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Orange County Favorites

While being back in Orange County, I became inspired to share my favorites of the county. Allow me to begin with my favorite streets and roads of the county, and then to some freeways.

Favorite Roads

There are so many interesting roads in Orange County. It is hard to decide which ones are better than the other, but all the ones that I enjoy will be on the list. More will probably be added in the future.
  1. Edinger Ave. - Irvine Center Dr. - Moulton Pkwy - St. of the Golden Lantern. This road goes from my hometown of Huntington Beach all the way to Dana Point. This continuous road passes through the cities of Huntington Beach, Westminster, Fountain Valley, Santa Ana, Tustin, Irvine, the newly formed city of Laguna Woods, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, before finally ending at Dana Point Harbor. It cuts through the heart of western, central, and southern Orange County. As Edinger Ave., it passes through the older suburbs of western and central Orange County, with the gridiron street design very evident of communities of the 50's and 60's. In Tustin it used to be called Moulton Parkway but was changed back to Edinger to make it congruent with the Santa Ana street. Also in Tustin, it borders the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station, where those historic and enormous blimp hangers are located. It also is next to the Metrolink line, linking Orange County to the rest of Southern California.
    As the street enters Irvine, it becomes Irvine Center Drive. Cutting through the center of the master-planned city, the street offers a look at old houses, new houses, and fast-disappearing orange groves that still surround Irvine Valley College at Jeffrey. As it enters the commercial and industrial south Irvine, drivers can see the other face of the city. On its way, one can appreciate the new Irvine Spectrum, with its nice restaurants and 20-screen multiplex theater. After the 405 freeway, it passes by Wild Rivers and the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater. Then it enters the new city of Laguna Woods, formed in 1999. The road also undergoes another name change, becoming Moulton Pkwy (which I believe is named after a large ranch owner in south county).
    After going underneath the new San Joaquin Transportation Corridor, it enters Laguna Niguel. With its new housing developments, Laguna Niguel is one of the fastest growing cities in Orange County. After Crown Valley Pkwy, it becomes the Street of the Golden Lantern, before ending at Dana Point Harbor. Dana Point Harbor was where Richard Henry Dana once docked, but today it doesn't look like it did when he came visiting nearly two centuries earlier. Today it is a large and modern man-made harbor, completed using laser technology. This road offers a wide taste of the county, which is why it is among my favorite county roads.
  2. The big highways: Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1), Beach Blvd. (CA-39), and the old El Camino Real. These three highways are historic in their own right. PCH was one of the first state-funded highways in California, with plans to construct a coastal route through Orange County as early as 1913. Construction began on the "Oxnard - San Juan Capistrano Route" in 1920. As it passed through the sleepy beach towns of Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and Laguna Beach, the road brought more development with the transportation convenience of the automobile. The southern end of PCH was turned into a freeway with hopes of making all of CA-1 a freeway, a hope that was never realized (thank goodness: the proposed plan would have cut right through my house).
    Beach Blvd., or Highway 39 as some old-timers still call it, is a very colorful thoroughfare. Beginning at the beach, it travels through the older Orange County cities including Huntington Beach, Westminster, Garden Grove, Stanton, Anaheim, Buena Park, and La Habra. With among the highest volume of street traffic in Orange County, the boulevard was chosen to become one of Orange County's "smart streets." Using Measure M funds, Beach Blvd. was widened to 4 lanes per direction where it was possible and timed the street lights to make the flow of traffic easier. The Orange County Register has a feature on this road, which examines some of the businesses and people who live along this corridor.
    Although much of El Camino Real is no longer with us, Interstate 5 traverses much of the right of way for the oldest road in the county. In San Clemente, it would have been El Camino Real and in San Juan Capistrano, it would have been Camino Capistrano. From there on it closely follows the route of the Santa Ana Freeway. In Anaheim, it would have spurred off of I-5 onto Anaheim Blvd., which becomes Harbor Blvd., and then a left on Whittier Blvd. in La Habra. Although this was not the original El Camino Real, it was the "State Highway" that linked Los Angeles to San Diego. Improvements on the road began in 1912, and was later signed US-101, completing the link from San Francisco to San Diego.
