What's it like to live in Orange County?
April 12, 2011 1:33 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about Orange, CA.

A crunchy pal of mine and her husband and kid are contemplating relocating to Orange, California. Is The O.C. as conservative and snobby as some people say? Where do crunchier people live and school their children? What about walkability and public transport? How expensive are homes in neighborhoods with good schools and low crime? Some basics on the area would be greatly appreciated.
posted by k8t to Travel & Transportation around Orange, CA (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, and they already live in California, so understand the higher-than-average cost of living.
posted by k8t at 1:35 PM on April 12, 2011

All of their state assembly and congressional reps will be Republicans. Ed Royce, who would be their congressman, was apparently one of the charming people shouting "Go home!" at Muslims in OC who were attending an event.

If that kind of thing doesn't matter to them, then you can flag this. I don't have anything else to say about Orange or the county it's in!
posted by rtha at 1:43 PM on April 12, 2011

Orange actually has a reputation for having a small town flavor to it, and a charming downtown area. How well deserved that is, I don't know.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:48 PM on April 12, 2011

No, it's not nearly as conservative as the mainstream media's portrayal, but it is decidedly more conservative than San Francisco or wherever. Nor as Orange County universally snobby; places like Coto de Caza (the gated community shown on The Real Housewives of Orange County) might be, but Orange and Santa Ana definitely aren't.

Crunchy people live in Orange, Anaheim and Buena Park unless they're really rich, in which case they live in Laguna Beach or thereabouts (I live on the border of Anaheim and Buena Park, and my crunchiest, most granola-munching hippie friends live in Orange). The media potrays Orange County as a gated enclave of rich cosmetic surgery addicts while completely ignoring my Orange County, which includes but is in no way limited to a thriving Middle Eastern community with amazing restaurants, great hiking and mountain biking spots (there are some great regional park trails in the outskirts of the Orange area), killer hole-in-the-wall Mexican joints devoted to regional cuisine scattered all over the place, etc.

Walkability and public transport are pretty awful in Orange County in general, but the city of Orange itself is probably better than most, and as SLC Mom mentions, it has a wonderful downtown area, Orange Circle with an extremely small town flavor, with an old-fashioned soda shop, independent coffee houses, antique stores, etc. If your friends can get a place within walking distance of the Circle, I'm pretty confident they'd be happy there.

Homes in neighborhoods with good schools and low crime are somewhat expensive, but if you're going to buy a place in Orange County rather than renting one, now would be the time, and if they'd be interested in fixing up a small, charming historical house, there are definitely some bargains near downtown.

I grew up in north Orange County and work five minutes from Orange, so if you or your friends have more specific questions, or if you feel like I could better explain anything I've already mentioned, let me know.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:58 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

I was born and raised in Orange County. I've lived in La Habra, Brea, Irvine, Fullerton & Placentia.

Besides my 1 year in Irvine, I'm more of a North Orange County person. I find South Orange County to be a bit snobby. (Sorry South County people)

Orange County is very conservative. I'm on the board of voters for my local area and during the last presidential election my district was 98% registered Republicans and 2% registered Democrats. The younger people are a bit more liberal (but isn't that the case anywhere?). There are pockets of liberals here and there. I'm very liberal and although I can handle the conservative-ness of the area, I do find myself wanting to bang my head against a wall sometimes (tell your friends not to read the comments section of the OC Register website).

As for best school districts - here is a list from the OC Register of the 2011 School District Rankings.

From growing up here I know that Troy HS (Fullerton) & University HS (Irvine) are top-ranked.

I would tend to think crunchier people would be found living in Orange, Tustin, Santa Ana, Fullerton & (maybe) Huntington Beach.

If I was married with kids and wanted to settle down in Orange County, I would probably live in Orange. There is a nice downtown area with non-chain cafes, restaurants, bars & shops (except for the Starbucks in the corner). The houses are older and tend to have more space (i.e. looking out your own window - you're not 3 feet from your neighbors windows). The newer houses in Orange County seem to be built very very close.

