruce Lee's teacher. Known for its real-world, close-quarters self-defense application, the Wing Chun form is especially effective in its defense against larger, stronger attackers–so any age, strength, size or gender have the potential to excel. One thing is certain about today's Wing Chun: It is not a competitive sport. Sifu Adam teaches the self-defense principles in a way that, as you progress, allow you to apply those principles to all aspects of life's challenges–not just the physical ones.
34241 Pacific Coast Hwy., Dana Point, 949-542-8470; www.ocwingchun.com & www.wingchunirvine.com
Best Boot Camp
Hit the Mark Fitness
Bored with the gym? Hit the Mark Fitness takes to the streets of Old Towne Orange, with encouraging coaches telling young and old(-ish), strong and weak(-ish) they can do this! They can reach that next stop sign, then go beyond. Owner Mark Gonzalez, a graduate of Cal State Fullerton, believes in pushing his boot campers toward not only better bodies, but better health, too. And don't we all want that?
121 S. Center St., Orange, 714-538-3043; http://www.hitthemarkfitness.com
Chapman University was designed for two purposes: higher education and the adrenalin rush that comes with taking off all of your clothes and running as fast as you can. Look no further than the face of the university, the group of buildings that sits behind the Chapman sign. The walkway forms a perfect U shape opening up to Chapman Avenue: easy access, prime visibility and, most important, a way out. Have a friend pull the car up to the start of the U, then burst out like a nervous, sweating, naked banshee and complete the path–by which point your friend will have inched the car forward to the end of the loop. You'll be out of sight and down Glassell before the "tackle and ban" instinct strikes any onlooking authorities.
1 University Drive, Orange, 714-997-6729; http://www.chapman.edu/
Best Nature Trail
Because hiking from the hills to the beach is like going to God's personal heaven.
8471 N. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 949-494-3539; http://www.crystalcovestatepark.com/
Best Rock Climbing
Aesthetic Climbing Gym
In terms of sheer intimidation, your first day at a bouldering gym is on par with starting a new job or meeting a significant other's parents. It may actually be a bit worse–for starters, it's the only one in which the thought "Everyone can see my balls right now" is not completely irrational. Add to that the overwhelming sensation that everyone else seems to know exactly what they're doing, and you've got a nearly infallible recipe for sweaty palms. We say nearly infallible specifically because of the Aesthetic Climbing Gym, where veterans happily assist newbies in both top roping and bouldering. For the uninitiated, top roping includes a harness. It's comparable to long-distance running–strategy and endurance–whereas bouldering is a sprint. There are no harnesses, and the paths are much shorter. The color-coded levels range from V-B (basic) to V-14, and the top-out section–the area you reach at the top of the wall–is spacious and expansive.
26794 Vista Terrace, Lake Forest, 949-716-7116; www.aestheticclimbinggym.com
Best Whale Watching
Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching
Whale watching is a bit of a misnomer–a more accurate title would be "people watching at sea." You'll spot mullets and wife-beaters, cargo shorts of every variety. While you may sight a few sea lions, it's more likely you'll spot a guy with a permanent sunglasses tan who calls himself "the sea lion." The $15 ticket is a portal to a strange world, in which faded Hawaiian shirts hang loosely off bodies that (maybe) have seen better days, where shorts fall well below the knee. And where spirits are consistently high. Each occasion takes attendees with the sheer joy, the unrestrained optimism of everyone on board, devoid of any irony or self-consciousness. It's refreshing, and the curving California coastline is mesmerizing in every rolling hill, every tract home with the lights left on. If you time it right, you'll get a wonderful view of the orange-pink OC sunset. So crack a cheap beer, get a good seat, and don't expect to see any whales.
34675 Golden Lantern, Dana Point, 949-496-5794; http://www.danawharf.com/
Best Glow-in-the-Dark Paddleboarding
Pirate Coast Paddle Co.
