Adventure for Flatlanders : Brea's Carbon Canyon Is a Great Place for a Hike, Hanging Out

Anne Michaud is a staff writer for The Times Orange County Edition.

Canyon residents refer to the rest of us as flatlanders. The canyons have their own special culture, and Brea's Carbon Canyon is no exception.

Up in this northeastern-most corner of Orange County, you'll find a biker bar and restaurant, remnants of an oil boom town history, and a wild nature trail.

Noon to 2: There's a lot to do at Carbon Canyon Regional Park. For the $2-per-carload entry fee, you can play tennis, fish and use the baseball diamonds, the playgrounds and the grills.

There's also a horse trail. You can bring your own horse or rent one from several nearby stables.

This park is so attractive, in fact, that the best areas fill up quickly on weekends. If you get there much past noon, you'll be parking in the dirt lot and you may miss out on a cook-out shelter. But there is always room for picnic blankets.

The nature trail is unusually wild for an Orange County trail--which is especially surprising given the canyon's history. In the late 1880s, with the help of the newly constructed Santa Fe railroad, Carbon Canyon was home to an oil boom town known as Olinda. Located on what now is parkland, Olinda thrived until the 1940s when the oil fields began to shut.

In 1965, Carbon Canyon Creek was dammed to prevent flooding and the area north of it was designated as parkland. The park opened 10 years later.

The nature trail, which takes you across the creek (little more than a trickle this time of year), begins at the far end of the "annual pass" parking lot. The trail is marked, so be sure and pick up a guide at the ranger station before you head out.

About half of the trail leads you through lowlands. The sand is loose, and the plants grow close to the path. You might want to wear long pants or socks to protect your legs.

Sagebrush, mule fat and prickly pear cactus line the lowland path. Once you start climbing, you'll see wild lilies, wild squash and a grove of redwood trees. The trees are not the mammoths you'll see on the northern parts of the coast. They're only about 18 years old, and have some growing to do.

As for animals, the ones I saw were benign--a rabbit, several squirrels, a hawk, a quail and some geese. But the park warns that there are coyote, bobcats and rattlesnakes, too. So adults should accompany children on the trail.

2 to 3: Stop in at the La Vida restaurant and you may catch your waitress singing along to "Achy-Breaky Heart." Or you'll overhear fellow diners discussing their admiration for Andrew Dice Clay.

I haven't been to many biker hangouts but this one seemed authentic to me. The bar, lit with Tiffany-style lamps bearing beer emblems, is as big as the dining room. In back, there's a stage carpeted in green shag where local bands occasionally play. At the door, you can pick up copies of "Country Times" and "CA Bike."

The restaurant is named for a hotel and resort that once existed next door. The La Vida Hot Springs burned down Dec. 4, 1988, and never reopened.

The food at the La Vida restaurant is very good. Burgers are rectangular and served on grilled French rolls. Barbecued ribs or chicken come with soup or salad, potato (mashed, baked or fried) and garlic toast. La Vida will throw in corn on the cob when in season.

Dinners run about $7 and sandwiches are around $5. There are $1 dinner specials on Friday and Saturday nights.

Those who hate cigarette smoke be forewarned: There is no nonsmoking section.

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