Orange County (California)
Orange County is a county in Southern California. A patchwork of 34 independent municipalities, Orange County's population is one of the most culturally diverse in the world. Orange County's terrific and irrefutable reputation as a tourist destination recently got it its own TV series, The O.C. The county's main tourist draws are its beaches and of course its two theme parks, Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm.
There are many cities large and small in Orange County – here are a few of the major ones.
Comprised of 34 incorporated cities and various unincorporated regions, Orange County has a total population of more than 3 million, and is the fifth largest county in the United States. The population of these cities range from over 300,000 (Santa Ana and Anaheim) to merely 6,200 (Villa Park). Bordering Los Angeles on the north, San Diego in the south, and both Riverside County and San Bernardino County to the east, Orange County is bounded on the west by the Pacific Ocean and the east by the Santa Ana Mountains. The area enjoys beautiful beaches and warm weather year round. Orange County has a reputation for being more conservative than the rest of California, with fiscal conservative attitudes dominating in well-off cities and some social-conservative attitudes being prevalent in some of Orange County's thriving ethnic subcommunities.
Orange County is in the Pacific Time Zone and observes Daylight Savings Time.
For emergencies in Orange County, dial 911 toll-free from any phone including payphones. Note that dialing 911 from a cell-phone will place you in contact with the California Highway Patrol.
Santa Ana is the county seat.
English and Spanish are the two most common languages spoken in Orange County. Most government agencies will have someone available who speaks Spanish. In North Orange County, many businesses will have someone who speaks Spanish on staff but the further south into Orange one travels, the less likely this will become. Because of the ethnic diversity of Southern California, there are many neighborhoods where other languages are dominant, mostly from Asian countries. The third most-spoken language, Vietnamese, is widely spoken in Westminster and Garden Grove, and to a lesser extent, in Fountain Valley and Santa Ana. In Garden Grove and Fullerton, Korean is widely spoken. Japanese is more commonly spoken in Costa Mesa.
Several freeways provide access to Orange County.
Located in beautiful Dana Point harbor alongside the Pacific Ocean, the Ocean Institute offers science and maritime history programs to youth during the week, and is open to the general public on weekends, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Visitors can enjoy ocean-themed exhibits, marine life touch tanks and aquaria with hundreds of marine creatures. Institute staff and volunteers are on hand to share the secrets of our seas. Cost: $6.50 adults, $4.50 children (ages 4-12), Ocean Institute members free.
Unique maritime and ocean-themed items are available in the Chambers Gallery everyday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Institute address: 24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr., Dana Point. For an added charge, visitors can enjoy marine mammal cruises onboard the Institute’s R/V Sea Explorer or sail onboard the tall ship Spirit of Dana Point. Facilities are available for rent for meetings, receptions and other events. For information, visit www.ocean-institute.org or call (949) 496-2274.
Orange County has quite a niche for award winning dining, signature California cuisine and ethnic specialties. Orange County is a food lover’s haven with close to 5,000 restaurants serving everything from the freshest seafood to exotic delicacies.
Cafe Di Vang 2 in Westminister is a one-of-a-kind Little Saigon experience. The cafe is not notable for its drinks, but for its staff, who serve tasty but expensive (5 dollars each) smoothies and coffee while clad in little more than lingerie. Essentially the Vietnamese equivalent of Hooters, there are few cafes like it anywhere in America.
Mexican Food: Taco Mesa in Costa Mesa has an incredible reputation for fresh and vibrant food, and they're routinely lauded in the local independent press (OC Weekly) for high-quality offerings at fast food prices.
Vietnamese Food: With hundreds of restaurants to choose from in Little Saigon, Orange County is paradise for Vietnamese food lovers. The area immediately surrounding the Asian Garden mall has a wide variety to choose from. Pho 84 is a good spot for the traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, while Lee's Sandwiches serve Vietnamese Baguette sandwiches 24 hours in Little Saigon.
Indian Food: Orange County has a diverse variety of Indian food. Taste of India (Walnut & Culver) is a popular Indian restaurant in Irvine. Dosa Place (Red Hill Ave. and 5 fwy) has a good selection of South Indian cuisine.
Japanese Ramen: Shin-Sen-Gumi in Fountain Valley is a traditional, Japanese-style ramen shop with a multitude of cooking options rarely seen outside of Japan. Ebisu Ramen Restaurant, also located in Fountain Valley, is highly rated with very reasonable prices. It popularity is telling by the wait at times, especially during lunch. There is also Mitsuwa Marketplace on Paularino Ave in Costa Mesa has a great food court with several noodle stands and fun ambience - like stepping into Tokyo for a second.
