Exploring Santiago Creek in Orange County

September 26, 2011 § 7 Comments

Santiago Creek, view downstream just east of the intersection of Chapman Avenue and the 55 Freeway in the city of Orange. 55 Freeway bridge is at the left edge of the photo. Bike path under construction runs along the far (north) side of the creek.

I spent quite a bit of time in Orange County earlier this year. A bit of that time I spent enjoying tooling around on a bicycle exploring Santiago Creek, a tributary of the Santa Ana River. I shared a little of this in an earlier post specifically about the Santiago Street Bridge over Santiago Creek (and there are earlier L.A. Creek Freak pieces about Santiago Creek here and here.) Today I’ll post more of the images from my explorations – all from July 2011. 

I confess that I don’t really know this creek as well as I know sites in Los Angeles… but I figured I’d share a sort of image gallery travelogue.

I think it’s a treat to explore places by tracing creeks upstream and down. I recommend this to our readers: find the creek in your neighborhood, and (preferably on a bicycle) see where it goes. Sometimes it’s all concrete… sometimes you’ll find a wetland, a park, a bridge, a bike path or something else you didn’t know was there… and you’ll get a sense for the lay of the land. If you do this, take pictures, and write up your story and we’ll run it here!

I’ve arranged these pictures in upsteam to downstream order… because I am not only a creek freak, but I am a rule freak, too! … and because that’s a good coherent order to put creek stuff in.

Here’s the view downstream from the bend where Collins Avenue turns into Prospect Street in the city of Orange, bordering on Villa Park:

Santiago Creek downstream of Collins Avenue

There’s plenty more creek upstream of this, but this is as far I got in July. The entire stretch I explored is surrounded by suburban residential development. The creek is earthen-bottom in many areas, and concreted some. This is one of the transitions from unpaved to paved.

Here’s a shot of the rather sterile concrete area downstream of the above photo:

Santiago Creek concrete stretch below Collins Avenue

Unfortunately that view looks all too familiar to us L.A. Creek Freaks. Even in this area, though, there’s a fairly well-used bike/walk path:

Santiago Creek walk/bike path, view looking upstream, below Collins Avenue

The path is currently intermittent, starting and stopping at various points, with some new sections under construction (see below.) A bit further downstream, the creek widens and becomes soft-bottom – as shown in the photo atop this post.

The city of Orange is using Federal Stimulus funding to extend the bike path from Tustin Street to Collins Avenue.

Santiago Creek upstream of Tustin Street

A lot of Santiago Creek looks like the above photo: a fairly broad dry wash, with a bit of surface flow, but not all that much.

From this point downstream there are about three miles of bike path, ending at the 5 Freeway (near Main Place and the Discovery Science Center.) The bike path goes along some somewhat naturalized areas, though there’s a still a great deal of concrete and riprap reinforcement along the creek channel:

Santiago Creek bike path, near Cambridge Street in the city of Orange

The creekbed becomes a parking lot at Hart Park:

Santiago Creek creekbed becoming a parking lot as it enters Hart Park, at Shaffer Street in the city of Orange. View from bike path looking downstream.

While this might technically be considered multi-use (it’s parking and flood control), it doesn’t quite feel like a healthy mix of uses… for the health of the creek. The channel walls in this area appear pretty old, possibly a depression-era WPA project, though I am not sure. I guess it’s good that the creek is in a park, on the surface… because that can make restoration possible. There’s a fair amount of space, so it may be possible to keep some of this parking, while running a natural creek down a sort of sunken median? perhaps?

The park and parking lot creek end just downstream of Glassell Avenue, not far from the 22 Freeway:

Santiago Creek transitioning from Hart Park concrete parking lot to riprapped creekbed. View upstream from bike-ped bridge. Bridge in photo is Glassell Street.

Here’s the view downstream from the same bridge where the above photo was taken:

View downstream from Santiago Creek bike/ped bridge near Glassell Street. Riprapped creekbed flows below the 22 Freeway. Bike path is on the right.

When the creek passes under the 22 Freeway, it goes from the city of Orange to the city of Santa Ana, where the creek is the center of the nearly mile-long Santiago Park. Santiago Park is mostly a series of small parks along the creek, and also features a nature center (the Santiago Creek Wildlife & Watershed Center), picnic areas, archery range, tot lots, and the Santiago Avenue (or Street) Bridge mini-park.

Here’s the view downstream from the Santiago Avenue Bridge – now a bike-ped way at what’s now Santiago Street:

View downstream from the Santiago Avenue Bridge over Santiago Creek

The bike path ends at the 5 Freeway. Downstream of there is a passable unofficial footpath that gets to Jack Fisher Park (the area I explored here.) From there it’s a little under a mile to Santiago Creek’s confluence with the Santa Ana River, in the River View Golf Course… another questionable mixed-use streambed facility that I will write about one of these days.

For more about Santiago Creek, see Wikipedia and the Santiago Creek Greenway Alliance website.



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§ 7 Responses to Exploring Santiago Creek in Orange County

  • A parking lot in the streambed? Ecological issues aside, isn’t that dangerous? I’ve seen these urban runoff fed waterways raise fast, and I imagine in the least this might lead to cars getting ruined. Weird…

  • Mike Letteriello says:

    Obviously you were right at creek level in that first top photo of the creek
    near Chapman and the 55. How did you enter there? Where’s the access exactly? Thanks.

    • Joe Linton says:

      To get to that spot, which is one of the more open locations. It’s immediately east of the 55 Freeway, just north of Chapman Avenue. Go to Chapman and Yorba and go north – I think it’s a parking lot access road for Chapman General Hospital. Keep going straight when the road ends and you’ll find Santiago Creek. What was interesting there was that there are some decaying small-gauge train tracks… which might have been part of a mining operation? Given that it’s So. Cal. they might have been part of a film set… I couldn’t tell how old they were. I should have photographed them.

  • phill says:

    thanks Joe,

    I would image you would want to check the forecast before parking your car in that lot!


  • ryan l says:

    How sad a state our southern california creeks are in. damn concrete! how are we ever supposed to welcome back the steelhead??

  • Holly says:

    I eagerly await your story on the mixed-use space of the creek, river, & golf course…

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