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Orange County ITINERARY

Digging In to Sample the Past and Repast

Visitors can see history come to life, naturally, and get a bite of the Big Apple in South Orange County.

January 22, 1998|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You can get a taste of history, and natural history--not to mention matzo ball soup--at Franciscan Plaza in San Juan Capistrano.

LATE MORNING, 1

As you enter Franciscan Plaza from Camino Capistrano, notice the circa-1840s Valenzuela Adobe; the adjoining archeological dig indicates that the existing adobe probably was built over ruins of another dating to the 1790s and occupied by Mission Indians.

The Orange County Natural History Museum, on the plaza's Courtyard level, is similarly dedicated "to preserving and displaying features of Orange County past and present."

For sale at the front desk is "Matilda's Story," a newly published biography of her great-grandmother by Jacquelyn Hanson, the museum's volunteers' director. Visitors can search for fossils in a sandbox using a magnifying glass, toothbrush and little plastic shovels. A fur identification display includes hide samples from an African bush lion and a grizzly bear.

Farther back, an exhibit called "The Gall of It All" contains a cynipid wasp gall, and other galls formed when insects deposit eggs in plant tissue. Orange County butterflies and moths collected by Norman Campbell include the tomato sphinx and California dog face. Even more exciting are live red diamond and speckled rattlesnakes. A sign says, "Please stay behind rope--people make 'Pumpkin' nervous." OK!

Stuffed birds on display include a bald eagle, a cliff swallow, a northern harrier and a long-eared owl looking awfully surprised. O.C. seashells include the California coffee bean and the incredible volcano limpet. Also on exhibit are a mammoth pelvis and a baleen whale jaw containing a boring mussel.

Admission $1; 12 and under 50 cents.

LUNCH, 2

You can get a taste of the Big Apple without leaving the courtyard. On the walls at Bambino's Big Apple Original New York Deli are early photos of national chain stores, Jack "Legs" Diamond and the Babe helping out at his father's saloon.

A small bowl of matzo ball soup is $1.95. Also consider the Coney Island hot dog ($2.95) or knackwurst plate with sauerkraut ($5.95), both of which use Hebrew National kosher products. A "half-pounder" hot corned beef and cheese sandwich is available on Jewish rye ($5.25), or order it Reuben style (with cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing, $5.75). Among the extras are a whole dill pickle (75 cents), a cup of cherry peppers (45 cents) or a pickled egg (45 cents); deli salads include marinated red cabbage (85 cents).

There's also a Ruby's diner upstairs on the Terrace level.

AFTER LUNCH, 3 4 5

Outside Sherree's Boutique, next door to Bambino's, is a box of button covers (50 cents each). Inside are Beanie Baby name tags (99 cents) and tiny Trouble Dolls, $1.25 for six dolls and a story in a box. The store also carries a selection of moccasins and turquoise-encrusted silver Bic lighter holders.

Use that Bic on a wick. The Candle Wick, on the plaza's Plaza level, carries aromatherapy candles, braided candles and floating candles. Carved candles feature naked women or men. The store also carries shave soap. Scented soaps include Cracked Ice, said to contain "the gentle floral fragrance of a slow Arctic breeze . . . highlighted with chips of teal and burgundy ice."

Auntie-Q's inventory ranges from 20-cent marbles to $20,000 art. "Beethoven's Fifth" ($55) is a bottle of Dawson Scotch Whiskey in a plush velvet violin-like case. Yellow oversize jacks serve as bookends ($75 for the pair). Four original pastel portraits of the Beatles dating to 1966 by artist Toby Birr are priced at $22,000 for the set. In a back room is a portrait by Birr of Robert F. Kennedy, another piece of history.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

All locations at Franciscan Plaza, 31781 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano.

1) Orange County Natural History Museum

Suite 101, (714) 487-9155.

11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday.

2) Bambino's Big Apple

Suite 106, (714) 487-6577.

11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

3) Sherree's Boutique

Suite 105, (714) 240-8188.

11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

4) The Candle Wick

Suite 205, (714) 496-6692.

11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.

5) Auntie-Q's

Suite 305, (714) 248-2922.

10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

Parking: There is ample free parking in a structure adjacent to Franciscan Plaza.

Buses: OCTA Bus Nos. 91 (Laguna Hills-San Clemente) and 397 (Mission Viejo-San Clemente) serve the San Juan Capistrano Train Depot.

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