Where is Downtown Orange County?

Most major cities and metropolitan areas have a downtown core that serves as a focal point for urban growth in the region. Typically denser and more diverse than the exterior suburbs, the downtown district acts as a hub for businesses, nightlife, and, in many ways, helps to define the character of the community. And yet, in Orange County, CA – one of the nation’s most populated and diverse areas – such an urban nucleus is not so easily recognized.

The phrase “Downtown Orange County” has been popularized as of late, with multiple communities trying to designate themselves as the epicenter of tourism, business, and nightlife within the County. The term has been applied to Downtown Fullerton, with its plethora of bars and nightlife, and Downtown Orange, which evokes a more family-friendly image. It’s also been used to describe Downtown Huntington Beach, which epitomizes the surf-and-sand image stylized by coastal communities, and the revitalized Downtown Santa Ana, which thrives as a cultural backbone to the rest of the county. The City of Anaheim has even adopted a plan for massive urbanization in its newly-christened Platinum Triangle area to try and claim the illustrious title of “Downtown Orange County.”

 Still, none of these areas seems to assert itself past the competition. Rather than one standout downtown area, Orange County seems to have many micro-downtowns relative to the communities around them. These downtowns are scattered throughout the County in such a fashion that suggests there is no true core in the county, but instead there is a multitude of districts, each with its own character and value contributing to the greater urban form.

Given the suburban nature of the area, it seems unlikely that any of these communities will be unable to crown itself as “Downtown Orange County” in the near future. Therefore, it seems unlikely that any one community will reap all the benefits of appealing to the county with that title, either. Instead, greater connectivity is needed to build a more cohesive environment. Only through solidarity and a collective vision can a true developmental core be established in Orange County.

Written by Michael Dietz who is an Analyst at RSG.