Fact: the mouse is king in Anaheim. However, if you’re willing to venture slightly beyond the mouse’s kingdom, you will discover that Anaheim has so much more to offer: eclectic food halls, a next-level children’s museum and science center, a swashbuckling pirate show/dinner and a whole other theme park! We explored it all so the next time your family heads south, you’ll want to hit them all up.
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Knott’s Berry Farm
With humble beginnings as a berry farm nearly one hundred years ago, Knott’s Berry Farm touts itself as California’s original theme park and for good reason—Walt Disney himself was a visitor, pre-Disneyland. Today Knott's Berry Farm is best known for high-thrill coasters that push the limits (think: multiple inversions and > 90-degree drops). Shorties who don’t (or don’t want to) qualify for the coasters will find Camp Snoopy at just the right speed and thrill level.
Good to know:
•Consider the Fast Pass upgrade to expedite wait times
•Try the famous Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner restaurant along with their signature boysenberry jam but be prepared to wait (shops and a Ghost Town are nearby for entertainment)
Downtown Anaheim Farmer’s Market
Over 30 vendors gather every Thursday at Center Street to hawk their food/wares. Varying from succulents and bee products to pet bandanas and almond butter, this market showcases both local talent and produce and it is impossible to leave without a purchase!
With over 100 hands-on exhibits, this top-notch children’s science center and museum will keep little hands and minds engaged. At the Physics Lab, kids build race cars and test them against the clock or other cars, all while exploring physics as a byproduct. We also stepped into a wind tunnel to investigate aerodynamics, tried to engineer the perfect paper airplane and dabbled with altering 3D topography.
Good to know:
• A cafe serves up snacks and is denoted, appropriately, by a large “COFFEE” sign
• The museum is mind-boggling expansive as we discovered we missed an entire wing on our way out so be sure to allow time to explore it all
Pirate’s Dinner Adventure
Don your eyepatch and wood peg leg as your family embarks on an immersive evening of revelry and adventure. Divided into teams to involve audience participation, (clean) trash-talking is encouraged as you cheer your pirate on in daring tasks. Acrobatics, swordplay and stunts are all on the menu in addition to a full dinner—the hardest part will be getting the kids to pay attention to eat with all the spectacles going on!
Good to know:
• The adults liked how there was an actual story plot and witty puns incorporated
• Sensory sensitive kids may be overloaded with all the sounds and lights
Having grown up in SoCal and gone regularly as a kid (RIP $30 tickets), it was thrilling to take my kids back to the magical world that is Disneyland. We enjoyed Skellabration at the Haunted House in addition to the festive holiday decorations but one of my favorite things about Disneyland during the holidays is the food! From Peppermint beignets from Mint Julep Bar to eggnog cold brew from Red Rose Taverne—give me all of it!
Good to know:
• Rope drop is still the way to go. We recommend being at the park’s security lines 30-45 mins before opening so that you’re on Main St at opening
Fantasyland at rope drop has never failed us. At publishing of this article, there is no longer a virtual queue for Rise of Resistance so that’s where we would head
• Consider ordering meals (and snacks) via the mobile app
• There is currently no Fast Lane pass but Disney Genie and Genie+ is slated to be released at any moment so stay tuned!
Anaheim Packing House
This Insta-worthy food hall was one of the highlights of our trip—we loved the unique decorations of bright lanterns and swings, the airy open-space setting, the farmer’s park with its heart swing .. . oh! And all the artisan food options! The classic southern fried chicken at Georgia’s, miso ramen at Orange Tei, Strawberry Pocky (sorbetto on a stick) at Popbar and apple pie a la mode at Pie Hole were big hits for us. If you’re able to find it, kids 21+ can slip into the Blind Rabbit speakeasy
This rooftop restaurant and bar located across the street from Disneyland means if timed properly, your family will enjoy a bird’s eye view of the fireworks on select nights (reservations highly recommended on those nights)! Casual enough for relaxing after a day at the park but also ideal for special occasions, we found the Fifth to be inviting and family-friendly. While there wasn’t a kid menu per se, we found plenty of kid options such as mini corn dogs, burgers, grilled cheese and pasta.
Built with repurposed shipping containers, SteelCraft aims to unite the community through local craft food and drink vendors, live music and other neighborhood events. We loved dining in the large, open-space communal dining space where there was space for kids to swing and play ping pong while waiting for our food. Our favorites included the Mexican x Asian fusion barrio ramen, made-to-order Duck donuts and washing it all down with coffee boba (other options include craft beer, wine and cocktails).
Free Rides Around the Neighborhood (FRAN) is a program utilizing open-air electric vehicles that the City of Anaheim uses to offer free, on-demand rides within its local downtown area. With sixteen points of interest and popular downtown destinations, riders can summon a ride at their convenience through an app or good ‘ole fashioned phone call and a vehicle is dispatched shortly. It was a fast, convenient method for us to travel around and the best part is that it was free!
Helpful tip: We found it fastest to call for a ride (714) 490-0486
Howard Johnson Anaheim & Water Playground
Recently renovated, a mere eight-minute walk separates your family from this property and the gates of Disneyland if you can get the kids to leave the super fun Castaway Cove water playground (reservations are required). At 538 sq ft, the spacious Kids Suite can accommodate up to six guests with one king bed and twin bunk beds plus a sleeper sofa in a separate bedroom. Between the water playground and fun bunk beds, my kids declared HoJo Anaheim their new favorite hotel!
1380 S Harbor Blvd
Grand Legacy at The Park
This hotel’s prime location across the street from Disneyland makes it a five-minute commute—it truly doesn’t get any closer and is faster than walking to Disney’s parking structures. This means you can easily be at rope drop after rolling out of bed or party until closing. Fifth restaurant (mentioned above) also makes its home at the rooftop here which, along with a pool for kids to splash and cool off in, is all the reason to consider staying here on your next visit.
1650 S Harbor Blvd.
Get Away Today has partnered with Visit Anaheim in a campaign to welcome families this winter. Whether you choose to travel with your family or give the gift of travel, the savings are yours with a third or fourth night free at select hotels and a free extra day at Disneyland with the purchase of four days!
—photos and story by Christine Lai
Editor’s note: This trip was sponsored by Visit Anaheim, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.
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