House prices near the Orange Circle/Old Towne Orange are higher because of the walking distance to the cafes, etc as well as the proximity to Chapman University. There aren't any grocery stores that are terribly close.

Public transportation in the form of buses, but what might take you 20 minutes driving can take up to 1.5 hours on the bus. There is also Metrolink but they operate out of a few cities and only hit slightly-major cities.

I would probably recommend your friends come on vacation for a week or two if possible and check out the area before considering buying or living here.
posted by wilde at 2:00 PM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

And yes, Ed Royce is awful, but if your friends move here they can be like me and vote against him.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:00 PM on April 12, 2011

My 60-something sister and her "Boston marriage" partner live in a nice tract house in Tustin, right next to Orange. Although I doubt that they are blatantly OUT, they seem to be happy and do not get hassled.

All of those towns sort of blend together and one is hard pressed to tell if on is in Orange or Tustin or Anaheim or Garden Grove.
posted by Danf at 2:01 PM on April 12, 2011

Response by poster: @Wilde, are their neighborhoods that are both close to downtown walkable stuff and walkable to Chapman?
posted by k8t at 2:02 PM on April 12, 2011

@k8t Here is a map of the "Circle." the cafes, etc are all around the circle and down the little streets off of it.

Chapman University is only two blocks up from it. Very walkable.

I would say any neighborhood from the surrounding 5-6 (large) square blocks are walkable.
posted by wilde at 2:06 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hi, I've lived in Huntington Beach, Irvine, and Costa Mesa.

I just got off the phone with my mom. She's a realtor/mortgage broker and helped me find my current place.

When asked about good neighborhoods with low crime she came up immediately with Irvine and Newport Beach.

Irvine condos will range from 400k to 600k
Irvine houses will be 600k to 800k

Newport Beach will range from 800k to 2.2 m

Both those are around the most expensive neighborhoods to live in. There's lots of housing diversity in OC. For example, Santa Ana can hit around 200k. Laguna Beach/Hills around 500k.

Orange County is conservative, but not too nutty conservative. When looking at vote breakdowns, you'll find that Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills has a strong left streak. I'm a Cal grad and proudly fly the blue and gold and yet to have been treated differently because of it.

Walkability is impossible. Yes, there are a few interesting pedestrian zones like Anaheim Disneyland, Chapman Uni, and South Coast Plaza, but I have yet to meet someone that can walk to work everyday for example.

Buses are doable, though you should reserve at least an hour to commute to work, even if it's a couple of cities over. Luckily, the buses and Metrolink are pretty bike friendly, and I've had a co-worker do it for a reasonable commute.
posted by FJT at 2:24 PM on April 12, 2011

So...I was born and raised in Santa Ana, CA. I went to Yorba Middle School and graduated from Orange High School in '02 (both schools are in Orange). Also, Orange High has a 3 acre farm, with steers, ewes, mini horses, pigs, ducks, and I believe Llamas. If I missed the bus, I would walk through the circle on my way home from school. It has a small town feel. People are friendly. Every labor day weekend, there is the International Street Fair in the circle.
posted by zombiehoohaa at 2:43 PM on April 12, 2011

Also, I've learned if you go more south county i.e. Irvine, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, etc., people tend to be more snobby (just my experience).
posted by zombiehoohaa at 2:47 PM on April 12, 2011

You may also eventually feel a little weird if you don't drive either an SUV or a BMW or a Prius. This isn't unique to Orange or Orange County. I don't know if that's what you mean by snobby.

On the other hand, Orange is fairly close to Westminster and Garden Grove, two places full of great Asian culture and food.
posted by jabberjaw at 3:06 PM on April 12, 2011

It's a mix of old-conservatives, caustic new-age liberals (and I'm a liberal myself... just not as militant as the crowd I've encountered), apathetic college students, and snobby yuppies, IMO. I went to one of the Universities mentioned above and as a recent grad I can tell you that it's a mishmoshed place. Expensive, a little crowded, occasionally has opportunities for the upwardly mobile, but damn it all, if Disneyland doesn't make it worth it, I don't know what would.

