It's the soul of Orange County

Levin is a freelance writer.

With historic buildings, an arts district and a lively street scene reflecting its thriving Latino population, Santa Ana has grown into the slogan it adopted in 2006: "Downtown Orange County." It's come a long way since the '80s, when the civic center area was a ghost town of boarded-up buildings. Now, in a county known for its suburban sprawl, Santa Ana is a true urban center, with an art walk the first Saturday of every month.

At the mixed-use Cal State Fullerton Grand Central Art Center (125 N. Broadway St., [714] 567-7233), you can peer through the floor-to-ceiling glass to catch a glimpse of creativity in action in the live/work spaces for visual arts graduate students. The site also houses Claudia de la Cruz Flamenco Institute ([714] 543-1370,, where you can get in the Gypsy spirit with a flamenco class, and the exotic-bohemian Gypsy Den Cafe ([714] 835-8840,

The Santora Arts Building (207 N. Broadway), built in 1929, boasts dramatic Spanish Baroque architecture that frames a variety of galleries and other establishments, such as the Memphis at the Santora ([714] 564-1064,, which serves Southern-inspired cuisine amid mod orange-and-green decor, and the ARTbar ([714] 558-2445,, where you can try your hand at projects such as decoupaging papier-mache.

A bit of bohemia

More artiness

Museums on Main

Main Street is "museum mile": Within a few blocks, you'll find the Bowers Museum (2002 N. Main St., [714] 567-3600), with its collection of pre-Columbian American, African and Oceanic art, and its offshoot, the Kidseum (1802 N. Main St., [714] 480-1520), plus the science-and-technology-oriented Discovery Science Center (2500 N. Main St., [714] 542-2823).

Local flavor

Central and South American shops and eateries also fill downtown with vibrant colors and flavors. In the windows of formalwear stores along 4th Street between Broadway and Main, elaborate quinceanera dresses with layers of tulle hang like cotton candy. Cantera (211 N. Broadway, [714] 547-4256) stocks handcrafted home furnishings from Mexico, along with paintings by local Latino artists. And Mil Jugos (318 W. 5th St., [714] 836-4601) features natural juices and Venezuelan arepas -- grilled corn bread filled with meat, cheese, vegetables and spices.


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