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City of Rancho Santa Margarita

The city of Rancho Santa Margarita is one of the youngest cities in Orange County. The city has an active population with regular community events including summer concerts, a New Year’s Eve celebration, Patriot Day Remembrance Ceremony, and Veterans Day Recognition event. The city of Rancho Santa Margarita profile includes city history and information for residential services, shopping, dining, and points of interest throughout the city.

City of Rancho Santa Margarita, California
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About Rancho Santa Margarita

City Of Rancho Santa Margarita

The City of Rancho Santa Margarita is a master-planned community located in South Orange County, California and adjacent to the cities of Mission Viejo and Lake Forest and the communities of Coto de Caza, Las Flores and Ladera Ranch. It is one of the youngest cities in the county, becoming the 33rd city on January 1, 2000. Rancho Santa Margarita is located in the shadow of the Saddleback Mountains bordered by Mission Viejo, Lake Forest, Trabuco Canyon and Coto De Caza. It is approximately 60 miles from Los Angeles and 80 miles from San Diego. The city is primarily residential with a mix of commercial, industrial, and environmental space.

The city plans include maintaining the area’s small town spirit by promoting community events and public gatherings that honor the heritage of the land, the natural environment and open space within and around the community, and the families that live here. Rancho Santa Margarita offers many amenities for residents to maintain quality of life and meet the needs of the growing community including parks, pools, pedestrian and biking trails, community centers, and Lake Santa Margarita.

There are many parks in Rancho Santa Margarita, including O’Neill Regional Park, a skate park, and a dog park. Also nearby are Starr Ranch Sanctuary, Thomas Riley Wilderness Park and Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. The local community parks offer a variety of amenities from playgrounds and tot lots to ball fields and Olympic sized swimming pools. O’Neill Regional Park offers tent and RV camping, day use areas, and 18 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails.

For additional recreation, residents can enjoy the Lago Santa Margarita Beach Club which features a 12.6 acre man made lake and a swimming lagoon, plus over 16 acres of trails, parks, a lakeside beach, a community room, picnic area, and volleyball courts. Lago Santa Margarita is the site for many seasonal community events, including Screen on the Green, the Great Rancho Campout, the Halloween Festival, Annual Christmas Tree Lighting, and the Star Spangled 4th of July Spectacular.

Residents of Rancho Santa Margarita may find work within the city, but the majority of residents commute to nearby surrounding cities. Less than 10% of employed residents work within the city, while over 90% commute to other areas like IrvineSanta Ana, and Mission Viejo. The average drive time for Rancho Santa Margarita commuters is more than 30 minutes everyday. The largest employers within the city are Applied Medical, O’Connell Landscape, and Saddleback Valley Unified School District.

The main areas for shopping and dining in Rancho Santa Margarita are the Rancho Santa Margarita Town Center, the Santa Margarita Marketplace, and Mercado Del Lago.

Rancho Santa Margarita History

Rancho Santa Margarita was originally inhabited by Native Americans. The land was explored during Spanish expeditions in 1769, led by Gaspar de Portola. The Spanish established Mission San Juan Capistrano and ruled the area until California became part of Mexico in 1821. The land was divided into three Ranchos: Rancho Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, and Rancho Trabuco. In 1882, James L. Flood and Jerome O’Neill purchased the Ranchos and used that as working ranches. The Ranchos were divided in 1940, with the lower portion, now part of San Diego County, going to the Flood family. The upper portion of the land went to the O’Neill’s. The Flood family land was annexed in 1942 by the Navy and is part of Camp Pendleton. The O’Neill family donated 278 acres of land in 1948, and 120 acres in 1963 to be used as park land. They also drew up the plans for Mission Viejo, a new master planned community, in 1963.

There were several clusters of homes, but the first tract development didn’t come until the late 1960s in what is now Coto De Caza, and started out as a resort for hunting and fishing. The area was relatively remote until 1986, when they began selling homes in the new master planned community of Ranch Santa Margarita. The 80s was a boom time for the area and several neighborhoods were developed including Robinson Ranch, Wagon Wheel, and Dove Canyon.

As the area grew and became linked to the surrounding areas with the extensions of Antonio, Alicia, and Oso Parkways, the community of Rancho Santa Margarita became more driven to retain their small village city qualities. Voters opted for incorporation in 1999 with the inclusion of Rancho Santa Margarita, Robinson Ranch, Dove Canyon, Rancho Cielo, Trabuco Highlands, and Walden. Incorporation was approved on January 1, 2000, officially making Rancho Santa Margarita Orange County’s 33rd city.

Rancho Santa Margarita Statistics

Size: 12.9 Square Miles
Population: 48,503 (2019)

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Heidi Deal
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. When she's not writing you can find her solo hiking and going on new adventures with her kids and pup.