The small city of Lake Forest is bordered on the north by Irvine, and on the south by Mission Viejo. All three of these cities are ranked among the safest cities in the country.

True to its name, Lake Forest is home to both lakes and forests—a rarity in Southern California communities. The lakes and forests are both man-made; still, they afford a peaceful atmosphere that is lacking in the much more densely populated beach cities that are all only a 15-25 minute drive away.

Let’s start with the beaches. Lake Forest is centrally on a 75-mile stretch of beach cities from San Clemente to the South to Huntington Beach to the north, with Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, Laguna Beach, Costa Mesa, and Newport Beach in between. Each beach city has its own special charm and unique attractions to choose from: boardwalks, piers, oceanside tot lots, beach volleyball, campgrounds, art festivals, water sports, and, of course, just sitting at the water’s edge watching the tide go out and the sun go down.

And then, from the beach, it’s a short drive back home to Lake Forest. The wide main streets that run from one end of town to the other have newly hardscaped medians, with cobblestone pavers bordering lush tropical plantings. Neighborhoods are dotted with parks and duck ponds, and the eucalyptus forests are laced with hiking trails that meander through the city and lead north toward the mountains and south toward parks and connecting trails in neighboring towns.

OK, sometimes you just have to BE there, right? So let’s take a little tour. We exit I-5 at El Toro, turn east, and we’re at one end of Lake Forest. If we take the first little street to the left, we would find a hidden treasure—a beautiful garden center, Green Thumb, with everything you need to freshen up your curb appeal. But we’ll go a little farther and look to the right, to check out the brand new, completely rebuilt outdoor shopping and dining center, The Arbor.

Nestled within its beautiful architecture and twining bougainvillea are lots of the places you’ll frequent for the necessities of daily life: a Ralph’s grocery store, Staples office supply store, Pier 1 and Home Goods- home décor shops, clothing stores, a PetSmart, specialty shops—and dozens of eateries, from outdoor food court dining to Grandma’s country kitchen barbeque at Lucille’s  and fine dining at Brü. For now, let’s pop in to the corner frozen yogurt shop, Yogurtland and serve ourselves to our favorite combinations of flavors with as many toppings as we can pile on. 

We’re back on El Toro, and so far, we’re only one traffic light off the highway. On the opposite side of the street we pass the Home Depot on the west side of town (good to know). We head toward the Saddleback mountains, in full view in front of us, and a couple of traffic lights up, we take a right and drive in a block to take a quick look at one of the town’s two libraries, and then swing back around to the main road. At the next intersection, we’ll hang a left and then jog right to continue toward the mountains on one of the more residential streets, Ridge Route. This is “The Forest” neighborhood. Most of the homes here belong to the Beach and Tennis Club Association, which is on one of the city lakes. Here we see the Clubhouse, with pools, tennis courts, and a sand beach for swimming.

Just blocks ahead are La Madera Elementary School and El Toro High School. All of the schools in Lake Forest, by the way—the elementary schools, Serrano Middle School, and El Toro High School—were extensively refurbished just within the last 7-9 years, and their programs are ranked among the highest in the nation.


Now we’re pretty much in the middle of town. We’ll take a few more turns to hop onto Jeronimo, drive past Serrano Middle School that is nestled amidst the eucalyptus trees and backed by a wide expanse of outdoor basketball courts and soccer fields. At the next intersection we have a good view of the second lake in town, and the Sun and Sail Club, off Lake Forest Drive. A couple of boaters are out today, in their Duffy boats that “live” alongside their homes’ private docks. It’s a great day for boating, but then it rarely isn’t a great day here.

By the way, a couple of things we missed back there before we turned off El Toro are a golf course, driving range, and Heroes Park with its two soccer fields and four baseball fields that were home to Lake Forest Little League until the recent opening of the new 86-acre Sports Park.

Now we’re in the heart of one of the main residential sections of town with neighborhoods laid out on each side of Lake Forest Drive, conveniently clustered around elementary schools and parks. Alongside Serrano Park is Serrano Creek Ranch, a horse stable where you can get your cowboy or cowgirl on along that network of trails that we mentioned above. Next to the stables is one of the more unique features of the town, Heritage Hill Historical Park.   In fact, let’s just pull in there, grab a snack at the locals’ favorite, Bagels and Brew, and take a little stroll through the Hill. There is no admission fee, and we could take a free tour if we wanted to, but we’ll leave that for another day.  We’ll just enjoy our treat, and the birdsong. Here at the Hill, clustered along the tree-shaded paths, are four restored and furnished historical 19th century buildings from the region: a church, a school, and two ranch houses. You will want to come back and take that tour sometime… maybe during the holidays when they have the Candlelight Victorian tour so you can capture the magic of Christmas past.

Back on Lake Forest Drive, continuing toward the mountains, there are more neighborhoods on either side of the road, including three brand new neighborhood developments. Just ahead is the Foothill Center, with Regal Cinemas, a huge outdoor food court, a grocery store, Walmart, Target, and more. And across from the Foothill Center is Etnies Skate Park, an award winning world class skate board facility. At over 62,000 square feet, this skate park is a destination spot for skateboarders around the world.

Across the street from the skate park is the cities second Home Depot, on the east side of town. Next door, let’s stop in at my favorite coffee and chocolate shop on the planet, CHOCXO. Let’s order a cappuccino or Americano, you can choose one of many single origin espressos, then decide which of their multiple flavors of artisan liquid chocolates to blend in. Everything is handmade with the very best ingredients. The flavors are extraordinary!

I hope you’ve enjoyed our little tour of Lake Forest. What is your experience with our little town?

Leave a comment below and tell us some of your favorite places in Lake Forest…

Jackie Barikhan and Right Choice Mortgage are pleased to be a part of Lake Forest and the Orange County Community. Remember us for all of your home financing and real estate needs. Call or text us at 949 600-0944 when you have questions about home loans or interest rates. We’d love to help you get the best home loan when you are ready to buy a home in Lake Forest or Orange County.

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