Here is the route that Laura and I took to O'Neill. For all the city riding, it was a relatively mellow ride. Partly because, I suspect, the rain. A little grey in the sky and Southern Californians don't leave the bed. This, of course, worked in our favor.
The main road we used to cross OC was Lampson. It has a Class 2 lane on it for most of the way and where it doesn't, it is a pretty low-traffic street with Class 3 signage.
About 20 or so miles into the ride, we stopped at the Filling Station, for a remarkable breakfast. Laura had the French toast breakfast (two eggs, bacon, french toast) and I went for the Belgian waffle breakfast. Both were amazing. The bacon were nice thick cuts, not the weeny sort of Farmer Johns bacon (apologies to FJ fans). Both the French toast and waffles had a slightly buttery flavor which added a nice nuance. The syrup was top-notch. It wasn't cloyingly sweet like others, but just the right balance of sweetness and body.
After an amazing breakfast (and several cups of coffee), we mounted the bikes again and headed for the hills on Chapman. After the traffic circle, Chapman becomes a manageable arterial. Chapman slowly thins out and climbs and at one point becomes Santiago Canyon road. Suddenly, you find yourself right smack in the middle of some rolling hills. While I wouldn't say it was say as scenic as something like Orcutt in San Luis Obispo, on that grey drizzling day you felt many miles away from The OC.
Santiago Canyon weaves its way around the hills. You pass Irvine Lake, which was my first thought of a camping spot. However, upon a quick visit, we were glad we were going to O'Neill. Irvine Lake looked nothing like it did on the website. On the site, it showed a beautiful lake surrounded by a thick ring of trees. The reality was disappointing to say the least. The trees were gone (burned in last round of fires?) and that was left something that looked like an overgrown mud puddle.
Riding a bit further, we eventually got to Live Oak road. At the intersection is a famous little biker cafe called Cook's Corner which is suppose to have some great food. When you turn on to Live Oak, you're greeted with a sign that says "Steep Grade Ahead". That's usually a good place to strip layers and pop some Starbust or Sweetarts into your system.
The road takes a firm turn heaven-ward at this point. It's a stiff but shortish climb (about a mile or so). At the top both of us were grunting and using equal parts brute force and The Secret to will us over the hump. From there, it is more or less downhill through a corridor of oaks (I'm assuming from the name) into the campsite. That portion of the road is just heavenly. It's beautifully paved and riding through the tunnel of trees you feel like you're somewhere in the Northwest. Beautiful.
O'Neill is a nicely maintained park, and one would hope so for it's $27 camping fee ($15 for additional nights). It's well manicured while still looking rustic. We chose a site by a dry creek and far (as far as we could get) from the road (site 58). Our site had a firepit, BBQ thingy, and two picnic tables. There was lots of flat space to pitch a tent and we had two trees that hung over our site.
While the site was far from primitive and the sound of some passing cars never completely disappeared, it was still pretty darn good for an urban camping experience. When we were there, there was a lot of empty sites. I'm sure during the summer the place becomes a zoo. However, on this particular weekend, it was bliss.
We cooked some corn beef and potatoes for dinner. Boiled some water for hot chocolate We made a fire ($5...the ranger looked a little surprised when I bungeed the bundle to my rear rack) and watched it slowly burn down. Not bad, considering we started in the streets of Long Beach (home to Snoop and Sublime) and were still in The OC.