Getting Around Town.
People who have the pleasure of owning their own vehicle also get the added perks of parking tickets, roving packs of hungry tow trucks, and that delightful madness derived from daily battles along the "Orange Crush", a junction of the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5), the Orange Freeway (SR-57), and the Garden Grove Freeway (SR-22.) People who have the pleasure of owning their own bicycle get to enjoy slow, scenic rides along woodsy trails and wide bike lanes. Public transportation isn't bad either, with plenty of bus routes running around town, and the Metrolink, which has tracks running all along the California coast. And, of course, you can always bum a ride for more remote activities, such as snowboarding or hiking through the hundreds of miles of mountain wilderness nearby.
The Bad Side of Town.
There is no neighborhood in the city of Orange so dangerous or dilapidated to be considered the "bad side of town.” However, over the last 10 years, neighborhoods on the borders of Anaheim and Santa Ana have begun to experience some burglaries and vandalism. There are also a few blocks just west of Tustin St., which runs vertically through the city center, where graffiti, drunken college kids, and gangster wannabes make the area feel a little grungy. However, there are plenty of safe apartments located within a few blocks, and you can always spring for the complexes with higher rent and higher gates to ward off drunks and thieves.
Raising the kids in an apartment complex can be tough. With the endless energy and noise that comes with each bundle of joy, it might be a good idea to look into a neighborhood with plenty of safe, fun activities going on outside of the apartment complex. For example, Irvine Park has pony rides and paddle boat rentals. The Discovery Science Center is an amazingly entertaining way for kids to learn, complete with its own 4D Theater, rocket launch pad, earthquake simulator, wind tunnel, and Dinosaur park. Plus, there are plenty of hiking trails and lush, green parks for a more laid back atmosphere. It's all fun, and costs run from free to fairly cheap. Plus, it is so worth the effort to come home to a quiet apartment and grateful, friendly downstairs neighbors.
Neighborhoods in Orange
City Center. At the center of the city is the charmingly quaint Plaza Square Park, encircled by a roundabout, which is surrounded by upscale eats, antiquing stops, bicycle shops, art galleries, and clubs for live music, dancing, beer, and cocktails. It's a vintage-hip, walkable neighborhood with lots of unique apartments, duplexes, and granny-flats surrounded by that old town vibe you can only get from the city's original 1920's architectural styles. Plus, the University of San Francisco and Chapman University are just a hop and a skip away. $$ - $$$$$
Orange Park Acres. Who can afford to charter a yacht these days? Well, in this neighborhood, residents just venture over to Irvine Park to rent ridiculously imaginative versions of paddle boats, cruisers, tandem bicycles, and choppers. Plus, there are train rides, pony rides, a zoo, and plenty of nice picnic spots for fun-spirited family outings. If you are looking to escape the family, then get lost in the miles of rugged territory at Beek's Place, a popular spot for dirt bikers, mountain bikers, hikers, and explorers. $ - $$$$$
El Modina. Follow that fedora-wearing, satchel-toting, bicycle-riding college student to find this neighborhood. It is situated perfectly for students, with downtown, the University of San Francisco, Chapman University, and Santiago Canyon College all less than three miles away. There is plenty of open green space, some hiking trails, and all the fun activities of living near downtown. $$$
Orange Foothills. A quiet family paradise on the hill, this neighborhood is full of breathtaking views, beautiful apartment complexes, and great schools. $$$$
The Block. This neighborhood is located right on the river. It sports a spectacular golf course, the most technologically advanced skate park in the world, and is close enough to Disneyland for you to hear the fireworks every night. $$
Olive. Another neighborhood on the river, these residents enjoy a long riverside hiking trail, plenty of great little shops for tacos and sandwiches, and quick access to highways 91, 57 and 55. $$$
Santiago Triangle. Located in the triangular borders of Santiago Park, I5 and Highway 22, this neighborhood is full of upscale urban lofts and luxury apartments located next door to the huge Main Place Shopping Center. Here, you can get your fix of coffee, cigars, sushi, Thai food, cheesecake, art, fashion shows, live music, stand-up comedy, and maybe some pet fish, or a parrot. Plus, the University of San Francisco, Chapman University, and the Discovery Science Center are all within an easy bike ride. $$$$$
See the Original Orange
Newcomers, history-lovers, and nostalgic cocktail drinkers are all drawn to the center of town, where you can stand in the original one-square-mile town site and see some of the city's original homes and buildings. It's a uniquely Orange experience and a great way to begin your new life in an Orange rental.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FROM RENT ADVISOR:
Orange is a city located in north-central Orange County, sandwiched between Santa Ana and Anaheim, the two largest (population-wise) cities in the county. In contrast to most other locales in OC which have either created infrastucture to entice and support large technical businesses (Irvine, Mission Viejo, most of South County) or have exploded in masses of blue-collar labor (Anaheim, Santa Ana, Garden Grove), Orange posits itself as a third option: an area kept within a time capsule, a bedroom community from the 1940's surrounded by all of the modern amenities that the Southern California life provides. Most of this "frozen in time" appeal can be found in the federally-protected Old Towne Historic District, centered in the Orange Plaza (locals call it "the Circle") at the intersection of Chapman Avenue and Glassell Street. Due to the impressive and intensive attention to preserving the houses and businesses in this area, the Plaza and it's surrounding streets have been the location for many Hollywood movies, most famously in "That Thing you Do" and "Big Momma's House".