It's a pirate's night in Orange County, giving adventure seekers a water evening escapade in the back bay of Newport. Pirate Coast Paddle Co. is one of the only paddleboarding spots that offer twilight tours in OC. As the sun's coming down, the LED lights underneath the paddleboards come up and illuminate the water underneath your feet. Getting lost isn't an option with everyone dripping in neon glow sticks (in case some drifters are among the crew). The trip lasts up to 90 minutes, with possibilities of seeing many types of sea creatures including sea lions, jellyfish or even bat rays. Just be sure to reserve ahead of time because tours fill up quickly for this moonlit joyride.
Back Bay Fitness
Finally, a place to tighten up your butts and guts without costing an arm and a leg. Back Bay Fitness is warmly lit, with all of the machines that could be needed to slim and sculpt your bod without being overwhelming. It's a balanced combination of a traditional gym atmosphere and accents of modern training, including an aerial silks class. In case you've never ventured into acrobatics on your down time, the instructors at Back Bay Fitness offer a full rundown on how to scale silky ropes while looking like a pro. The overcrowding you may encounter at most gyms is not an issue here. You'll find most clients working one-on-one with trainers or attending a fitness class of their choice. The variety of different ways to incorporate fitness into your life at this gym keeps all of the goers focused on maintaining that beautiful beach physique.
2675 Irvine Ave., Costa Mesa, 949-631-5587; www.backbayfitness.com
Readers' Choice: 24 Hour Fitness
Best Hiking Spot
Top of the World Park
This amazing spot in Laguna Beach has a full range of trails and different routes that break away from the main trail, giving hiking enthusiasts options for an outback adventure. Even if hiking is not your forte, you can opt to park your car at the top for a romantic evening of watching the sunset on the coast. Unlike most hip hiking spots, this one does not have a fee to park or restrictions on pets because, after all, nature shouldn't have any rules! After reaching your climb to the Top of the World's summit, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking 360-degree view of Orange County, seeing all the way beyond the sea.
21601 Treetop Lane, Laguna Beach, 949-497-7790
Long before the FIFA World Cup made it hip for sports stations to do the habla thing, Mario Solís had made it old hat. Currently the weekend sports anchor for KNBC-TV, Solís started in the mid-1980s on Channel 2 before jumping over to Telemundo, then KMEX-TV Channel 34 to do Spanish-language broadcasting. Once he got that out of the way, he joined Channel 4 in 2004, dabbling in Spanish whenever he wants. Regardless of language, Southern California viewers can always expect an energetic presence, a pearly white smile and the best head o' hair this side of former competitor Keith Olbermann–sans the smarmy douchiness, of course.
Readers' Choice: Vin Scully
The mythical land of Arthurian legend is also a kick-ass place for a game of mini-golf when you forgot to plan date night and need something fun in a hurry. Camelot Golfland is open until midnight on Friday and Saturday, a big draw when going somewhere that typically attracts sugar-fueled kids running left and right. Prices run about $8, with group and Internet specials available.
3200 Carpenter Ave., Anaheim, 713-630-3340; www.golfland.com/anaheim
Vans Off the Wall Skatepark
Vans knows skateboarding–its older skatepark in the heart of Orange can attest to that. Ditch that place and its penchant for helmets and fees, and instead check out the newer Huntington Beach park. Vans Off the Wall Skatepark sits comfortably off the 405 and boasts a sweet clover bowl, as well as a varied selection of street obstacles, including rails, ledges and hubbas to grind to your heart's content. The park flows together well, so you can hit all the lines you've been daydreaming about. The larger clover bowl has a roll-in, which is a pleasantly unorthodox surprise.
7410 Center Ave., Huntington Beach, 714-379-6666; www.vans.com/skateparks-hb.html
Best College Player
Our exhaustive search for the best collegiate athlete began and ended with Missy Taukeiaho. The 5-foot-3-inch Rancho Cucamonga native, in her first season as a Titan (she played her freshman year at the University of Washington), claimed Big West Conference player of the year. Cal State Fullerton softball's third baseman hit .429 from the leadoff position, set a single-season conference record with 62 runs scored, knocked 19 home runs (second in conference history) and posted 51 runs batted in. She led the league in homers, runs, RBIs, walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and was selected as a third-team All-American. With two more years to go at Cal State Fullerton, look for this sparkplug of the Titans offense to post even more impressive numbers.
