A Guide To Orange County - PIUG 2007
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Getting to Costa Mesa
The nearest airport to PIUG 2007 is SNA, alternately known as Santa Ana, Orange County, or John Wayne Airport. All three names refer to the same place. While it is only a mile as the bird flies from the terminal to the conference hotel, it is close to a three mile drive. Don't try to walk it.
SNA isn't a very big airport (about 15 gates), and it closes at 11pm. You won't find a ton of non-stop flights to SNA from the east coast. Two other local airports that you might consider are Long Beach, served by Jet Blue, and LAX, served by just about every airline on the planet. LAX is about 40 miles to the north, a drive that could very easily take an hour or more because you *will* hit traffic. Long Beach is about half way between LAX and the hotel.
There are other airports in the region - Ontario, Burbank, San Diego - but none of them are as convenient to Costa Mesa as the three above.
A hit song from 1979 by the band Missing Persons lamented that "Nobody walks in LA", and that holds true for Orange County as well. There are a few pedestrian-friendly districts in Orange County, but most places are laid out for the convenience of people in cars. Public transportation isn't a strong suit in OC. If you plan to venture beyond the immediate area of the hotel, you should give serious consideration to renting a car.
What to Wear
The California dress code is casual. A restaurant that requires jacket and tie back east may have a "no cut-off shorts" rule out here. There will always be someone dressed more casually than you, and there will always be someone more dressed up than you. In this particular area of Costa Mesa, the dress is a little trendier, but conference wear will fit in fine.
When you are packing for the trip (or for a day of sightseeing), you need to be aware of the local weather. The ocean is a huge factor in the weather along the coast. Most days when you wake up and look out your hotel window, you're going to see heavy clouds - a marine layer of fog off the ocean. This doesn't mean rain - in fact, it would be rare to have any rain in May. By noon it will be clear and sunny, as the fog burns off. Then, as evening arrives, the marine layer will return. The further inland you go, the less impact the marine layer will have.
The marine layer has two effects. The first is that it is chilly. Even if the weather calls for shorts during the day, you're going to want a light sweater or jacket in the evening. Likewise, if you're heading out for a day of sightseeing, you may dress for the cool weather in the morning, but you should expect it to get much warmer and sunnier during the course of the day. The second effect is to block the sun. If you have fair skin, consider putting on sunscreen first thing in the morning. The transition from cloud to full sun can sneak up on you quickly.
You should also make sure to pack shoes for walking. Most restaurants in the area are about a mile from the hotel, so you are likely to do at least some walking.
PIUG 2007 is at the Hilton Costa Mesa, on Bristol Drive, just south of the 405. (If you want to sound like you're from SoCal, call freeways by their number. It's not "I-405", it's "the 405".) We've set up a Google Map that shows the neighborhood... click here.
If you exit the hotel and turn right on Bristol, a short walk of about 10 minutes (to the other side of the 405) will bring you to the South Coast Plaza area. On the far side of Bristol (on your left) is one of the biggest and most posh shopping malls around (with many food options). It is easiest to cross Bristol using the pedestrian bridge on the other side of Anton. To your right is a cluster of hotels, the Orange County Performing Arts Center, and lots of more expensive restaurants.
If you turn left as you leave the hotel, heading south on Bristol, you'll find several strip malls (including some fast food options), and if you continue on for two blocks you'll reach The Lab, an "anti-mall" of trendy clothing shops and eateries your teenage kids would love. Across Bristol from The Lab is The Camp, with stores focused on outdoor activities (scuba, hiking, biking, etc) and some more restaurants.
There is a 7-11 just south of the hotel (across Paularino), and another a half-block south of the hotel on the other side of Bristol. There is a Japanese grocery store (with a big food court) behind the 7-11 on Paularino. More conventional grocery stores are located about 1.2 miles north on Bristol, just past Sunflower, on the left (look for Vons or Albertsons). You will also find a drug store (CVS), office supplies (Staples or Office Depot), and other shopping on the right side of Bristol.
Things to do in Orange County
This year's conference is only five miles from the Pacific Ocean, so our first recommendation is one of the many beaches on the Orange coast. If you're looking for the classic American surfing beach, Huntington Beach is your best bet (not to mention a case study in trademark law). Further south, and closest to the conference, are the posh streets and restaurants of Newport Beach and Balboa Island. Continue down Pacific Coast Highway to Laguna Beach for some spectacular natural beauty, art galleries, and some good eats. Or you can head to the southern end of the county (just north of Camp Pendleton), to the resorts and harbors of Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano.