Outside of Old Towne, Orange has various sub-communites with different flavors, from the barrios of El Modena to the rural horse trails of Orange Park Acres. The Old Towne section gets the most attention from reviewers, but there is a lot to take in and enjoy in this sprawling city. The attention from the major movie studios has also influenced a large expansion of Chapman University, a small liberal arts university just north of the Plaza. Chapman opened a state-of-the-art film school and lot in 2007, and recent expansions and imporovements in the school's design and infrastructure have cost tens of millions of dollars in order to bring in a larger number of students willing to pay the steep tuition.
•Old Towne Plaza: like being on a 1940's movie set.
•Outdoorsy: very nice hiking/biking trails in East Orange.
•Incredible sense of community unique to Orange County.
•Angel Stadium and Honda Center just minutes away for big games.
•Historic District houses, many over 100 years old, still look great.
•Deferential to long-time residents and business interests, esp. politically
•Overcrowded; infrastructure has not kept up with population.
•Chapman students; rich, spoiled, self-absorbed and disrespectful.
•Blight; stretches of Chapman in the east are really starting to show age.
The People - Who Lives Here?
The city of Orange is really better thought of as two cities within one. The first city resides in the oldest parts of Orange, the federally-protected Historic District centered around the Orange Plaza, commonly referred to as the "Old Towne". The residents here have roots in the city that span generations (I myself am a fifth-generation resident), a unique fact for Southern California and almost totally unheard of in Orange County. The plaza residents are solidly upper middle-class, white, and reliably conservative, both mirroring and enhancing Orange's reputation as a slice of 1920's to 1950's Americana. Houses here are commonly over 100 years old, meticulously maintained and standardized under the codes signifying their historical value. In the late 1990's through 2006, housing prices in this area went through the roof, turning many longtime residents into paper millionaires and further solidifying the conservative ethos of the town. Now that housing prices have plummeted, a sense of reality has struck the Old Towne crowd and in combination with the explosive growth of the nearby university has balanced out the right-wing philosophy of the city. It will never be confused for Berkeley, but one can put up an Obama sign these days without as much fear as there was in the past.
The "other city" in Orange is all of the areas surrounding Old Towne, those not here long enough or timely enough to get a favored residence within the historic area. These other sections of the city are much more diverse, with a heavy Hispanic population. Barrios are located a few miles to the east in the city, in the area collectively referred to as El Modena. Other areas to the south in Orange are similar to the older areas in Anaheim and Santa Ana, blue-collar and immigrant reconstruction areas of the late 60's and 70's that are now well into their middle-age and look to need improvements. The population here is hard-working, solidly middle-class. There are a few instances of gang activity and crime in these areas, but in relation to problems faced by similar-sized cities Orange is extremely safe. Newer areas of housing can be found in the northeast section, and have brought in a wealthier, newer population to the city, more diverse than the mostly-white denizens of Old Towne but at least their equals in terms of capital.
Overall, Orange puts forth a sense of "home" more effectively than almost any other city in Orange County. The combination of the deep-rooted community and the larger influx of young families has put Orange in a unique position relative to their size and scope. There are some very real issues in this city regarding the impact of the unchecked growth of Chapman University, the quality of education put forth in Orange's public school system, and the swelling of a population that was already straining the infrastructure ten years ago, but overall there is a lot to like, and even love, about the funkiness and time-capsule quality of this suburb.
Social Scene - Bars, clubs, restaurants
With the sprawl of the city it's going to be next to impossible to get into everything, but let's try!
