The Best Things To Do In Anaheim, California Other Than Disneyland

Since 1955, the original Disneyland has called Anaheim, California, its home, but the city was around long before Walt Disney decided to turn its onetime orange groves into a theme park. Anaheim was founded almost a century earlier when it was just a colony of German immigrants along the Santa Ana River (none of whom are known to have worn Mickey Mouse ears). Today, when some tourists are in the Happiest Place on Earth they might feel content to never leave its confines. As you venture outside the park, however, it soon becomes apparent that there's a lot more to see and do in Anaheim than just ride the Matterhorn Bobsleds.

We're not even talking about Disney California Adventure, the other park in this resort (also named Disneyland), where you can ride more Anaheim-only attractions like Radiator Springs Racers. When you hit the road in a googly-eyed car on that ride, you might feel like you've really gone exploring. Ultimately, though, the red rocks and mesas all around you are fake, part of the same fantasy construct as Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Outside the adventure park, there are plenty of real, iconic Disney locations in California, such as the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, which is said to have inspired Walt's first conception of the park. (You can still go see the merry-go-round, but it is not currently operating.) Yet Anaheim alone holds enough that you could stick close by and still broaden your dining and leisure horizons beyond Mickey. For a California adventure of the non-Disney variety, give these activities in Anaheim a whirl.

Dine in and around the Anaheim Packing District

If the Anaheim Packing District sounds more like a processing plant than a food hall, that's because it used to be one. Sunkist once processed its oranges in the Packing House, but it's since been converted into a trendy dining destination. Two other buildings in the district, the Make Building and Packard Building, were a marmalade factory and car dealership, respectively. Now, they're food and drink heaven.

The Kroft specializes in comfort food like wagyu smash burgers and good old-fashioned Canadian poutine. The Blind Rabbit is a 21-and-over, Prohibition-style speakeasy where you can even sip absinthe (reservations required). Over in the Farmer's Market, the Michelin-recommended Poppy & Seed puts you in a greenhouse for a farm-fresh feast made with locally sourced ingredients. 18 Folds surrounds you with Chinese paper lanterns as you dine on dim sum.

Outside the Packing District, you'll find a wealth of other delectable dining options within a 10-minute drive. Craft by Smoke and Fire will have you salivating over its brisket and savory soul food like loaded mac and cheese. House of Chimney Cakes serves pastries piled high in the style of Hungarian desserts. The Craftsmen 1904 offers eight courses of Texas barbeque themed to Rolling Stones songs. For its part, Tacos Los Cholos bested 63 other taquerias in the surrounding area to win the 2023 Taco Madness tournament. These are just a few of Anaheim's dining options, any one of which might be better than Disneyland's food.

Explore local history at the Muzeo

Though Anaheim is one of America's most expensive travel destinations, not every one of its sightseeing spots should worry budget travelers. Admittance to the Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center tops out at $10 for visitors 16 and up. The center includes the Carnegie Library, a building from 1908 that's now in the National Register of Historic Places. Inside, the exhibit, "A Walk Through Local History," greets visitors with a "Willkommen," true to the city's German roots.

The history walk begins with marine fossils from the dinosaur age, when the land that would become Anaheim was still submerged in the Pacific Ocean. If you can't make it to the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in L.A., California's state fossil, the saber-tooth cat, is represented here, too. There are also artifacts from Native Americans, whose population was decimated by the arrival of Spanish missions in the 1700s. By the time you make it to relics of Disneyland's creation in the 1950s, you might have a much deeper appreciation for Anaheim's history.

In addition to being an enriching, budget-friendly SoCal destination, the Muzeo features a revolving slate of seasonal exhibitions. Not all of them are strictly Anaheim-centric, but some might provide a further window into regional history. Past exhibits have covered everything from the Sleepy Hollow legend (including Mary Blair's concept art for Disney's animated retelling) to the legacy of magician Harry Houdini (said to still haunt his Hollywood Hills estate, like a real-life Haunted Mansion).

