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California Dreaming in Anaheim

by Jennifer Merrick

What is it about California that attracts dreamers? Take Anaheim, for example. Located about an hour south of Los Angeles, this region’s landscape and sunny climate has ignited utopian fantasies throughout its history. In 1857, German immigrants purchased land with the ambitious aim of a co-operative wine-making venture. In 1876, Polish aristocrats and artists packed up their belongings, books and jewels and journeyed here to live out their romanticized notions of returning to nature.

“What wild dreams we dreamt,” wrote actress Helena Modrzejewska in her memoir. “I was to give up the stage and live in the midst of nature…under the blue skies of California.”

Unlike the successful German wine-makers, the commune quickly dissolved. Almost a century later, one of America’s most famous visionaries, Walt Disney, purchased 160 acres of land in the area with the idea of building “The Happiest Place on Earth”.

Disneyland opened its doors in 1955, and visitors have been coming in droves ever since. In 2018, Anaheim welcomed a staggering 24.4 million visitors, who came to fulfill their own dreams. And there are plenty of ways to do that for every generation of the family.

Fly the Millennium Falcon

Star Wars Galaxy Edge opened last May at Disneyland (and in Orlando in August) to rave reviews. Whether you’re a diehard fan or are just vaguely familiar with the Han Solo and Chewbacca crowd, you’ll be impressed with this recreation of the Black Spire Outpost. The flagship attraction to their new expansion is the life-sized replica of the Millennium Falcon, which takes visitors on an interactive, intergalactic smuggling mission. Other cool experiences include drinking blue milk, building a custom lightsaber and assembling a droid.

Immerse yourself in the magic of movies

It’s worth the hour drive to see your favourite films come to life on a grand scale at Universal Studios, Hollywood. For Potterheads, there’s the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where you can wander the laneways of Hogsmeade amidst the snow-covered buildings and the castle itself. Indulge your inner wizard by choosing a wand at Ollivanders Wand Shop, sipping butter beer at the Three Broomsticks Restaurant or going on a 3D interactive adventure. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey sweeps you through the dark forest and into a heart-stopping Quidditch match.

A classic attraction is the Universal Studio Tour, which supercharges riders into a high-stakes race before catapulting into the jungle, where King Kong himself is waiting.

Ride the Wild West

Before Mickey Mouse, there was Knott’s Berry Farm, California’s original theme park. Here the Wild West beckons with pistol-carrying costumed characters, saloons, general stores and even gold panning. Rides range from an easy journey through gold mining history to the adrenaline pumping HangTime coaster, with the steepest drop in the state. Next door is Knott’s Soak City Waterpark with 22 slides plus the 750,000-gallon Tidal Wave Bay pool. Whatever your family decides to do, don’t forget to try the Knott’s fried chicken and a piece of Boysenberry pie. After all, it was a berry roadside stand and restaurant that first attracted visitors to this family fun attraction.

Indulge in retail therapy

From high-end fashion to bargain finds, Orange County has no shortage of retailers. Fashion Island in Newport Beach and South Coast Plaza are destinations themselves for shoppers with dining and special events. For retail treasure hunters, there’s the Outlets of Orange with deals on brand names like Ralph Lauren, Nordstrom Rack, NIKE (Factory Store), Bloomingdales and Calvin Klein.

Imagine your own Californian dream

The California coast had a magnetic quality that drew me in instantly, and so my visit to the quintessential beach community of Dana Point was a definite highlight. A 45-minute drive from Disneyland and I reached the dramatic coastline with wildlife, nature, and beaches. The Laguna Beach Marriott Resort had rooms with coastal views and spa treatments that included vitamin-infused facials, tides and stone massages and sea clay body wraps.

Dana Point had no shortage of activities to choose from: Spot whales and dolphins on whale-watching excursions; learn about ocean science and maritime history at the Ocean Institute; hike up the Bluff Top Trail, a cliff-side path with a panoramic view of Dana Point Harbour. Or simply relax on the sandy shores of Doheny State Beach, which has long stretches of protected coastline with campground facilities and a popular surf spot on the north end of the park.

Speaking of riding the waves, don’t miss out on Surf City, USA. Huntington Beach is the state’s ultimate beach town to hang loose and soak up the SoCal lifestyle. My favourite attraction: the sunset at Huntington Pier. Watching the orange and pink streaked sky silhouetted with kites, surfers and beach-goers, I found my own California dream taking shape.

And what wild dreams I dreamt…

I’m on a surf board and the wave of a lifetime picks me up, and I ride its powerful crest savouring the salty air and sense of freedom –all under the blue Californian sky.

Mmmm, maybe I’ll come back and take a lesson. Hopefully, it’ll work out better than it did for the Polish entourage.

What is it about California that attracts dreamers?