After spending a total of twenty days in the region known as Southern California, staying in places around Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Diego, I already feel like I’ve been dipped into the hot chocolate fondue that is American pop culture.
I’ve experienced the glorious palace that is the Cheesecake Factory, and I have tasted America’s obesity epidemic. I’ve met the mouse, bought the souvenirs, and stood in the concrete footprints of the rich and famous. I’m pretty sure I was even accidentally initiated into a Mexican gang at one point.
Allow me to explain, as I recall my adventures of Southern California in blurry detail. Let’s begin with the beginning, in Anaheim, Orange County.
Skip all of the pacific beaches, all the hot nightclubs and celebrity hangouts, and head to the city of Anaheim in Orange County. Why would you do a thing like that? If you had deprived childhood like me, and you were filled with jealous rage every time kids came back from school breaks with big novelty Mickey Mouse ears, the first thing you’ll want to do when you arrive in Southern California is lose your Disneyland virginity, and that’s exactly what I did.
I can now report back that central Anaheim is the most tourist-busy town I’ve ever been to. Jessie and I stayed at a motel nestled between two more motels, on a road made up of motels. I saw more airport and theme park shuttle buses than standard public transport, and each morning, there is a mass exodus of fanny-pack tourists that exit their respective motels and hotels to wander towards Disneyland. The theme parks located in the centre of the city seem to spill their childish magic out onto the surrounding streets, with fairy lights snaking their way down each road, illuminating the perfectly paved sidewalks right to the reception areas of each and every motel. All this before you even enter Downtown Disney.
Downtown Disney is a big Disney-themed shopping strip located between the two theme parks. The food here mirrors the food in the parks, so you’ll find a mix of restaurants, fast-food, and snack bars. You’ll also find tons of toys from Disney films in the numerous gift stores, but the cheerful folk at Disney don’t stop there. They also cater for adults (or “grown-ups”, as they are called in the land of Disney), with Mickey Mouse cocktail shakers and martini glasses, so you can get boozed straight out of the famous mouse’s head! They also have a line of Disney-themed kitchen utensils, so women (or men) can keep their princess fantasies alive while slaving over a hot stove. Disney magic can be found everywhere!
When the time finally comes to enter the parks, you get to choose from Disney’s California Adventure, or the classic Disneyland. California Adventure Park is a large theme park that was originally themed with different Californian icons, such as a pacific pier, and mountains, but is now filling out with more and more Disney film attractions, such as Tron, Toy Story and Cars. Disneyland is the classic Disney theme park that has been sucking money out of parents’ wallets since 1955, and feels like stepping into a child’s dream, with lots of kiddie-themed rides, and without much of the big rollercoaster thrills of other amusement parks. All the staff around the Disney theme parks seem as though they’ve been injected with the Disney happy drug, so you’ll receive a lot of smiles as you navigate your way around. Also, with all the sickly sweet happy music playing in the background everywhere all day, you might end up forgetting about your stresses and the ridiculously expensive food and find yourself smiling, too. I think the music works much like the way you’d expect a kindergarten to spike the kids’ water with Ritalin – it calms everyone, and just makes everything easier to deal with. Good business sense.
Once you’ve spent all your money and energy in the Disney theme parks, you can lug your tired legs back to your motel as the famous Disneyland fireworks ignite the night sky and the booming, cracking sounds remind you that this is a city that’s basically owned by Disney – you either get used to it, or get out.
While in Anaheim, Orange County, Jessie and I stayed at the slightly less than luxurious Super 8 Anaheim / Disneyland Resort with free continental breakfast that includes butter that you squeeze out of a bottle.
For entrance to the theme parks, we purchased a Southern California CityPASS, which includes 3 days between Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure, one day at SeaWorld, one day at Universal Studios Hollywood, and one day at either San Diego Zoo or San Diego Zoo Safari Park, all for $276 (USD).
My first trip to Southern California was my first taste of America, as I touched down in LAX International Airport on January 23rd, 2011, after leaving New Zealand. That trip consisted of me releasing my inner child and indulging in all the touristy fun I could find, with 4 nights in San Diego to visit San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld, and 6 nights in Anaheim, to explore the Disney parks and Hollywood. The second trip was more of a relaxing vacation, with a flight into Long Beach on April 29th, spending one night there, before heading down to spend 9 days in Laguna Beach, with trips to Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and the Mojave Desert.