The category: Towns that create or resuscitate a downtown, ending the reign of strip malls.

The stats: In northeast Orange County, 30 miles south of downtown Los Angeles; population 40,000.

The residents: Christine and Greg Marick (31 and 37) and their 2-year-old daughter. Christine works in municipal bonds at an investment-management company; Greg manages an after-school program and summer science camp business.

How they got here: Christine grew up in a neighborhood of row houses in Washington, D.C., so the couple wanted a pedestrian-friendly community with nearby destinations. “I didn’t want to just walk a loop around a gated community,” she says. By luck they came across Brea’s Ash Street Cottages district, an area that “surprised us even beyond what we were hoping for,” Christine says. 

Why they’re never leaving: A neighborhood of distinctive 1,450- to 1,650-square-foot Cape Cod and Craftsman houses that “pack a lot of functionality into a small area.” Like-minded residents who treasure their small-town sense of community. The Birch Street Promenade, a shopping and entertainment district with urban touches like live outdoor music and an annual jazz festival.

The story behind the burb: A onetime oil and citrus town, Brea’s downtown went into a decades-long decline after a regional mall opened. Community workshops identified a desire for a walkable district combining commercial and higher-density residential development (including loft-style apartments) with a blend of architectural styles.

Want in? Brea home prices averaged $651K to $675K in October. Loft apartment rentals on the Birch Street Promenade run between $1,100 and $1,400 a month, while some houses in the adjacent 96-home Ash Street Cottages neighborhood have soared past $700K. 

Other bounce-backs we love

Bellevue, WA, was your basic burb until it created an award-winning 2,700-acre park system. What else? At least a dozen high-tech giants, stellar schools, proximity to Seattle, great mountain views.

South Pasadena, CA, gained new life thanks to a light-rail line and a trendy commercial district.

Windsor, CA, has created a town green with storefronts based on historic photos and topped with condos – and avoided treacly nostalgia.

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