Some amazing things happen accidentally, like penicillin and cheese whiz, but Mission Viejo, California (‘Old Mission’ in Spanish) is not one of them. This Orange County city of 94,000 owes its masterful city planning and uniform Spanish architecture to their, er, city father --by which we mean developer--Donald Bren. Back in the historic old days of 1960, Bren decided to develop the “undevelopable” ranch land into a precisely and minutely planned community. Residents are consistently in a delirious haze of happiness so we’re taking that as a sizable indicator as to the quality of life here in the not-so-old Old Mission.
As is common in Southern California, the term “neighborhood” is used loosely and typically, it more accurately means “sub-division”. When sub-divisions get large enough they become communities and after they have at least four Jamba Juices, they incorporate into a city, so the entire area enjoys a pretty fluid identity between what is a neighborhood and what is an adjacent city. The historic districts in Mission Viejo sadly only imply that the houses may be as old as 1970. Development gets newer moving south and if you simply can’t bear the thought of a home built before last week, the adjacent city of Ladera Ranch is currently attempting to outdo Mission Viejo in the new-and-shiny category.
Though much of Mission Viejo consists of single-family homes, apartment complexes are widely available and largely concentrated along Marguerite Parkway that runs through the city. Typical of this region in California, most complexes are new, Spanish-styled and come with resort amenities like gyms, pools, tennis courts and clubhouses. One-bedrooms don’t seem to fall lower than $1200 and 2BR options will start around $1400 with 3BR around $2300 (at which point you may be better off renting a house instead).
Traffic in southern California has a mostly well-deserved reputation as a nightmare for commuters. Home choices are often based at least in part on their projected commute times, so if you know you’ll be commuting – as most people do here – you should definitely take that into account and maybe invest in some books on tape or language learning cds. Public transit is also a growing option as there is a commuter rail that runs from Mission Viejo into LA, Riverside, Oceanside and San Bernadino daily. Locally, Mission Viejo does a great job of providing walking and biking trails and is in some parts quite walkable. The Orange County Transportation Authority operates a limited bus line for the local area, as well.
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