Stephanie Holmes counts down five things to do in and around Anaheim.
1. Go to a galaxy far, far away
If you're heading to Anaheim, chances are you'll already have a visit to Disneyland on your list. It's a must-do, at least once in your lifetime — whether or not you have kids in tow. There are two theme parks to choose from at Disneyland Resort — Disneyland Park, and Disney California Adventure Park — and both are worth spending at least a day at.
Adventure Park has seven different themed areas, including Cars Land, Pixar Pier and Hollywood Land, with rides including Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout, Radiator Springs Racers and the Incredicoaster.
This year, things got elevated to a whole new level over the road at Disneyland Park with the opening of the much-anticipated new land, Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. Here, not only do you get to experience the thrilling immersive ride Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (where you get to pilot the famous spaceship in an exhilarating mission), you also get to wander around the Planet Batuu — as seen in Episodes VII-IX in the movie trilogy.
You'll find three areas — a First Order headquarters, a central town and marketplace, and a Resistance encampment — and there's the chance to build your own lightsaber, get up close to a Stormtrooper, and drink a beer at Oga's Cantina (the only place in Disneyland Park that serves alcohol).
And if none of the above means anything to you, note that non-Star Wars fans will find enjoyment here too, if only to marvel at the attention to detail that has gone into literally everything there.
2. Ride a record-breaking roller coaster
If after a couple of days at Disney, you're still keen for more high-octane thrills, head down to Buena Park for an afternoon at Knott's Berry Farm. California's first theme park — and the birthplace of the boysenberry — Knott's dates back to the 1920s, with humble family origins. Starting out as an actual berry farm, with tea shop and plant nursery, the park quickly grew to meet high visitor demand — first with a fried chicken restaurant, then a Ghost Town, and gradually more areas and rides were added to reach its current size. It's now home to 40 rides and more than 6 million visitors per year.
Modern roller coasters include Hang Time, Supreme Scream, Xcelerator and the Silver Bullet, which contrast nicely with historic attractions like the Timber Mountain Log Ride, the Calico Mine Ride and Montezooma's Revenge. For an unexpectedly terrifying thrill, strap yourself in for the GhostRider, the tallest and longest wooden roller coaster on the West Coast of the US. It's fast, furious and utterly exhilarating.
3. Eat and drink your way around town
All those thrills and spills are bound to work up an appetite, and though there are many good options with Disneyland and Knott's (hello, freshly baked pretzels and fried chicken dinners), Anaheim has much more to offer when it comes to dining.
The hottest destination in town is the Anaheim Packing District — an upmarket food court (a little like Auckland's Ponsonby Central), where you can eat everything from grilled cheese sandwiches (Black Sheep), Vietnamese noodles (206 BCE), Japanese crepes (Crepe Coop), southern American soul food (Georgia's), poke bowls (Orange Tei), and Mexican favourites (Urbana).
Look for the small rabbit sculpture on the wall of stacked sake barrels — pull it and a door will open to Prohibition-style speakeasy The Blind Rabbit. The cocktails here are exceptional, as is the menu, but with only 35 seats, bookings are essential.
4. Hang 10 in Surf City USA
What's a Californian holiday without a little beach time? Head to Huntington Beach to experience the best of American surf culture, including the International Surfing Museum where you'll find memorabilia, art exhibits and events.
The sport was first introduced here in the 1920s by the founder of modern surfing, Duke Kahanamoku, and its popularity soon spread throughout California. The country's first surf championships were held here in 1959 and the US Open of Surfing is still held in Huntington Beach to this day.
With 16km of pristine coastline, this is a great place to try out surfing for yourself — take a lesson with Mckinnon, a surf and SUP school founded by professional surfer and board shaper Rocky McKinnon. He and his team will kit you out with boards, wetsuits and rash vests, and their endless patience and custom-made beginner boards will see you standing on the water before you know it.
While you take a break, scan the water for some four-legged furry friends taking to the waves — there are some local superstar dogs who surf better than many humans and you'll regularly catch them out with their two-legged owners. Very cute ... but also very humiliating when you realise your surf skills are infinitely inferior to the dogs'.
5. Catch some live music
Disneyland Park is open until 11pm, but if you can drag yourself away early, the nightlife around town has lots to keep you up late.
Head to the House of Blues, a new venue with restaurant, bar and three rooms for live music, DJs and entertainment (and don't miss each Sunday's gospel brunch where a choir will uplift your morning while you tuck into an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet).
The art deco-inspired City National Grove of Anaheim hosts a diverse range of live events — upcoming over the next few months are Air Supply, Nick Offerman, America and ... ahem ... Daniel O'Donnell.
If you simply want to kick back and relax with a cocktail, make your way to the Fifth — Anaheim's only rooftop restaurant and bar. Not only is it a lovely spot to spend an evening, it also gives a great view of the nightly Disney fireworks... without having to battle the crowds.
Air New Zealand flies direct from Auckland to LA. airnz.co.nz
Anaheim is about 40 minutes' drive from LAX.