Come sundown the first Saturday of every month, tree-lined 2nd Street in Santa Ana is jampacked with crowds — sipping cappuccinos at the Gypsy Den cafe, downing cocktails at Lola Gaspar or pigging out at Memphis at the Santora's crawfish boil while listening to live music on the promenade.
Others are busy gallery hopping. This is, after all, Santa Ana's Artists Village.
Santa Ana has long taken a back seat to Newport Beach and artsy Laguna as a weekend destination, but first-time visitors to the Artists Village downtown will be surprised by the wealth of independent restaurants and bars, shops and galleries — not to mention the historic buildings along the way.
According to local historian Tim Rush, who gives tours the first Saturday of every month for the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society, more than 6,000 historic buildings lie throughout Santa Ana in architectural styles that include Victorian, Craftsman, Beaux Arts, Moderne, Mission Revival and Spanish Rococo. Rush's number seems improbably high (another historian said the city has 2,000 historic buildings), but then wonderful architecture does seem to be at every turn.
"When Santa Ana became the county seat in 1889, it was the capital city of the area, drawing commerce and wealthy merchants," Rush said. "My grandmother, who lived in Garden Grove, always went to down-town Santa Ana to shop in the '50s and '60s. That's where all the best shops were."