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A DAY IN

92701

The Main Magic of Santa Ana

January 28, 2007|Jessica Gelt

Santa Ana has poured nearly $9 million into sprucing up the central business district's historic Main Street--the city got its name in 1769--and a stroll down the thoroughfare tells you a lot about the sprawling metropolis of 27.2 square miles, where more than 70% of residents are Latino. Turn east at 4th Street and you're in colorful, lively old Mexico; nearly all the signs and conversations are in Spanish. Walk a few blocks to the south, and it's all upscale hip at the Artists Village, an inner-city collection of lofts, studios and galleries. In downtown Santa Ana, Orange County's largest city, you can have the best of two worlds.

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SHOP, DROP

Paintings and Sour Treats

Caged Chameleon, in a 1912 Craftsman, is the granddaddy of local galleries. Owners Eric Smissen and Richard Espinachio live upstairs, and Espinachio says that running the gallery isn't about money: "We do it because we love art." On display are the eerie paintings of R.H. Phister. Open weekends; weekdays by appointment only. 1505 N. Main St., (714) 679-1165 . . . Load up on Mexican candy at Fiesta Imperial Market, which has one of the best collections of spicy, sweet-and-sour goodies we've seen north of Tijuana. The market stocks huge bags of chamoy, pico limon, tamarindo and saladitos. 220 E. 4th St., (714) 835-5521.

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2: Ranking among U.S. cities with the most foreign-born residents, behind Miami

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EAT, DRINK

Party Like a Ragin' Cajun

Memphis at the Santora is a Southern retreat inside the 1929 Santora Building of the Arts, with a patio on the Plaza of the Artists' pedestrian promenade and a menu of spicy Cajun specialties like fried catfish and jambalaya. The restaurant will host a Mardi Gras party Feb. 17 with live jazz, oodles of beads, a photo exhibit and Big Easy drinks. Proceeds will benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. 201 N. Broadway, (714) 564-1064 . . . It's hard to miss the celebratory vibe wafting out the door of rollicking Rancho D Mendoza, which is packed day and night. Most come for the crispy pescado, spicy ceviche and fresh soft tacos. A jukebox loaded with energetic Mexican music is never silent, and the bar at the back of the room buzzes with conviviality. 104 E. 4th St., (714) 547-0345.

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ONE THING TO DO

A Roomful

of Raw Talent

Discover local talent at Artists Village Open House on Feb. 3. Swing by the Space on Spurgeon gallery, where owner/photographer JoAnne Artman will host the opening of a show called "Raw: Undiscovered Talent." The edgy, figurative modern work of Chrystal Romero, Liza Coggins and Dominic Dettore will flavor the walls, while Romero and Coggins will become actual living works of art as they paint at their easels in different spots around the room. A follow-up "opening" is set for March 3; the show closes March 30. 210 N. Spurgeon St., (949) 464-0105.

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Literary Landmark: All hail the paranoid, amphetamine-addled, reclusive sci-fi genius Philip K. Dick, who lived the last of his 53 years in a downtown apartment. Dick (who said he communicated with God in Santa Ana) wrote "The Transmigration of Timothy Archer" there. He died just before the 1982 movie "Blade Runner," based on his novella "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?," transported him to cult fame.

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