  3. Chapman Ave. - Santiago Canyon Rd. - El Toro Rd. Also known as county route S18. I like roads that transcend through time, and this is definitely one of those roads. Starting in west Orange County as Chapman Ave., it cuts across the older suburbs of Garden Grove, Stanton, and Orange. In Garden Grove, one can really see the post-WWII housing boom that took place along Chapman. And in Orange, Chapman passes through the oldest roundabout in the county - the Orange Circle. From there it goes into the new development in the Orange Hills, where it becomes Santiago Canyon Rd.
    Winding through the Santiago Hills, the road passes though Irvine Lake, Silverado Canyon, and Modjeska Canyon before ending up in Lake Forest. The history along this road goes back to the rancho days, when miners would mine silver in Silverado Canyon. Modjeska Canyon also holds Madame Helena Modjeska's country cottage, where the famous singer and actress called home in the late 1800's. If you took Live Oak Canyon Rd. into Rancho Santa Margarita and Coto de Caza, you'd stumble upon a community vying to be the next city in Orange County. This new city would also include Ladera Heights, the first completely wired development with ethernet cables pre-wired in the dwellings, ready for 24-hour access to the Internet.
    As El Toro Rd., the road continues through the developments of Lake Forest, previously known as El Toro. Why the name change? I've heard that city founders felt that El Toro (translation: the bull) wasn't classy enough so Lake Forest was chosen instead. El Toro Rd. also cuts through Laguna Woods, with Leisure World on either side between Moulton Pkwy and I-5. From there it terminates at Laguna Canyon Rd., another interesting road. Connecting Laguna Beach to the older parts of the county, the corridor has resisted expansion into a freeway as well as development. Much of the land around Laguna Canyon Rd. (CA-133) is still empty space - wilderness - a wonderful sight in the ever-growing county.
  4. Katella Ave. - Villa Park Rd. - Santiago Canyon Rd. - Jamboree Rd. Actually starting out as Willow Rd. in Los Angeles County, Katella Ave. is the Orange County extension of that road. According to LA Times reporter David Haldane's series "Katella Chronicles," the name came from rancher John Rea's daughters, Kate and Ella. Only one mile north of Chapman Ave., Katella goes through much the same neighborhoods, with a couple of distinctions. Katella is the southern border for Disneyland, and it runs between Anaheim Stadium (aka Edison Field) and the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.
    After Orange, the road becomes Villa Park Rd. and soon gives weigh to the venerable Santiago Canyon Rd. It used to be that this part of Santiago Canyon Rd. was contiguous with the real one as mentioned above, but development in the Orange Hills area changed it in the early 1990's. Now, this semi-rural portion of Santiago Canyon Rd. becomes Jamboree Rd. at Irvine Park (established late 1800's, donated by James Irvine, Jr.). One interesting note to this section of the road: Loma St. crosses Santiago Canyon. Why is this interesting? Loma St. goes on to become Imperial Highway (CA-90), which runs all the way to LAX.
    Jamboree Rd. has an interesting story as well. The road was named after the Boy Scout Jamboree that took place in the Newport Beach "wilderness" sometime in the early 1950's. The section that immediately follows Santiago Canyon Rd. is a very new segment of Jamboree Rd., completed only in 1996 or 1997. It is smoothly paved and goes down the Orange Hill. On the left side, the new developments of Orange and Tustin Ranch have been sold and are home to new county residents. On the right, the Eastern Transportation Corridor on its way to connect to Jamboree further down the road. Along the way, you'll pass Portola Parkway. On every map you look at (as of July 1999), you won't find Portola intersecting Jamboree. You'll see little dots saying that it's "proposed." Surprise, the section of Portola has been completed, and it seems like it will become a divided road with 3 lanes each way. Someday, at least, because right now it's just a two lane road on one side of the divider.
    Moving on Jamboree, after you pass Interstate 5, Jamboree becomes a freeway of sorts. It's actually very slick: the extension of CA-261, a terminus of the Eastern Transportation Corridor. This segment is free, and it remains a freeway until Barranca Pkwy. Past the 405, you'll end up passing the 73 and the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve, both really beautiful sights. After going up some hills, you'll be next to Newport Center/Fashion Island, with its posh stores and cool outdoor fountains. Then Jamboree passes PCH and actually ends up on Balboa Island. From there you can take the historic and fun ferry to the Balboa Peninsula and go to the beach or check out the Pavilion.

