8 ways for adults to expand the “Disney Experience” in Anaheim, California

With dozens of attractions across two parks – the OG Disneyland Park and California Adventure – not to mention the wealth of dining and immersive experiences to be had, there’s good reason to book in at least a few days at the Disneyland resort in Anaheim, California. Just take a look at some of the fun things happening at the moment.

But between the three official Disney hotels and the Downtown Disney area, the “Disney Experience” isn’t limited to Disneyland and California Adventure’s picturesque, themed walls. In fact, it’s not even limited to the Disneyland property. There is a plethora of hotel, dining and entertainment options in the City of Anaheim itself, many of which lean on, or expand upon, the Disneyland experience – and not just for kids and families.

So, when planning your next trip to the iconic destination, you might consider a day exploring the surrounds to fully bring your experience to life. Here’s just a few of the ways you can stay longer in Anaheim, whilst choosing your own adventure around the Disneyland property, and the City of Anaheim.

Immerse in the spirit of Adventureland at Strong Water

One of the hidden gems of Anaheim is Strong Water – best described as a Tiki Bar inside a shipwreck, located less than 10 minutes from the park. Opening in 2019, Strong Water has some of the most incredible cocktails and dishes you’ll find in the area – while the theming feels like it was ripped straight of Disney’s Adventureland. The attention to detail is fantastic, and definitely takes a page out of the Park’s book – going for storybook authenticity and realism. That is, you know it’s not real, but it’s real enough to capture your imagination.

Photo: Supplied by Strong Water

The bar has two dining area, and quite a few nooks and crannies, some with dedicated theming – like the Captain’s Quarters, pictured above. You can even book in specific tables on their website, depending on the experience you want to have. We dined in the Grotto, sitting next to a waterfall, some octopus tentacles and unique design work on both the walls around us, and the floor beneath. There was some very nice blue lighting there to add to the aesthetic – you can see if coming out from underneath the bar in the article’s headline photo too.

Photo: Supplied by Strong Water

Overall, the branding is sensational – I had to steal one of the drink coasters that had a sea creature causing the shipwreck we’re now sitting in, and the words “Memento Vivere” written underneath. From Blue Hawaiis to Mai Tais, rum is the liquor of choice in this bar, but they have cocktails to suit everyone’s appetites – and a wide range of prices depending on whether you’re going to be taking home one of their collectable Tiki mugs or not.

The menu is a mix of their take on classic cocktails – like those mentioned – as well as original creations, like the epic “Tales from a Black Lagoon”, or the “Agave Parrot”, with Tequila, Mezcal, Pineapple, Lime, Cane, Vanilla and Hellfire Bitters. You can see that pictured on the right below (and it was sensational). They also offer an impressive mix of non-alcoholic cocktails.

On the food front, they offer a take on Hawaiian cuisine – which at its heart is Asian (Japanese most specifically) fusion flair. We tried the Loco Moco Burger and the Grilled Ahi Tuna, which were both incredible, as was the Mushroom Mapo Tofu, which brought in Sichuan flavours to an impressive vegan dish. There really is something for everyone here. Come for the beautifully themed atmosphere, stay for the amazing cocktails and food. And come back often!

Visit Strong Water at 270 S Clementine St, Anaheim, CA 92805, and head to their official website for more details. 

Watch the Disneyland Fireworks from a Rooftop Bar

If you’re like me, your priority within the Disney parks is to get on as many rides as possible – and the key to doing this is avoiding as many queues as possible. Sure, the Genie+ addition will do some of that work for you, but the rule of thumb at any Disney Park in the world, is that whenever the main night attraction is happening, be they the Sleeping Beauty Castle Fireworks at Disneyland, or the World of Color experience at California Adventure, this is the best time to jump in a queue. These incredible presentations are going to absorb a large portion of the guests and chances are you won’t have much of a line to contend with.

Luckily, though Disney Imagineers have worked hard to keep the exterior of Disneyland out of the view of guests, not all of Disneyland is hidden from the outside – and certain bars in Anaheim have taken advantage of this. So if you wanted to leave the park early to beat the crowds, or stick around the city for an extra day, there are a number of rooftop bars that offer views of the famed Fireworks you otherwise missed, albeit from afar, with experiences and specialty cocktails timed for the main event.

