Founded by German immigrants and reimagined by Walt Disney, Anaheim is a land of dreams and dreamers. From orange trees to Ducks, Angels and mouse ears, this town of 350,000 has grown from a patchwork of citrus orchards to a hotbed of top-echelon sports teams and international animation stars. Yet it still honors its humble agrarian roots. Sure, Anaheim may be known by millions as the town that Mickey built, but this friendly mascot isn’t the only show in town. With artwork that inspires, gastronomical surprises around every corner and pennant-winning sports teams, Anaheim has quite a few tricks up its sleeve.
What started in 1857 with 50 Germans on 1,165 acres in Southern California was not without its highs and lows. The immigrants created the largest wine-producing region in the state, and for 25 years their success was unmatched. However, the grape vines became diseased and the industry all but died out, forcing these determined immigrants to look elsewhere for their livelihood. Citrus fruits and nuts grew well in the soil here, so orange and walnut orchards sprung up, eventually becoming Anaheim’s main exports.
Disney Comes to Town
This rural agricultural region flourished with railroad connections for shipping their crops, and it wasn’t until Walt Disney spied a 160-acre parcel filled with orange and walnut trees that the town began to change. By 1955, when Disneyland opened, Anaheim realized the benefit of tourism to its bottom line. Hotels, motels and services catering to the visitors that swarmed the amusement park rushed to build within the city limits, and residential neighborhoods followed suit. Today, the town is home to three large amusement parks, two major league sports teams and a very happy animated mouse.
With a tag line like “The Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland has a lot to live up to. And boy, does it deliver. Adults are just as enamored with the Main Street Electrical Parade and Sleeping Beauty Castle as children are, and who doesn’t want to take on the Pirates of the Caribbean or the Mad Tea Party ride (except after lunch)? The park has grown significantly since opening in 1955, with new rides added all the time. A one-day visit may be too short for hard-core fans, so plan on enjoying Mickey Mouse’s hospitality for two or more days of family fun.
Tied Up in Knotts
Theme park fans, take note: Disney isn’t the only game in the county. Just 5 miles to the west, what started out as a roadside berry stand and chicken dinner restaurant soon morphed into today’s Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, the tenth most popular amusement park in the country. Snoopy and the gang love to entertain visitors at their history-based theme park, where steam engines meet roller coasters and cowboys dazzle in a Wild West Stunt Show.
Settle for a Soak
Knott’s Soak City is a water park on steroids, with high-speed slides, inner tube flumes, a wave pool and a lazy river, among other rides. Children and adults alike will drown in regret if this adventure is bypassed, so be sure to float this idea past travel partners.
Prefer artistic enlightenment to amusement park thrills? Get a new take on creativity with the TrashARTists Challenge at Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center. Students create artwork through recycled items, encouraging conservation and zero waste, and lending credence to the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Hit a grand slam with the baseball fans in your party when you catch the season opener for the Los Angeles Angels at Angels Stadium, or pull off a double play by adding tickets for the Anaheim Ducks’ last game of the season. That’s almost a hat trick.
An old citrus packing plant has been renovated as the Anaheim Packing House, an eclectic mixture of more than two dozen food venues, with menu items ranging from soul food to Indian cuisine. A speakeasy, tea bar and craft brewery are just a few of the watering holes available. Foodies can start with sushi or a crepe and eat their way through Syrian specialties or Hong Kong barbecue, finishing the evening with homemade ice cream or gelato on a stick.
For a surreal art experience, visit Pageant of the Masters in July and August in Laguna Beach, 25 miles to the south. In this iconic event, audiences are amazed by living re-creations of classical and contemporary works of art. Marvel at the perfectly posed stand-ins who bring masterworks to life.
Outside in Orange County
A trip to any of Orange County’s beaches is perfect for a day in the surf and sun. Cruise to Newport Beach for boating or hang ten at Huntington Beach. If you seek a place with smaller crowds, Orange County’s regional park system consists of 25 urban and wilderness parks, seven historic sites and 230 miles of regional riding and hiking trails. Santiago Oaks Regional Park, just 13 miles to the east, provides vast expanses of wide-open space without the blare of traffic or masses of huge crowds.
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