Monday, December 14, 2009

Orange County

Have you ever walked through your home town as if you were a tourist?

I spent this past Sunday reacquainting myself with Orange County. I grew up in Chino Hills, which is a small suburb 40 miles inland from South Orange County, but I lived in Irvine for almost 4 years of college. It's been a year and a half since I graduated from UCI and moved back to Chino Hills, but still find myself spending most of my free time in the Irvine area (where Sister and Best Friend both happen to live). Like many others, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Orange County. I can't deny that I love the spacious and clean roads (+), but the lack of culture and diversity (-) and the immense amount of superficiality and plastic OC housewives (-) theoretically tip the scales in the other direction.

Brunch at a diner a few miles from Newport Beach fueled a mini re-exploration of Costa Mesa and various parts of coastal Orange County. We started our road trip through the neighborhoods of Costa Mesa that eventually emptied out on to the Pacific Coast Highway. We drove from Newport to Corona del Mar (my favorite little beach town) and spontaneously stopped at the Sherman Library and Gardens. The last time I visited these gardens was in 7th grade to write a report for my cultural literacy project. For $3, we were granted access to the entire botanical gardens and greenhouse. Unfortunately, the library (which focuses on the history of the Pacific Southwest) is closed on Sundays. With its koi ponds, fresh flowers, kind, eclectic staff and the sound of waves crashing in the distance, I can safely say the Sherman Library and Gardens is one of the most relaxing places I've visited in Southern California.

Next up, we continued on PCH to Crystal Cove, where we stopped for a shake at the Ruby's Shake Shack (it's literally a shack on a cliff that overlooks the state beach). We passed through Laguna Beach and into Dana Point, which is especially near and dear to my heart. True, my family lived in Dana Point (walking distance from the harbor) before I was born, but the amount of pictures I've seen and stories I've heard narrated by my parents have created a sense of nostalgia whenever I'm in Dana Point. I started taking pictures of this Jack in the Box on PCH, thinking it was one of the ones my dad managed as an area coach in the late 70s, but now I think I may have confused it with the a different location on El Toro Rd. Or maybe it was both? Who knows.

I don't remember how but from Jack in the Box, we eventually wound up on Oso Parkway and in Aliso Viejo. I had been to Soka University once before for a wedding, so we decided to stop there and explore. I don't know much about the school, but the campus is beautiful (although a bit weirdly isolated) and has an amazing view.

By now, it was well after sunset so we decided to cut our road trip short and head back into quiet, safe Irvine for a nice dinner.

I'll be honest, I'm not a big OC hater. But I understand the drawbacks that mold people's opinions of it. For our generation, it's a region famous for launching a slew of reality shows about the rich, white elite, setting a terrible example with a fraction of the human race. But I think if you look hard enough, you'll stumble across places with historical value and charm that add a layer--albeit a thin one-- of depth. I think at the very least, Orange County (like a lot of things) must have been cool in the '70s.

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