The good part about being an editor is that you typically see lots of the country, as you move from newspaper to newspaper. That’s also kind of the bad part, too.
But not this week. And especially for those heading to Southern California to see Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
When I was the editor of the Orange County Register, I not only lived in Anaheim, my home was literally within walking distance of the Honda Center (where the Zags will be playing), Angel Stadium (where the best player in baseball plays) and Disneyland (where I played).
So, I thought I’d put together a little primer to Orange County, along with a couple of handy guides to make sure you see the coolest stuff on your quick California adventure.
First off is what to call this area, most commonly referred to as “Orange County.” There are 34 cities in Orange County, but generally, most who live there will identify the region more by the county name than by one of its cities’ names.
Interstate 5 goes through Orange County. No one will call it that. Everyone will call it “the five.”
People who live there will typically add “the” to most highway names. The five. The 405. The 605. I used to live on “the Katella” which is the same street where you’ll also find the Honda Center. OK, no one there actually called the road I lived on “the Katella,” but it always made me giggle to say that.
For the most part, any road with a 5 in its name in this area is going to be loaded up with vehicles.
Also, there is a very important exception to the “the” rule – don’t call Orange County “The O.C.” They hate it. And not just because the show was awful.
A whole lot of people live in Orange County – about 3.2 million. For a little perspective, King County here in Washington has 2.2 million residents. Orange County has more people than 21 different states.
Here’s another important note: There is real traffic in Orange County. Not the kind of traffic we see on Interstate 90 here in Spokane at 5 p.m. on workdays, or as the folks in Southern California would call it, “The 90.”
In fact, the traffic is so bad there that when someone explains how far away something is, they typically will not explain it in miles – they’ll do it in minutes. You will be told how many minutes it will likely take to get some place. And it’s not good that they use “minutes.”
But if for some reason, someone does tell you an actual distance, minutes almost certainly will be added to the end.
It will sound a little like this: “Oh you want to go to Disneyland? That’s about 4 miles from here and should take you about 25 or 30 minutes right now.”
That “right now” is important. Traffic changes in Orange County. And not just based on normal workday schedules.
Before you get to Orange County, do yourself a favor and download a crowd-sourced GPS app called Waze. It will calculate which route – even one that seemingly covers many more miles – will get you to where you want to go in the fewest minutes. Follow its advice.
From lots of life experience, I can tell you that ignoring even the craziest Waze route suggestion only ends badly.
You might be tempted to go to Los Angeles. The map says it’s only 30 miles to Hollywood. That doesn’t mean 30 minutes. Check out Waze. It’s closer to a two-hour drive than a one-hour drive, if not substantially more.
Another thing to note is that parking is expensive in Orange County. If you’ve ever once complained about how much it costs to park in downtown Spokane, you are about to have a coronary. The parking garage at Disneyland will cost at least $25, with parking at the Honda Center being the same.
If it makes you feel any better, that’s downright cheap compared to stadium parking at Los Angeles Rams football games, which is $200. Totally true. You can look it up.
So, why is it called Orange County? Has to be because of the oranges, right?
Well, that was the hope, but certainly not the case when the county was named. The area was agriculturally rich in the 1880s, only not with citrus. Grapes. Lima beans. Pigs. Those were what you found on the area’s farms.
Let’s be honest, Hog County wasn’t going to work.
To help promote the area, locals decided on “Orange County,” and by 1889, it was official. A decade later, oranges were the area’s prime crop. There were so many orange groves, the sweet smell filled the air on many days. Even the land where Disneyland now sits was once famously an orange grove.
Back in this era, the California Fruit Growers Exchange did a lot to not only promote its fruit, but the region. In the 1950s, the cooperative renamed itself something a little catchier to help … Sunkist.
And Sunkist is actually going to play a role in my recommendations for what to do on your visit to this area for Gonzaga games. Just not as orange groves.
Like the area where Mickey now rules his kingdom, the rural nature of Orange County is mostly gone – with those fragrant groves being nothing but memories.
That doesn’t mean you’re going to be bored there. Hardly.
I can’t emphasize this enough: Do not stay in your hotel room waiting for the Zags tip-off.
Orange County has some of the most-famous – and visited – theme parks on the planet. Of course, you should explore them, and I’ll even tell you how to do it in just one day. But it also has 40 miles of coastline, including some of the most famous, and scenic, beaches in the world.
There’s a reason why Huntington Beach is called “Surf City, USA.”
Then there’s the shopping. Your jaw will drop when you see South Coast Plaza or Fashion Island.
This also will be your place to get your fill of great Mexican food. More importantly for some, it’s the home of In-N-Out Burger. We all know our social-media feeds are about to be flooded with pictures by friends of hamburgers from you-know-where.
Orange County also is the home of Little Saigon, with the area having the largest population of Vietnamese people anywhere in the world outside of Vietnam. If you are craving incredible pho or delicious spring rolls, now is your chance to get the best in the country. Maybe in the world.
Outside of In-N-Out Burger, promise me you are not going to eat at a single chain restaurants while you’re there.