Readers' Choice: Cody Kessler
Best College Athletic Team
UC Irvine Baseball
Since kick-starting its baseball program in 2002 after a 10-year hiatus, the Anteaters have usually played in the shadow of Cal State Fullerton, which is graced with one of the best college baseball programs in the country. Not this year. UC Irvine's Anteaters advanced to their second College World Series, after winning three of four games in the Corvallis Regional and toppling fourth-ranked Oklahoma State in the super regional. It won its first game in the world series, beating sixth-ranked Texas, 3-1, before losing to fifth-ranked Vanderbilt and dropping a 1-0 heartbreaker to Texas. The Anteaters were paced by Connor Spencer (.364 batting average) and Taylor Sparks (.506 slugging percentage) on offense, and Andrew Morales (11-2, 1.53 ERA) and Sam Moore (21 saves) on the mound. Most of the key players, with the notable exception of Morales, a senior, return next year.
W. Peltason & Campus Drive, Irvine, 949-824-5414; unex.uci.edu/
Best Angels Story
Mike Trout is the Golden Boy, Albert Pujols is one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, Garrett Richards and Jared Weaver dominant starting pitchers, and Josh Hamilton is Robert Downey Jr. with a huge bat. But if you want genuine inspiration, Howie Kendrick's story can't be topped. Raised with no father and a mother who traveled often as a U.S. Army staff sergeant, Kendrick and his two sisters were raised by his maternal grandmother, sharing a double-wide trailer 20 miles out of Jacksonville with two great-aunts and assorted cousins. His only scholarship offer was from a podunk community college, St. Johns River, a school whose baseball program was so mediocre that his first minor-league manager, Tom Kotchman told Sports Illustrated, "The last guy drafted out of that school went to Vietnam." But Kotchman, who is also an Angels scout, caught wind of Kendrick's talent and, on a whim, decided to check him out. He kept a lid on the kid, secretly urging the Angels to draft him, which they did in the 10th round of the 2002 draft. He debuted for the Angels in 2006 and by 2009 was entrenched as the starting second baseman. An All-Star selection in 2011, Kendrick signed a fat, four-year, $35.5 million contract after that season. Though often the subject of trade rumors, he's one of the more unheralded guns on a team bursting with heavy artillery.
Best Cheap Golf Hole
San Clemente Municipal Course
Cheap golf in Orange County is an oxymoron, since most of our top courses are high-end, daily-fee facilities that will set you back an easy $100. But at $44 on the weekends and $36 weekdays, this city course is affordable, boasts an old-school layout designed by legendary designer Billy Bell, and has a gem with its 15th hole, a 196-yard par-3. "It's a good hole, challenging, and if you turn around a little bit and stretch your neck and contort in just the right way, you can see the Pacific Ocean, which is nice," says Eric Marson, the co-founder of Southland Golf Magazine who now runs Inside Golf Media, which produces digital golf magazines. Hell, you can even buy a painting of it at gavinarts.com/green.shtml.
150 E. Avenida Magdelena, San Clemente,949-361-8384; www.sanclementegc.com
Best Golf Course
Oh, for the days when our cousin used to work at this SoCal icon and not only get us free rounds, but also buckets of tokens for free, though we'd still pay to play the miniature golf course, one of the last of its kind here. Better than three hours' playing through douchebags, you know?
16800 Magnolia St., Fountain Valley, 714-842-1111; www.boomersparks.com/site/FountainValley/index.html
Best Angels Player
Mike Trout continues to be the Angels' big fish! Sure, we risk being redundant in naming the center fielder as the best player on the team for a third year in a row, but the former American League (AL) Rookie of the Year's stats line and achievements prevent us from spreading the wealth! As of press time, Trout batted .287 with 36 homers and 111 RBIs. The 23-year-old finally got to couple his individual greatness with a resurgent Angels baseball squad that found its rally-monkey mojo again in winning the AL West. Best of all, Trout hoisted the All-Star Game MVP crystal baseball bat during Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter's much-vaunted farewell appearance, further proof that we still own those damn Yanks!