Our second recommendation is one of Orange County's largest employers: Disney. Disneyland is the original Walt Disney resort, which just finished celebrating its 50th anniversary. The California Adventure theme park does a nice job of capturing the spirit of the state, and the Downtown Disney district features several good restaurants. (If you're interested in roller coasters, you might consider another OC amusement park Knott's Berry Farm... or the trek north of LA to Magic Mountain.)
Orange County is home to an excellent collection of antiquities at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana. A collection of Egyptian mummies from the British Museum is on exhibit until the end of 2007. You could take in lunch under the palms on the patio of the Green Parrot Cafe, or perhaps choose a sandwich and beer from Hollingshead Deli.
History buffs may also enjoy the Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda.
Baseball fans can go to Anaheim to watch the Angels (the team that is embarassed to use the Anaheim name), as they host the White Sox and the Indians during PIUG. The Ducks are still in the chase for the Stanley Cup, and while playoff tickets are hard to get, it's not impossible.
The Orange County Performing Arts Center, and the South Coast Repertory, are located on the other side of the 405. The walk from the hotel won't be much further than the walk from any parking you can find!
If you want to get out and enjoy our climate a little more, you might consider taking a ferry to Catalina Island for some hiking or biking, a sport fishing cruise, a round on one of our numerous golf courses, or a horseback ride in Four Square Park.
And while it isn't technically in Orange County, you may want to consider a visit to Long Beach, home of the Long Beach Aquarium, the Queen Mary, and every April the Long Beach Grand Prix.
Of course, one of the great shopping malls in America is South Coast Plaza, which is in easy walking distance. Simply head north on Bristol across the 405 and cross to the west side of Bristol (there is a pedestrian bridge near the Westin Hotel).
The canonical Orange County cuisine can be found at a hamburger stand, a taqueria, or a pho shop. A wide range of restaurants can be found around the hotel. Most of the restaurants in the immediate area of the hotel cater to businessmen and tourists, and are priced accordingly. [Any descriptions of restaurants below are based on our personal experiences, sometimes at other locations within a chain.]
In the immediate area of the hotel:
- Bristol Palms (the hotel's restaurant)
- Wahoo's Fish Tacos - they serve much more than just fish tacos, with a range from standard tacos to Hawaiian-style teriyaki dishes
- Garf's Sports Bar and Grill
- the food court at Matsuwa Marketplace
South of the hotel on Bristol:
- Aire - noisy and hip, but with an excellent kitchen, this tapas style restaurant is the star of the area
- Onotria Wine Country Cuisine - Italian and Californian food from organic and seasonal ingredients, expensive, but very tasty
- Habana - Trendy location with a younger clientelle, good drinks menu, spicier food
- Memphis Cafe
- Native Foods - a vegan restaurant in the Camp with several tasty options
North of the hotel on Bristol, across the 405:
- Pinot Provence - French dining set in the Westin hotel
- Chat Noir - a Parisian-style lounge and restaurant, a notch above Pinot Provence in decor, food, and price
- Turner New Zealand
- Mastro's Steakhouse
In South Coast Plaza:
- Wolfgang Puck Cafe - California/Mediterranean casual dining in South Coast Plaza, near Macy's
- Claim Jumper
- Rainforest Cafe
If you have a car, may we recommend
- Catal - mediterranean dining at Downtown Disney (a personal favorite), with a view of the Disney firework show
- Kitayama - excellent sushi bar (there is a line before it opens at 5:30) and Japanese restaurant
- Il Fornaio - reliably good Italian... make sure to save room for dessert
- Taco Mesa - inexpensive healthy taqueria, an excellent example of the style
- Darya - excellent Persian restaurant, just beyond South Coast Plaza... it would be a long walk, but not completely unreasonable
- Duke's - excellent seafood on the beach in Huntington Beach
Beyond Orange County
Orange County is just a small part of the state of California. Day trips are possible to Hollywood, the Getty Museum, the San Diego Zoo (or the Wild Animal Park), and many other destinations. If you want to see more of Southern California, you could head south to San Diego, east to Palm Springs and the desert, or north and west to Santa Barbara and the southern California wine country.
A visitor's guide to Costa Mesa is available at TravelCostaMesa.com.
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The opinions expressed on this page are those of the author alone. He's also responsible for any bad jokes or cultural references that don't make sense. No claim is made as to accuracy, completeness, or whether the reader's taste buds will agree with the author's.
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