Bars: the best places to go for younger types is the three-bar stretch in the Plaza, the target-rich environment that caters to newly-legal Chapman students. O'Hara's Pub, on Glassell, is an Orange institution, an Irish bar in name only that hasn't changed since the 1970's. O'Hara's is small, crowded on Fridays and Saturdays, and has more than a whiff of funk to it, but the overall tone is genial and Wes the Bartender (around almost as long as the bar itself) keeps everyone in line and having a good time. Down and around the corner on Chapman you'll find Paul's Cocktails, famous for it's "OPEN AT 6AM" sign, a bug-zapper invitation to every drunk within city limits. Paul's brings in more actual Orange residents than other nearby bars, but also brings in a biker element (although noticeably reduced in recent years), giving it a more riotous feeling than other places. The large backyard patio there also is a different taste. The biggest recent player, however, is the District Lounge further south on Chapman. This is a former Barrio cantina, bought and completely redesigned to cater to the growing influx of wealthy Chapman students. Larger than Paul's and O'Hara's put together, the District Lounge incorporates an actual restaurant from opening to 10pm, then shifts the hipster meter waaaaay up when the night begins. The bartenders all dress nicer than you, the mixed drinks are passable and the back room bounces with local DJ sets or live music (including actual jazz! Huzzah!).
Outside of the Plaza, the bars are more of the dive-y variety, including Blondie's and the Signal Lounge in the East Orange/El Modena neighborhood on Chapman, the notorious Pump Room in West Orange (watch out for flying morals...and bikini tops), the so-cheesy-it's-badass vibe of the Fling on Tustin Avenue at the Orange/Santa Ana border, the basement-punk style of the Olive Pit on Lincoln Avenue just north of the Orange Mall, and the gigantic pool hall/darts/foosball mecca that is Danny K's Billiards on Main Street just south of Katella. This being Orange County there are also a million chain bar and grill places to go to, including Chili's, TGI Fridays, Dave and Busters and others of that ilk. Just head over to either large mall located in Orange (the Village in north Orange, the Block in the west just at the Orange/Garden Grove border) and you can't miss those.
The Value - Rental prices vs. quality of living
It's really going to depend on where you're coming from; if you're moving to Orange from another location in Southern California, then Orange is going to be more of the same with higher prices; best go compare something similar in Anaheim or Tustin and see if there's a price drop (there probably is). If you're coming in from way out, then the ambiance of the city might be worth the extra four or five hundred you're going to be paying if you're near the Circle or Chapman U. Further out from the Glassell/Chapman intersection in any direction will get you lower rents, but a longer commute to hit the downtown scene. Looking for places in the southern section of Orange will get you the lowest rent prices, but you're going to come up right against the Santa Ana border and the start of some serious overcrowding and noise pollution. Best bet, if you have a budget of $1500 or more per month, is to go northeast towards Anaheim Hills, or due east towards the hills. My top recommendation, though, is to start looking early around the Historic district - good deals can be found, especially during the beginning of summer when the Chapman students leave.
Transportation & Traffic
Not as bike-friendly as certain other cities in Orange County, the city of Orange is still a driver's dominion. The streets laid out by the original city planners in the late 1800's are still the major thoroughfares, and constitute the main arteries of the city in terms of transportation and ecomonics: Chapman, Katella, Taft/Ball, La Veta, Collins and Lincoln all run east-west and connect Orange to Anaheim and the unicorparated areas of Irvine and Tustin. Glassell, Tustin, Batavia and Main run north-south, and connect with Santa Ana, Anaheim and Anaheim Hills.
Freeway-wise, Orange is home to the infamous Orange Crush, the meeting of the 5, 22, and 57 freeways and one of the most complicated roadways you'll ever encounter. If you're new to the area, take some practice runs at the Crush during non-peak hours to get a feel for this beast, or have a local drive you around; the angles and short on-ramp distances cause havoc with even the most seasoned of drivers, so the more practice here, the better.
Rental Advice & Tips
I covered this a bit in the Real Estate section, but my top tip would be do start your prospecting early, and leverage your strength in summer. Many of the houses, duplexes and apartments in the area are owned and operated by private individuals instead of companies, and that means that their margins are slimmer economically. The rental business here is driven overwhelmingly by Chapman students on short-term or month-to-month leases, and beginning in late May they all for the most part pack up their stuff and bail out, leaving a downtown area much quieter and sprouting "FOR SALE" and "FOR RENT" signs on front lawns like weeds. Take advantage! Start driving in and doing research early, say late March or early April, and scout out desireable neighborhoods and houses. Make offers to owners to come in right as the students leave, and take a longer lease in exchange for a lower rent. Or vice versa, if you like! The law of supply and demand is always in effect, but the pickings will be slim if you try to move here anytime after August 1st, and the prices will reflect that. Christmas time is also an opportunity to come in, as some students leave for home and don't return, creating some openings to use. It's not as much of a free-for-all as it is in summer, but it is an option.
