Orange County is a county in the U.S. state of California. Its county seat is Santa Ana. As of the 2010 census, its population was 3,010,232, making it the third most populous county in California, behind Los Angeles County and San Diego County and the second most populous in the Greater Los Angeles Area after Los Angeles County. It is the sixth most populous county in the United States as of 2009 while at the same time is the smallest area-wise county in Southern California, being roughly half the size of the next smallest county, Ventura. The county is famous for its tourism, as the home of such attractions as Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, as well as several beaches along its more than of coastline. It is known for its affluence and political conservatism – a 2005 academic study listed three Orange County cities as being among America's 25 "most conservative," making it one of two counties in the country containing more than one such city (Maricopa County, Arizona also has three cities on the list).
Orange County was at the time the largest US county to have gone bankrupt, when in 1994 longtime treasurer Robert Citron's investment strategies left the county with inadequate capital to allow for any raise 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.
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, Santa Ana, Orange, Huntington Beach, and Fullerton. There are several edge city-style developments such as Irvine Business Center, South Coast Metro and Newport Center.
The city of Santa Ana serves as the governmental center of the county, or county seat, Anaheim as its main tourist destination, and Irvine as its major business and financial hub. All of these three Orange County cities have populations exceeding 200,000. Thirty-four incorporated cities are located in Orange County; the newest is Aliso Viejo, which was incorporated in 2001. Anaheim was the first city incorporated in Orange County, in 1870 when the region was still part of neighboring Los Angeles County.
Members of the Tongva, Juaneño, and Luiseño Native American groups long inhabited the area. After the 1769 expedition of Gaspar de Portolà, a Spanish 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 generally said to have been named for the citrus fruit (once its most famous product). However, in the new county there was already a town by the name of Orange, named for Orange County, Virginia, which itself took its name from William III of England (known as William of Orange).
Other citrus crops, avocados, and oil extraction were also important to the early economy. Orange County benefited from the July 4, 1904 completion of the Pacific Electric Railway, a trolley connecting Los Angeles with Santa Ana and Newport Beach. The link made Orange County an accessible weekend retreat for celebrities of early Hollywood. It was deemed so significant that Pacific City changed its name to Huntington Beach in honor of Henry Huntington, president of the Pacific Electric and nephew of Collis Huntington. Transportation further improved with the completion of the State Route and U.S. Route 101 (now mostly Interstate 5) in the 1920s.
Agriculture, such as the boysenberry made famous by Buena Park native Walter Knott, began to decline after World War II, but the county's prosperity soared. 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, the population topped two million for the first time; Orange County had become the second-most populous county in California.
In 1994, an investment fund meltdown led to the criminal prosecution of County of Orange treasurer Robert Citron. The county lost at least $1.5 billion through high-risk investments in derivatives, and on December 6, 1994, the County of Orange declared Chapter 9 bankruptcy, from which it emerged in June 1995. The Orange County bankruptcy was the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history until Jefferson County, Alabama filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy in 2011.
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. For example, the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station site 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.