Orange County is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 3,010,232 making it the third-most populous county in California, the sixth-most populous in the United States, and more populous than twenty-one U.S. states. Its county seat is Santa Ana. It is the second most densely populated county in the state, second only to San Francisco County. The county’s four largest cities, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Irvine and Huntington Beach each have populations exceeding 200,000. Several of Orange County’s cities are on the Pacific coast, including Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and San Clemente.
Orange County is included in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area. Thirty-four incorporated cities are located in the county; the newest is Aliso Viejo, which was incorporated in 2001. Anaheim was the first city, incorporated in 1870, when the region was still part of neighboring Los Angeles County. Whereas most population centers in the United States tend to be identified by a major city, there is no defined urban center in Orange County. It is mostly suburban except for some traditionally urban areas at the centers of the older cities of Anaheim, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Orange and Santa Ana. There are several edge city-style developments such as Irvine Business Center, Newport Center, and South Coast Metro.
The county is famous for its tourism as the home of attractions like Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and several beaches along its more than 40 miles (64 km) of coastline. It is also known for its political conervatism—a 2005 academic study listed three Orange County cities as among America’s 25 most conservative, making it one of two counties in the nation containing more than one such city.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 948 square miles (2,460 km2), of which 791 square miles (2,050 km2) is land and 157 square miles (410 km2) (16.6%) is water. It is the smallest county in Southern California. The average annual temperature is about 68 °F (20 °C).
Orange County is bordered on the southwest by the Pacific Ocean, on the north by Los Angeles County, on the northeast by San Bernardino County and Riverside County, and on the southeast by San Diego County.
The northwestern part of the county lies on the coastal plain of the Los Angeles Basin, while the southeastern end rises into the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. Most of Orange County’s population reside in one of two shallow coastal valleys that lie in the basin, the Santa Ana Valley and the Saddleback Valley. The Santa Ana Mountains lie within the eastern boundaries of the county and of the Cleveland National Forest. The high point is Santiago Peak (5,689 feet (1,734 m)), about 20 mi (32 km) east of Santa Ana. Santiago Peak and nearby Modjeska Peak, just 200 feet (60 m) shorter, form a ridge known as Saddleback, visible from almost everywhere in the county. The Peralta Hills extend westward from the Santa Ana Mountains through the communities of Anaheim Hills, Orange, and ending in Olive. The Loma Ridge is another prominent feature, running parallel to the Santa Ana Mountains through the central part of the county, separated from the taller mountains to the east by Santiago Canyon.
The Santa Ana River is the county’s principal watercourse, flowing through the middle of the county from northeast to southwest. Its major tributary to the south and east is Santiago Creek.. Other watercourses within the county include Aliso Creek, San Juan Creek and Horsethief Creek. In the North, the San Gabriel River also briefly crosses into Orange County and exits into the Pacific on the Los Angeles-Orange County line between the cities of Long Beach and Seal Beach. Laguna Beach is home to the county’s only natural lakes, Laguna Lakes, which are formed by water rising up against an underground fault.
Residents sometimes divide the county into north Orange County and south Orange County. In effect, this is a division of the county into northwestern and southeastern halves following the county’s natural diagonal orientation along the coast. This is more of a cultural and demographic distinction perpetuated by the popular television shows The OC, The Real Housewives of Orange County and Laguna Beach. The distinction exists between the older areas closer to Los Angeles and the more affluent and recently developed areas to the south. A transition between older and newer development may be considered to exist roughly parallel to State Route 55, also known as the Costa Mesa Freeway. This transition is accentuated by large flanking tracts of sparsely developed area occupied until recent years by agriculture and military airfields.
While there is a northeast to southwest topographic transition from elevated areas inland to the lower coastal band, there is no formal geographic division between North and South County. Perpendicular to that gradient, the Santa Ana River roughly divides the county into northwestern and southeastern sectors. Each sector comprises 40 to 60 percent of the county respectively by area. There are significant political, demographic, economic, and cultural distinctions between North and South Orange County, with North Orange County having greater populations of people of color, younger populations, greater percentages of renters, lower median incomes, higher rates of unemployment, and greater proportions of voters registered as Democrats versus as Republicans. However, certain areas in both North and South Orange County vary from these general trends.
- Balboa Island
- Coronado Del Mar
- Costa Mesa
- Huntington Beach
- Laguna Beach
- Newport Beach
- San Clemente