Nod your head if you’ve seen any of the following on Instagram anytime in the last year:
- an expertly-styled plate of food from somewhere within 4th Street Market, framed with sunglasses and/or other accessories
- the hallway at 4th Street Market with the caption: “Sooo many options!”
- the outdoor 4th Street Market sign with the caption : “Found my new favorite spot!”
Kidding aside, the city’s downtown district is garnering plenty of attention for its bustling food scene. Chapter One, Playground, Blackmarket Bakery and the 4th Street Market are just one slice of the Santa Ana pie, and it is a very big pie, friends. Maybe so big that you can’t even see the whole thing in those single Instagram shots.
We want to show more of Santa Ana, and this post is just the very beginning.
What’s been changing in Santa Ana could be called economic development, transit-oriented development, revitalization, gentrification or a combination of all of the above. Gentrification is a loaded term, of course. It can divide a community, and pit long-time residents against newcomers. What’s certain is that communities change and are dynamic, just like the residents. Santa Ana’s history is one that is tied to the history of its residents, which is 78% of Hispanic origin as of 2010. The majority of the Hispanic population is Mexican, and to forget that in the rush towards redevelopment would mean missing out on what defines this city.
This recent revitalization process has brought new restaurants, bars and unique designers, but there are also bakeries, bridal shops and clothing stores that have been a part of the makeup of this city, with owners who are long time City residents. Downtown Santa Ana maintains its sense of history and culture through a number of different landmarks and businesses.
Here are just a few of our favorites of the Best of Old and New Downtown Santa Ana: think of this as just the first part of a walking tour, where we’ll point out the landmarks and architecturally interesting buildings. There’s lots more nuance to the culture and heritage that will be discovered in future posts.
A Piece of Old Downtown Santa Ana
Old Orange County Courthouse
211 W. Santa Ana Blvd, Santa Ana, CA 92701
This is the one courthouse you want to visit. The 105-year-old landmark isn’t just another old building from a long time ago. This is Southern California’s oldest court building and has seen the once quiet, sleepy county grow into one of the most populous regions in the country. Today, the building is host to the Orange County History Center as well as government offices.
Tours of the Old Orange County Courthouse for adult and school groups are available by appointment Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Self-guided tours are also available. To arrange a free tour of the Old Orange County Courthouse, call (714) 973-6607.
Admission to the Old Courthouse Museum is free. Metered parking is available in the lot on the north side of the Old Courthouse.
Bonus: When the courthouse was used for filming for a few episodes of American Horror Story in 2013, it was genetically modified to look like this:
Restaurante Las Cazuelas
312 N. Bush St, Santa Ana, CA 92701
This little mom and pop restaurant has been in business for several decades now for a very simple reason –quality homemade Mexican food. Recently, owner Marilyn Ruiz has been hosting open mic nights for local artists on Wednesdays as well.
419 N Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701
As one of the few flower shops left in the area, Macres Florists has remained the go-to spot for locals in need of a special gift since 1897.
So Macres Florists was already in business for several years by the time the Old Courthouse opened to the public.
Owners Tricia and Michael Flores are doing something right and carry a large selection of fresh flowers, roses, balloons, and most of the gift items special occasions call for.
The Dr. Willella Howe-Waffle House and Medical Museum
120 W Civic Center Dr, Santa Ana, CA 92701
While the name of the house is a bit misleading (this is not the first California outpost of Waffle House), the history behind it is actually quite interesting.
Built in 1889, the home was originally owned by Dr. Willella Howe-Waffle –one of the first female doctors in the county. When the city figured its historical significance wasn’t worth as much as a wider road in the early 1970s, the landmark was slated for demolition.
The house was eventually saved and is run today by the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society. The house has been beautifully restored and the exterior detail alone is worth a visit (the colors! the woodwork!) – there are very few Queen Anne Victorian homes in Orange County, and this is one of our finest. Tours are available on a limited basis throughout the year.
West End Theater
324 W 4th St, Santa Ana, CA 92701
One can argue that the West End Theater has been a part of the “new” downtown Santa Ana ever since it opened its vacant doors to house The Barrel Room.