Korean Barbequeue: Seoul Oak is a two-story galbi (Group cooking Korean barbequeue restaurant) in Garden Grove, widely recognized as the best in the area and occasionally playing host to visiting Korean movie stars. Little Seoul also has a single 24-hour Korean Barbequeue restaurant, Tofu House.
French-Japanese Fusion: Cafe Hiro in Cypress is a popular French-Japanese fusion cuisine restaurant. Founded by a former head chef at one of the top restaurants in Beverly Hills in order to give himself more control over the menu, luxurious and original cuisine is served at middlebrow prices (10-15 dollars per entree). The restaurant is notable for crafting a new and different homemade soup every day, included with each entree.
Hamburgers: Orange County is home to three famous hamburger chains - Tommy's (Fountain Valley, at Magnolia and Warner), Fatburger (Irvine, at Michelson and Jamboree, and Aliso Viejo town center), and In N' Out (all over). Tommy's is famous for putting chili on all of its products. Fatburger is notable for its thick and juicy burgers and steakhouse-style "fat fries". In N' Out is lauded as a California favorite, with thin yet flavorful burgers. There is heated debate but no general consensus as to which chain is best - one's personal tastes and preferences are the best guide.
Cuban Food: Cafe Habana at The Lab in Costa Mesa is Orange County's most prominent Cuban restaurant, with a bordello-like atmosphere dimly lit by hundreds of candles.
French Steakhouse: Chat Noir in Costa Mesa is home to upscale French cuisine (Dishes such as Filet Mignon with Foie Gras will cost 30-40 dollars) but shines due to its incredible, romantic Parisian salon atmosphere. Live jazz is playing several nights a week; call ahead for times.
Dinner with a View: Orange Hill restaurant in Orange offers an upscale steakhouse with a maginificent view overlooking all of Orange County. Also popular is Summit House in Fullerton which also offers an upscale dining experience with great views.
Japanese Izakaya: Izakaya, the Japanese style of cooking emphasizing a lively atmosphere and a wide variety of personal-sized mini-dishes to choose from, has made its way to Orange County with the popular restaurant in Costa Mesa. The menu covers everything from sushi to curry to katsudon, as well as some Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese dishes.
Sushi: Matsu in Huntington Beach offers a more authentic Japanese atmosphere with a 70's feeling red-lit bar. The prices are good for quality sushi. Try the lunch time menu offered during the weekdays which includes bento-box meals that are enormous for about $10, and the sushi and sashimi lunch specials are half the price of the dinner versions. Koi in Seal Beach is also an excellent restaurant with some of the freshest fish you'll find around Orange County.
Bubble Tea: Tapioca bubble tea, also known as boba, is a recent local obsession imported from Asia - the milk tea is available in Orange County in all flavors, including some fruits and vegetables relatively unknown to the Western palate. Tea-ism in Irvine, near the UCI campus, is one of the best boba cafes in the county.
Dim-Sum: With Orange County's Chinese population not as concentrated into a single city as other local Asian enclaves, the Chinese restaurants vary more in location. For excellent Dim-Sum, for instance, one should travel to the Golden Dragon in Little Saigon, across the street from the Asian Garden Mall. Reasonable prices and a better selection than most Dim-Sum offerings in America. Seafood Paradise no. 2 in Westminster offers great Dim-Sum 7 days a week from 10:30AM to about 2:30PM.
Vegetarian Offerings: The Gypsy Den at the Lab in Costa Mesa is well-known for a wide variety of vegetarian offerings, especially its adobe stew. For Asian vegan cuisine, Au Lac in Costa Mesa is a popular destination.
Beachside: The Shake Shack in Corona Del Mar is a more than half-century old Orange County institution, serving up their famous shakes and also sandwiches. Although recently purchased by Ruby's in a move that rankled some locals, the Shake Shack is still going strong, situated above a cliff directly overlooking the ocean.
Orange County is home to many great places to drink and very few options on how to get home after having a few. Getting around in Orange County is pretty tough without a car, unless you have a fat wallet to spend on taxis or limos. There are select areas where walking to a bar is viable option. Beach cities make up the majority of these such places; Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente have areas that are no more than a short walk from a bar. Most of the bars in these beach locations are not of the chain variety, so each has its own unique ambiance. With the exception of Sharky's, having locations up and down the coast and the same frat boy/blonde bimbo crowd in all of them.
Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach has a rotating selection of the world's finest craft beers. If you are a beer elitist with a discriminating palette, this place is will be your haven.
Though the beach areas of the county are generally safe, localism among surfers can on rare occasions turn violent. Though the county is quite safe, street gang activity is comparatively common in areas such as East Anaheim and the La Jolla and Atwood neighborhoods of Placentia as well as Westminster and Garden Grove.
Cities such as Irvine, Mission Viejo, Puro Santa Ana, Lake Forest and Newport Beach are among the safest in the country.