Orange County is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 3,010,232 making it the third-most populous county in California, the sixth-most populous in the United States, and more populous than twenty-one U.S. states. Its county seat is Santa Ana. It is the second most densely populated county in the state, second only to San Francisco County. The county's three largest cities, Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Irvine, each have populations exceeding 200,000. Several of Orange County's cities are on the Pacific coast, including Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, and San Clemente.
Orange County is included in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area. Thirty-four incorporated cities are located in the county; the newest is Aliso Viejo, which was incorporated in 2001. Anaheim was the first city incorporated in 1870, when the region was still part of neighboring Los Angeles County. Whereas most population centers in the United States tend to be identified by a major city, there is no defined urban center in Orange County. It is mostly suburban except for some traditionally urban areas at the centers of the older cities of Anaheim, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Orange, and Santa Ana. There are several edge city-style developments such as Irvine Business Center, Newport Center, and South Coast Metro.
The county is famous for its tourism as the home of attractions like Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, and several beaches along its more than of coastline. It is also known for its political conservatism — a 2005 academic study listed three Orange County cities as among America's 25 most conservative, making it one of two counties in the nation containing more than one such city. (Maricopa County, Arizona also has three cities on the list.) It is part of the Tech Coast. It is home to the second-largest Muslim population in the U.S.
Orange County was at one time the largest county to have declared bankruptcy. In 1994, longtime treasurer Robert Citron's investment strategies left the county with inadequate capital to allow for any rise in interest rates for its trading positions. When the residents of Orange County voted down a proposal to raise taxes in order to balance the budget, bankruptcy followed soon after. Citron later pleaded guilty to six felonies regarding the matter.
Members of the Tongva, Juaneño, and Luiseño Native American groups long inhabited the area. After the 1769 expedition of Gaspar de Portolà, a Catalan expedition led by Junipero Serra named the area Valle de Santa Ana (Valley of Saint Anne). On November 1, 1776, Mission San Juan Capistrano became the area's first permanent European settlement. Among those who came with Portolá were José Manuel Nieto and José Antonio Yorba. Both these men were given land grants—Rancho Los Nietos and Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, respectively. The Nieto heirs were granted land in 1834. The Nieto ranches were known as Rancho Los Alamitos, Rancho Las Bolsas, and Rancho Los Coyotes. Yorba heirs Bernardo Yorba and Teodosio Yorba were also granted Rancho Cañón de Santa Ana (Santa Ana Canyon Ranch) and Rancho Lomas de Santiago, respectively. Other ranchos in Orange County were granted by the Mexican government during the Mexican period in Alta California.
A severe drought in the 1860s devastated the prevailing industry, cattle ranching, and much land came into the possession of Richard O'Neill, Sr., James Irvine and other land barons. In 1887, silver was discovered in the Santa Ana Mountains, attracting settlers via the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific Railroads.
This growth led the California legislature to divide Los Angeles County and create Orange County as a separate political entity on March 11, 1889. The county is said to have been named for the citrus fruit in an attempt to promote immigration by suggesting a semi-tropical paradise–a place where anything could grow.
Agriculture, such as that involving the boysenberries made famous by Buena Park native Walter Knott, began to decline after World War II. However, the county's prosperity soared during this time. The completion of Interstate 5 in 1954 helped make Orange County a bedroom community for many who moved to Southern California to work in aerospace and manufacturing. Orange County received a further boost in 1955 with the opening of Disneyland.
In the 1980s, Orange County had become the second most populous county in California as the population topped two million for the first time.
In 1994, an investment fund meltdown led to the criminal prosecution of treasurer Robert Citron. The county lost at least $1.5 billion through high-risk investments in bonds. The loss was blamed on derivatives by some media reports. On December 6, 1994, the County of Orange declared Chapter 9 bankruptcy, from which it emerged on June 12, 1996. The Orange County bankruptcy was at the time the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
In recent years, land use conflicts have arisen between established areas in the north and less developed areas in the south. These conflicts have regarded issues such as construction of new toll roads and the repurposing of a decommissioned air base. El Toro Marine Corps Air Station was designated by a voter measure in 1994 to be developed into an international airport to complement the existing John Wayne Airport. But subsequent voter initiatives and court actions have caused the airport plan to be permanently shelved. Instead, it will become the Orange County Great Park.