Want to have an out-of-county experience? It's easy to do, even without psychic powers or some sort of New Age transcendental journey.
Contrary to the stereotypes, Orange County isn't confined to cookie-cutter developments, glorious beaches and open bean fields; and its anomalies can provide a day's retreat, alunch-hour escape, or a brand-new way to start the day.
Whether the recession has you homebound, the holidays were too much to bear, or an everyday sameness is dragging you down, there are a few easy antidotes in such nearby sites as a Zen-like sculpture garden; a small farm with friendly cows, pigs and goats, and crops galore, and a shopping center that recalls old Heidelberg. Hop in the car and get mentally out of town on a single tank of gas.
Man Wah Supermarket, Little Saigon: You know you must be far from home when you reach for your favorite TV dinner and pull out frozen octopuses instead. Ralphs and Vons don't ordinarily offer great buys on beef feet or pork heart, either.
But such delicacies can be found just off the San Diego Freeway, at Man Wah Supermarket in Westminster's Little Saigon, where the sights, sounds and smells can transport local denizens halfway around the world.
Bigger, slicker, more Westernized supermarkets catering to Asians dot Little Saigon, the roughly mile-long stretch of Bolsa Avenue between Brookhurst and Magnolia streets. But this one, tucked away at the rear of the Today Plaza Shopping Center, seems to have the most foreign, authentic atmosphere.
Opened in 1984, Man Wah was the first of eight Orange and Los Angeles county outlets in the Tawa Supermarkets Inc. chain.
Shoppers are immediately greeted by the pungent aromas of fresh seafood in open buckets or tanks and exotic spices, the sound of Asian singers blaring over the public-address system, and signs written in Chinese and, in smaller letters, English, announcing row after row of colorfully labeled goods.
There are canned quail eggs, jars of pickled mud fish and shrimp paste, cellophane packages of dried anchovies, stringy dried rice noodles and flat rounds of rice paper, and myriad incarnations of plain or sauced-up bean curd, all of it from such far-flung climes as Thailand or the Philippines or as close as Garden Grove and Santa Ana.
In one section, clams and snails are packed on ice, and live catfish, lobsters, crabs and other creatures mill about in gurgling tanks. The lady in front of you pulls a slimy pink squid from a bucket of water to hand it, dripping, to a clerk to weigh and wrap. Beef feet and tendons, pork heart and stomach are displayed nearby.
Spam leads the list of numerous familiar products on hand, and lottery tickets are easy to be had. But ignoring all that, a visit here is a cheap ticket way, way out of town.
\o7 Man Wah Supermarket, 9673 Bolsa Ave., in the Today Plaza Shopping Center, Westminster. (714) 531-4666. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Take the San Diego Freeway to Bolsa Avenue. Go north about five blocks. Today Plaza will be on the left.
\f7 Dana Woods and Carbon Canyon Regional Parks: It may take a little extra brain work to feel as if you've escaped county borders here, but the effort is worthwhile, particularly if you're pining to spend time among rare, Christmas-tree style evergreens rooted outdoors, not in nursery pots.
This 4.4-acre public park is situated in Dana Woods, a subdivision of largely upscale, well-manicured Dana Point. The park is relatively small but boasts one of the few significant groves of redwoods anywhere in Southern California, says David Lewis, a Capistrano Bay park and recreation administrator.
There are actually two small groves here, each consisting of about a dozen coastal redwoods, scarce this side of Eureka because they thrive in damp, chilly weather. In fact, these young, 12-year-old, 50-foot-tall trees tend to look dried out because of the local arid climate, Lewis says.
Still, sit within the deep shade of one of the clusters, listen to the soothing breeze blow through the boughs, and crunch the needles beneath your feet. You'll begin to forget about the close-by, fenced-in homes, patio furniture and swimming pools and feel as if you're roughing it in the mountains, surrounded by enduring conifers, readying a fire for roasting marshmallows and thinking up a good ghost story.
In north Orange County, an even older stand of redwoods exists in Carbon Canyon Regional Park, where the stretch to feel out of town isn't as far, mentally.
Planted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the early 1970s when they were building a nearby reservoir, the grove has about 150 redwoods standing up to 75 feet tall. The county has taken over the care and feeding of these young giants, supplying them with piped-in water.