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LOCAL LABOR : How to have a Memorable Holiday Weekend in O.C.

It’s Thursday morning. You’ve counted your pennies and decided there is no way on Earth you can afford to get away for the Labor Day weekend (even if you could still get a room). You have 12 projects hanging over your head at work, the dishwasher is making a weird noise and the cat is getting that creepy maternal look. Again.

Not to worry. Whether you prefer a good, old-fashioned family picnic or a couple of rip-snortin’ nights on the town, there are plenty of ways to enjoy a great three-day weekend without ever crossing the county line.

To make things a bit easier, we’ve put together three possible packages: “Tides, Turf and Take-Out,” which includes tips from local beach and park experts on possible sites for the family picnic, plus tips on delectable take-along meals; “Nights Out,” which highlights concerts and club dates; and “Fun and Festivities,” a wrap-up of area special events and theme parks.

Tides, Turf and Take-Out

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Beaches: On a just about any holiday weekend in this county, all roads lead to the beach. They don’t get you there very fast, mind you, but that’s the price of living in paradise, right?

To keep you from getting burned on your coastal outing, representatives of several city, county and state beaches offer the following tips:

To shag a prime parking spot for your car and your bod, plan to arrive at most beaches before 11 a.m., says Larry Paul, manager of coastal facilities for the County of Orange. Paul expects heavy crowds just about everywhere (the heaviest on Labor Day itself), but beaches at the southern end of the county may be a bit lighter.

“A good rule of thumb is the farther south you go, the better your opportunity,” says Paul. “And keep an eye on the weather. If it’s an overcast morning with a probability of afternoon sun, those who come out and take a little morning chill will be in the best position for the afternoon.”

As any beach-goer knows, searching for a parking spot can be as irritating as dumping the hot dogs in the sand. Metered lots are available at the county’s Salt Creek Beach and Capistrano Beach, both located in Dana Point, but they fill up early. Paul suggests the lesser-known Selva lot, located just south of the Ritz-Carlton resort entrance off Pacific Coast Highway. Going south, turn right on Selva into the unmetered lot for direct access to the Salt Creek and Selva beach areas. At Aliso Beach in the South Laguna area, look for another “secret” lot on the inland side of PCH just across the road from the Aliso main lot. Cross under PCH in the nearby pedestrian tunnel.

If you’re heading for the state-run Huntington or Bolsa Chica beaches, plan to hit the sand no later than 10 a.m., advises Jack Roggenbuck, district superintendent of the California State Department of Parks and Recreation, Orange Coast District.

“These are two nationally recognized beaches, and if the weather is nice, we can expect them to stay busy as late as 8 or 9 p.m.,” said Roggenbuck, who added that parking is very tight at both locations.

Also popular is Crystal Cove State Park, which combines 3.5 miles of sandy beach with a variety of off-beach park facilities. Located off PCH between Laguna and Newport Beach, the park features hiking, biking and equestrian trails in the rolling hills near El Moro Canyon and picnic sites on the bluff overlooking the beach (bring your own chairs). Expect to hike up to 1/3 mile to the sand from the parking lots, which are marked on the coastal side of PCH with signs reading Pelican Point and Reef Point, and on the inland side, El Moro and Los Trancos. (And pack a few extra bucks. On Sept. 1, parking on any of the state parks and beach lots jumps to $6 per car.)

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Lt. John Blauer, a lifeguard with the city of Newport Beach, says that Labor Day crowds on his beat have been lighter in recent years, thanks to the earlier start date of some local colleges.

“In the past, it was a zoo around here,” laughs Blauer. “Now it’s only two steps short of crazy.” For the best parking spots in the Balboa or Corona del Mar lots, plan to arrive either before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., advises Blauer.

Parks and bike trails: There are 19,000 acres of operational parkland managed by the county, including 10 large regional parks and three camping parks. All of them will be popular on Labor Day weekend, says Tim Miller, the county’s manager of regional parks, but the situation is far from hopeless.

“There are four big holidays for park use every year: Easter, Labor Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July,” says Miller. “We expect all our day-use parks to be filled to capacity by 10 or 11 a.m. and our overnight parks to be filled by Friday night.

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“However, once the parking spots are taken, the parks will still admit visitors on foot or bicycle,” he notes. “And as groups leave during the course of the day, we’ll open it up for more cars. By controlling our parking, we can ensure that while there may be plenty of people in the park, it won’t be wall-to-wall.”

Irvine Park in the city of Orange is the county’s most-visited regional park, attracting 600,000 visitors last year alone. The 477-acre site offers a wide variety of recreational facilities, including two lakes, boat rentals, the kid-sized Orange County Zoo, pony rides and horse rentals, paved bike trails and hundreds of shady picnic spots.

