Orange County, California

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This is an article about the county in California. For other uses, see Orange County (disambiguation).

Orange County, California is a county in Southern California. Its county seat is Santa Ana. With a population of 2,846,289 (2000 census), it is the second most populous county in the state of California and the fifth most populous in the United States. The Current OMB metropolitan designation for Orange County is “Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, CA.” The county is known for its wealth and political conservatism, although it is in reality neither as uniformly wealthy nor as politically conservative as its sterotypical image suggests.



According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 2,455 km² (948 mi²), making it the smallest county in Southern California. Surface water accounts for 411 km² (159 mi²) of the area, 16.73% of the total; 2,045 km² (789 mi²) of it is land.

Orange County is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the north by Los Angeles County, on the northeast by San Bernardino County, on the east by Riverside County, and on the south by San Diego County. It is at the center of Southern California's Tech Coast.

The northern part of the county lies on the coastal plain of the Los Angeles Basin, while the southern half lies on the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. Most of Orange County's population resides in one of two shallow coastal valleys that lie in the basin, the Santa Ana Valley and the Saddleback Valley. The coastal plain gently rises into the Santa Ana Mountains, which lie within the boundaries of the county and of the Cleveland National Forest. The high point is Santiago Peak (5,687 ft/1,733 m), about 20 mi (32 km) east of Santa Ana. Santiago Peak and nearby Modjeska Peak, just 200 feet shorter, form a ridge known as Saddleback, visible from almost everywhere in the county. The Santa Ana Mountains are part of the Peninsular Ranges that stretch from Mount San Jacinto in the north to the Baja California peninsula in the south.

The Santa Ana River is the principal watercourse. Its major tributary running through the county is Santiago Creek. Other watercourses within the county include Aliso Creek, San Juan Creek, and Horsethief Creek. The San Gabriel River also briefly crosses into Orange County and exits into the Pacific on the Los Angeles-Orange County line. Laguna Beach is home to the county's only natural lakes, Laguna Lakes, which were formed when water rose up against an underground fault.

The most important roadway is the Santa Ana Freeway, or Interstate 5, which runs north-south bisecting the length of the county. It merges with another key north-south road, the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405) in Irvine. The 5 and 405 freeways meet at the "El Toro Y," one of the busiest interchanges in the U.S.

Residents often divide the county into "North County" and "South County", as opposed to an East-West division characterized by coastal and inland cities. There is no formal geographical division of North and South County, though a South-North border may be drawn somewhere along the city limits of Irvine-Tustin, Newport Beach-Costa Mesa, or the division between the 949 & 714 area codes.


Members of the Tongva and Juaneño/Luiseño nations long inhabited the area. After the 1769 expedition of Gaspar de Portola, a Spanish expedition led by Junipero Serra named the area Vallejo de Santa Ana (Valley of Saint Anne). On November 1, 1776, Mission San Juan Capistrano became the first permanent European settlement.

A severe drought in the 1860s devastated the prevailing industry, cattle ranching, and much land came into the possession of James Irvine and other land barons. In 1887, silver was discovered in the Santa Ana mountains, attracting settlers via the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroads. This growth led the California legislature to divide Los Angeles County and create Orange County as a separate political entity on March 11, 1889. It was named for its most famous product, but other citrus crops, avocados, and oil extraction were also important to the early economy.

Orange County benefitted from the July 4, 1904 completion of the Pacific Electric Railway, a trolley connecting Los Angeles with Newport Beach and Santa Ana. The link made Orange County an accessible weekend retreat for celebrities of early Hollywood. It was deemed so significant that the city of Pacific Beach changed its name to Huntington Beach in honor of Henry Huntington, president of the Pacific Electric and nephew of robber baron Collis Huntington. Transportation further improved with the completion of the State Route and U.S. Highway 101 (now mostly Interstate 5) in the 1920s.

