Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of Orange County
In early 1889, Pemberton Medicine Company (later Coca-Cola) incorporated in Atlanta, Colombia Phonograph (later Columbia Records) launched, Japan adopted the Meiji Constitution and the Eiffel Tower opened in Paris. Meanwhile in Southern California, the communities on Coyote Creek‘s left bank seceded those on the right bank and incorporated as the County of Orange. More precisely, on 11 March a bill was signed into law which allowed for voters to vote whether or not to approve the motion to incorporate — which they did (2,509 to 500) on 4 June, 1889. But today’s date is the one that is observed by most of Orange County’s friends and family as its birthday.
It wasn’t the first time county borders within California had changed. In the first half century after the US invaded and conquered Alta California from Mexico, the county borders have changed several times; San Bernardino County split from Los Angeles County in 1853, parts of Los Angeles County became Kern County in 1866, and in 1893 Riverside County was formed out of what had been parts of San Bernardino and San Diego counties. Several attempts were made and failed to establish Orange County in the 1870s and ’80s.
Today Orange County includes the incorporated communities of Aliso Viejo, Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Cypress, Dana Point, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Habra, La Palma, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Los Alamitos, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, Orange, Placentia, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, Tustin, Villa Park, Westminster, and Yorba Linda.
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of North Orange County
Orange County’s unincorporated communities include Coto de Caza, Cowan Heights, Emerald Bay, Ladera Ranch, Las Flores, Lemon Heights, Midway City, Modjeska Canyon, North Tustin, Orange Park Acres, Rancho Mission Viejo, Red Hill, Rossmoor, Silverado, and Trabuco Canyon.
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of South County
Unlike Los Angeles County, which is usually viewed as comprising about twenty regions (unless you’re one of those unfortunate bipolar “Eastside vs Westside” types), Orange County is usually just divided into two — North County and South County — and the dividing line between the two is considered by most to be California State Route 55.
DIVERSE ORANGE COUNTY
Most peoples’ ideas about Orange County probably owe more to television series like The OC (primarily filmed in Los Angeles‘s South Bay) and quasi-scripted “reality” series like Real Housewives of Orange County and Laguna Beach… or perhaps to films like Gleaming the Cube, Suburbia, Brick than they do to firsthand experience. Of course any sensible person knows better than to trust Hollywood when it comes to depicting the reality of Southern California so set aside our preconceptions and consider some facts.
Forbes recently named Orange County one of the country’s most diverse places (placing it above even Los Angeles County). There is no ethnic or racial majority in Orange County (or Los Angeles County, for that matter). Roughly 44% of Orange Countians are non-Latino white, 34% are Latino of any race, 18% are Asian, 2% are black, and 1% are Native American. It’s home to the largest Vietnamese-American community in the world and three widely recognized ethnic enclaves: Little Seoul, Little Arabia, and Little Saigon. Additionally there are large populations of Armenian, Chinese, English, Filipino, German, Irish, Jewish, Lebanese, Mexican, Persian, Salvadoran, Scottish, and Taiwanese–Americans. 30% of Orange County’s residents were born in another country and 45% speak a language other than English at home. Roughly 31% of Orange County voters are registered as Democrats (the same as the national average) and 42% are registered Republicans — meaning of course that there’s no political majority.
Garden Grove‘s Little Seoul is indeed quite little although it’s nonetheless the second largest Korean-American community on the West Coast, after Koreatown in Los Angeles. Although it emerged in the 1980s, at just three kilometers long, Little Seoul is still more of a Korean commercial corridor than residential enclave — Buena Park, Fullerton, and Irvine are all home to much more of North County‘s Korean-American population, the county’s second largest Asian-American population after Vietnamese-Americans. Little Seoul is home to offices of Korea Times; various Korean-American community services; an annual Korean Festival; and many Korean markets, BBQ, cafés, lounges, noodle houses, churches, plazas, and seafood restaurants.
Little Arabia, in Anaheim, is by some estimates the second largest Arab enclave in the country after the one in Dearborn, Michigan. It’s also sometimes referred to as Little Gaza on account of the fact that many of its Arabs have roots in Palestine (as well as Palestine’s neighbors Egypt and Syria) and that the neighborhood’s original designation is Garza Island. There are numerous bakeries, beauty salons, halal butchers, hookah cafés, markets, restaurants and jewelry stores in the neighborhood today that reflect the Arabic community’s presence, which began to flourish in the 1990s.
