Looking for a fall excursion that serves up both great atmosphere and great food?
Fall is a terrific time of year to explore one of OC’s historic downtowns—Old Towne Orange
. Reachable by train or car, it’s one of the few walkable downtowns in the county and is great for a day of rambling and exploration. Long known as a great place to find antiques and vintage clothing, a number of newer restaurants have brought a new energy and vibe to the historic downtown neighborhood.
explorations should begin at the heart of the town, the central Orange Plaza
. Surveying the scene from the plaza park or exploring the surrounding streets that radiate from it, it strikes you that this is quintessential small town America—hard to believe it exists in the midst of an urban megalopolis.
But it’s certainly easy to see why Old Towne is a popular filming location for television, commercials and films (including Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do
, in which it stood in for 1950s Erie, Pennsylvania.)
of Orange County’s earliest cities, established in 1888, Orange’s roots were firmly
agricultural—propelled by the arrival of the transcontinental railroad (in 1880) that carried oranges, walnuts, apricots and other local crops to markets and consumers across the country.
I remember not so many years ago when huge trucks filled with oranges would lumber through the main traffic circle, transporting fruit from local orchards to the packing house just east of downtown. The packing house has since been closed. But colorful orange crate labels and the old Sunkist/Orange County Fruit Exchange building near the plaza are a few remaining reminders of the town’s agricultural roots.
historic downtown district radiates a number of blocks each way from the central plaza.
Explore on your own, take a guided walking tour (April - October), or join in the tour of historic homes, which takes place in early November every other year.
Old Towne Orange is California’s largest residential historic district, encompassing 1,400 pre-WWII structures, with great examples of homes ranging from Victorian to Craftsman to Spanish architecture and some beautiful historic churches. So take some time to wander some of the residential streets. (There are some great examples in every direction, but my favorite quadrants are east of the plaza, both north and south of Chapman Ave.)
shops, vintage clothing shops and galleries featuring the work of local artists surround the main plaza, punctuated by an interesting assortment of unique restaurants that you’re not going to find elsewhere in the county. (My favorites are below.)
If you’re not in the mood for a full meal, consider dropping by the Bruery
for a wine or beer tasting, along with a selection of cheeses; or head to the nearby retro Cupcakery
for a little bite of heaven. Favorite places
to eat in Old Towne Orange:
(190 S. Glassell)—Opened a year ago and has been packed ever since; fun food, good wine selection and interesting international microbrews.Indoor or patio
Citrus City Grille
(122 N. Glassell)—A multi-year Zagat award-winner; eclectic menu and fun décor that harkens back to Orange’s agricultural days.
Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen
(141 S. Glassell)—I’m not even sure they’ve ever put a sign up, but it doesn’t matter--they’re always packed; informal with great ambiance; nice authentic take on Mexican dishes.
(100 S. Glassell)—Recently relocated from Newport Beach’s Fashion Island to this more intimate spot on a historic corner; serves up great Northern Italian food; they have a strong following in OC, so be prepared to wait.Informal with
(182 S. Orange St.)--Dine in a converted 1891 Gothic church, complete with original stained glass windows.
Watson’s Drug & Soda Fountain
(116 E. Chapman)--It’s been in operation since 1899; for an authentic blast from the past, along with an authentic 1950s soda fountain-style menu.Reasonable and
popular with the locals:
(129 W. Chapman)--Little family-run Mediterranean café; a little short on atmosphere, but the food is no-nonsense Mediterranean and a good value.
The Filling Station
(201 N. Glassell)--Mostly outdoor eating; particularly popular spot for breakfast.
you’re staying in another part of the county, you can get to Old Towne Orange by train or by car. Old Towne is accessible by Metrolink
(not Amtrak.) The station is only two blocks from the Plaza and very walkable to the historic downtown area. By car, Old Towne is located just east of the 55 Freeway (take Chapman Ave. West exit), and just north of the 22 Freeway (take the Glassell exit) and can be reached by either route. The central plaza is at the intersection of Chapman and Glassell. Ninety-minute walking tours of the historic downtown area take place on the 2nd Saturday and 4th Sunday of each month (April - October.) For more information, call (714) 998-0330, check the Orange Historical Society's website
or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about the biennial home tour (next one in November 2011), see www.otpa.org