Anaheim: A Most-Missed Place Says Welcome Back

Jul 22, 2021

There’s no denying our collective, pent-up desire to travel… well, anywhere. But in this new world of generalized wanderlust, a few particular places still stand out: spots so specifically longed-for that any news of even potential re-openings has, without exaggeration, made international headlines. One such place? The SoCal hometown of a certain A-List mouse, among countless other characters, which is very much back—and arguably better than ever.

Of course, you already know that Anaheim sits at the heart of theme park heaven, with all the new (and long beloved) enticements at the city’s own Disneyland Resort—to say nothing of the surrounding draws of Knott’s Berry Farm, Six Flags Magic Mountain and more. But what you likely don’t know may well prove the reason you decide to linger longer: There are countless local scenes to explore beyond the parks, with something that’ll call to every character in your travel party. Read on for a few of our favorite cases in point.

For foodies…

Before there were theme parks here, there was fruit. Lots and lots of it. Not for nothing is this part of the state called Orange County. So one of the best places to start your local foodie touring is an epic nod to the area’s turn-of-the-century fruit boom: The Anaheim Packing District. An entire vacation’s worth of eating options unto itself, the complex includes The Packing House (a National Register of Historic Places-listed 1919 Sunkist citrus-processing facility turned globe-spanning food hall); The Packard Building (a 1925 showroom converted into an Umami Burger and brewery space); the Farmers Park in between (where you’ll find more food vendors); The MAKE Building (a 1917 marmalade factory that houses modern makers and the famous Jav’s BBQ); Modern Times' Leisuretown (a historic warehouse turned, in the words of the new occupants, “brewery/restaurant/cafe/swim-club megaplex”); and CTR Street (still more food offerings at one of the main arteries of Anaheim’s historic downtown).

This district harbors so many choices, in fact, that you could turn it into a succession of themed food crawls. Frozen treat fan? Stop by Popbar, Hans’ Homemade and House of Chimney Cakes. Is every day Taco Tuesday for you? Try Urbana, Cervantes and Pour Vida. In a Southern state of mind? Make your way to Georgia’s Kitchen for soul food, 206 BCE for Cajun fare and Sweetbird for fried chicken sandwiches.

For a more immersive food crawl, head to Anaheim’s famed Little Arabia, where you’ll find some of the best falafel, shawarma and baklava outside the Middle East. Don’t miss the flatbreads at Forn al Hara, the falafel and shawarma at Sahara Falafel, the chicken and garlic sauce at Zankou Chicken, or the baklava at Victory Sweets (where you’ll also want to treat yourself to a bonus dessert of knafeh).

For craft brew and cocktail lovers…

You’ll need something to wash down all that amazing food with, and Anaheim famously dazzles in that department—as befits a city founded by German immigrants in 1857. Though they initially moved here to cultivate wine grapes, it’s the beer heritage that really took hold, with reportedly more breweries in Anaheim today than in any other Orange County city. One of the easiest places to sample some of the best is La Palma Beer Trail, where some of the breweries are within steps of each other: Bottle Logic Brewing (try a Fruited Berliner Weisse) and Asylum Ales (if you’ve never had a beer float, this is the place to try). For a longer walk—or a short drive for your Uber or designated driver—tack on the brewery that’s said to have put not just Anaheim, but also Orange County, on the craft brew map: The Bruery, where summer favorites include the Ruekeller Helles-style lager and Maibock-style lager. And while you’re on the trail, don’t miss Phantom Ales—and the house Hazy IPA should there be any on tap.

Back in the Packing District, the craft brew game is strong, too—as you’ll find when you try the Modern Times Beer at the aforementioned Leisuretown, in addition to the brews at Unsung Brewing and the soon-to-debut (but already famous from LA County) Monkish Brewing. The complex is also home to range of craft cocktail purveyors, from the speakeasy-evoking Blind Rabbit to the vintage boxcar-housed BXCR (a wine bar in name, but just as much a mixology mecca in, well, spirit).

