FOOTNOTES January 2001
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2001 Annual Meeting

What to See in Orange County, California

Robert D. Herman, Pomona College (Emeritus) You’ll approach the Anaheim/Orange County Convention Center, to arrive at the ASA Annual Meeting, by one or more busy freeways, three of which converge in a huge tangle close to the meetings. Radio traffic reporters call it the Orange Crush, or simply The Crush. The term is a sign and a symbol of the most visible property of this region, the full flowering of the car culture and the resulting urban sprawl. Other cities may be marked by the same curse, but Anaheim represents an extreme case.

So after listening to papers, schmoozing with colleagues, eyeing books, and trolling for party invitations, any effort to break away and explore the larger world will require a car unless you’re prepared to take long hikes. The Convention Center is isolated, surrounded by fortresses of parking structures and monstrous hotels. Public transportation is sparse, inflexible, and not well suited to the needs of conventioneers.

Nevertheless, if you can rent or borrow a car, herewith are some suggestions for getting away. The first may be a surprise.

If you want an immediate grasp of the culture and political landscape surrounding Anaheim, simply drive 12 miles to 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd., the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Birthplace. No, really! As a California teenager might say, “It is so Orange County!”

The Nixon Library is declaratively Republican, of course, and it combines fantasy, nimble reconstructions of history, and shameless hero worship. The museum displays the expected posters, pictures, and videos, and it also contains a large room populated with ten life-sized bronze statues in small conversational groups, figures of world leaders who were active during Nixon’s presidency. It’s pure kitsch, but I sheepishly confess it’s my favorite exhibit. The small house in which Nixon was born stands across a pretty garden and can be admired inside and out by sociologists so inclined.

If you do visit the Nixon Library, you’ll return home with memories you won’t forget—which is more than you can expect from, say, Disneyland, which you’ve probably already seen, either here or in Orlando.

Disneyland, which now has an offspring, Disney’s California Adventure, is located just across the street from the Convention Center, and is the one destination you can reach by walking. Going there costs a pretty penny, but even dismissive adults may have to struggle to resist a look. However, if you’re determined to visit a big commercial theme park, consider the much older one just 7 miles away in Buena Park, Knott’s Berry Farm, 8039 Beach Blvd. Unabashedly faux Western, Knott’s has grown over the years to become an enthusiastic competitor of Disneyland—but with better food. Sadly, perhaps, it is now a far cry from its origins as a berry farm with a few homey rides and a fried chicken restaurant.

If nothing else, these theme parks and the Nixon Library know how to convert history and abstract sentiments into commodities for easy consumption by the multitude—the McDonaldization process. Is anything safe from this mechanism? Consider Orange County’s most celebrated religious institution, the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. Looming just west of the I-5 freeway on Chapman Ave., 2.5 miles southwest of the meetings, you’ll recognize it if you’ve ever caught Robert Schuller’s enormously popular television program, Hour of Power. Designed by Philip Johnson, the building seats 3000 people in an astonishing, all-glass church/showplace. It is a truly spectacular architectural landmark. Don’t dismiss it until you’ve been in the place. Guided tours are offered, so you can learn more about the charismatic pastor who first made his name by preaching to radio audiences sitting in their cars in the church’s huge parking lot. His message is well known: “possibility living,” and “self-realization,” grandly articulated in the “first language” of individualism. Take the 45-minute tour!

Speaking of religious architecture, you’ll recall the famous chain of 21 Spanish missions founded in the 18th century by Franciscan Padres. Mission San Juan Capistrano (Junipero Serra; 1776) is arguably the most beautiful and evocative of the group. It requires a 30 mile trip down the I-5, but you’ll probably be driving against the heaviest traffic and should be able to make good time (Californians habitually make these time/distance calculations). Be aware: the telling of mission history is thoroughly sanitized and romanticized; you won’t find references to the bitter story of Native American lives lost to harsh treatment, diet changes, and disease. You’ll see the cross, not the sword. Note: not many swallows come back to Capistrano these days; the urban transformation of farms and orchards has taken a toll of their habitat.