Photo supplied by Disney Parks

The Parkestry Rooftop Bar has one of the best views, having opened in 2020, sitting on the 11th floor of the JW Marriott Hotel. There’s also The FIFTH Rooftop Restaurant & Bar at the Grand Legacy At The Park, and the RISE Rooftop Lounge at the Westin. Some, like FIFTH, may even have some secret Disney cocktails on the menu, while a DJ or Live Band plays some Disney music. It’s not the same as being there, but whether you saw the fireworks while you were in the park or not, it’s a great way to extend your time at Disneyland, without being in the park itself.

Eat like a local at Anaheim Packing District

One of my favourite spots to eat in the city is situated in the former Sunkist Packing House; now home to over a dozen local vendors serving some incredible food and drinks. I generally go to Georgia’s Kitchen for some great Soul Food, and the Ramen at Zabon is fantastic as well. You can see the full list of dining options HERE, which covers both the Packing House itself, and the adjacent restaurants and breweries in what they call “Farmer’s Park” and the “Packard Building”.

In the Packing House you’ll also find Anaheim’s “first neighbourhood speakeasy” The Blind Rabbit, which was founded in 2014 by the same duo who went on to open Strong Water. This is a great place to unwind after a long day at the parks, as you enjoy an ever-changing cocktail and food menu, with everything from Absinthe to Duck Confit Mac and Cheese.

Photo of The Blind Rabbit provided by Visit Anaheim

You won’t be able to get too comfortable there, however, as they have a 90 minute seat limit. Luckily there’s a Brewery in the Packard Building just across the street which may serve as your next destination…

Visit the local breweries

…and that brewery is Monkish Brewing, which is one of a number of great breweries that operate in the Anaheim area. Back when I visited the location in 2016, it was the location of the Anaheim Brewing Company. Sadly, they closed down over the pandemic, but on December 21st, Monkish filled the space. It’s the second location for the company, the first opened in Torrance in 2012 (which remains in operation).

Wu-Tang Lyrics inspire many of the beers at Monkish, like the Bomb Atomically IPA. They also clearly had fun with Insert Hip Hop Reference Here, a Triple New England / Hazy IPA collaboration with Trillium Brewing un Massachusetts. My favourite beer there was the Never Sleep, another IPA.

Take a six minute walk from Monkish and you’ll find another recent player on the Anaheim Brewing scene, Villains Brewing Company. They opened last June and offer an impressive and diverse selection of beers and seltzers. They offer a casual dining menu as well, with Texan Style BBQ and smash burgers. Given the variety on offer, I recommend a flight of four drinks, as pictured below. The highlights of the pack for me were the Mexican Lager, the Saca La Bolista, which comes with a packet of salt and lemon powder, the Omega Mango, a vibrant sour, and the refreshing Future Beer, a Hazy IPA which packs a punch at 7.4% ABV.

It’s also here you’ll find The Craftsman 1904, Villains’ more formal on-site restaurant that offers $110 eight-course meals (by reservation only), and opened back in November. At the time I toured the venue, only the upstairs dining hall was open, and they were still developing the basement Speakeasy that will form part of a “Haunted House meets Frank Sinatra” experience – though they have since confirmed that they now offer walk-ins for cocktails only. The design of the place and the menu looks incredible. It’s high on my list to experience on my next visit.

Also check out the Unsung Brewing Company, located in between the two breweries above, making it an easy walk between the three. They’ve been there for seven years and have a good mix of beers and even have some yoga events.

Cheer on the knights at Medieval Times

If you’re still in need of some themed entertainment, Medieval Times will have you covered. Whether you’re a family, group, couple, or even if you’re flying solo, the experience at Medieval Times is one that has stood the test of time, having been founded in Florida in 1983, not far from Walt Disney World.

Their second location would also use a Disney Park as its stepping stone, with the Anaheim (well, technically Buena Park) location opening three years later, in 1986. It’s right next door to another theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm, both of which are a 10 minute drive from Disneyland and the centre of Anaheim.

I’ve written more about the experience in Orlando, but the experience is the same in any of its ten locations across the US and Canada. In short, you get assigned a colour knight, and cheer them on as they joust for glory (and as staged as it is, they really are jousting), while you eat chicken and potatoes with your hands, and guzzle down a beer or two. It’s a fantastic experience, and one you’ve got to do at least once in your life.

