Di­verse cities forge dis­tinct iden­ti­ties apart from beaches and theme parks

Travel Guide to California - - CONTENTS - BY CHRIS­TINE DELSOL

Be­neath the sub­ur­ban fa­cade, Or­ange County is a di­verse col­lec­tion of cities with dis­tinct per­son­al­i­ties. Even Ana­heim has es­tab­lished an iden­tity apart from Dis­ney­land, with its mas­sive con­ven­tion cen­ter, re­vival of the his­toric Cen­ter Street Prom­e­nade com­merce district, and the bustling Pack­ing House food hall and mar­ket.

Forty-two miles of idyl­lic sands fringe the ro­bust, ever-de­vel­op­ing “OC,” which counts renowned surf breaks, his­toric mis­sions, art colonies and scenic mari­nas among its at­trac­tions. Its beach cities still em­body the ca­sual, cre­ative Cal­i­for­nia of pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion, from surf-cen­tric Hunt­ing­ton Beach to tony New­port Beach to artsy La­guna Beach to serene San Cle­mente. In­land cities that grew among the bygone or­ange groves have been joined by mas­ter-planned com­mu­ni­ties. Chief among these is Irvine, en­com­pass­ing a Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia cam­pus, the still nascent Or­ange County Great Park and sev­eral “vil­lages.”

About 30 per­cent of OC res­i­dents hail from an­other coun­try, and English is a sec­ond lan­guage for 45 per­cent; its Lit­tle Saigon is the largest Viet­namese com­mu­nity out­side of Viet­nam. A true melt­ing pot, the county hosts a dizzy­ing ar­ray of eth­nic food, fes­ti­vals, mar­kets and cul­tural events.

Per­for­mance venues such as the Or­ange County Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter and the South Coast Reper­tory are sprin­kled through­out the county. Des­ti­na­tion shop­ping malls such as Irvine Spec­trum, Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza and Fash­ion Is­land in New­port Beach vie with dozens of lo­cal shop­ping dis­tricts.

Sports fans cheer the Los An­ge­les An­gels at the An­gel Sta­dium of Ana­heim and the Ana­heim Ducks hockey team at Honda Cen­ter, which dou­bles as a big-name concert venue. More than 40 cham­pi­onship cour­ses and a tem­per­ate cli­mate await golfers, while ho­tel and day spas stand ready to soothe aches and tone mus­cles.

City & Town

Ana­heim is the largest of Or­ange County’s 34 cities. None has a truly dis­tinc­tive down­town, though Hunt­ing­ton Beach of­fers a vi­brant sea­side city cen­ter. His­tory buffs grav­i­tate to San Juan Capis­trano’s beau­ti­fully pre­served 18th-cen­tury mis­sion, Yorba Linda’s Nixon Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary and the re­stored Vic­to­rian homes and his­toric city cen­ters in Santa Ana and Or­ange.

The Great Out­doors

The coast­line with its world-fa­mous surf spots (Hunt­ing­ton Beach, the Wedge at New­port Beach, Tres­tles in San Cle­mente), yacht har­bors (New­port Beach, Dana Point) and pro­tected ar­eas (Crys­tal Cove State Park’s un­der­wa­ter re­serve, the wet­lands of Cal­i­for­nia’s first state beach, Do­heny) are just the be­gin­ning of Or­ange County’s nat­u­ral won­ders. In­land canyons and parks teem with wildlife and hik­ing and bik­ing trails, such as Irvine’s 300-acre San Joaquin Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary.

Fam­ily Fun

Dis­ney­land and Knott’s Berry Farm are a given, but don’t over­look at­trac­tions such as Sky Zone Ana­heim’s in­door tram­po­lines, more than 100 hands-on ex­hibits at Santa Ana’s Discovery Sci­ence Cen­ter, and marine sci­ence and his­tory learned aboard a tall ship or a re­search ves­sel with Dana Point’s Ocean In­sti­tute. The new Great Wolf Lodge of­fers a mul­ti­tude of fam­ily ac­tiv­i­ties, such as a game the­ater, minia­ture golf, a bowl­ing al­ley and a kids’ spa, all open to the pub­lic. But the big at­trac­tion is re­stricted to guests of the 600-suite ho­tel: a 2½ acre in­door wa­ter park with a river, a wave pool, a va­ri­ety of thrill rides and slides, and a con­stant 84-de­gree cli­mate (sans sun­burn).

PELICAN HILL GOLF COURSE, op­po­site top; head­ing for the surf at Hunt­ing­ton Beach Pier, op­po­site bot­tom; Cowabunga Beach Cat­tle Drive at the Or­ange County Fair, Hunt­ing­ton Beach, left; Tall Ship Fes­ti­val at Dana Point, be­low.

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