Welcome Matthew Long back to the blog today, as he writes a post for us!
Visits to Disneyland and Disney World are vastly different trips. Part of what makes Disney World great is how immersive it is. Once you set foot on Disney grounds, there’s no reason to leave. A trip to Disneyland, on the other hand, almost demands that you spend some time outside the Disney parks. Los Angeles is one of the most iconic and massive cities in the country. Orange County, where Anaheim sits just south of LA, lacks a bit in diversity but has plentiful charms of its own.
Not everyone taking a Disneyland vacation will have the time to see other sites, but I’d highly recommend building in a day or two extra if possible. If I’m planning a trip for myself, I’d ideally take a full 7-8 days in the area with just three or four of them in the Disney parks. That ratio, and what to do with the extra days, will vary for everyone, but there are plentiful options to engage any interest.
Here are some of my favorite activities in the Disneyland vicinity. I’m going to stick mostly to Orange County, for a couple of reasons. First, I know it best and it’s considerably easier to get to if you’re staying in or near Anaheim. Second, LA is a vast world in itself, and I can’t pretend to play tour guide for it. I’d definitely recommend visiting, but you’ll get better recommendations on specific places to visit elsewhere. Anyway, here we go!
Hit the Beach!
Southern California’s beaches are legendary, and they live up to their reputation. There are three main beaches I like to hit if I’m staying close to Anaheim. Huntington Beach is the biggest, or at least it feels like it is. It has a long main street leading out to the prototypical pier stretching above the waves. There are shops and restaurants to hit on the way to the water, and the beach itself is busy but beautiful. If you do nothing else, walk to the end of the pier, watching the surfers below as you go. Huntington is the place to go for the stereotypical California beach scene.
Further south are Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. Newport is a little glitzier, and I’ve never spent a ton of time there. Laguna is also extremely high-class, but the beach and downtown area is smaller and almost quaint, in a super-rich way. I don’t know if it’s still there, but they had a great little bookstore across from the beach last time we visited, if you need something to read while you lay on the sand. Bonus points if you or your significant other loved the old MTV shows set here. Our plan, if we have time, is to start at Laguna or Huntington and work our way along the PCH toward the other, stopping at whatever beach or shopping or food interests us in between.
There are plenty of other beaches further north or south. Venice Beach is probably the most famous. Seek out whatever interests you, but if you’re just wanting some time by the ocean, the three main Orange County beach towns will satisfy you.
Go to a Game
Los Angeles is home to a lot of sports teams, some of them among the most famous in the country. Anaheim is home to baseball’s Angels, whose stadium is just a few miles from Disneyland. Unfortunately, the Angels don’t have a destination ballpark or anything else special, except for Mike Trout, maybe the best player in the game. To the north, Dodger Stadium is legendary and a much better pick, if you have the time to get there. There are tons of other options, depending on the time of year and your preferences. The Rose Bowl, for a UCLA football game, is the other classic stadium in driving distance. USC doesn’t have as great a stadium, but they’re one of the most storied football programs in history, as are UCLA and the Lakers for basketball. LA’s a great place to kill an afternoon or evening for a sports fan.
Play in Another Park
Disneyland isn’t the only amusement/theme park in town. Knott’s Berry Farm is a short drive away. I haven’t been there in years, but I have good memories of it, and I understand it’s received some upgrades recently. We’ll be visiting on our trip in August, so I’m sure Wandering in Disney will make some mention of it afterward. Further north are Universal Studios and Harry Potter. I can’t personally say much about either of these, but I’m sure they’re a great time if Disney’s offerings don’t fully satisfy.
Go Shopping. Or Eating
Not everyone sees shopping as a desirable vacation activity, but if you do, there aren’t many better places to be than LA. My Orange County shopping experience is mostly limited to walking around beach towns and a couple of gigantic malls, South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa and Fashion Island in Newport. They’re all enjoyable, if they fit what you’re in the mood for. LA offers pretty much anything under the sun. There’s the legendary fashion boutiques of Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive. Maybe you feel more at home in the hipster, cool kid towns like Silver Lake. I’m not a great guide, unfortunately, but it won’t be hard to find anything you might want to shop for.
Similarly, Los Angeles is one of the great places to eat in the country. There are celebrity chefs, restaurants with celebrities, and everything else you could want. If you’re into food, you probably already have some places in mind. If you’re not but still want to try something new or fancy or interesting, there are billions of lists out there to point you in the right direction.
Take a Second Trip, to San Diego
San Diego sits an hour or two south of Anaheim, depending on traffic. I love San Diego, but it’s probably not worth a day trip, if only because there’s plenty to do closer to Anaheim. But if you have an extra couple of days and want to spend a night somewhere different, there’s no place better than San Diego. A possible itinerary: hit some beaches on the way down, starting with La Jolla and working your way down to Mission and Pacific. You could spend the whole trip on the beach if you want, and there’s nothing wrong with doing so. Coronado Beach is also gorgeous and is a little closer to downtown. For the evening, I love walking around the Gaslamp District, the trendy area for nightlife, or heading to Old Town, a former mission that’s now an enjoyable little tourist trap with great Mexican food. There are plenty of fun neighborhoods to enjoy the next day, but it’s hard to pass up Balboa Park, a sprawling park in the middle of town with beautiful old buildings, gardens and museums. It’s also where the zoo sits, which shouldn’t be missed if you have the time.
That should be more than enough to keep you busy in the little free time you’re likely to have. This barely scratched the surface of what’s available, so just get out there and see what you can discover. Happy travels!