Favorite Freeways

Although there are only a handful of freeways in Orange County, here is my list of favorite freeways and why.
  1. The San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405). I must admit, I am biased in choosing this one as my favorite just because it's the freeway I use most often. This freeway, completed in 1968, can take you to anywhere you want to be quickly. Or at least this used to be the case. The 405 is the widest freeway in Orange County, or at least from my experience, at the 55-split and John Wayne Airport. For that stretch of road, there are 15 or 16 lanes of traffic! Two of those lanes are carpool lanes. Another wide spot is the 405 between the 605 and 22 splits. That stretch of freeway handles roughly 300,000 vehicles per day, and is one of the busiest freeways in Southern California. And you gotta love the newly-completed El Toro "Y", with its efficient carpool and connector flyovers.
  2. The Garden Grove Freeway (CA-22). Even though this freeway is absolutely notorious for having horrible traffic jams, it is among the most interesting because there are only 6 lanes of traffic, 3 each way. There have been virtually no changes to the freeway since it was built in the late 1960's. Certainly the 6-lanes was fine serving a county population of 1.25 million, but it doesn't work for today's 3 million residents. Therefore, expansion is inevitable. The 22 is also one of the freeways in the new Orange Crush interchange, completed in 1996. Although greatly improved from its underpowered replacement, the interchange still suffers from the 6-laned 22 freeway. As Jennifer McKim reported in the July 27, 1999 OC Register, the merging traffic from the 57 and 5 freeways make it difficult to exit onto The City Drive (the exit to the Block at Orange). Clearly, improvements to the interchange and the freeway are forthcoming, but it's nice to see an original freeway. *Update* The OCTA is now working on expanding the 22. The environmental document is complete and construction should be underway in early 2004 (Caltrans District 12). The construction strategy will be interesting, since, like the widening of I-5, this widening will take place without closing the freeway.
  3. The Orange Freeway (CA-57). One of the newer "free-"ways in Orange County, it was completed in 1976. Its straight right of way and wide lanes make me fond of this freeway. It travels from the Orange Crush out to Pomona. The 91-57 interchange is still being worked on, but after that's finished I'm sure the 57 will be even nicer.
  4. The Santa Ana Freeway (I-5). The first freeway in Orange County, one might think this would appear higher up in my list. And it would be if it wasn't constantly being worked on. I very much enjoy everything south of the crush, especially the 5-55 interchange. But north of it, the 5 is one big construction lot. I do think the upgrade is necessary: the 6 lanes through Anaheim is not nearly sufficient for this great highway. I think once the construction is done, the Santa Ana Freeway will become a beautiful highway. Someday, hopefully soon. *Update* Now the upgrade is complete and the highway is much more efficient now. The construction project was an amazing feat because they basically constructed a new freeway while the freeway was still in use by 200,000+ vehicles a day. The interchanges are graceful and by looking at it now, you would never expect that this stretch of highway used to be only 6 lanes. All this built thanks to Measure M funds that generated enough funds for this massive undertaking. And I knew one of the traffic engineers who designed the widening of the I-5! Now if LA County would widen their side of the I-5...
  5. The Costa Mesa Freeway (CA-55). This freeway, it seems, is always clogged up. The traffic is terrible on this freeway; it normally starts a little south of the 405 and continues on until I don't know where. This old freeway is slated for expansion, and I believe it's being worked on right now. I generally try to avoid it as much as possible. One notable exception is the 55 south of the 405. This segment of the 55 is wonderful - new, smooth, and straight. But then it ends up on 17th St., which causes another backup during rush hour. Sigh.
  6. The Riverside/Artesia Freeway (CA-91). Gosh how I hate this freeway. This one is even worse than the 55. Try going east on this freeway during the end of the workday and you'll see that you're not "going" at all. It has been called the "Caltrans linear parking lot" because of the traffic jams going into Corona. It's a huge freeway east of the 55, so I'm a little puzzled why traffic is so bad; I guess it's just there's too many cars. Even with the expensive FasTrac lanes, the 91 is an unpleasant drive. I shouldn't be too harsh on this freeway though, since it is one of the more scenic freeways in Orange County. And its old interchanges are interesting. Still, I avoid this freeway like the plague because of its congestion. *Random Note* I was at a transportation conference in OC early 2003 and they were talking about a theoretical tunnel between the Inland Empire and OC. Whether or not this may be built within the next 20 years is arguable, but the area does need an alternative to the only freeway between the IE and OC. It will be interesting to see what OCTA and Caltrans Dist. 12 will do now that OCTA has purchased the FasTrak lanes and no longer has to be governed by the "non-competition" clause that forbade any capacity-increasing projects that may compete with the toll lanes.

This list doesn't include the Toll Roads and some smaller freeways (i.e. CA-90 and CA-133). Among the toll roads, I have only been on the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor, and that was during the "free-week" at its opening. I really enjoyed the view and the ride from this freeway, but a "free-"way it is not. I guess I find it somewhat foreign to pay for freeway travel. Perhaps we're just spoiled here on the West Coast; there are toll roads in the East, in Canada, and everywhere in (Western-) Europe (except some German-speaking countries). I want to use the Eastern and Foothill Transportation Corridors sometime, but I've never had the need to and am unwilling to pay the toll charges. Nevertheless, the 231, the 241, and the 261 look like marvelous highways.

Created by Kenneth Kao on Tuesday, July 27, 1998, Huntington Beach, CA 92649.