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City of Lake Forest

The City of Lake Forest is one of the youngest cities in Orange County, becoming incorporated in December 1991 and includes the communities of Foothill Ranch and Portola Hills. Lake Forest’s motto is “remember the past, challenge the future,” and is consistently ranked as one of the safest cities to live. The city of Lake Forest in Orange County, California includes city history and information for residential services, shopping, dining, and points of interest throughout the city.


City of Lake Forest, California
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About Lake Forest

City Of Lake Forest

The City of Lake Forest is located in Orange County approximately 46 miles south of the city of Los Angeles, California. Lake Forest is bordered by Irvine, Laguna Hills, and Mission Viejo. The city’s website refers to Lake Forest as a place where “Work and Life Come Together Naturally.” The master planned community was well developed to incorporate comfortable residential communities, a variety of conveniently located centers for shopping, dining, and entertainment, and business, industrial, and commercial office parks to meet the needs of the business community and to “encourage entrepreneurial activities.” There are several major corporations with offices in the city of Lake Forest including Apria Healthcare, Black & Decker, Panasonic Avionics, Del Taco corporate offices, Oakley, and more. Oakley and Panasonic are the two top employers in the city, and while it is possible to find work within the city limits, many working residents commute outside of the city. Approximately 40% of commuters travel more than 30 minutes to their place of employment. The majority of commuters work in nearby Irvine.

Lake Forest was developed around two man-made lakes and includes a variety of forested open spaces for families and outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy. Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park offers 2,500 acres of wilderness to explore with 23 trails for hiking, biking, and equestrian use. One of the highlights of this area is Red Rock Canyon, a unique section of ancient sandstone formations that were formed when the area was still under water. For additional outdoor enjoyment, the city also features a total of 30 public parks. The two lakes are managed by neighborhood associations with amenities for the surrounding community including tennis and basketball courts, swimming pools, and clubhouses. Lake Forest Beach and Tennis Club is in the community at the intersection of Lake Forest Drive and Muirlands Boulevard, and Lake Forest Sun & Sail Club serves the community at Lake Forest Drive and Jeronimo Road.

The city serves the community with many well equipped centers for shopping, dining, and entertainment. The Orchard at Saddleback is one of the largest developments and runs along El Toro Road, where both sides of the street are lined with restaurants and major retailers. Foothill Ranch Town Center is another major development and is located along Town Center Drive at Bake Parkway.


Lake Forest History

The area that now makes up the city of Lake Forest was, like most land in Orange County, part of the land grant from Mexico and was originally owned by Don Jose Serrano as of 1846. The area was originally named Rancho Canada De Los Alisos, or the Valley of the Sycamores. The land was owned by Serrano’s family for over a century and eventually became known as “El Toro,” for the bulls that roamed here. Dwight Whiting planted 400 acres of eucalyptus trees in the community in the early 1900s in an attempt to find a solution for the lumber shortage in the area and helped bring the Santa Fe Rail Line through.

The area was primarily agricultural, but after World War II, growth and development kicked into full gear, replacing farmland with industrial and residential communities to serve the increasing population of the El Toro Marine Base.

For a glimpse at the history of the Lake Forest area, spend some time exploring Heritage Hill Historical Park and Museum where you’ll see some of the oldest buildings in Orange County including the Jose Serrano Adobe that was built in 1863, El Toro’s first school and church, and the 1908 Bennett Ranch House. The Bennett family maintained orchards for Sunkist Oranges. Heritage Hill hosts many community events throughout the year including a Harvest Festival, Halloween Haunt, and Victorian Christmas.

For another dose of history, stop into Cook’s Corner. Located at the end of El Toro Road, and the intersections of Live Oak Canyon and East Santiago Canyon Road, this infamous biker bar was once a cabin that was purchased in 1926 by E.J. Cook, who opened it up as a restaurant for local ranchers and miners. It became a full bar in 1933 and still maintains the rugged WWII-era roadhouse feel.

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Lake Forest Statistics

Size: Approximately 16.8 Square Miles
Population: 85,858 (2020)


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Heidi Deal is the author of the Newcomers Handbook to Living In Los Angeles & Orange County, and a children’s book author specializing in history and human rights.