What to do in Anaheim beyond the parks:

Anaheim Packing District:

This pedestrian-friendly district in Anaheim is only minutes from Disney, but feels a world away. Built at the site of one of Orange County’s famed orange groves of a few decades ago, the Packing District is now an eclectic and artistic mix of shops, dining venues, breweries, outdoor walkways and green spaces. It feels urban in a way most of the OC does not, and has been described as the ‘locals’ Anaheim’.

packing house

Start at the Packing House, which is two stories of dining options and artisan food speciality shops. The Packing House reminded me of Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market or even Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Kids will go crazy for the sweet milk, boba, and tea concoctions at Mini Monster, served in custom mason jars topped in clouds of cotton candy, and with the hand-dipped popsicles and ice cream at Popbar. I recommend the authentic Indian cuisine at ADYA and the Vietnamese flavors at Sawleaf Cafe, but the best part is that everyone can order from a different venue at the Packing House, then come together to eat at the same table, sharing bites.

The Packing House is surrounded by brew pubs with outdoor seating and kid-friendly amenities (think swings and board games) and more handmade and homemade goodness in MAKE and nearby Farmers Park. Leisuretown, coming soon, will feature more dining options plus a massive swimming pool, among other amusements.

The Segerstrom Center for the Arts is a world-class performing arts center located adjacent to Anaheim in Costa Mesa. Yes, there are shows in Disney, but if you need a break for some genuine culture, this is where to do it. The Segerstrom offers a year-round Family Series, which features kid-friendly shows and performances throughout the year. For young kids, offerings such as Muppet sing-alongs and Journey to Oz are on the schedule for 2018, with shows such as School of Rock for older kids. Dining near the Segerstrom is limited to a few fine dining venues, so I recommend eating before arriving.

Tip: Many families coming to Orange County just for Disney don’t rent a car. You don’t need one to get to the Packing District or Segerstrom. While Southern California is admittedly not known for public transit, ART (Anaheim Resort Transportation) does do a good job of getting families to and from the resort areas and the rest of Anaheim. You can connect to ART directly from Disneyland, and fares are only $5.50 for adults and $2 for kids ages 3-9. Lyft is a good bet as well!

urbana

Where to stay:

If you’re not staying on Disney property and want to be centrally located for both Disneyland and additional Anaheim and Costa Mesa offerings, I highly recommend the Homewood Suites Irvine. Minutes from everything, Irvine makes for a central home base that will help you avoid traffic, and is more budget-friendly than Orange County beach towns or Disney-adjacent properties.

The value proposition at Homewood Suites Irvine is high: families get free parking, free breakfast, free WiFi, easy access to Disney, and even a free nightly reception/drink option, that includes enough food to call it a light meal. During my visit, I watched a family of four make a full meal out of Italian cuisine appetizers, drinks (including wine and beer for parents) and desserts served complimentarily, and settle by the outdoor pool for a chill evening. The next evening, it was Chinese food, and my last evening, the reception centered around pizzas and antipasto. Plus, in addition to an outdoor pool and hot tub, the Homewood Suites features an outdoor sport court.

About the author

Amy Whitley

AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.