The 5 Best Cities in Orange County for OC Newbies to Move To

Santa Ana: Where the OC Roller Girls roam...
From the letter bag:

My family and I are moving back to OC after 20 years. I've read your column and Facebook posts on and off for the few last years. My question is: between "freedom fries" in Villa Park and OC's KKK roots, where does one go to live in OC that is mildly to solidly progressive. We are a mixed family, gabacho and mexicana, and are planning on enrolling our chiquillos en the Spanish immersion schools in Lake Forest (Gates Elementary, etc.) Any ideas or suggestions you might have would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks.

Also, this:

I just got a job in Irvine and am looking to move to the area from Monrovia. Where can I move that has a small town groovy feel and things like craft fairs and farmers markets?

Gracias for the two of you for writing! OC's not all racist--just Villa Park. But your questions got me to thinking: if someone was moving to Orange County, where would we, as arbiters of all things truthiness in this wacky county, recommend they move to? I'm not talking about all the stuff realtors and South County types obsess over--I'm talking about pointing people to cities where they can experience a slice of OC life at its best, not its HOA-NIMBY worst. So behold a purely subjective list, written by someone who has lived here his entire life and covered it his entire professional career, who knows what he's talking about about 34 minutes a day--which just so happens to be how long it took me to write this post.

This is not to say we don't love all of OC, and some cities we adore didn't rank for reasons we'll explain. But the following represents good options for people with no prior Orange County experience, or--like the first letter writer--natives who are returning and want to experience a region that's no longer the place they ran kicking and screaming from years ago.

5. Lake Forest

Thumbnail image for rick_warren_twitter_santorum.jpg
Any town with Rick Warren can't be all that bad, right?

Everyone in Irvine and south of the Y will snigger; let them. But the town once called El Toro is strategically placed so that residents can partake of South County, North County, and Laguna Beach easily. The anti-Mission Viejo.

Housing: Stock ranges from post-WWII tract homes to HOA hells, apartment complexes to gated communities, and all within reasonable (for OC, at least, and especially for South County) prices.

People: Lake Foresters don't have the richer-than-thou mentality endemic to nearly most of South County, and definitely not like Irvinites. It's also surprisingly cosmopolitan, with a large population of Afghans, Filipinos, and Latinos, and is the most underrated dining town in OC. Lots of nice Christians, too, as long as you're not a gay wanting to marry.

What the OC newbie will get: The most tolerable Stepford suburb experience we can recommend--and all OCers should try it once, if only to learn what NOT to aspire toward here.

Intangibles: If the Rapture ever comes, Saddleback Church will suddenly be empty, and we can turn it into one giant shrine to Baal.

4. Huntington Beach

Oh, yeah: this

Yes, there are bros. And skinheads. And corrupt politicians. And the city keeps electing Dana Rohrabacher (R-Friend of the Taliban) to Congress. But HB gets dismissed by OC far too often. In reality, it's the best coastal city to reasonably live in--not snobby like Newport, not too expensive (unless you squeeze 15 young folks into a rental cottage) like Seal Beach, not overpriced like Laguna and Dana Point, or not too far away like San Clemente (which we love, but any city that's closer to Camp Pendleton than Anaheim isn't exactly convenient for newcomers).

Housing: From the estates of Huntington Harbour to the Slater Slums, HB has it all. And, if all else fails, get yourself a VW Bus, park it on a secluded street, and you can live in it without too much hassle from the cops. Just stay away from riots...and the cops.

People: It's HB, bro. Unpretentious living is the name of the game. Mostly gabacho, but they're far nicer than their Newport Beach upper-crust cousins. Rallied to save the fire pits for all of us, so we owe them big-time--and yet they'll just ask for a six-pack in return.

What the OC newbie will get: The coastal life, because all OCers should experience it at one point in their lives.

Intangibles: The coast. The pier. Bolsa Chica. Tacos El Chavito. HB: consider this our peace offering for making so much fun of you over the years...and for making fun of you for years afterward.

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