Readers' Choice: Mike Trout
Best Place to Play Pool
The mini-epicenter of the Anaheim reconquista is Linbrook Family Billiards. In the shadow of its legendary Googie-sign-sporting big-brother bowling alley, the pool hall has morphed into a premier paisa hangout. On the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Brookhurst Street (hence: Linbrook!), this working-class establishment offers many pool tables for enthusiasts to tell their opponents to "rack 'em up!" The felt is just a tad higher in quality than grimy bars. The cue sticks on the wall may or may not be wobbly and crooked depending on chance. In the end, all these variables just add to the skill of the game! Order a bucket of beers or soggy nachos to keep busy in between turns. Shoot the night away to alternating jukebox jams of banda music or an occasional Metallica song and join the Linbrook familia!
2220 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, 714-774-1690; www.linbrookfamilybilliards.com/
Readers' Choice: The Copper Door
Best Archery Range
Mile Square Park Archery Range
Training to be the next Katniss Everdeen in case of a Hunger Games-like dystopian future? Or maybe just the next medieval renaissance fair? Take your bow and quiver full of arrows to Mile Square Park's archery range! Reopened just last year, OC's largest outdoor facility of its kind allows you to enjoy the shade of a long, metallic canopy as you take aim at one of 24 shooting stations. Focus on the targets, perfect your stance, draw back and release with laser-like precision. Whether wielding a long, compound or recurve bow, this Fountain Valley archery range makes for a great (and free) place for practice to make perfect.
16801 Euclid St., Fountain Valley, 714-973-6600; www.ocparks.com/parks/mile/archery_range
Best Ducks Player
This one's a no-brainer. The Ducks captain and veteran playmaker led the team with 87 points in the regular season, including one 14-game scoring spree that helped to cement the team's highest-scoring status in the National Hockey League. He also led the team in power-play points, which became a crucial factor in the Ducks' post-season success. On top of that, Getzlaf captained Canada's gold-medal-winning run at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Face it, the man's a machine on the ice, and not even a slapshot puck to the face can stop him. We know this because in April, his brother Chris tweeted a photo of the aftermath–some 20 stitches to the chin.
Readers' Choice: Ryan Getzlaf
Best Ice Rink
The Rinks Anaheim Ice
No offense to the only competition in Westminster and Yorba Linda, but the Rinks Anaheim Ice wins this award as effortlessly as Jonathan Quick kept the Ducks out of the Stanley Cup. (Yee-ouch!) There are two rinks inside the arched, Frank Gehry structure, which, on the inside, resembles something between a Quonset hut and the overturned hull of a wooden ship: one Olympic-sized, the other NHL. The Ducks train here, and on a recent visit, we spotted coach Bruce Boudreau making the rounds. There's plenty of public skating–up to three times per day–wedged between all kinds of hockey and ice-skating madness. Just remember to dress warm; unlike other rinks whose interior temperatures vary widely depending on the weather, this place is always as cold as a keg of Labatt. Speaking of beer, it doesn't hurt that the snack bar serves Sculpin IPA.
300 W. Lincoln Blvd., Anaheim, 714-518-7465; www.anaheimice.com
Best Mud Run
Irvine Lake Mud Run
Anyone knows that a good mud run needs to be one part marathon, one part American Ninja Warrior, and one part Burning Man. The colorful characters who meet at the Irvine Lake Mud Run every year during spring break season are committed to creating that type of experience from the moment they sink their feet into the sloshy, man-made lurch in Silverado Canyon. The 5k course sports dozens of mud pits and professional obstacle courses for the hordes of costumed athletes, families and extreme sports junkies to enjoy. The attitude around here is infectious, even for the most ardent germophobe you somehow tricked into coming along. By the time you've reached the sudsing station to clean off for the post-race party–featuring a beer garden, food and an outdoor concert–you'll all feel like one big, stinky family.
4621 Santiago Canyon Rd, Silverado, www.irvinelakemudrun.com
Readers' Choice: Irvine Lake Mud Run