Beach Boulevard, Hwy 39, leaves the sandy shores of the Pacific Ocean and becomes a main artery cutting north through Orange County. High-walled neighborhoods with red-tiled roofs and strip malls are the only things in view. The only way you know you have entered another city is to be aware of a “welcome to” sign. This isn’t Iowa or Indiana with corn fields and stretches of highway separating communities; however it once was like that. Thousands of acres of Orange groves, dairy farms and ranches divided the settlements. Then gold was discovered, oil was discovered and the discoverers discovered the climate. The “Go west young man” mentality caused all the growth that welded the different towns together Orange County is one big city of 3 million people. Yet, as one enters a “welcome to” whatever city, there are distinct and unique attributes of every community. There are 34 incorporated cities within Orange County, each one different as night and day.
As we drive up Beach Boulevard, just 8 miles from the ocean we come to the community of Westminster.
Westminster sounds like something British and it was. Originally it was a Presbyterian temperance colony founded on the basic principles of the Westminster Assembly of 1643 that laid out the tenants of the Presbyterian faith. For decades, the farmers even refused to grow grapes because of its association with alcohol. At the time Westminster incorporated in 1957, there were 10,000 inhabitants. Today there are 90,000 inhabitants. The demographics are 21% Latino, 34% White and 45% Asian. For whatever reason, Vietnamese immigrants picked Westminster to flock to in the 70s as the war ended. In the middle of Westminster is a designated center of town officially named “Little Saigon”. It is unofficially named the “capital” of overseas Vietnam. Some of my finest dining experiences happened in Little Saigon. The long time French occupation of Vietnam allowed the fine sauces of French cuisine to mingle with the incredible fresh ingredients of the Vietnamese ‘country village cuisine’ and this marriage presents to me heavenly adventures for my taste buds. There are approximately 200 Vietnamese Restaurants in the Little Saigon area. Vietnamese food has been my favorite cuisine for over 25 years.
Beach Boulevard, Hwy 39, continues north for 3 miles and we have a “welcome to Garden Grove” sign. 175,000 inhabitants here and only two famous things come to my mind about Garden Grove. The oldest and still happening thing is the annual Strawberry Festival. It takes place over the Memorial Day weekend and is the largest single event on the West Coast. Over 250,000 attendees every year see the world’s largest strawberry shortcake, a huge carnival and a celebrity-filled parade. This event celebrates the agricultural past of Garden Grove which produced walnuts, chili peppers, oranges and of course strawberries. Ironically, there is only one single strawberry patch in town left…that’s it.
The other famous thing in Garden Grove is the now defunct bankrupt Crystal Cathedral. Robert Schuller started preaching from the top of a concession stand at a local drive-in movie theatre and grew his congregation to 12,000 and built an awe-inspiring church. Unfortunately, awe-inspiring money, power, and greed won out and they went broke. The place has just been purchased by the Catholic Diocese of Orange County for their new awe-inspiring cathedral. They should do all right because the Catholic Church has had many more centuries of practice in handling money, power and greed.
So, now we head back north on Beach Boulevard, but just for another 5 miles. You are not going to believe the fun we have at the next stop tomorrow.