Editor’s Letter: Eight Great Places to Escape the Madding Crowd

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Each time I visit Soka University, I ask the front-entrance security guard: “You’re sure it’s OK to just go in and roam around?” The answer is always “Sure!”—except for once when I brought our small dog, and the guard said, “Somebody saw a coyote this morning, so just be careful.”

What reveals itself to those who seek out this 103-acre campus overlooking the canyons of Aliso Viejo is something rare in modern Orange County: silence and solitude. I go on weekends, often on my bike, and I’m not yet convinced the private university has any students. It’s that quiet.

We asked writer Christopher Smith to find a few places around Orange County where an overscheduled and overstimulated local can disconnect, even if only for a while. You’ll find the results of his search in our “Peace. Now.” feature. All of his touts have their charms, but my favorite is Soka. Open since 2001, the university’s architecture and hilltop setting remind me of a Getty Center in miniature—an extension of the philosophy of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a Japanese educator and Buddhist leader who was convinced that religion is meant to serve human needs, and that nothing is more important than the happiness of the individual.

Soka reflects that vision, because whenever I’m there, I’m happy. I often end up at the far end of campus, behind the Athenaeum building in a garden with benches and orange trees. During certain times of the year, those trees are in full, fragrant bloom. Sometimes I stroll across the garden to the lip of Wood Canyon and wonder if maybe this is how heaven might smell.

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