Go Bowling in Downtown Disney

With a lot of the experiences I used to enjoy in Downtown Disney – such as the Rainforest Café (now a Star Wars store), an AMC Cinemas, the ESPN Zone and the House of Blues – no longer in the precinct, there’s few late night experiences to be had on the retail strip that stretches from the Disneyland Hotel through to the two parks.

On face value, this seems to suggest a change in priorities for the park – though plans to expand the overall experience in the area over the coming years and decades are currently in motion. In fact, the US$1.9+ billion expansion known as “DisneyForward”, was just approved by the city. So what all of this means is that they’re expanding the area of experiences, rather than taking anything away.

By the best attraction that is still standing on the strip is the Splitsville Luxury Lanes. It’s a bowling restaurant and bar, with 20 “luxury” bowling lanes. And the Splitsville Kingpin Stage will often have live music, too. Visit their official website for more details.

Photo supplied by Splitsville

See a show at the House of Blues

Many of those former Downtown Disney experiences have moved around the corner to the Anaheim GardenWalk. Here you’ll find (among others) the AMC Cinemas, Mission Escape Games – Escape Room Anaheim and the iconic House of Blues, which hosts regular live music. It’s one of 11 venues in the US that carries its name, and for its design and experience, is one of the best places to see live music in the country. Something I can attest to for at least 5 of the locations that I’ve visited.

Photo supplied by Visit Anaheim

The current location, which opened in 2017, doubled the capacity on its original Downtown Disney location (which originally opened in 2001 with a capacity of 1100 – the new location has room for 2200). The Anaheim location is also the only one left in the greater Los Angeles area. The iconic Sunset Strip location closed in 2015, after more than 20 years of operation.

Head to their official website to see who’s playing on our next visit.

Have a drink at the world-famous Tiki Bar at Disneyland Hotel

And finally, if the Tiki Bar meets Shipwreck experience at Strong Water wasn’t enough for you, be sure to make some time for the Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at Disneyland Hotel.

Getting a table on the exterior of the building is usually pretty easy, but getting a seat inside is generally going to be a wait, with the signature Disney theming providing an immersive experience of its own – animatronics and all. Think of it like the iconic Enchanted Tiki Room in Adventureland – except here you can actually drink alcoholic cocktails (not that we don’t like the Pineapple Dole Whips… but it’s just not quite the same…).

How to get to Anaheim (with some hot Airport tips!)

There are a number of airports which can get you within a short drive or Taxi/Uber/Lyft of Anaheim and the Disney Parks.

Direct flights from the East Coast of Australia will drop you off at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which is 40 miles and about an hour from Anaheim, depending on time of day and traffic.

Long Beach Airport (LGB) is 15-20 minutes closer (about 21 miles from Anaheim) and a tiny airport by comparison. In my recent trip to the area, I flew out of Long Beach Airport to get to Las Vegas with Southwest. I arrived at the airport with carry on only, 30 minutes before departure (which may or may not have been the fault of the mentioned breweries), and still got to the gate before they’d even started boarding.

Of course I would never recommend cutting it that close, but if you have to – this is an airport where it’s less likely to have consequences. We love a small airport! Southwest and Hawaiian Airlines offer direct service between Long Beach and Honolulu, meaning if you connected through Honolulu with Jetstar or Hawaiian airlines, you could make yourself a very easy arrival or departure between Anaheim and Australia.

The closest airport is Santa Ana John Wayne International (SNA), about 15 miles from Anaheim – a great option if you’re flying in from within North America, including Canada, as Air Canada are now servicing the airport out of Vancouver. So if you flew from the East Coast of Australia via Vancouver, this could be another option for your arrival.

There are three other airports that you might consider, and the official Disneyland website has details on how to connect to these, as well as more details on the other hotels mentioned.

How to travel around Anaheim 

Once you’re in Anaheim, you can get around in a car rental, readily available Taxi/Uber/Lyfts or the ATN (Anaheim Transportation Network). The ATN offer a free ride service called FRAN, which will take you to many of the locations listed in this article. Learn more about it HERE.

To learn more about what’s happening in Anaheim, head to https://www.visitanaheim.org/.

While in Anaheim, the author stayed as a guest of the Disneyland Hotel for one night. Support for experiences provided by Visit Anaheim, Strong Water, Monkish Brewing and Villains Brewing Company. Photos by the author unless otherwise noted. Headline image taken by the author at Strong Water. 

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.