Perhaps the best local cocktails, however, are the ones that are paired with panoramic views—as you’ll find at Anaheim’s rooftop bar scene. There’s The Fifth Rooftop Restaurant & Bar, worth the trip for the drunken donuts alone; Blu SkyBar at the Radisson Blu, where the Sunset in Sevilla (Tanqueray Sevilla Gin with raspberry, lemon and egg white) tastes just as fabulous as the sun is setting over the OC; and Parkestry Rooftop Bar at the JW Marriott, Anaheim—home to stunning Disney views and cocktails that use ingredients from the hotel's own garden to delicious effect (try the bourbon-based Sweet William's with roof-grown strawberries that nod to the property's strawberry field past). And as of July 16, the new Westin Anaheim Resort debuted the guest-exclusive Rise Rooftop Lounge. So if you're staying there, head up for the tapas, cocktails and Disneyland Resort views.  

For outdoorsy types…

Whether you’re looking to work off a pub crawl—or you’re just naturally inclined to want to hit the sunny SoCal trails—Anaheim is happy to oblige. A great starting point is Weir Canyon, part of California’s first National Natural Landmark. Set in the Anaheim Hills, the canyon is a haven for hikers, bikers and horseback riders, and pairs mountainous views with a moderate workout along the nearly four-mile loop trail.

Another Anaheim Hills enclave worth checking out is the Oak Canyon Nature Center, where you’ll actually find a succession of three adjoining canyons, one year-round stream and four miles of hiking trails through one of the region’s few remaining swaths of coastal sage scrub and oak woodland.

If surfing and SUPing are more your thing, you're in luck: While Anaheim itself isn’t right on the coast, you could be riding the waves of Huntington Beach or Newport Beach within half an hour of hopping in your car. And if you’re willing to drive another 10 or so minutes, you can add the Laguna Beach surf scene to your list.

Not that being outdoors need involve exertion—or at least not your own—of course. If you’d rather kick back and take in a local game, head over to one of the longest-serving stadiums in Major League Baseball, i.e., “The Big A,” where The Angels will host everyone from the Astros to the Padres to the Yankees in Anaheim over the rest of the season.  

For culture vultures…

Just next door to Angel Stadium, the 1,700-seat City National Grove of Anaheim puts on a different kind of show—with a most-memorable roster that includes the likes of Prince, Ray Charles and Stevie Nicks. With live performances returning mid-summer, you can catch everyone from violin virtuoso Bijan Mortazavi to 80s icons Air Supply here over the coming months.

If small-venue live music is your jam, you’ll want to check out the calendars at some of the aforementioned Packing District and rooftop hotspots. From MAKE to the Packing House to Farmers Park, you’ll find everything from sitar duos to jazz trios to DJ-spun sets under the stars. And Parkestry is hosting a moonlit Mozart series this summer. 

Fans of the visual arts should head over to Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center, where this summer’s exhibits have a strong focus on the timely topics of civil rights and social justice. But you should also check out Muzeo’s exhibit at the 1908 Carnegie Library—the last Carnegie-financed public library standing in Orange County—where Anaheim: a Walk Through Local History will give you a fascinating overview of the city.

And fans of street art take note: Under the auspices of the Art on the Walk program, the STC Anaheim GardenWalk is home to an ever-evolving array of installations and murals.

For retail therapy seekers…

However fabulous the art installations at the GardenWalk, this open-air mall is—for obvious reasons—better known for the kinds of displays that appear in store windows. Actually, as one of the most varied malls you’ll find, it’s home to everything from jewelry shops to a flight simulator (and yes, plenty of food for fueling up between forays).

But serious shoppers should proceed directly to The Outlets at Orange just a few minutes outside Anaheim, where you’ll find a literal A-to-Z of discount shopping—that is, Adidas to Zumies, with 110 outlets in between. From Bloomies, Nordstrom and Saks to Gap, Levi’s and Lucky, the gang’s all here—so best to leave some extra room in your suitcase.

Another nearby shopping pilgrimage site that designer aficionados should add to the agenda: Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza, a collection of hundreds of shops so internationally renowned (think Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior et al.) that the in-house concierge service facilitates everything from translations services to currency exchange.    

And a word to the wise: What you may not realize when the time comes to hit the theme parks is that Downtown Disney comes with a world of shopping, too. There’s plenty of Disney merch, sure—plus Disney-themed collections at the local Pandora—but know that you’ll also find plenty of other temptations, too: Sephora, Curl Surf and for any junior shoppers in tow, both a LEGO Store and Star Wars Trading Post—so that even souvenir shopping lives up to the local penchant for magic moments.

Ready to go? Read about more things to do and places to eat and stay during your Anaheim getaway.

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