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Southern Orange County is richly endowed with regional and open-space parks, which helps to atone for the immense area of valley and hillside now brutally overrun with suburban development. These open spaces allow residents and visitors to appreciate -- from certain vantage points at least -- the broad, rural vistas of the past.

Here's a hot tip about how to reach a spectacular vantage point in open space within the city of Laguna Niguel, overlooking the coast near Laguna Beach:

At Monarch Beach, between Dana Point and Laguna, turn north from Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) onto Crown Valley Parkway. Continue north one mile to Pacific Island Drive. Turn left there and proceed north (sharply uphill) 1.6 miles to Talavera Drive, where you turn left. Proceed to the far end of Talavera Drive, to Seaview Park.

At Seaview Park, a wide, short trail heads west, along a narrow ridge. You pass by several interpretive panels annotating the common species of coastal vegetation found here and throughout coastal Southern California. Notice the differences between the types of vegetation growing on the two sides of the path. Dense chaparral clings to the steep, north-facing slope to the right, which falls a sheer 800 feet to Aliso Creek. A sparser assemblage of mostly coastal-sage-scrub plants lies exposed to the sun's harshest rays on the left (south-facing) side of the path.

The wide path leads to a concrete platform offering a jaw-dropping view of the hills of Laguna Beach spilling down to the ocean. Open land stretches for several miles to the north, in between hillside housing developments. Most of that open land is part of the Aliso/Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.

Beyond the concrete platform, a narrower trail continues. It pitches sharply downward, skirts a residential street, and then rises a little to reach Aliso Peak (a.k.a. Aliso Summit). From there, the ocean shore lies only a few hundred yards away -- and 600 feet of elevation below.

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