Just a jump from the bustling Cal State Fullerton campus is a rare kind of neighborhood. Seeming out of place in urban Southern California are small storefronts nestled among homes and apartment buildings, men in cowboy hats and boots strolling with ease down narrow streets, and bursts of cheerful music emanating from slow-moving cars.
You won't find a Ralphs or a McDonald's in cozy, four-block Old Town Placentia, but there are three small Mexican markets; one even has a butcher on site.
Need bargain party supplies for that special family gathering? Have a craving for something sweet? Or want something quick and easy on the go?
You'll find it in Old Town Placentia, which offers more than Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles. Placentia has an authentic, homey feeling amid its shopping and dining opportunities.
If you decide to make the trek, bring a hearty appetite and your curiosity.
Pan Dulce, Mariachis
Raul Davis, manager of the Tlaquepaque Restaurant, explained the lure of Old Town Placentia: "There's a lot of history here."
The Tlaquepaque Restaurant (111 W. Santa Fe Ave.,  528-8515) has been giving a big bang for the buck since 1965. The Davis family offers great food during the week, and weekend buffets with entertainment.
Mariachis perform as patrons enjoy a sit-down meal or get food to go. Davis recommends the Shrimp Tlaquepaque--shrimp and crab wrapped in bacon.
Whether you dine in or out, stop by the adjoining bakery and pick up a bag of still-warm pan dulce, Mexican sweet bread/pastries. And take a moment to admire the restaurant's murals, inside and out. Complementing the murals are Spanish-style tiles that depict people enjoying a slower era. Local artist Emilio Vasquez spent 1977 and 1978 hand-painting the tiles on the building.
If you're hungry and in a hurry, stop at Q Tortas (220 S. Bradford Ave.,  993-3270) for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And don't let the hamburger-stand exterior fool you. Yes, there's a drive-through window, but the extensive menu is nothing like that of a fast-food chain.
There are tacos and tostadas, but the best dish is the torta, Mexico's version of a sandwich, made with spicy carne asada, chorizo or ham ($2.75). A thick and chewy roll is split in half and stuffed with beans and meat. Big pieces of bright red tomatoes and slivers of green peppers in the chunky homemade salsa top off the already flavorful torta.
The Fiesta Place
If you need party supplies, Jerry Torres Party Rentals (126 W. Santa Fe Ave.,  528-6361), could be your only stop. Look closely; it's in a nondescript building that's easy to miss.
Geronimo Torres, who retired from construction work, has lived in Placentia for 50 years. He opened his party store three years ago to pass the time. He owns the building and lives above the store.
You'll see dozens of pinatas dangling from the ceiling and small bags filled with brightly colored streamers and balloons hanging from hooks on the wall. Cake decorations such as miniature wineglasses and other festive items line the small, handcrafted shelves.
IF YOU GO
Take the Chapman exit off the Orange Freeway and drive east, past Kraemer Park with its lush green lawn and dolphins jumping out of the water fountain.
Look up and you'll see the red, white and blue water tower that looms over Placentia.
Placentia was founded in 1837 when the Mexican governor granted the Rancho San Juan Cajon de Santa Ana to Juan Ontiveros. This land grant also included Anaheim, Fullerton, La Habra and Yorba Linda.
In 1876, Sarah Ann McFadden, wife of one of Placentia's early pioneers, suggested the name, which is derived from a Spanish word meaning "pleasant place to live."
A check of the World Atlas reveals a Placentia in Newfoundland. Placentia Point is a geographical feature on the coast on British Honduras. And, Hannibal, with his army and warrior elephants, camped in Placentia in northern Italy before prior to crossing the Alps.