Entertainment & Recreation - Things to do
All of the amenities of Orange County are found in Orange as well, but the unique circumstance of the Plaza really gives the city that something "different". The Plaza is shopping central, especially for collectibles, antiques, and memorabilia from present-day all the way back to the turn of the century (that's the 20th Century, folks). Those types of stores have been around forever, but the infusion of cash and new construction into the Plaza has given it a series of high-end eateries that can compete with the best of anything you can find away from the coastal cities. Stick to the south part of Glassell from the Circle and you can hit nearly eight restaurants, almost all of which emerged in the past four years or so. Italian, Mexican/Fusion, French and Cuban tastes are all on display here.
Away from the Circle, Orange's best bets for eats actually reside in storefront nooks in out-of-the-way strip malls, which usually begin as hangouts for the blue-collar types, eventually growing to promonence with residents over time. Great examples of these are the Orange Cafe off of Tustin and Mayfair for breakfast and lunch, Tacos Jalisco (off of Tustin and Walnut), Taco Mesa (Chapman, south of Fred Kelly Stadium) or Taco Adobe (Chapman and Lemon, west of the Circle) for authentic Mexican, and a myriad of places on either Tustin or Chapman for dinner.
Recreation-wise, Orange isn't going to be in your top list of places to go to, but there is The Block of Orange, a newer outdoors twist on the traditional mall located on Chapman at the Orange/Garden Grove border to the west. The Block has tons of bars and restaurants, in addition to a high-end 50's themed bowling alley, a Dave and Buster's, and a 20-screen AMC movie theatre. The other large mall is the Village, formerly known as the Orange Mall, the grand old lady of Orange shopping establishments. More chain restaurants and bars here, although the Oggi's Pizza is quickly gaining recognition as a solid locale for sports fans.
In the city itself, hiking and bike riding are going to be considered the most popular activites for most. Pack up your gear, head east on Chapman over the hills and you're quickly standing at the entrance to Peters Canyon, Irvine Regional Park, or Santiago Oaks. From there you can hike or ride further to the east, taking in some impressive views (for Orange County) and a nice sense of isolation and quiet. Best times to hike are late winter through the early parts of summer, before the heat really dries out the areas. Outside of that, you know what you have for recreation in Orange County as a whole- beaches to the west, mountains to the east, LA and Hollywood to the north, San Diego to the south. You'll never be lacking in things to do.
Recommended Neighborhoods & Areas
The obvious draw is the areas surrounding the Circle, and we've gone fairly in-depth about them already, so remember that you really can't go wrong with that section, okay? Great. I'm here to tell you about some below-the-radar neighborhoods that are great for exploring, and potentially living in:
East Orange/Orange Park Acres: if you're the equestrian or the outdoors type, this should be the area that you take a gander at somewhere along your journey of research. Just head east on Chapman towards the rising hills that mark the coming border of the city and the general end of housing development (at this point). East Orange is the larger, newer, more high-end residential areas south of Chapman in this area, a bit Mission Viejo-ish in their cookie-cutter approach but still very nice, with lanes for horeback riders and trails into the east, cutting into the initial sprawl of the Cleveland National Forest. Orange Park Acres, to the north of Chapman, is a much longer established, more rural area of the city; these are definite horse-and-pony people, with barns, stables, and tracks set amongst the dense oak groves and dirt side-roads. OPA is also set completely east of the hills and has no street lights or street lamps, so the area always seems shrouded in shadows during the day and gets downright pitch-black at night. Drive slowly through the winding streets here.
Eisenhower Park - a funky mish-mash of condos, small apartments and expansive two-story deckhouses set into the steep hills surrounding Eisenhower Park in the northernmost sections of Orange. In this super-conservative city, the Eisenhower area is the closest you're going to get to a bohemian community, but the continous comings and goings of the renters here and the relatively small land area keep it from obtaining a true "hippie" vibe. It'll do, though, especially considering that you're within walking distance of Troy's, the home of the best breakfast burritos in the city.
