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Orange County, Southern California's coastal buffer

Orange County is an urban megoplex somewhat like it's big sister, Los Angeles County -- just a bit smaller. Orange County is the smallest geographic county in Southern California, but with a population of over 3 million people, it still outranks about 20 states.

Gossip touts Orange County's suburban wealth and political conservativism, but it is a very diverse community that stretches from beach front tourism communities to fun theme parks of Disney and Knott's Berry Farm, to open lands and agricultural nooks and crannies. But tourism is big business in Orange County, because of the theme parks and the open spaces for golf, tennis, hiking, kayaking cycling and other outdoor recreation.

Thirty-four incorporated cities snuggle up to one another in Orange County, the newest being Aliso Viejo.

Natural features in this tiny coastal county include the coastal plain of the Los Angeles Basin, the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains, and valleys -- the Santa Ana Valley and the Saddleback Valley. To the east are the Santa Ana Mountains and the beautiful Cleveland National Forest. Saddleback Ridge is a scenic view for most of the county.

Being at the base of the Los Angeles Basin, it makes sense that Orange County would have a variety of rivers and creeks, including the natural lake, Laguna Lakes with its unusual source of water from an underground fault.

Freeways are numerous and big in this car-crazy community. Commutes are one of Orange County's hot issues, and numerous environmental battles rage as people try to solve the transportation issues without damaging the natural systems that have thus far survived the heavy urban development.

Natural points of interest include the mild Mediterranean climate that encourages a wide variety of garden plants and styles. Surfing is king -- with Huntington Beach nick named "Surf City, USA" because of its great surfing and numerous surfing competitions.

Ocean piers are easy livin' destinations for an afternoon at the beach to watch sunbathers and the waves -- not necessarily in that order, either because of the scenic beauty that rivals sex appeal.

And if you like history, the restored Mission San Juan Capistrano not only offers the lore of the swallows of San Juan Capistrano, but beautiful mission landscaping and gardens with historical roots.

Orange County covers 34 incorporated communities with the oldest being Anaheim which was founded in 1870. The communities include: Aliso Viejo, Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Cypress, Dana Point, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Habra, La Palma, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake forest, Los Alamitos, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, Orange, Placentia, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, Tustin, Villa Park, Westminster, and Yorba Linda.