Weekender a L’Orange

Orange County is in the national spotlight this week following a catastrophic oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach. The devastation will last years. Authorities are cautioning the public to stay away from the affected areas. Fortunately, Orange County has so much to offer that you’ll be able to entertain yourself thoroughly as those beaches and wildlands recover. 

Disneyland is the obvious centerpiece of any Orange County stay, but that’s not a very insightful tip, is it? It’s about as helpful as saying consider visiting the Grand Canyon the next time you’re in northern Arizona. 

Ideally, you want to enjoy the Happiest Place on Earth without having to take anti-anxiety meds. That means a pleasant journey to and from the park, and making the most of your experience within it. You certainly don’t want to be at the wheel before the edibles wear off. Just kidding, I’m sure nobody does that. So, to maximize your visit, it’s best to minimize your travel time. With that in mind, let me recommend a hotel that provides proximity and affordability. 

The Happiest Lobby on Earth, Hotel Lulu (photo by Scott Bridges)

Face it, if you’re planning a trip to Disneyland, you’re probably not going to be taking full advantage of whatever amenities your hotel is offering. In other words, you’re paying for something you’re not really going to use. Considering that within a stone’s throw is every possible amenity you could wish for, the Hotel Lulu provides everything you need to create a memorable trip to the magical kingdom. 

Located roughly a block or so away from the park entrance, views from atop the eight-story hotel provide glimpses of familiar features and mouse-land monuments. It’s hard to get this close to anything worth visiting and not break the bank on a stay. The decor is retro Disney-themed and maintains such a mid-century feel that it almost feels like the park itself is still in its youth — less Hollywood, less branded, more utopic. 

Here you’ll find a lot of young people from around the world. Lightweight backpacks are the gear of choice. You’ll also find parents with toddler-aged kids, lightweight strollers being their gear of choice. And at the end of the day, when everyone rolls back in, loaded with balloons, stuffed animals and various other forms of merchandise, it’s time for a cold beer poolside. Fire rings are lit as favorite moments of the day are happily recounted, and strategies for mapping out the next morning’s adventures are shared.

There actually are other happy places in Orange County, and a 10-minute trip south (or 45 minutes during rush hour) will confirm this. The Irvine Spectrum is a vibrant retail oasis in the heart of suburbia. It’s also a family-friendly night on the town. Kids will love the Ferris wheel, and the little ones will enjoy the photo lawn, where a big-screen displays photos of the action every 10 seconds or so. Meanwhile, parents sit in lawn chairs sipping wine and discussing sleep strategies. 

Shaky Shaky Beef at Little Sister (photo by Scott Bridges)

The dining options are first-rate and include Cucina Enoteca, Wood Ranch BBQ, Silverlake Ramen, Del Frisco’s Grille and Javier’s, to name a few. And then there’s my personal favorite, and I almost want to keep it to myself, it’s so good, and that’s Little Sister. There’s now a handful of locations spread through L.A. and Orange, and so I guess the secret’s already out, even among the Oranginos (which, I believe they prefer to be called). (Note to self, don’t forget to check that before hitting send.)  

Chef Tin Vuong describes it as East meets West. From the restaurant’s website, the menu “showcases Chef Tin’s take on one of the more interesting and rich collisions of food and culture that was borne out of the European colonization of Southeast Asia.” I’m gonna let them do a little more work for me: “Dishes blend and balance the spices and flavors of Southeast Asia with French techniques and Dutch and British colonial influences.” Thanks, marketer. 

Anyway, the cocktails are pretty amazing, too. The space is pretty spectacular — inside and out — and can almost make you forget you’re in a mall surrounded by a sea of parking spaces. But a second cocktail, and you’ll definitely forget. 

The next morning, after you’ve had enough cocktails that you forgot how many cocktails you had, you’re going to want some good coffee and a proper breakfast. You might even consider getting back into traffic to head back up to Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Melrose or wherever your local Urth Caffe is. You needn’t. There’s a satellite location in the cultural epicenter of Orange County, Laguna Beach. 

After a flaky pastry, an egg-and-avocado sandwich or hearty breakfast burrito, pour your coffee into a to-go cup and walk down Cliff Drive, where you’ll enjoy beautiful vistas of turquoise waters, stroll through emerald lawns and discover radiant flora. (Editor’s note: the writer clearly seems to be auditioning for a marketing position.) There’s also a lawn bowling field, a true hallmark of a civilized people. 

How are those stands empty?! (Photo by Scott Bridges)

As I write this, the county-operated beaches in Laguna have just been reopened (only the sand; not the shoreline or the water). In addition, the spill apparently is not nearly as large as initially feared (but still really, really bad). Here’s hoping it’s cleaned up soon and never happens again. Stay safe, Orange. 

Weekender a L’Orange

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