Agriculture, such as the boysenberry which was made famous by Buena Park native Walter Knott, began to decline after World War II but the county's prosperity soared. The completion of Interstate 5 in 1954 helped make Orange County a bedroom community for many who moved to Southern California to work in aerospace and manufacturing. Orange County received a further boost in 1955 with the opening of Disneyland.

In 1969, Yorba Linda born Orange County native Richard Nixon became the 37th President of the United States.

In the 1980s, population topped 2 million for the first time, making Orange County the second largest county in California.

A spectacular investment fund melt-down in 1994 led to the criminal prosecution of Orange County treasurer Robert Citron. On December 6, 1994, Orange County declared Chapter 9 bankruptcy, from which it emerged in June 1995; this was the largest ever municipal bankruptcy in the U.S. The county lost about $1.6 billion through high-risk investments in derivatives.

In recent years, the county has been characterized by conflict between the older northern and newer southern cities over development, the building of new toll roads, and a recently defeated proposal to build an international airport at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to supplement the crowded John Wayne Airport.


As of the census2 of 2000, there are 2,846,289 people, 935,287 households, and 667,794 families residing in the county. The population density is 1,392/km² (3,606/mi²). There are 969,484 housing units at an average density of 474/km² (1,228/mi²). The racial makeup of the county is 64.81% White, 30.76% Hispanic or Latino, 13.59% Asian, 1.67% African American, 0.70% Native American, 0.31% Pacific Islander, 14.80% from other races, and 4.12% from two or more races.

There are 935,287 households out of which 37.0% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.9% are married couples living together, 10.7% have a female householder with no husband present, and 28.6% are non-families. 21.1% of all households are made up of individuals and 7.2% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 3.00 and the average family size is 3.48.

The population is diverse age-wise, with 27.0% under the age of 18, 9.4% from 18 to 24, 33.2% from 25 to 44, 20.6% from 45 to 64, and 9.9% 65 years of age or older. The median age is 33 years. For every 100 females there are 99.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 96.7 males.

The median income for a household in the county is $58,820, and the median income for a family is $64,611. Males have a median income of $45,059 versus $34,026 for females. The per capita income for the county is $25,826. 10.3% of the population and 7.0% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 13.2% of those under the age of 18 and 6.2% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.


Orange County is home to several colleges and universities, including:

Its county department of education also oversees 28 school districts. See List of school districts in Orange County, California.

Points of interest

The area's warm Mediterranean climate and miles of year-round beaches attract millions of tourists annually. Huntington Beach is a hot spot for sunbathing and surfing; nicknamed "Surf City, U.S.A.", it is home to many surfing competitions. Other tourist destinations include the theme parks Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim and Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park. Little Saigon is another notable tourist destination, being home to the largest concentration of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam.

Notable structures include the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, the largest house of worship in California; the historic Balboa Pavilion [1] ( in Newport Beach; the Huntington Beach Pier; and the restored Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Some of the most exclusive (and expensive) neighborhoods in the U.S. are located here, many along the Orange Coast. Large shopping malls exist throughout the county, such as the Irvine Spectrum Center, South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Fashion Island in Newport Beach, and The Block in Orange.

The county is home to the University of California, Irvine, California State University, Fullerton, Mission San Juan Capistrano (destination of migrating swallows), and the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace (the only privately-controlled presidential library in the nation since the government began constructing these libraries in 1939) in Yorba Linda. The Nixon Home is a National Historic Landmark, as is the home of a very different character, Madam Helena Modjeska, in Modjeska Canyon on Santiago Creek.

The Anaheim Angels, which still play in the county as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, won the World Series in 2002. The county's National Hockey League team, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, lost the 2003 Stanley Cup finals after winning three games in a seven-game series. NFL football left the county when the Los Angeles Rams relocated to St. Louis in 1996, but Anaheim city leaders are currently in talks with the NFL to bring a franchise back to Orange County.


