One of the largest, and the first successful, single-project master-planned communities in the United States, Mission Viejo is an Orange County city with picturesque hills, tree-lined streets and a large recreational lake. Its safe neighborhoods today home to some 96,346 residents (2014), the region was long considered “undevelopable” and one of the last in Orange County to see its ranchlands subdivided.
Originally inhabited by the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, who occupied much of what would later be Orange County, the land was claimed for Spain by Gaspar de Portolá in 1769. Twenty years after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, John Forster—the brother-in-law of Mexican governor Pío Pico—acquired more than 200,000 acres by land grant.
Over most of the next century, the property changed hands. In 1940, a large portion was purchased by the U.S. Department of Defense for Camp Pendleton, leaving a 52,000 acre parcel that was known as Rancho Mission Viejo and owned by Richard O’Neill. In the 1960s, it was O’Neill’s grandchildren who envisioned the possibility of growth into Orange County. They developed the Mission Viejo Company and launched the new master-planned community on 10,000 acres of their land. By 1966, families began to move into the new homes.
Incorporated in 1988 and still primarily residential, Mission Viejo has been recognized by the National Arbor Day Foundation for its lovely tree-lined streets, and was named the safest city in the U.S. in 2007 by Morgan Quitno Press (publisher of State Stats). The city has three golf courses and about two parks per square mile.
Both residential and commercial architecture is predominantly Spanish mission style, with barrel-tile roofs. At the center of Mission Viejo is an artificial lake, Lake Mission Viejo, with shoreline custom homes, boating and beaches, as well as community events, such as free summer concerts and movie screenings. Because of its hilly contours, many of the city’s homes have views of the lake, trees, rooftops and, to the east, the beautiful Saddleback Mountains.