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 and did it so well that it is now home to a large portion of Southern California’s wealthy yuppie families and some seriously sought-after real estate. Though Mission Viejo is a bedroom community in the extreme, the schools are amazing, the jogging trails filled with mommies, and the crime rate virtually zero. It’s no secret that you’ll need deep pockets to live here, but 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, but if you have fond memories of the free-love decade, look to the areas closer to Interstate 5. Development gets newer moving south towards Saddleback College 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.
Honestly speaking, a large portion of the population in Mission Viejo is comprised of families with school-age children looking for a picturesque suburban California lifestyle in a 4- 5-bedroom red-tiled mansion. If you fall under this category, it will be important to note that most of Mission Viejo is divided between the Capistrano and Saddleback unified school districts, both of which enjoy excellent reputations. Rest assured that your little darlings will be filling their brains with knowledge in no time, no matter where your mansion may be located. The most popular and family-oriented subdivisions of Stoneridge, Painted Trails, Canyon Crest and Quail Run all offer comparable levels of gated, single-family home living with clubhouses, pools, tennis courts, gyms and the ubiquitous jogging trails. Stoneridge can offer views of LA from its location on the hill, Painted Trails is on the north end overlooking the Oso Resevoir, Canyon Crest abuts the members-only Lake Mission Viejo and a house in Quail Run will most likely come with a canyon view. The adjacent city of Ladera Ranch is also a popular option for even newer homes. Generally speaking, renting a home in these areas will start at $2,000 for a 4BR and easily range up to $5,000 depending on the level of luxury desired, but be prepared for your house to look exactly the same as your neighbor’s. The areas of Califa and Pacific Hills will offer the highest price tags and most outrageous luxury – including things like neighborhood ballrooms. You know, for all your gala-hosting needs.
Though much of Mission Viejo consists of single family homes, apartment complexes for idealistic young professionals 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. Like the rest of Mission Viejo, they are far from cheap. 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). It must be said that there really isn’t much in the way of nightlife for young professionals in Mission Viejo unless you count the library (some do), so if your sparkling social life is second only to your brand new grown-up job, you may find yourself making the drive into LA more often than you’d like.
The other large population in Mission Viejo besides families is college students. Saddleback College is located in the south end of town near the border with Ladera Ranch and enrolls about 40,000 students from the surrounding areas annually. Now, everyone knows that California has never been incredibly budget friendly, and Mission Viejo is not even close to an exception, especially for struggling young college students. It so happens that the areas directly around the college are the most recently developed and thusly the most expensive, so if you’re striking out on your own but want to be near campus, your best bet is going to be an apartment complex with lots of roommates to split the rent. A good rule of thumb is to look for the oldest buildings near the interstate as their rents will be cheaper than brand new, quieter developments, but you should expect to pay no less than $1000 for a teeny 1BR, $1400 for 2BR or $1600 for 3BR. Think of it as the school of hard financial knocks.
Traffic in southern California has a terrible and mostly well-deserved reputation as a total nightmare for commuters. The area is still dominated by individual car transport and highway congestion can send the blood pressure soaring for any but the most masochistic of drivers, especially if taking Interstate 5 into LA regularly. 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.
All in all, Mission Viejo may not be the most affordable or thrilling locale available, but it is certainly organized, well-planned, luxurious, and safe. It’s actually won awards for how safe it is, a contest in which it reputedly only lost points for an incident involving a spray-painted cat and some bored, angsty teenagers. Sure, there’s no symphony, or ballet or art galleries or independent film houses, and rents are high, but for many, the lifestyle that it offers and proximity to LA translates into a worthwhile investment. Break out your checkbook, people, because your neighborhood ballroom is waiting!
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