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Exploring the world outside of the park
Old Town Orange

Old Town Orange. The real Main Street, U.S.A.

If a place as transient and fickle as Orange County can be said to have a heart, that heart must be Old Town Orange. Here, more than 40 antique shops, an 1899 soda fountain and an assortment of other mom-and-pop businesses are housed in the largest cluster of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

Town Clock
The town clock still keeps watch.

Centering on the traffic circle where Glassell St. and Chapman Ave. meet, this four block downtown area is genuine Americana -- The same Americana that Disneyland's Main Street USA is trying, in vain, to mimic.

In 1869, two lawyers named Alfred Beck Chapman and Andrew Glassell accepted 1,385 acres of land from the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana in lieu of legal fees. In 1871, they hired William Glassell, Andrew's younger brother, to lay out the town of Richland. The town was originally one square mile, surrounded by 60 ten-acre farm lots, which sold for six dollars an acre.

Soon, it was discovered that there was already another California town named Richland. The town was renamed Orange in honor of Glassell's birthplace, Orange County, Virginia. Only later would the city live up to its name, becoming famous for its citrus packing and shipping.

County seal

Today, Old Town Orange calls itself the "antique capital of California," and it's hard to disagree. Visitors can easily spend a weekend there and only scratch the surface. I hesitate to recommend any one antique mall or store, because much of the fun is in the spontaneity of wandering from shop to shop, from shelf to shelf. You'll find forgotten remnants of your childhood years. You'll find things that remind you of your Great Uncle Harry. You'll find things that surprise you and even a few things that educate you.

From early American furniture to A-Team lunchboxes, Orange's antique stores are museums of American culture, where everything just happens to be for sale.

Just beyond and behind the business district, you'll find residential areas, featuring some excellent examples of Victorian and craftsman-style homes.

There are numerous good restaurants in and around the circle, but if you can only eat one lunch there, make sure it's at Watson's Drug Store.

Watson's, just east of the circle, is the oldest same-location business in Orange County. Their lunch counter has been a local favorite since 1899. Their menu is full of good, honest, simple American fare at reasonable prices, supplemented by a wide variety of desserts and drinks from their soda fountain. Order a lemon Coke or a lime phosphate to go with your chili size or your tuna melt.

While eating lunch at Watson's, it's not hard to imagine that you've traveled back to the early 20th Century. It's not surprising that this drugstore, like the surrounding area, has been used as a set in many films, including Tom Hanks' "That Thing You Do."

A block north of the Circle, you'll find the beautiful campus of Chapman University, (including their new law school) which has also served as the set for countless films, including the recent "Rocky & Bullwinkle."

If you're looking for more refined dining than Watson's lunch counter, try P.J.'s Abbey at 182 S. Orange St., near the old Orange County Fruit Exchange building (now an art gallery). P.J.'s is housed in a former Baptist church built in 1891, and serves an assortment of upscale American fare.

Another local favorite is Felix Continental Cafe, a Cuban restaurant on the southwest corner of the traffic circle. I have yet to dine here myself, but friends tell me the garlic-roasted chicken Cubano with rice, black beans and fried plantains is one of the best meals in town.

Once you've enjoyed a good lunch, consider getting your hair cut. Ray's Barber Shop, next door to Felix, is the real McCoy. This old-fashioned barbershop looks like something out of Mayberry. They use hot shaving cream on your neck and a straight razor. It's a little scary at first, but you're perfectly safe in the hands of experts.

Old Town Orange is an easy drive from the Anaheim Resort area. Go south on Harbor Blvd. and then east on Chapman Ave. until you reach the traffic circle. Informational brochures will soon be available at many area hotels and motels. The Old Town Trolley runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, between the Anaheim Resort area, Old Town Orange, The Block shopping center, various hotels and the Metrolink station. For more information about the trolley, call (949) 975-0858.

You'll find Old Town is a fun and relaxing retreat from the swirl of progress and modern commotion that characterizes so much of Southern California.


Related Links:

Old Town Orange

P.J.'s Abbey


Guest Columnist Douglas Seabury can be contacted at DougSeabury@SpaceAgeCity.com

TOURIST ATTRACTIONS IN ORANGE COUNTY:

Knott's Berry Farm
8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park

This is the nation's oldest theme park. It includes 165 attractions in multiple themed areas such as Calico Ghost Town, Mexican Village, Indian Trails, The Boardwalk and Camp Snoopy. (714) 220-5200


Hard Rock Cafe
451 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach

One in a chain of 104 Hard Rock Cafes around the world. You are paying for the honor of sitting under the autographs of rock stars. The highlight of the decor is the garish suit worn by Prince in the film "Purple Rain." (714) 640-8844


Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament
7662 Beach Blvd., Buena Park

Watch "knights" engage in jousting and other forms of mortal combat while you eat dinner. Paper crowns (a la Burger King) included. (714) 521-4740


Movieland Wax Museum
7711 Beach Blvd., Buena Park

An elaborate collection of movie and TV memorabilia, including authentic costumes and sets and more than 200 lifelike replicas of famous stars. Open Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m. - 7 p.m., Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Admission $6.95-$12.95. (949) 522-1154 or visit Movieland Wax Museum online.


Rainforest Cafe
3333 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa (In the Sears wing of South Coast Plaza)

A themed restaurant with a jungle motif. Includes animatronic creatures, indoor thundershowers, live parrots, talking trees and a large saltwater aquarium. (714) 424-9200


Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum
7850 Beach Blvd., Buena Park

"The odd, the unusual and bizarre from nature and man." Open Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Admission $5.25-$8.95. (714) 522-7045 or visit Ripley's online.


Wild Bill's Wild West Dinner Extravaganza
7600 Beach Blvd., Buena Park

Watch dancing Indians, lariat-twirling "cowboys" and singing cowgirls while you eat dinner. (714) 522-6414


Wild Rivers Water Park
8770 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine

A water theme park with over 40 water rides and attractions, on the site of the late lamented Lion Country Safari. (949) 768-9453


Intrigued by this abbreviated list? Click here to visit Douglas's more complete list of significant locations in Anaheim, including including HISTORICAL SITES, MUSEUMS, SEASIDE ATTRACTIONS, GARDENS, SHOPPING, JUST FOR KIDS, and MISCELLANEOUS FUN categories.

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