Orange County is a general law county of California; its seat is Santa Ana. Its legislative and executive authority is vested in a five-member Board of Supervisors. Each Supervisor is popularly elected from a regional district, and together the board oversees the activities of the county's agencies and departments and sets policy on development, public improvements, and county services. At the beginning of each year the Supervisors select a Chairman and Vice-Chairman, but the administration is headed by a professional municipal manager, the County Executive.

Seven other public officials are elected at-large: the County Assessor, Auditor-Controller, Clerk-Recorder, District Attorney, Sheriff-Coroner, Treasurer-Tax Collector, and Public Administrator.


The majority of Orange County citizens have conservative or moderate political views. Accordingly, the area has historically been a stronghold of the Republican Party. Since the mid 1980's the Democratic party has garnered momentum amongst County voters. This trend reverted slightly, however, in the 2004 elections.

Orange County produced such notable Republicans as President Richard Nixon, U.S. Senator Thomas Kuchel (of Anaheim), U.S. Rep. James B. Utt (of Santa Ana), U.S. Rep. Robert E. Badham (of Newport Beach), and U.S. Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (of Fullerton). U.S. Rep. Chris Cox (of Newport Beach) is President Bush's nominee to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. The county has produced relatively few prominent Republicans in state government, although in 1996 Curt Pringle (currently mayor of Anaheim) became the first Republican-elected Speaker of the California Assembly in decades.

Republican majorities in Orange County helped deliver California's electoral votes for Richard Nixon in 1960 and 1968, Gerald Ford in 1976, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George H. W. Bush in 1988.

While Orange County has long boasted one of the largest Republican Party organizations in the state, it is also home to one of the largest Democratic Party organizations, and elected such prominent Democrats as Richard T. Hanna and Jerry Patterson to the U.S. Congress. Still, the Republican voter registration outnumbers the Democratic 3-2. Five of the County's six U.S. Representatives, four of its five State Senators, and seven of its nine State Assembly members are Republicans, as are four of the five members of the County Board of Supervisors. Since the 1990s, the growth of the Hispanic population—and reaction to the divisive campaign tactics of former state governor Pete Wilson—have softened the county's staunch Republicanism. In the landmark 1996 election, Democrat Loretta Sanchez defeated veteran Republican U.S. Rep. Robert K. Dornan, and has held the seat ever since. The county Republicans have made more explicit efforts to court the Hispanic vote. As more immigrants and liberals settle in of Orange County, there are signs that the longtime Republican monopoly are beginning to dwindle. This has led to higher margains for Democrats such as Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein as well as former Governor Gray Davis, in addition to Democratic Presidential candidates, which had fared better here recently until the 2004 election. However in the 2004 election Orange County's political conservatism prevailed. Senator Barbara Boxer won the election statewide, but failed in Orange County getting roughly 43% of the vote to Republican Bill Jones' 51%. President George W. Bush captured 60% of the county's vote, this was an increase from the 55% he recieved in 2000.

The county features prominently in the book Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right by Lisa McGirr. She argues that the County's rightward orientation in the 20th century owed much to its settlement by Midwestern transplants, who reacted strongly to communist sympathies and the turmoil of the 1960s in nearby Los Angeles—across the "Orange Curtain."

Orange County in literature and popular culture

Orange County has been the setting for numerous films and television shows:

Popular punk rock bands such as Thrice, The Offspring, and the bands No Doubt, Lit, Sugar Ray, Social Distortion, and Rage Against the Machine all hail from Orange County.

Famous horror author Dean Koontz has set a number of his novels in the area.

Orange County is the place in which Kim Stanley Robinson's Three Californias Trilogy is set. These books depict three different futures of the Orange County (survivors of a nuclear war in The Wild Shore, a developer's dream gone mad in The Gold Coast, and an ecotopian utopia in Pacific Edge). Philip K. Dick's novel A Scanner Darkly was also set in Orange County.

Orange County is also the base for several significant religious organizations:

Famous Orange County residents, past and present

Cities and towns in Orange County

See also

External links

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