DepotWalk - sounds like a big-box advertising campaign, but is actually a pretty cool redesign of the once run-down train depot area on Chapman just west of the Circle. Newer restaurants have sprung up here and now mix with the traditional Mexican carnecerias that have been in this area for decades. The centralized point is DepotWalk, a hyper-modern series of condos and lofts that were constructed to coincide with the major redevelopment of Chapman University (which is minutes away by foot) and the imminent influx of young, rich students and professionals. The architecture and design here is jaw-dropping, and so is the price: nearly 500K for the small entry-level loft.
The Essentials - Groceries, gyms, banks
Orange is at its' heart a classic SoCal suburb, so there are tons of grocery stores and banks within its' borders. In a car, you're never more than five minutes away from either, guaranteed. Gyms are another matter, which is surprising in a county as obsessed with image as OC is. For larger, membership-based gyms, there is a Bally's on Katella west of Cambridge, a 24-Hour Fitness on Chapman north of Prospect, and two superb LA Fitness locations: one large center at the Block, and a newer, smaller entry on Tustin and 17th (technically Santa Ana, but right on the border). These centers are in addition to the hundreds of small, personal-trainer based private gyms that line the strip malls along Tustin, Katella and Chapman.
The job scene here is very similar to what you'd find in neighboring cities like Anaheim or Santa Ana: lots of retail jobs, some blue-collar manufacturing work (especially on Batavia and Main streets south of Katella), plus some openings in education through Chapman University or the Orange Unified School District. Orange has a fairly low unemployment level, and generally fits the criteria for being a "bedroom community", albeit one with a lot of history behind it.
The public schools here are members of the Orange Unified School District, which has had a run of bad publicity and even worse management since the late 1980's. That said, the core high schools in the area (Orange High School, El Modena High School and, to a lesser extent, Villa Park High School) have been around for decades and still inspire heated rivalries between students and alums. Villa Park, while a separate city, is completely surrounded by the city of Orange and is viewed as more of a district by Orange residents, and as an elite encave by VP residents. The higher affluence of the surrounding area means that Villa Park usually scores higher on standardized tests than either Orange or El Modena, and VP has a tendency to offer more in the way of college-prep courses than the other two schools. El Modena is a curious mix of immigrant second-language learners from the Modena barrio section of the city and wealthier students from the surrounding Fairhaven-to-Bond area. Orange High School, once lilly-white right up to the late 1980's, has undergone a 20-year sea change in student population and is now over 70% Hispanic. All three schools are middle-road trending, with OHS and EMHS emphasizing work-skill development while VP sticks to college prep.
However, the wealthiest students, or those whose parents cannot stand the thought of public education anymore, have been shuttling off to the powerhouse private schools in the area. Mater Dei (Santa Ana) and Servite (Anaheim) are the two heavy-hitting Catholic schools, but in Orange there is the emerging Lutheran High School. Spurred on by the abundance of Villa Park dollars, Lutheran is now a player with the large Parochials on the athletic stage, and it's sparkling campus based in northeast Orange demonstrates a considerable effort towards top-flight education as well. The "white flight" from Orange and El Modena high schools previewed the growth of Orange Lutheran, and trends show that Villa Park HS is starting to go down that same path as more and more parents opt for private school.
Just like everywhere else, Orange real estate prices have taken a serious hit in recent years, so now is as good a time as any to consider buying if you've got the means. Most houses in the Plaza district will be going for at least 500K, but they peaked at an entry level of 700K or so, so depending on your belief reagrding that figure and if it was real or the result of wild speculation, you might be getting a serious bargain there.
The other areas of the city will very the price depending on the overall neighborhoods. Houses in the unincorporated areas and in certain sections of El Modena can get down as low as 250K or so, but you will be getting a certain type of atmosphere in those neighborhoods. Most of the time, the houses outside of the Plaza will go from 350K-650K depending on street placement, lot size and amenities. Houses on or close to major avenues (Chapman, Glassell, Tustin, Katella, Batavia, Main) will have a lower price point than residences off of those streets. Take your time, drive around and look/compare; the best time to do so is in the summer, when Chapman students have left central Orange and homeowners get desperate to sell unused housing.
Typical Southern California weather: sunny all of the time, nasty Santa Ana winds in the early fall, humid in late summer. The further east you head in Orange the higher the elevation, so residents of Orange Park Acres and the Panorama Heights can get a bit of a breeze sometimes that doesn't get to the rest of the city. Temperatures rarely go below 45 degrees at night. Very comfortable (there's a reason why everyone keeps moving here).