Photo: Steve Cukrov/Shutterstock

The Best Malls and Industrial Parks of Orange County

Los Angeles Travel
by Josh Heller Feb 27, 2012
Josh Heller trespasses in storage complexes, traverses the third largest mall in the US, and eats a Jack in the Box combo meal in an industrial park as part of this exclusive tour of Orange County.

I RELUCTANTLY TELL YOU that I live in Orange County. A temporary relocation across the Orange Curtain is almost a rite of passage for Angelenos: a purgatory where nobody wants to move. Older LA-natives will reminisce: “oh yeah, I did a 2-year stretch out in Fountain Valley back in ’96,” “I had to live in Anaheim for the better part of 2002,” and “I don’t really remember, but I guess the rent was just cheaper in Costa Mesa.”

Orange County is a vast suburban landscape full of pavement, chain franchises, and shopping malls. Everything gritty I like about the city is replaced by the excessively clean and homogenized. The streets aren’t lined with stores; everything is put inside of shopping centers. I kept notes on several “highlights” on a recent errands day:

South Coast Plaza

South Coast Plaza is the third largest mall in the US. It’s no “Mall of America” (which is only the second largest US mall): there aren’t any roller-coasters or aquariums, just high-end retail for the hyper-wealthy, and stores whose names I could barely pronounce: Balenciaga, Façonnable, Cucineli.

I came to buy my girlfriend a box of chocolates. It is a Valentine’s Day cliche, but what can I say, she just loves chocolate. The See’s Candy line was long. The clerk announced: “There sure are a lot of boys in here today!” A fat guy, who is somehow totally buff, was tasting every flavor in the display case: Dark Bordeaux(TM), California Brittle®, P-Nut Crunch(TM), Scotchmallow®. I just bought the cheapest box.

I roamed around the mall, lost. I don’t need any of this. I do not subscribe to commodity fetishism. I am a consumer in the most basic sense of the word: I like to consume food. I pulled out my smart phone (which disproves my theory about not subscribing to commodity fetishism) and looked for a highly-rated restaurant. Only one place popped up that is both highly rated and in the $ section. I set my tray down and ate my food and watched people walk by:

    1. Africans were eating gelato.


    1. A short woman was carrying a fat baby.


    1. Arab grandparents were smiling at me as they waited for their children.


    1. White dudes in beanies with beards tried to look like DJ Khaled.


    1. A dreadlocked caucasian pushed his twins.


    1. A bald mall security guard mean-mugged me.


    1. Lovers held hands.


    1. An old man with authentic sailor tattoos walked behind Persian men in sports coats.


    1. A Korean baby walked between her father and her grandmother.


    An old Russian man wearing a fedora stopped for a moment to gaze at his reflection in a waterfall.
The District

The District is an archipelago of retail in a sea of asphalt. I could see the 300 foot high military hangars built in the 40s during WWII fears of a Japanese invasion of California. Back then nothing was here. Now a full square-mile chunk of the former military installation has been transformed into a shopping center.

I walked through empty parking lots, passed by big box stores, and into the central shopping complex. I thought about how the ‘main street’ or ‘paseo’ model for shopping malls is at least a positive direction for monoculture.

There was a girls apparel store called Justice. Back in my day ‘Justice’ was… a French electro duo. I walked by a bakery called Nothing Bundt Cakes. This is the best pun I’ve ever seen in real life since MallDova in Chisinau, Moldova.

I meandered around the Whole Foods. I can barely afford to shop there. If I were rich, I’d move into a Whole Foods. A security guard followed me for merely admiring the produce section. I paid $10 at the salad bar. Who’s the thief now, Whole Foods?

The District is more pleasant than South Coast Plaza because it is outdoors. It is one of the only places in North America where you can work on your killer tan, while buying all the Bundt cake you could ever want!

An Unnamed Industrial Park in Tustin

I’d taken my car in to get a cheap oil change, and it turned into $400 worth of brake-work. I’d be stranded for a few hours, so I tried to make the best of it by livetweeting philosophical musings from the corner table at a Jack in the Box in an industrial park in Tustin.

That indigestion you feel after eating fast food is the struggle between the artificial cost-saving measures of capitalism and your natural body.

800 calories just for breakfast doesn’t burn off for most of those sitting at desks in our increasingly service economy.

Its not that I hate Jack in the Box (I love drinking six refills of their Kona Blend) it’s that I wish there were healthy alternatives at similar prices.

Buffer Zone

My cellular telephone told me to walk 3-miles in a reverse C-shape to the complex. I decided to deviate. I trespassed along a channel. I watched egrets and other birds I’d never seen before fly around their habitat, now limited to the tiny buffer zone between the highway and suburban sprawl. I passed dried up egret bones and wondered what this land looked like before.

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