By Renée S. Gordon
Orange County, California is ideally situated south of LA, north of San Diego and on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and boasts a near perfect Mediterranean climate. It was “discovered” thousands of years ago by people who migrated across the Bering Strait and then south into what is now California. They formed peaceful communities consisting of thatched huts and sustained themselves by hunting and gathering.
On July 22, 1769, Don Gaspar de Portola and 67 men entered the area with a charge from the Spanish government to claim the land and Christianize its indigenous population. It took the expedition a week to cross Orange County, naming places as they went. Portola did not establish a permanent settlement but his route through Alta California became the original El Camino Real, the King’s Highway.
Seven years later, Father Junipero Serra founded the Mission San Juan Capistrano de Quanis Savit, the first permanent European settlement. The natives, as would become customary, were no longer referred to by their tribal name but were instead named after the mission that controlled them. The area Indians became known as the Juanenos. It was not until 1834 that the governor, Jose Figueroa, secularized the missions releasing the Indians from servitude and allowing the government to grant huge tracts of land, up to 9-sq.miles, to private citizens called rancheros. These large cattle ranches are credited with creating vaqueros, the first cowboys.
Orange County was separated form Los Angeles County in 1889. Today it is the sixth most densely populated in the country has more than 30 individual cities, 40-miles of shoreline and two of California’s most visited tourist attractions, Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland. www.orangecounty.com
The planned community of Irvine is a good base from which to explore Orange County. It is centrally located within 25-miles of the majority of the county’s attractions and a 15-minute ride to John Wayne Airport.
The land that is now Irvine was once three grand Spanish ranchos, the 63,414-acre Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, 48,803-acre Rancho San Joaquin and the 47,227-acre Rancho Lomas de Santiago. In 1864, James Irvine began purchasing the property and by 1878 he was sole owner of the 110,000-acres that encompassed 23-miles from the Santa Ana River to the Pacific Ocean. Irvine’s son, James Jr., inherited the estate in 1886. On his death in 1947 his son Myford began to develop portions of the land. Modern Irvine consists of more than 35 “villages” each designed around an architectural theme. www.irvinecvb.org
Irvine’s Historical Museum is located inside the oldest extant structure inside the Irvine Ranch area. It was constructed in 1868 at a cost of $1,300. Old Town walking tours leave from the museum and include 34 sites. www.irvineranchhistory.com Irvine Ranch Historic Park features the home of James Irvine II and 24 other original ranch buildings on 16.5-acres of land. Hours vary. www.ocparks.com
The only museum in the state dedicated to the preservation and presentation of California Impressionism from 1890 to 1930 is the Irvine Museum. The museum was founded in 1992 with a collection assembled by Joan Irvine Smith. Tours are self-guided or docent-led. www.irvinemuseum.org
Pretend City Children’s Museum allows children, from infant to age 10, to explore the world of grown-ups in 16 permanent galleries. Children play and learn through activities in a grocery store, farm, post office, fire station and doctor’s office. www.pretendcity.org
The architecturally outstanding Orange County Performing Arts Center is the jewel in the OC’s crown. The complex presents world-class entertainment and educational programs in state-of-the-art venues. www.ocpac.org
Huntington Beach, “Surf City USA,” is ground zero for the California Dream. It is renowned for its three beaches along an 8.5-mile ocean strand and surfing culture built around the areas unique wave patterns. More than 16-million people visit annually to soak up the sun, romp in the sea and play in the sand. www.surfcityusa.com
The first land grant in this locale was a 300,000-acre plot given to a Spanish soldier, Manuel Nieto, in 1784. Earlier known as Shell Beach it was renamed in 1904 and incorporated as Huntingdon Beach in 1909. The land was developed by the Huntington Beach Company.
Beach Boulevard, once a cattle trail, is the city’s main thoroughfare while the Pacific Coast Highway provides access to the beach. Nestled at the intersection of these two streets is the 1,850-ft. iconic Huntingdon Beach Pier dating from 1904. Pier Plaza is located at the entrance to the pier and its amphitheater has been the scene of concerts and events since 1998.
In 1963 Jan Berry and Dean Torrence wrote “Surf City,” the first surfing song to reach number one on the charts. The song was an overwhelming hit and it introduced the world to Southern California surfing. There are several sites in Huntingdon Beach that help visitors understand the art and spiritual nature of surfing. www.surfcityusa.com
Two of the city’s treasures are life-sized bronzes created by Edmond Shumpert. The 1970 “Ultimate Challenge” is one of the state’s most photographed sculptures. It depicts a surfer at the moment he catches a wave. The second bronze is of Duke Kahanamoku, the “Father of Surfing.” He stands in front of Surf and Sport’s Surfer’s Hall of Fame.
The Art Deco International Surfing Museum is dedicated to surfers and surfing history. The museum, though small, houses a wonderful collection of films, posters, art and artifacts and there is a gift shop on the premises. www.surfingmuseum.org
The handprints, footprints and signatures of surfing greats are inscribed in front of Huntingdon Surf and Sport. People have been added since 1997. www.hsssurf.com
Jack’s Surfboards is the location of the Surfing Walk of Fame. Inductees are selected in 5 categories and honored with monuments. An international panel chooses honorees and the ceremony takes place during the US Open of Surfing. www.surfingwalkoffame.com
While walking through the downtown area everyone should stop in M.E. Helme Antiques. The 1904 store is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is crammed with unique items. One could spend hours here.
Huntingdon Beach is an outdoor lover’s paradise and family-oriented destination. All the beaches offer wheelchair ramps, showers, restrooms, beach volleyball courts and fire rings for picnics and evening bonfires on the beach. All the standard water sports can be enjoyed as well as segway tours of the beach (www.hbsegwaytours.com), surf (www.toesonthenose.com) and sand castle building lessons (www.digitsandcastles.blogspot.com).
The AAA four-diamond Hilton Waterfront Beach is perfect for this portion of the trip. The service is impeccable and the amenities leave nothing to be desired. The Pacific Ocean is only a few steps away and most rooms provide panoramic views. www.waterfrontresort.com
I wish you smooth and exhilarating travels!