Or course, there’s plenty more where that came from. The county also operates Carbon Canyon Park in Brea, Ralph B. Clark Park in Buena Park, Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley, Craig Park in Fullerton, Mason Regional Park in Irvine, Laguna Niguel Park in Laguna Niguel, Santiago Oaks Park in Orange and Yorba Regional Park in Yorba Linda--all measuring 100 acres or more and all offering sheltered picnic areas, barbecues and recreational opportunities.

The latest addition to the list is Aliso and Woods Canyons Park in the Aliso Viejo area. The wilderness park features two “basically untouched” canyons, and over 10 miles of unpaved hiking, biking and equestrian trails, said Miller. Overnight parks include Featherly Park in Yorba Linda, O’Neill in Trabuco Canyon and the 7,600-acre Casper’s Park off the Ortega Highway adjacent to San Juan Capistrano.

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Feeling athletic? Bikers can choose from 57 miles of off-road bike trails managed by the county. The longest of these are the Santa Ana River Trail, which stretches from Featherly Park to Huntington Beach, and the Aliso Creek Trail, which begins at Cooks Corner and Santiago Canyon Road in the El Toro area and ends in the Aliso and Woods Canyon Park. For a complete guide to the county’s bike trail system and to the regional parks, call (714) 567-5206.

Food: Now that you’ve decided where to go on Labor Day, the next, and perhaps more vital, question is: What to do about munchies?

For many of us, it just wouldn’t be Labor Day without spending hours slicing, dicing and otherwise knocking ourselves out over The Great Picnic Lunch. We fish the Tupperware lids out of the kids’ toy box, pack up the food, the family and the thousand other incidentals necessary for “impromptu” dining and rush out to swat flies with the rest of humanity.

So, are we having fun yet?

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But Jocelyn Johnson says there is a way to enjoy good food and the great outdoors without making yourself crazy.

“The reason you have a party or picnic is so you can spend time with your friends and family,” reasoned Johnson, marketing director for Jay’s Catering/Mastrioanni’s , one of the county’s largest catering firms. “If you use a caterer, you can relax and enjoy the day instead of rushing around like a mad man.” With one or two days’ notice, many caterers and restaurants can arrange take-along meals for small groups at a reasonable price, said Johnson.

Jay’s, for example, can supply your basic cold sandwich and salad lunch for about $5.50 per person, or tonier items like cold poached salmon for about $15 a head. Their brunch-to-go of sliced fruit and “brunch bread” stuffed with eggs, cheese and ham goes for about $45 to $50 for a party of 12.

If you simply must fire up the coals, Jay’s offers pre-cooked items, such as seasoned breast of chicken or ribs. To impress your friends, Johnson suggests you wait until the gang arrives, then throw the food on the grill for a quick warm up. Remember to spill a little sauce on your apron, and they’ll think you’ve spent all day slaving over a hot barby.

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Jay’s delivers or you can pick up your order at their headquarters, 10581 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove. The office is closed Labor Day. Call (714) 636-6045.

Piret’s Bistro in South Coast Plaza packs gourmet picnics for parties of 1 to 100. The cafe offers individual box lunches for $7.50 to $9 per person, ranging from sandwiches and fruit to quiche and green salad, each packed with one of the shop’s home-baked cookies. With a $50 refundable deposit, picnic baskets finished off with linen, glassware, china and silver can be filled with imported cheese, breads, fruits and wine. The lunch runs about $30 per person.

Piret’s requires 24-hour advance notice on take-out orders. Call (714) 556-6424, or visit the restaurant at 3333 S. Bristol St., on the lower level near the mall’s carousel. They’ll be closed on Labor Day.

Tucked away in a Costa Mesa strip center is Petite France (1835 Harbor Blvd.), a tiny cafe that offers take-out French at fast-food prices. Customers can choose from grilled chicken with herb sauce, prawns with lime-caper sauce, beef bourguignon with red-wine sauce and much more for a modest $3.95 to $5.95 per person. (No, that’s not a typo.) Salads, soups and baked goods are also available. For carry-out, call a day ahead. Open Labor Day. Call (714) 650-9363.

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Nights Out

One of the greatest pleasures of Labor Day is the chance to stay out late the night before without worrying about a buzzing alarm in the morning. If you’re thinking of doing the town on the holiday weekend, here’s a few ideas:

Pacific Symphony continues its 1990 outdoor concert series at Irvine Meadows on Saturday, Sept. 1, with a program of Spanish-inspired classics, including Suite No. 1 from Bizet’s “Carmen,” “Espana” by Chabrier, Falle’s “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” and Ravel’s “Bolero.” Conducted by PSO assistant conductor Lucas Richman, the concert begins at 8:30 p.m. The picnic area opens at 6 p.m. Tickets run $8.50 to $37.50. Call (714) 740-2000.

B.B. King opens Saturday, Sept. 1, at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. He’ll be joined Sunday, Monday and Tuesday night (Sept. 2-4) by Leon Russell. Shows each night are at 8 and 10:30 p.m.; tickets are $25. Call (714) 496-8930.