The Bowers Museum. Located in Santa Ana at 20th & Main Sts., 4 miles from the Convention Center, this is Orange County’s largest museum. Its goal to “promote human understanding through art” is supported by strong collections of African, Native American, Oceanic, and California Plein Air paintings. The Kidseum, a children’s museum, is a true gem! (714) 567-3600.

University of California, Irvine. This is an attractive campus lying just east of Newport Beach, about 16 miles south of Anaheim. Founded in 1965, UCI stands on a rise overlooking Upper Newport Bay and the San Joaquin Marsh Preserve. The campus occupies a tiny fraction of land once owned by the Irvine Ranch. UCI is one of southern California’s centers for high tech enterprises.

Shopping. Two of the more popular regional shopping malls are just 8 and 10 miles south of Anaheim. The closer is South Coast Plaza, just north of the 405 freeway on Bristol Street. It’s the larger, more conventional, enclosed mall everyone is used to. Fashion Island, in Newport Beach, near Jamboree Road and Highway 1, is an open-air mall perched on top of a mesa overlooking Newport Bay and the Pacific Ocean. It’s comfortable, breezy, and bright.

Antique enthusiasts should head for a relatively traditional, small town main street. “Old Towne” in the City of Orange (4 miles east of the Convention Center, at Chapman Avenue and Glassel Street) has an agreeable antique row that continues both north and south of a small circular plaza.

Ethnic Shopping Districts. Orange County is home to large numbers of Latinos, concentrated especially in Santa Ana and Anaheim. There are two prominent Asian communities centered on shopping streets: Little Saigon, in Westminster, and Little India, in Artesia (4 miles beyond the Los Angeles County border). The shops of Little Saigon lie along Bolsa Ave. between Brookhurst and Magnolia Sts., just 7 miles southwest of the Anaheim Convention Center. Little India is 13 miles northwest of the Convention Center, on Pioneer Blvd, just a few blocks south of the 91 freeway.

Orange County Beaches. August weather is usually temperate in the Anaheim area, and technological advances in modern cars have greatly diminished the oppressive smog of 20 years ago. Still, for even cooler and cleaner air, you may be drawn to Orange County’s beautiful coastline and its beaches. The towns, though quite different from each other, are crowded, lively, and pleasant, except for heavy traffic on the main roads.

Swimming, sunbathing, beach sports, strolling, and people watching are yours for the asking. But be careful of the sun, even on overcast days!

You could drive 12 miles south and west from Anaheim to Huntington Beach (10 miles of sand, great surfing, easy parking) or go straight south to Balboa, another long, sandy stretch. (Don’t body surf here—underwater sandbars!) Balboa is a peninsula shielding Newport Beach, which has a large yacht harbor and collections of beautiful homes.

Alternatively, you could drive 20 miles from Anaheim to an art colony, Laguna Beach, and roam through charming streets with splendid opportunities for upscale shopping. Then you can meander along the boardwalk overlooking Main Beach. Laguna’s shoreline is a long series of short beaches, scenic coves, and tide pools. The town is as close to an Italian or French Riviera as we come in southern California.

Another choice would be to go 30 miles from Anaheim down Interstate 5 to Dana Point and its large boat marina.

A Bit of Nature. Also on the coast (Californians don’t say “the shore”), next to Huntington Beach, is the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve—worth a visit from people concerned about the recovery and preservation of natural wetlands. The Reserve has an interpretive center and a 1.5 mile, self-guided tour loop for viewing wildlife, especially birds—California Least Terns, Snowy Plovers, Belding’s Savannah Sparrows, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, White and Brown Pelicans, and others.

Professional Baseball. The Anaheim Angels (formerly, California Angels) will be at home, entertaining the Boston Red Sox at Edison Field (formerly Anaheim Stadium) on August 20 and 21, the final two days of our meeting, The ballpark is 2 miles directly east of the Convention Center.

So, Orange County has distractions and destinations aplenty. While you’re in the neighborhood, how could you not partake?

Robert D. Herman is emeritus Professor of Sociology, Pomona College, Claremont, CA (in Los Angeles County). He is the author of Downtown Los Angeles.