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Celebrating the Season in a Blaze of Glory

* Some neighborhoods go all out when they get decked out for Christmas. So grab the Thomas Guide and pile the kids into the car for a dazzling drive.


At decked-out streets and neighborhoods from Fullerton to Rancho Santa Margarita and in boat parades from coastal Dana Point to inland Yorba Linda, Orange County has turned on its holiday lights.

This driving tour of bright spots is keyed to pages of the Thomas Guide and arranged by region--South County, Coastal Area, Central County, North County and Waterlands. So grab your map book and coats and come along:

South County

* We start the tour on El Corzo in Rancho Santa Margarita, where neighbors light their homes according to personal whim but tie it together by linking each front yard with a continuous "fence" of icicle-draped candy canes. There are Christmas character cutouts, an animated angel on one roof and a large-scale model train winding through an elaborate layout in one yard.

The neighbors encourage visitors to bring nonperishable food items for a food drive sponsored by a local high school--a collection barrel is part of El Corzo's decor.

To get there, take Santa Margarita Parkway to Melinda Road and turn east, heading toward the Foothill Transportation Corridor. (You can get to Santa Margarita Parkway on the corridor or via a number of major surface streets, including El Toro Road and Alicia and Marguerite parkways). Head up Melinda to Las Fieras and turn right. El Corzo will be the first left you can make. (Map 892, H-2)

* In nearby Laguna Hills, the hilltop community of Nellie Gail Ranch boasts scores of lavish homes sporting equally lavish holiday trimmings. Drive along Nellie Gail Road and wind through the streets that branch off of it. Best bet is to bring a map of the area, because the streets twist and turn.

To get to Nellie Gail Road, take Interstate 5 to Oso Parkway and head east about a quarter of a mile to Cabot Road. Turn right and drive north on Cabot to Nellie Gail Road. Turn left and head up the hill. Hours throughout Nellie Gail are 6-10 p.m., through Christmas. (Map 922 A-3 through 6 and Map 921 H-5 and 6 and J-3 through 7)

* Seeing the Christmas lights and sights in Mission Viejo is made easy by the city's activities committee, which publishes a list of the winners of the community's annual decorating contest. You can pick up the list, along with directions, starting tonight at Santa's Workshop at the intersection of La Paz Road and Chrisanta Drive. Photo opportunities with Mr. and Mrs. Claus are also offered there. Information: (949) 830-7066.

To get there, take Interstate 5 to La Paz and head east into Mission Viejo to its intersection with Chrisanta. (Map 922, A-2)

* The Hugh Yancey Christmas extravaganza (his seasonal decorating tip--"staple everything down, including the snow") is at 24272 Cataluna in Mission Viejo. The home has won decorating awards from the planned community's activities committee in 15 of the last 16 years.

To get there from La Paz, continue east to Marguerite Parkway and turn north. Head up Marguerite and just past Jeronimo turn west onto Pueblonuevo Drive. Follow Pueblonuevo to Cataluna, the second right you can make. (Map 892, C-7)

* While you're in the area, check out Gitano, a past winner in the community's "best street category." To get there take Jeronimo Road east, cross Marguerite Parkway and turn right on Silleros, left on Cascabel, right on Ramona and left onto Gitano. (Map 892, F-7)

Coastal Area

* An antique sled from the 1800s and a 3-D animated train join Christmas past and present at the Balboa Island home of Jim and Tracy Breedlove, 201 Agate Ave. The train on the second story balcony appears to circle a real Christmas tree; three grapevine reindeer command the front yard. The house sports three stars on the roof and a 7-foot-tall red wreath. An area between houses becomes Candy Cane Lane fit for a king with giant, 8-foot-tall candy canes.

To get there from Pacific Coast Highway, turn toward the ocean on Jamboree Road and go over the bridge onto the island. Turn right on Park Avenue and follow the signs to the Balboa ferry. You can see the house from Park and Agate avenues. (Map 919, C-1)

* On Christmas Eve, head over to the Newport Beach home of Joan Sue Betson at 1311 Galaxy Drive. For the past 32 years, her family has lighted the walks in front of the house with about 500 luminaria on the night before Christmas. The candles, set in sand inside brown paper bags, are lighted about 5 p.m. and often are still burning at midnight.

To get there take Pacific Coast Highway to Dover Drive and turn north. Drive up Dover to Mariners Drive and turn east to Galaxy. Turn south on Galaxy and follow it along the edge of Upper Newport Bay until you see the luminaria. (Map 889, C-5)

* The Harbor Ridge Women's Club annually decorates the entrance to that gated community in the hills above Corona del Mar. This year the theme is modern: strings of white lights, a contemporary tree and lighted reindeer figures.

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