I've never associated South Coast Plaza with Halloween. Christmas, sure. Mother's Day, indeed. Birthdays, of course.
But Fright Night, not so much.
That was, of course, until I became a father and friends insisted that I take my daughter to Pumpkins and Pancakes, a fall fundraiser in its 19th year at the shopping center.
The event is perfect for kids, they said, and the cause is a good one. Pumpkins and Pancakes benefits CASA, the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Orange County, which serves abused, abandoned and neglected foster teens.
It wasn't tough to sell the event to my 4-year-old daughter, a fan of both pumpkins and pancakes, as well as dressing in costume, interacting with Disney characters and doing crafts.
My tyke woke up early that morning and, quicker than she ever dresses for preschool, had her costume on (more about what she wore in a bit). It was one of the few days in my house where Dad was the last one to get ready.
So my little family of three headed to the Crate & Barrel/Macy's Home Store Wing, which some folks around here still know as Crystal Court.
After passing by skateboarding demonstrations in the parking lot, we were greeted by a Radio Disney crew that implored costumed kids to dance.
My daughter then spotted one of her heroes — Ariel from "The Little Mermaid" — and ran over to meet her.
"What are you?" the woman playing Ariel asked my daughter about her shimmering teal costume.
"An under-the-sea fairy," my wand-yielding little one explained, showing her the sparkly winged-costume dotted with sewn-on starfish.
A bond was forged. These two curly-haired creatures of the deep hugged and posed for a snapshot.
We headed up the escalator for breakfast catered by Plum's Café. As promised, we sat among pumpkins and ate pancakes.
My wife and daughter hit the crafts tables. They decorated miniature pumpkins. They decorated bags. They decorated cupcakes.
My contribution: eating said cupcakes.
Then we went downstairs for "Trick or Treat Lane" featuring costumed TV and movie characters. My daughter bounced from SpongeBob SquarePants to Wild Thing to Hello Kitty to Curious George.
Just so you know we're a cultured lot, we also met cast members from the "Peter Pan" production at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Somehow I kept mixing up the Lost Boys with the guys dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi.
At the end of the line we ran into Ariel, who remembered my under-the-sea fairy. And instead of candy, she gave my daughter something sweeter — another hug.
JOHN CANALIS is the editor for the Daily Pilot, Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent. He can be reached at (714) 966-4607 and firstname.lastname@example.org.