Watch a Los Angeles Angels or Anaheim Ducks game

The Los Angeles Angels have changed their name so many times that even a Major League Baseball fan might forget where they play. For over three decades, the team was known as the California Angels, before rebranding as the Anaheim Angels and then the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They've since dropped the "Anaheim" from their name, yet they still play at Angel Stadium in Anaheim (which is part of the Greater Los Angeles area).

The team has its own train, the Angels Express, which will take you from nearby counties to the ballpark for home games from Friday to Sunday. By car, Angel Stadium is only about 10 minutes from Disneyland. You won't see superstar pitcher Shohei Otani there anymore since he's jumped ship from the Angels to the L.A. Dodgers. However, three-time American League MVP Mike Trout is signed with the team through 2030. Cheering for the Angels — while sitting — could be just the thing to give your feet a rest after a day or more of walking around Disneyland.

If you're not in town for baseball season, another option for sports fans is to take in an NHL game at Honda Center, home of the Anaheim Ducks. The arena is about a mile and a half north of Angel Stadium along the Santa Ana River. Though they're under different ownership now, the Ducks were founded by Disney itself back in 1993 after it released the hit hockey movie, "The Mighty Ducks."

See a show at Honda Center or City National Grove

While you decompress from Disney, there's no shortage of entertainment available in Anaheim. Honda Center isn't just a hockey arena; it's also an illustrious concert venue that can seat over 18,000 people. Gig-tripping, the viral travel trend that Taylor Swift fans helped create, could take on a new dimension if you plan your Disney vacation around a concert here. 2024 brought big names like Janet Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Usher to the concert schedule. In 2023, Anaheim native Gwen Stefani headlined the venue's 30th-anniversary show. She's taken the stage many times, both solo and with No Doubt, which started as a local band.

Honda Center is also where Barbara Streisand filmed the highest-rated musical event in HBO history, per the Orange County Register. Other famous rock and pop artists who have performed here include BTS, Bruce Springsteen, the Foo Fighters, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, Rihanna, Shakira, and U2. You could even catch a "Disney on Ice" show in the arena if you're going through Mickey withdrawals.

Another option for concertgoing in town is the City National Grove of Anaheim, next to Angel Stadium. With a seating capacity of 1,700, it's a smaller venue that often caters to tribute acts when it's not hosting intimate shows for the likes of Dionne Warwick and Bush (fronted by Stefani's rocker ex-husband, Gavin Rossdale). However, its size makes it a good fit for comedy shows, previously headlined by names like Pete Davidson, Lewis Black, and John Cleese.

Ride the Flightdeck + Rogue Racing simulators and more

The Soarin' Around the World ride at Disney California Adventure isn't the only Anaheim location where you can enjoy a thrilling simulated flight. Five minutes down the road from Disneyland, at Flightdeck + Rogue Racing, you can climb into a Boeing 737 cockpit and practice piloting. Just try to keep the plane from falling apart mid-air like the real Boeing. Alas, even high-level engineers urge travelers to avoid this type of plane.

The Flightdeck experience runs from 30 to 90 minutes, depending on which price tier you select. Each one will let you practice your takeoff and landing, with the longer flights simulating a run from LAX to airports in San Francisco and Las Vegas. (Here's the best airport for Disneyland travelers.) If you feel the need for Tom Cruise-like speed, Flightdeck + Rogue Racing also offers simulated fighter-jet flights and 200-mph auto races, where you can do your best "Top Gun" or "Days of Thunder" impression.

If you drive into Anaheim on a road trip rather than fly, it would be a shame to make it all the way to the West Coast without dipping your feet in the Pacific Ocean. You can do that near Anaheim at Huntington Beach, a.k.a. Surf City USA. Stroll along the boardwalk here or the Surfing Hall of Fame, or head to nearby Newton Beach for a whale-watching cruise. With the wind at your back, you might not even miss Disneyland's noise.