Best of Orange County 2020: Best apartment community

1. Newport Bluffs Apartment Homes

100 Vilaggio, Newport Beach; 844-277-3455;

The gated community of Newport Bluffs is a richly landscaped development of three distinct villages inspired by Old World Italian towns. The surrounding scenic coastal foothills of Bonita Canyon make for nice views from many of the apartments.

With townhome and single-level options, Newport Bluffs includes 30 separate floor plans; each has fully equipped chef kitchens, a private patio or balcony, in-home washer and dryer and central air conditioning. Some come with private, one or two-car garages and gas fireplaces.

The smallest floor plan is the only studio on offer at Newport Bluffs — a 549-square-foot unit in the Residencia village starting at $1,925 a month. One-bedroom units in the Residencia and Loggia villages range from 683 square feet starting at $2,255 a month to 1,152 square feet over two levels starting at $3,150 a month. There are 15 two-bedroom floor plans in the Residencia, Loggia and Rivoli villages, starting at 945 square feet and going up to 1,395 square feet over two levels; pricing details are unavailable. Lastly, there is one three-bedroom floor plan in Residencia and five three-bedroom townhome plans available in Rivoli; square footage starts at 1,317 square feet and prices at $3,425 a month.

The three resort-style pools with spas include plenty of lounge seating and private cabanas. Adding to the resort feeling are several outdoor fireplaces and seating areas, two lighted tennis courts, a fitness center and aerobics studio, and a clubhouse with a catering kitchen for group events. A unique offering is a private wine room.

2. Broadstone Arden

1951 E. Dyer Road, Santa Ana; 844-379-1841;

Broadstone Arden welcomed its first tenants in November 2019, becoming the first residential community to open in Allied Residential’s Park and Paseo district.

With 335 units of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans, sizes range from 594 square feet to 1,956 square feet, starting at $1,905 a month. All come with washers and dryers, private patios or balconies, walk-in closets, stainless steel appliances, Nest thermostats and keyless entry.

A lot of attention was paid to design elements in the common areas. “The Instagrammable spaces allow residents and guests to easily tap into the aesthetically pleasing dynamics of luxury living,” said Lauren Blum, Alliance Residential’s marketing director for Southern California.

Community features of note include a rooftop pool with a glass-edge spa, a two-story gym and spa retreat with a Himalayan salt room. A game lounge features an interactive golf simulator.

In the next few months, the green spaces and parks within the community will be opening, Blum said, along with two new residential communities, Broadstone Archive and Atlas.

3. Gateway Apartment Homes

299 N. State College Blvd., Orange; 844-848-2383;

The Gateway apartment homes, operated by Irvine Co. Apartment Communities, has many of the amenities you would find in a high-end resort community: Multiple pool areas, lush tropical landscaping and attractive, stylishly decorated common areas.

Located in the Platinum Triangle area and straddling the Orange/Anaheim border, Gateway offers studio, one-, and two-bedroom apartment homes, some featuring lofts; furnished units are available. The units have a private patio or balcony, many with a view of landscaped courtyards. Monthly rents start at $2,780 for a 618-square-foot studio, $1,925 for a 729-square-foot one bedroom and $2,380 for a 1,077-square-foot two bedroom.

Apartments also have you covered on the work-at-home front, with built-in shelves and computer desks already in place.

Community features include four pools and spas with waterfalls, along with poolside cabanas with private TVs and stereos.

Shared amenities also include fire pits, Viking barbecue grills, sports lounge, two fitness centers, two dog parks, a parcel locker system and a club room with a full kitchen.

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Best of Orange County 2019: Best garden center/nursery

1. Green Thumb Nursery

23782 Bridger Road, Lake Forest; 949-837-3040;

Strolling through the aisles at Green Thumb Nursery’s Lake Forest store can feel like a welcome escape, one filled with emerald leaves and fragrant blooms. For large-scale projects, the store’s landscape design service can be a decisive go-ahead.

Shoppers who meet the purchase minimum for the program can sit down with one of two designers: One employee has more than 30 years of experience in professional landscape design, and the other has over 10 years’ experience, according to James Parr, Green Thumb Nursery’s online marketing manager.

After one of the experts has created a design based on the customer’s goals, it’s time to look at plant options, Parr said. The company does not offer installation but provides referrals for landscape installers.

Green Thumb Nursery’s Lake Forest store, which is on a property of 5-plus acres, features a vast inventory of plants. There are roses, fruit trees — including many citrus varieties, peaches and plums — indoor houseplants, a water-wise section, pollinator-friendly plants, and more, according to Parr. The dog-friendly store also carries more than 40 soil options, along with other items, including patio furniture sets, fountains and organic pest-control products.

