Anyone who lives in Orange County can tell you, it is one of the most desirable places to live in America. Perhaps even in the world. It has all the excitement, diversity and cultural amenities of a big city without the crowds, crime and congestion often associated with Los Angeles. It also boasts some of America’s most beautiful beaches, as well as some of the best surfing this side of Hawaii.
Residents of Orange County can enjoy world-class shopping and dining, professional sports, and two destination theme parks. Health services are also top-notch. Oh, and did we mention the weather? Orange County has four distinct seasons: Beautiful, Wonderful, Lovely and Fantastic.
In short, when East Coasters fantasize about living the California Dream, what they’re probably imagining is Orange County.
So where are the best places to live in Orange County? That all depends on your taste, lifestyle and budget. Here’s a quick overview of Orange County’s top 10 communities, and the home buyers or renters to whom they primarily appeal.
1. For Young Families
If you’re raising children and are looking for a safe, stable neighborhood with lots of parks and good schools, several South County communities located along Interstate 5 fit the bill. Mission Viejo, Aliso Viejo and Lake Forest form a unique triumvirate of hilly, well-planned communities known for being especially kid-friendly. Here you’ll find lots of shopping, entertainment options, and recreational activities as well as safe streets and excellent schools.
2. For Young Professionals
If you’re single or a couple who is into business, high tech or biotechnology, then Irvine should be high on your list of possible places to live. One of America’s first master-planned communities as well as home to the University of California-Irvine, the city has, over the past two decades, become a national center for high-tech research, development and manufacturing. This is also a very family friendly community with top-notch schools and access to world-class medical care.
3. For Captains of Industry
If you’re a top-earner looking for a prestige address, they don’t come much higher than Newport Beach. With a median home price of $1.4 million, Newport Beach boasts some of the most lavish real estate this side of Beverly Hills. Top neighborhoods include Spyglass Hill, Harbor View (also known as “The Port Streets“), Lido Isle, Cameo Shores, Westcliff, and the more recent hilltop developments in adjacent Newport Coast. If you need a place to park your 50-footer, Newport also boasts one of the largest marinas in the United States.
4. For Beach Bums
If you’re a surfer dude, or just like the taste of fresh salt air in the morning, Orange County offers a wide variety of beachfront communities to fit your outdoor lifestyle. Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and Newport’s Balboa Peninsula offer a wide range of for-sale and rental housing that can keep you close to the waves as well as funky restaurants and, just a few minutes inland, thousands of major area employers. If your waterside tastes run a bit more upscale, consider Corona del Mar with its trendy “cottages” perched above towering cliffs.
5. For Newbies
Are you new to Southern California and want to get into the local lifestyle without experiencing a major culture — or financial — shock? Consider the near-beach communities of Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Orange or Tustin. Although each has a unique personality, these communities offer a nice combination of affordable housing, great shopping and easy access to both the beach and the county’s pro sports and theme park attractions further inland.
6. For a Latin Flair
It’s no secret that Orange County, like the rest of California, has a vibrant rapidly growing Hispanic population. In fact, now a full third of once lily-white Orange County is now of Latin American origin. If it’s authentic Mexican culture and cuisine you’re seeking, you’ll find the highest concentration in the county seat of Santa Ana. Other heavily Latino communities can be found in Costa Mesa, Anaheim and Fullerton.
7. For a Taste of the Far East
During the Vietnam War, tens of thousands of South Vietnamese refugees emigrated to Orange County to establish a community that became known as “Little Saigon.” Although Asian-Americans of Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Thai origin now live in integrated communities throughout Orange County, you’ll still find particularly heavy Vietnamese and Korean influences the areas of Westminster and Garden Grove.
8. For a Taste of the Old West
If it’s wide open spaces you’re seeking, your choices in modern-day, densely developed Orange County are fairly limited. But there are still pockets of communities that hearken back to the county’s historical roots like parts of Orange, Tustin and Yorba Linda. And with money comes options, as the horse-friendly estates of far south county Coto de Caza so aptly illustrate.
9. For the Artistically Inclined
Laguna Beach is one of Orange County’s oldest and most eclectic communities. Tucked away on a small strip of beachfront land flanked by towering green hills, Laguna is a mecca for artists by profession or just in spirit. The city is home to a summer-long arts festival as well as the world-famous Pageant of the Masters, in which local residents use imaginative stagecraft to recreate stunning reproductions of famous masterpieces.
10. For Those Who Just Want to Get Away from it All
If it’s just peace and quiet you’re after, head south to the quiet beachfront communities of San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point and San Clemente. Here you’ll find all the amenities people usually seek in Southern California without the hustle, bustle and congestion common just a few miles farther north. The beaches are uncrowded, the air clean and the neighbors friendly. You might even run into an ex-Presidential candidate or two.