A Little Light Housekeeping

Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes frequently to the Times Orange County Edition

The lights are on, but nobody’s home--they’re all out looking at the lights 5 to 5:40 p.m.: You can start your holiday lights tour in almost any neighborhood. Baja Oso is a Mission Viejo development that’s had elaborate decorations in the past and that also happens to be on the way to Rancho Santa Margarita’s “Candy Cane Lane.”

The standout there was a winter scene with lots of mice, one warming his bottom on a little fire, and a cat wearing a bib (26992 Banderas). There was a miniature village in the picture window with the houses lit, a life-size Rudolph the red-bulbed reindeer on the lawn with his nose lit, and a trio of party-type reindeer that looked lit in another sense entirely.

5:40 to 6:40: Daddy-O’s looks out onto Lake Santa Margarita. There are surfboards on the ceiling and a jukebox on every table; vintage ads hang on the walls. When Babe Ruth says, “It’s the finest cola drink I ever tasted,” he means Red Rock Cola, 5 cents. Marilyn Monroe says, “Yes, I use Lustre-Creme Shampoo.” Lucy, in a still from her TV show, pitches Vitameatavegamin.


Shakes and malts are around $2.50. Li’l Bopper dinners (12 and under), such as corn dog, grilled cheese and spaghetti, are served in a “Classic Daddy-O Mobile” with milk or soda, fries and an ice cream sundae; normally $2.99, they’re free on Tuesdays.

Big boppers can order a T-Bird Burger ($5.25), “a double-fisted double-decker delight’; turkey burger or veggie burger are available upon request, and both are great. Other entrees range from “The Mamas and the Pastas” (around $6) to “The Platters,” complete chicken and/or rib dinners ($6.95 to $11.45).

Further “Temptations” include an old-fashioned banana split ($4). My son, Ryan, and I resisted and instead walked down to the lake. What appeared to be scores of fireflies skimming the surface turned out to be the bills of swimming ducks reflecting the surrounding lights.

6:40 to 7:30: Even near Via Lantana (a.k.a. Candy Cane Lane) there are pretty good decorations. Garage doors were gift-wrapped. One house really captured the spirit of the season; it had flashing lights that looked just like a mall. Another had a girl working out on a Trackmaster, with a Rottweiler nearby--oops, that’s an open garage!

“Whoooooooa!” we both said rounding the corner onto Via Lantana. ‘Whoa, ho, ho! “ Ryan said. The displays before us were dazzling. We parked.

A “Mele Kalikimaka Aloha” sign initially confused us, but we soon realized that most houses on the block offered their Christmas messages in different languages; the first house also had a wooden train and a palm tree flocked with snowflakes.


Next door were Bambi and bunnies, and blond angels with tinsel halos, then came “Santa’s Pit Stop’--with a sign warning reindeer parking only--then gingerbread boys and girls and six-foot lollipops.

The next home, however, designated itself “Candy Cane Lane,” and it was, indeed, the “North Pole” of them all (10 Via Lantana). Its “Santa’s Workshop” featured a fully automated Santa and bespectacled old elves sawing, hammering and painting away. Near the “Prettige Krestmis” sign were skating ice skaters and a working choo-choo.

The next home proved quite the corrective. “Keep Christ in Christmas,” it said on the garage door. At this point, judging by the number of displays, Santa’s definitely got the edge.

Across the street was another Nativity, and a sign that read, ‘Gledelig Jul.” “That’s Merry Christmas in Norwegian,” explained homeowner Andy McSorley, who was working on his display when his electric saw blew a fuse.

What could we say? “Nodlaig Mhaith Chugnat!”

7:30 to 8: The gift shop Willow Manor is stuffed with Christmas accessories.

Just inside the door is a Magic Reindeer Wand, a branch with one end sharpened to a nose and two smaller branches for antlers ($10). There are skiing, fishing and sailing Santas, reindeer mugs and plates, and reclining-angel candles. Miniature snow-covered towns include Squashville, Christmas cookbooks include “Hollyhocks and Radishes,” and among Western-themed ornaments were covered wagons, bison and Happy Trails guitars.

Crabapple legend tells us that no one knows for sure where the first Crabapple people came from, but now there are several of them at Willow Manor. There’s also a whole display of Snowbabies, and more is known about them: They “gather stars on a cold winter’s night to light up the snowy pines,” and they all wear one-piece fleece-like suits. Elsewhere, caroling figurines have clay heads and flexible bodies; the ones I liked best were the singing dogs.


* Times Line(TM): 808-8463. To hear brief capsules of other “3-Hour Tours,” call TimesLine and press * 7150



1. Baja Oso

Mission Viejo

Take Interstate 5 to Oso Parkway exit and head east. Turn right on Marguerite Parkway, right on Mesilla, right on Loma Verde and left on Moro Azul. From 5 to 9:30 p.m. through Dec. 31.

2. Daddy-O’s

31441 Santa Margarita Parkway, No. P

Rancho Santa Margarita

(714) 589-3420

Open Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

3. Candy Cane Lane

Rancho Santa Margarita

Take Interstate 5 to Oso Parkway exit and head east. Turn left at Antonio Parkway, right at Avenida de las Flores, left at Alpina, left at Allyssum, right at Mandevilla, right at Via Felicia and right at Via Lantana. From 5 to 9:30 p.m. through Dec. 31.

4. Willow Manor

22411 Antonio Parkway, Suite C130

Rancho Santa Margarita

(714) 858-1216

Open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. during holidays; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Parking: There is ample free parking in lots at Daddy-O’s and Willow Manor and street parking in the residential areas.