Green Thumb Nursery operates with a total of 225 employees, 60 of whom are based at the Lake Forest location, according to Parr. The company was established in 1946 in Canoga Park and has grown to five locations in Southern California.

2. Armstrong Garden Centers

Multiple locations; 626-914-1091;

The expertise at Armstrong Garden Centers extends beyond the company’s several locations in Orange County. One service that has become more popular is Armstrong’s garden consultation service, according to Desiree Heimann, vice president of marketing at Armstrong Garden Centers and Pike Nurseries, which is part of Armstrong.

“Whenever we have unusual weather, like all the rain we experienced this winter, gardens change, often leaving homeowners wondering what they need to do to keep their garden and lawn healthy,” she said.

A garden consultation brings an Armstrong expert on-site “to identify garden issues while answering all of the homeowner’s garden-related questions, including pruning tips and plant identification,” Heimann said.

Armstrong Garden Centers’ menu of home services also includes landscape design and installation, artificial grass installation, and more, according to the company’s website. Armstrong’s stores are dog friendly and regularly host classes. For DIY lawn and garden care, month-specific tips are available on the company’s website.

3. Roger’s Gardens

2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona del Mar; 949-640-5800;

Plants and inspiration are nurtured side by side at Roger’s Gardens, and participation is welcome.

Visitors can learn about spaces as varied as a culinary garden, a California-friendly garden, a small-space patio garden and a modern garden, among other new display garden themes, said Nava Rezvan, director of marketing and public relations.

“Customers can see all the different styles that we have available and decide how they want to create that in their own garden,” Rezvan said. Even Fido can take part, as Roger’s Gardens is dog-friendly.

For extra gardening inspiration, there’s the annual California Friendly Garden Contest, which includes cash prizes and has been held for 11 years. The Roger’s Gardens contest usually starts in February and runs through June, Rezvan said.

Customers also can turn to the company for its expertise, from the Roger’s Gardens Floral Studio to in-home consultations to landscaping services.

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Best of Orange County 2019: Best home builder

1. Landsea Homes

660 Newport Center Drive, Suite 300, Newport Beach; 949-345-8080;

Landsea Homes’ corporate headquarters is located in Newport Beach, with additional offices located in Arizona, Boston, and New York City, as well Irvine and San Ramon.  A subsidiary of the international company Landsea Green Group, Landsea builds a myriad of homes that range from suburban single-family detached and attached homes as well as urban mid-rise and high-rise homes. In addition, the business has also taken steps to develop planned communities throughout the United States.

With a commitment to sustainability, Landsea utilizes a more eco-friendly approach to home building.

“It is the defining characteristic of our parent company, which pioneered the use of environmentally conscious building materials and geothermal technology, high-performance windows, air and water filtration systems and other advancements that contribute to healthier and more enjoyable living,” the company’s website reads. “We have a deep respect for the shared environment of the communities we create, and it manifests itself in the meticulous thought we put into the balance of the inside and outside environments.”

Landsea Homes Sale Counselor offers financing services to assist homebuyers in finding the best loans possible. Through its pre-qualifying program, customers are able to connect with the company’s preferred lenders who are able to accommodate their needs and their budgets.

2. Lennar

Multiple locations;

Currently the largest home construction and real estate company in the United States, Lennar’s roots trace back to Miami, Fla., in 1954. Today, the home builder operates as a conglomerate with a number of other home building companies that were acquired over Lennar’s 60+ years in business.

“We build homes in some of the most desirable cities in the nation and for all stages of your life: first home, move-up home, or a multigenerational home to accommodate your changing family needs,” Lennar’s website reads. “Our communities cater to all lifestyles and include urban, suburban, active adult and golf course living.”

Lennar is the owner and developer of numerous up-and-coming communities throughout Orange County, including Central Park West in Irvine, Loma Vista Townhomes in Yorba Linda, and Levity at Tustin Legacy.

3. William Lyon Homes

Multiple locations;

With office locations in Texas, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Nevada, as well as Northern and Southern California, it comes as no surprise that William Lyon Homes is one of the preferred options among residents of Orange County. What started as a family-owned company in 1954 by General William Lyon has manifested into a notable organization, recognized by more than six decades worth of dedication, leadership, and customer service.

“One thing that is important to us as a family and us as a company, is that we are building homes for people to live in and have their lives revolve around,” says executive chairman and chairman of the board, William H. Lyon.