Orange County‘s Little Saigon is the largest Vietnamese-American enclave in the country. The neighborhood is also colloquially known as Bolsa, after the main thoroughfare (Bolsa Avenue) of the neighborhood’s original borders, which contained a small overlapping area of Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, and Westminster. Much as with Koreatown in Los Angeles, the Vietnamese-American population and character has since massively expanded since the original borders were officially designated in 1988 and now parts of Huntington Beach, Midway City, and Stanton also have a strong Vietnamese character. As of the 2010 census, Westminster’s population was nearly 48% Asian-American (mostly Vietnamese) and Garden Grove’s Vietnamese-American population exceeded 54,000. This translates to vibrant annual Tết Nguyên Đán festivities; more than 500 Vietnamese restaurants (time to move beyond phở and bánh mì); Euro-disco/Vietnamese New Wave; “ethnic” malls; lingerie cafés; and Vietnamese-language television stations, radio stations, and newspapers.
Of course “diversity” extends beyond humanity and Orange County is not just culturally diverse but extremely biodiverse, geographically diverse, and diverse in other ways too. Exploring its corners I’ve found faux-Spanish seaside villages (San Clemente), faux-Bavarian villages (Old World Village), faux-Utopian futurist villages (Irvine), Eichler tracts, Italo-disco performers, great vegetarian Vietnamese food (Bo De Tinh Tam Chay and Au Lac), Isamu Noguchi‘s California Scenario, Pao Fa Temple, the Crystal Cathedral, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, the largest freestanding wooden structures on the planet (Tustin‘s WWII–era blimp hangars), Asian Garden Mall (Phước Lộc Thọ), Mission San Juan Capistrano, forests, city centers, parks, mysterious business parks, beaches, red-tile tract house tracts, chaparral-covered mountains, master-planned madness, and biker bars.
Costa Mesa skyline
As with Los Angeles, Orange County is usually mischaracterized as a vast, sprawling, and completely flat collection of suburbs. However, thanks to nature (which such mischaracterizations conveniently ignore), Orange County actually rises rather dramatically from sea level at the coast to 1,337 meters high at Santiago Peak — which positively dwarves cities more often characterized as vertical such as Hong Kong, New York, and Shanghai.
Newport Beach with the Santa Ana Mountains behind
Orange County’s skyscrapers may provide no competition for height with the Santa Ana Mountains but there are more than of the towering structures in the region than the dated stereotypes suggest. Currently there are at least 27 skyscrapers rising above a height of thirty meters located in Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Newport Beach, Orange, and Santa Ana. What’s perhaps more surprising is that according to the most recent census, the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim area is the most densely populated region in the country. Orange County is also the sixth most populous county in the country (after Los Angeles, Cook County (Illinois), Harris County (Texas), Maricopa County (Arizona), and San Diego County).
ORANGE COUNTY ARTS
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
Orange County has a thriving and diverse art scene reflected in the presence of its many museums, art festivals, art centers, and art galleries. In addition there are numerous theaters, cultural festivals, culinary festivals, opera, and Segerstrom Center for the Arts. I’m sure that there are a lot more but off the top of my head I can think of several talented Orange County born-and-bred musical acts such as Social Distortion, Emily’s Sassy Lime, Agent Orange, The K-nobs, The Vandals, The Adolescents, Jeff Buckley, Giant Drag.
EXPLORING ORANGE COUNTY
Orange County is home to one of the Southland‘s three international airports; John Wayne Airport (the other two are LA/Ontario International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport) which makes getting to it convenient.
Once on the ground, exploring Orange County is becoming increasingly easy due to an expanding network of public transit options. The workhorse of the region is the Orange County Transit Authority (OCTA), which has existed since 1975 and currently operates 78 lines. Smaller local bus and shuttle companies include Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART), Irvine‘s iShuttle, and Laguna Beach Transit‘s trolley buses.
Metrolink train to the sea — source: AmtrakCal462
Orange County is additionally served by several commuter rail lines including Metrolink‘s 91, Orange County, and Inland Emp-Orange Co lines as well as Amtrak‘s Pacific Surfliner (which connects San Luis Obispo and San Diego). In the future (hopefully), Metro‘s 30 kilometer, planned West Santa Ana Transit Corridor will connect Santa Ana to Norwalk in Southeast Los Angeles County via light rail.
Ferries serving Orange County (from Santa Catalina Island) include Catalina Flyer, which connects with Newport Beach, and Catalina Express, which connects with Dana Point. There are also about 1,600 kilometers of bikeways in Orange County. Most of Orange County is also easily walkable although there sadly hasn’t always been a lot of apparent thought given to pedestrians and frequently long stretches of unshaded sidewalk pass by commercial spaces constructed without walkers in mind. Hopefully that too will change as more and more people turn away from car-dependency for every single errand, which will make Orange County an even more vibrant place.
BLOGGING ORANGE COUNTY
In 2010 I expanded my blogs about local neighborhoods and cities to Orange County and ever since they’ve fairly dominated the poll. As I write this, Los Angeles‘s Glassell Park is in first place followed by the Orange County city of Anaheim in second and Yorba Linda in third. In Orange County I’ve so far explored and written about Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Orange, San Clemente, Santa Ana, and Tustin. To vote for more Orange County communities for me to explore and write about, click here.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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