It’s easy to associate Orange County with beautiful beaches, palm trees, and 75-degree weather. It’s harder to imagine it as home to a historical neighborhood filled with shops, restaurants, and cars that channel the 1950s. But that’s exactly what you’ll find in the city of Orange’s downtown district, dubbed Old Towne and called “the Circle” by locals. Here you’ll see mom-and-pop antiques shops instead of Gucci or Prada, and vintage Fords rather than glitzy convertibles being driven down the streets. Well, most of the time, anyway.— Brittany Edwards
Although Watson’s (714-532-6315) diner and drugstore opened in 1899, it looks more mid-twentieth-century with its red vinyl chairs, jukebox, and full-service soda fountain popular for its milkshakes and malts. Don’t expect any tofu on this menu — American food is the specialty. For some of the best desserts in town, visit PJ’s Abbey (714-771-8556), an old Victorian church turned restaurant. Although the lunch and dinner menus draw a crowd, owner Peggy Mead’s daily homemade berry cobbler and double-chocolate cake are the real pleasers.
In addition to the dozens of antiques shops lining the streets, Mr. C’s Rare Records (714-532-3835) is a can’t-miss. Since the store’s opening in 1977, the million-plus vinyl record selection — including LPs and 45 rpm singles — has attracted everyone from locals to international singing sensations Mel Carter and Gogi Grant. Men will fancy C.W. Moss (714-639-3083), a 12,000-square-foot, garage-style automobile shop. Inside, more than 10,000 Ford car parts from 1928 to 1972 are for sale, as well as a handful of restored vintage vehicles.
Although Chapman University is just down the street, it’s easier to find a cool coffee or tea shop than a bar if you’re in the mood to grab a drink. The Ugly Mug (714-997-5610) is a local favorite for its best-selling ice-blended mocha as well as its live music, poetry, and open-mike nights each week. For teatime, visit the purple-painted Victorian Manor (714-771-4044), which offers more than 30 varieties in its rooms reminiscent of the frilly nineteenth-century era.
Every Labor Day weekend, more than 400,000 visitors turn out for the nonprofit Orange International Street Fair (714-532-6260). From bratwurst to burritos, a variety of ethnic foods and drinks are available up and down the streets, where you’ll also find handmade crafts, dancing, and even yodeling.