However, considering the fact that it has gone through nearly half a dozen name changes over the past 100 years (including a brief stint as a adult film theater called The State Arts), the theater is a prominent part of the history of the old downtown.
If you do choose to have a drink at the trendy Barrel Room wine bar, don’t be alarmed if you hear or see anything a little out of the ordinary–some say it’s haunted.
A Piece of New Downtown Santa Ana
307 N Spurgeon St, Santa Ana, CA 92701
Wait, isn’t the Yost technically a part of the old Santa Ana?
Yes and no. But with the grand reopening of the theater in 2011, after two decades of sitting semi dormant, this popular place for concerts has emerged as one of major symbols of the new downtown Santa Ana.
Today, you can rave the night away at an EDM concert, find yourself in the middle of a burlesque show or rock out to the tunes of a local punk rock band depending on what night you walk into the Yost Theater.
320 E 4th St, Santa Ana, CA 92701
For most guys, the prospect of getting a haircut at Supercuts doesn’t render much excitement other than the fact that you might save a few bucks.
American Barbershop takes what can be a dull concept for a lot of men and flips it on its head. Owner George Mendoza and his team of barbers maintain a laid back atmosphere infused with great music and quality haircuts.
By the time you walk out after your first visit here, you’ll feel like you just spent some time hanging out with old friends.
201 E. 4th Street (Inside 4th Street Market), Santa Ana, CA 92701
Los Angeles has Diddy Riese. Orange County now has Chunk-N-Chip.
We now have our own go-to spot for some delicious ice cream sandwiches.
What began for founder Claudia Gonzalez as a popular roaming food truck across Southern California, now has a home in 4th Street Market. With creative “sammich” options like Blu-Valentine* (snicker doodle | lavender blueberry ) and Drunk Monkey (graham cracker | banana cream pie with bourbon & salted caramel), and constantly evolving flavors like avocado honey, spicy Mexican chocolate and strawberry, fig balsamic and cracked pepper, you’d be hard pressed to pass up this spot while strolling through downtown Santa Ana.
*Ryan Gosling not included.
Rags International News Stand
454 N Broadway, Suite 100, Santa Ana, CA 92701
In the days before Twitter would alert you about the important news of the day, people would stop by their local news stand and pick up a copy of something called a Newspaper.
Owner James Kendricks’ Rags International News Stand is a throwback to the glory days of print, with an incredible selection of both current and vintage magazines and newspapers.
You name it and Rags has it. Plus, James Kendricks may possibly be the friendliest owner you’ll ever meet.
Alta Baja Market
201 E 4th St, Santa Ana, CA 92701
Co-owners Natasha Monnereau and Delilah Snell have a clear vision of Alta Baja Market: a hand-picked selection of crafts, foods and specialty items above and below the southwestern border of the US. Whether it’s Orange County honey and granola, blue corn pancake and waffle mix and hatch chiles from New Mexico, or packaged foods from OC’s favorite restaurants, there’s a lot to explore at this market. Alta Baja is another example of the combination of old and new in downtown, as Snell is a longtime resident and also brought the first farmer’s market to Santa Ana, so she knows what she’s doing, and we love the focus on small batches, giving lots of local love, and creating a space for others to create as well with pop-up meals, classes, and workshops. With the border getting a lot of press these days, it’s encouraging to see reminders of the people and makers who live and work in this incredibly rich region and support them through this newest 4th Street Market shop.
Plus, who doesn’t like ghost pepper hot sauce, serious salsa variety and micheladas?
Ninjas With Appetite (NWA)
318 W 5th St, Santa Ana, CA 92701
Like Chunk-N-Chip, this hidden gem in downtown Santa Ana began just as a food truck with an awesome name.
Now, it’s a food truck and a restaurant with an awesome name (in the words of Bojack Horseman, get it? get it? because the letters are the same as the group? do you get it?)
The menu is short (tacos, bowls, burritos) but tastes are big.