Offering a variety of housing options including custom built structures and planned communities, this William Lyon continues to pride themselves on customer approval and creating a sense of loyalty with home-buyers.



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Best of Orange County 2019: Best senior living community

1. Freedom Village

23442 El Toro Road, Lake Forest; 949-472-4700;

If you ask Stephanie Chappell, director of marketing at Freedom Village, what makes the senior living community she works for unique, she will point to the longevity of staff and the quality of care provided.

Freedom Village has a caregiver who has been with the community for more than 26 years, she said. It has 10 different caregivers who have been there for 10 years or more. It has a head of nursing with 26 years of experience at the retirement complex. The head of transportation has been there for some 30 years, Chappell added.

“So it’s just this type of very unique community where it’s a very warm friendly feeling — more like a family atmosphere here where residents really develop long-lasting relationships with our staff and our staff with the residents,” she said. “And you can really feel that difference when you come here to visit.”

Chappell said more than 100 residents actively participate and volunteer as part of the community, and the majority of the activities offered are resident-driven.

“So they really lead, creating the community that they want,” Chappell said.

Amenities include a pool that is heated year-round where exercise programs occur five days a week, Tai Chi, stretch and balance activities, line dancing, private meeting spaces, a private theater, a Saddleback lounge that Chappell says “looks like a regular neighborhood pub,” and the Freedom Village University led by retired educators who teach classes.

The community also has a social hour every Wednesday featuring wine, appetizers, dancing and live music, Chappell said.

The Freedom Village website welcomes interested parties to ask about “guaranteed care for life,” which Chappell said helps provide residents some peace of mind.

“It’s written in our contract that if they should run out of their savings or their assets through no fault of their own they can continue to call Freedom Village their own,” she said. “We have assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing here right on our campus. So we have all the different levels of care options available right here. So they don’t have to, if their needs change, pick up and move somewhere completely different. They can stay right here at Freedom Village and get the help that they need.”

2. Heritage Point

27356 Bellogente, Mission Viejo; 949-364-9685;

Residents. Families. Donors. Those are the “critical make-up and successful make-up of who Heritage Pointe is,” according to Beth Slavin, director of philanthropy for the only Jewish senior community providing independent living, assisted living and memory care in Orange County.

“The fact that we have been here for 30 years as a thriving non-profit, and that we’re able to help our seniors who are in need — we have a special program — makes us very unique,” Slavin said. Other senior homes are for-profit enterprises. Not Heritage Pointe. “It’s nice when you can tell the community that you’re a 501(c)(3) organization and you’re here to help your residents,” she said, noting that the community relies on an outstanding donor base to continue to provide that care.

To the point, the Life Enrichment program — with curriculum geared toward educational activities that cover music, concerts, the arts, and books — is directed by Loretta Modelevsky, a Heritage Pointe founder and former volunteer coordinator who opened the ZEST For Learning Endowment Fund with her husband, Herb, to help ensure a program like that can live in perpetuity.

Slavin, whose mother came from Michigan to stay at Heritage Pointe for several years, served on the Heritage Pointe board before signing on for employment.

“I’ve seen it from every aspect, and I can only tell you that it is not only a warm, friendly place for all faiths to be at — and we do have other people besides Jews here — but it is a place that you know you can count on for good care,” she said.

3. Crescendo Senior Living of Placentia

351 E. Palm Drive, Placentia; 714-528-4990;

Whether you are a senior seeking assisted living, memory care or short-stay visit respite care, a community in the heart of Placentia has something to offer.

“Our Community is filled with energy, delight and compassion, a place where seniors can live life their way, surrounded by people who share their passions and treat them like family,” said Alea Katan, the community relations director at Crescendo Senior Living of Placentia. “We are situated in a quiet residential neighborhood located just minutes from generous choices for shopping, dining, banking and located just minutes from the Brea Mall.”

Katan said that when seniors consider the assisted living option at Crescendo, staff help them customize a plan to meet their needs while respecting their independence. “When you decide to make Crescendo your new home, we make sure that how you live your life is up to you; you get to decide how much assistance you need with your daily activities,” she said. The Memory Support Neighborhood is an option for residents who desire a secure setting, Katan said, noting that their new Day Memory Support Programming provides a peaceful-yet-enjoyable environment that embraces past routines and the personal preferences of residents.

Crescendo offers activities such as Book Club, Zumba Stretch and Happy Hour for seniors content to sip a cold beverage on the patio. Katan said the community’s dining service is also highly regarded for embodying a “farm to table experience” replete with locally grown foods and an assortment of options.

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