Cool Things For Southern Californians To Do 31: Orange County

  • Tuesday, March 14, 2023
  • Scott S. Smith, Sandra Wells, and Christian Smith

Previously in this column we have covered places and events in Orange County, such as the Laguna Beach Pageant of the Masters, the Bowers Museum, the Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center, the South Coast Plaza shopping center, and Disneyland. Knott's Berry Farm will be highlighted in the October/Halloween article and there are lots of things we haven't yet featured, like the Nixon Presidential Library (which surprises many visitors with the positive things he did), a baseball game at Angel Stadium, and the Temecula wine scene.

Marconi Automotive Museum in Tustin is home to over 100 vehicles worth about $60 million, including everything from a 1929 Ford Model A and a tiny 1957 BMW Fiesta to a 1982 Delorean and one of legendary driver Mario Andretti's cars (see photo). Near the entrance one can see three cars by winners of the Formula 1, Michael Schumacher, Nigel Mansell, and Ayrton Senna. There are lots of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, muscle cars, and motorcycles. The Jaguar XJ220 is one of only six in existence, there are vehicles featured in movies, and when we were there, a spectacular Batmobile worth $6 million. Don't miss Kenny Bernstein's extraordinarily long drag racer on the wall in the back room, where the cars are repaired . The museum was founded by world champion racecar driver John Marconi, whose daughter Monique now manages the collection and the facility (which is very popular for events from business conferences to weddings; its foundation has donated over $1 million to a wide variety of nonprofits).

Kip Barry's Cabaret has been rated the No. 1 magic and variety show in SoCal and he delivers a truly mystifying and very funny performance with a lot of interaction with our audience that was of all ages. We've observed some of the best magicians up close and everyone around us commented on how we kept seeing the cards inexplicably appear and disappear in his hands. It's truly a show that you have to see to believe. You can also buy basic magic tricks in the store-cafe before it gets started. The Cabaret is in the center of the massive Garden Walk across from Disneyland, full of specialty stores and restaurants, giving you plenty to do if you arrive early (validation of the parking ticket only cost us $6 for five hours, but make note of which garage you are in, since it may be next door to the one where the Cabaret is). Anaheim is full of other surprises in the shadow of Disney, such as the Swing It trapeze school, for those who either want to join the circus or are bored with the options at their gym.

Huntington Beach Dog Beach is the world-famous, enormously long beach open to dogs and their companions 365 days a year from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., with parking along Pacific Coast Highway from Goldenwest St. to Seapoint (there is wheelchair access). First-timers are asked to keep their dogs on a leash until they can be sure they will get along well with the others running up and down the beach, playing in the water, and chasing balls. No puppies under four months or female dogs in heat are allowed. It is kept clean and special events like weddings can be held there. One reviewer called it Doggy Heaven.

Newport Beach Whale-Dolphin Tours can be a highlight of any visit to Orange County if you approach this like a safari: wild animals don't necessarily show up when you want them to. Going out to look for dolphins, whales, birds, and sea lions, among other creatures, is not like going to a zoo or aquarium. Go for the adventure of the search and to enjoy the beautiful coast and the group you sail with. Gray whales migrate December through April, while blue whales may be seen May through November. We chose Newport Landing & Davey's Locker Whale Watching because they have so many tours, they get feedback from those on where to search and do a thorough job, provide interesting commentary, and if you don't feel satisfied by the experience they will offer you a free pass to try again. This was our third time out and on the first we saw whales, another time just dolphins, and on this trip just the effect of a whale blowing air out (which condenses to seem like it is water; they're mammals, not fish). The photo here is from another tour. FYI, if you have a sensitive stomach, you'll be glad to know the ships are large and steady and you shouldn't get upset, but ginger has been proven to be more effective in preventing motion sickness than Dramamine.

Mission San Juan Capistrano is best-known worldwide for its history of attracting American cliff swallows, which fly 6,000 miles from their winter home in Argentina to build nests around the mission. According to Capistrano Nights by Father St. John O'Sullivan (pastor of the mission 1910-33), one day he was walking in town and saw a shopkeeper using a broomstick to knock down their conical mud nests that were under the eaves of his shop. Fr. O'Sullivan told the dismayed swallows they could have a home around the church. The main flock typically arrives around March 19, though in recent years there have been fewer, since the birds seem to be spreading out and there may be fewer insects in the area to eat, but the event is celebrated. The swallows start flying out around October 23. The mission draws 300,000 visitors a year regardless of the swallows in part because the chapel is beautiful inside, with a stunning gold background to the altar, and there are guided tours of the garden. Early movies were shot there, including one in 1910 directed by D.W. Griffith which launched Mary Pickford's career (she returned to hold her wedding there). It is also very popular for schoolchildren and adults who want to learn about the mission's history in the context of the local Acjachemen natives, whose culture is featured in exhibits, as well as the Spanish empire, and then when it become part of the United States.

Orange County Museum of Art in Costa Mesa was recently opened to much acclaim, but we did puzzle about the coverage focusing so much attention on the beauty of the architecture of its new home. Now we know why: it's hard to think of another contemporary art museum anywhere that caters entirely to the esoteric taste their exhibits represents . The museum is free, but since we think that makes this overpriced, we are, for the first time, not including the website nor a photo of something we visited.

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