- Total 948 sq mi (2,460 km2)
- Land 799 sq mi (2,070 km2)
- Water 157 sq mi (410 km2)
Highest elevation 5,690 ft (1,730 m)
Population (April 1, 2010)
- Total 3,010,232
- Estimate (2017) 3,190,400
- Density 3,200/sq mi (1,200/km2)
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 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.
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 E. Huntington, president of the Pacific Electric and nephew of Collis Huntington. Transportation further improved w
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 became the Orange County Great Park.