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Johnny Cash appears in Knott’s Berry Farm’s Calico Square on Saturday, Sept. 1, and Monday, Sept. 3; Juice Newton squeezes in a couple of shows on Sunday, Sept. 2. All performances are at 7 and 9 p.m. and are included with park admission, $15 to $21. Call (714) 220-5200.

Jazz and blues singer DeeDee McNeil appears Saturday, Sept. 1, at 9 p.m. and Monday, Sept. 3, at 8:30 p.m. at Cafe Lido in Newport Beach. The Shades play the club Sunday, Sept. 2., at 8:30 p.m. There’s a cover charge on Saturday night only. Call (714) 673-5056.

Luther Hughes and Eric Marienthal jazz it up at the El Matador restaurant in Huntington Beach on Saturday, Sept. 1, at 8:30 p.m. No cover charge. Call (714) 846-5337.

Tommy Page, Linear and Sweet Sensation perform Saturday, Sept. 1, at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim. Tickets: $21.50 to $23. Call (714) 999-9536.

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Dance lovers can have their Ballet Alfresco on Saturday, Sept. 1, at the Irvine Bowl in Laguna Beach. This 25th annual event by Ballet Pacifica begins at 6 p.m. with a Country French-style buffet at the Tivoli Terrace, followed by the 8 p.m. performance. The program will include a comic ballet, “La Fille mal gardee” (see story, Page 4), and an abstract piece entitled “Arabesque.” Tickets for the dinner and show are $35; see just the performance, and it’s $6 to $20. Call (714) 642-9275.

Fun and Festivities

Leave it to the benevolent Elks to hold what seems to be the county’s only Labor Day carnival. On Monday, Sept. 3, the Garden Grove Elks host their annual Labor Day Festival from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the corner of Newhope Street and Trask Avenue in Garden Grove, with a pancake breakfast, a barbecue, raffle, contests and children’s activities. Admission is free, breakfast is $3.50 per person and the barbecue is $4 for children, $7 for adults. Call (714) 534-1952.

You can go global at the 16th Annual Orange International Street Fair. Set in the city’s historic plaza at the intersection of Chapman Avenue and Glassell Street, the fair offers food booths, crafts and entertainment from around the world. It’s a trencherman’s paradise, where hot bratwurst, crunchy tacos, Danish desserts and German beer await within a few steps of each other, and ethnic music and dance add color and fun. Admission is free for the event, which runs from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1 and Sunday, Sept. 2. Call (714) 532-6260.

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This year marks the debut of what is planned to be an annual Westminster International Labor Day Festival. The four-day festival’s theme is “United Together in Celebration,” dedicated to the international communities of Orange County. It kicks off Friday, Aug. 31, and continues through Monday, Sept. 3, with arts and crafts, carnival rides and games, food and an array of international entertainment that includes reggae music, Korean and Irish dancers, a Vietnamese band, bluegrass, folk, oldies and a barbershop chorus. (Talk about eclectic.) All activities will be at 8200 13th Street, just off Beach Boulevard, next to the Orange County Westminster Library. Hours are 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31; noon to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 1 and 2; noon to 10 p.m. Monday, Sept. 3. Admission is $3 for adults; $1 for children ages 6 to 10 (free for those under age 5). Call (714) 898-9648 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Great Labor Day Cruise VIII motors into the Orange County Fairgrounds (88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa) Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Sept. 1-3) with a display of classic cars, ‘50s-themed contests, music and entertainment. Sponsored by the Orange County Cruisin’ Assn. and radio station KODJ, the event runs 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday. Admission is $5 for adults, free for children 12 and under. Call (714) 826-1948.

OK, OK. It’s time to face the music. Your kids have been bugging you for three months to take them to the local amusement park, and summer is just about history. The advice here is the same as for the beaches and parks: Get up with the chickens and your chances for the Happiest Day on Earth will improve greatly. Here’s the basics on the area’s three most popular theme parks.

Disneyland (1313 Harbor Blvd., Anaheim) is open Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m., Mondays from 9 a.m. to midnight. Ray McKinley and His Orchestra are on stage at the Plaza Garden Stage on Saturday, Sept. 1; Louis Belson and the Big Band Explosion play Sunday and Monday, Sept. 2 and 3. The Main Street Electrical Parade and Fantasy in the Sky fireworks nightly. Admission is $20.50 to $25. Call (714) 999-4565.

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Knott’s Berry Farm (8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park) welcomes visitors from 9 a.m. to midnight Saturdays and Sundays, and on Mondays from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. The park’s Camp Snoopy Days continue through Monday, Sept. 3. (See “Nights Out” for shows). Admission is $15 to $21. Call (714) 220-5200.

The Wild Rivers water park (8770 Irvine Center Drive, Laguna Hills) can keep you cool for the remainder of the season with 40 rides and attractions, plus a separate children’s area. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Labor Day. Admission is $6.95 to $14.95. Call (714) 768-9453.


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