Additionally for the crunchy crowd: Veggie Grill and Native Foods. Check 'em out for delicious organic goodness.
posted by patronuscharms at 3:22 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mother's Market & Kitchen, ftw.
posted by FJT at 3:46 PM on April 12, 2011

Snobby it may be, but diverse in ways you might not expect: some 40,000 Iranians live in the OC. Here's the City of Orange official pdf 'o info.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:01 PM on April 12, 2011

I'd expect a crunchy person to live in Fullerton more than Orange, myself, but I lived in Huntington Beach and Long Beach and hung out in Westminster, while working in Anaheim, so I'm biased. Stay out of all of those places I was in, by the way. And Newport Beach is for upper middle-class people, even by LA standards. I absolutely believe that $2.2 million figure.

In my experience, you drive to the walkable places, unless (maybe) you live in Burbank or something. Even then you'll still drive to walkable places, plus walk to your one local place. And public transportation in Orange County is not nearly as comprehensive as in LA County.
posted by SMPA at 4:06 PM on April 12, 2011

A major shift in demographics is going on in California, including Orange County. In summary, "The county lost about 15 percent of its white population (about 226,000 people) but gained nearly 80 percent more Hispanics (nearly 450,000 people) and more than 120 percent more Asians (more than 290,000 people) since 1990, according to the [2010] census." This is out of a total population of a little more than 3 million people. Obviously, figures for the whole county paint in broad strokes, as cities and towns will differ among themselves.
posted by exphysicist345 at 4:15 PM on April 12, 2011

Exene Cervenka lives in Orange (or Anaheim?) so it can't be that bad...
posted by chez shoes at 4:16 PM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are some good values in homes in the border area of Santa Ana and Costa Mesa near Southcoast Plaza, or at least, there were when I last checked.

Orange County is pretty conservative, but they're pretty easy to get on with for the most part. Orange itself is pretty hospitable and has a number of decent non-chain places to get coffee and food. The area around the town square (often referred to as the "circle") is pretty walkable and fun, with a good blend of various bars from the quasi-upscale to downright dives within a five block radius.

Public transit in the OC really sucks. You really need to have wheels to escape chain-establishment hell or get anywhere in a reasonably timely way.
posted by Hylas at 4:39 PM on April 12, 2011

I grew up in the "old town area" of Orange and like zombiehooha went to Yorba and Orange High. I lived right across the street from what was then known as Chapman College (and oh man, all those cute little houses across the street are gone!). Ahem. The circle area is charming and has a definite old town feel. From what I gather it has even more to offer now. The library looks awesome and about 5 times as large as it was.

As for crunchy - it was fairly so back when I lived there. We had a large vegetable garden, fruit trees and chickens, so did lots of our neighbours. People were into preserving the heritage of the area. I was not into politics at the time and haven't lived there in a long time, so I can't help with that.

There's not much to call me back to SoCal, but if I had to go, Orange would be at or near the top of my list to check into.
posted by deborah at 5:09 PM on April 12, 2011

If I had to live in Orange County, I would for sure live in Orange above any other city.
posted by troublesome at 8:26 PM on April 12, 2011

I haven't read the comments yet, but I lived in Orange County for like 15 years. I just recently moved away.

The "crunchier" places are harder to find, but they are there. Orange is one of the nicer cities; specifically Old Town Orange, which has lots of antique shops, restaurants, and parks.

I would highly recommend Costa Mesa as well. It's a nice, easy bike ride to the beach and there is a Henry's and Mother's there (two healthier/organic grocery stores). When I lived in Costa Mesa, I was able to walk or bike to work, the library, grocery store, several non-chain coffee shops, and a few good restaurants.

Overall, Orange County is conservative, but again, there are pockets of places that are slightly more liberal, focused on health, etc.

Oh, and I don't miss much from Orange County, but Rutabagorz is one thing I still crave from time to time (It's in Orange). That, and Gypsy Den (in Costa Mesa).
posted by too bad you're not me at 8:39 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Crunchy people live in Orange, Anaheim and Buena Park

You're kidding me? Buena Park?

/escaped from Cypress years ago
posted by benito.strauss at 12:23 PM on April 20, 2011

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