Best of Orange County 2019: Orange County attractions take an intergalactic leap

It seems that every year Orange County has some new attraction to serve locals and visitors alike, but in 2019 there’s an 800-pound Wookiee in the room that has to be addressed.

Disneyland, the area’s most popular man-made attraction since it opened in 1955, debuted the largest expansion in its history, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, on May 31. The 14-acre themed land set in a distant world inspired by George Lucas’s space adventure franchise sets a new bar for immersing guests in an alien landscape, complete with signs printed in the Star Wars language of Aurebesh and cast members using otherworldly phrases such as “bright suns” to welcome visitors.

The new land, which expands the park’s publicly accessible areas by 20 percent, does not emphasize Disneyland’s staple attraction — theme park rides. Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run — an E-ticket attraction, no doubt — was the only ride operating at the land’s opening. A second, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, may be open by the time you read this.

Instead of rides, much of the land is made up of “experiential” enterprises such as Oga’s Cantina — the first place in the original park to sell alcohol to the public — Droid Depot and Savi’s Workshop — Handbuilt Lightsabers, along with food concessions selling items with intergalactic names. All of these experiences involve visitors paying more than the $129-$149 daily admission or annual pass cost that it took to get into the park.

Disney’s expansion is not over yet. A new land at neighboring Disney California Adventure themed around characters from the Marvel universe will open in 2020.

Up the road, Knott’s Berry Farm unveiled a “new” ride — Calico River Rapids. It’s a re-themed version of BigFoot River Rapids that includes the addition of 20 animatronic wilderness creatures, including an actual Sasquatch.

Orange County’s original go-and-do attractions weren’t theme parks, but the beaches dotting its more than 40 miles of coastline. In recent years a couple of these stretches of sand — Huntington State Beach and Doheny State Beach in Dana Point — have taken on new roles as the venues for a burgeoning number of music festivals.

Events such as the ska-infused Back to the Beach, the punk-centric Surf City Blitz, the music, beer and taco celebration Sabroso and the musical cornucopia of Ohana (curated by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder) pack the beaches with thousands of visitors.

This year, radio station KROQ moved its annual Weenie Roast daylong fest to Doheny after two years at the stadium formerly known as StubHub Center in Carson, where it relocated following the demolition of Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre in 2016. The event sold out after rapper Snoop Dogg and revived nu-metal act Limp Bizkit were added to a bill that included 311 and the Lumineers.

Of course, festivals aren’t limited to the shoreline. The Real Street Festival, featuring artists such as Future, Rae Sremmurd, Meek Mill, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, ASAP Rocky and Miguel, attracted 40,000 fans to the Honda Center parking lot in August.

FivePoint Amphitheatre, the temporary replacement for Irvine Meadows, is hosting its second full season of shows, which kicked off with Brad Paisley in June and featured shows by Beck, Zac Brown Band, Rascal Flatts and Elvis Costello with Blondie over the summer. The music will continue into the fall, with upcoming gigs by Greta Van Fleet, Morrissey with Interpol and the season closing How The West Was Won with Snoop Dogg, The Game, Xzibit, Tha Alkaholiks, Sas, Warren G, Dj Quik and others. The amphitheater will return with another slate of concerts in 2020 while plans to build a permanent venue continue to take shape.

The spectrum of places to go in Orange County also encompasses luxury movie theaters with recliners and food cocktail service, world-class golf resorts, top-notch museums and a full slate of fairs and festivals. Despite the convenience of life in 2019, it’s always worth your while to get out of the house and sample what’s out there.

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Best of Orange County 2019: Best downtown

1. Orange

Mile-square area with Plaza Park at Glassell Street and Chapman Avenue at its center; cityoforange.org

A recently designated “Great Place in America” by the American Planning Association, the city of Orange prides itself on conjuring up images of Main Street, USA.

For Mayor Mark Murphy, the most remarkable part of downtown Orange is Plaza Square Park and the history behind it.

“If you are from Orange (or even just visited!) you immediately recognize the fountain in the plaza and are within walking distance of hundreds of historic structures to enjoy,” Murphy said. Our residents and friends enjoy gathering at the plaza multiple times a year for special events which contribute to the ‘small town’ feel and sense of community.”

The fountain is actually not the first built in the plaza.

“The original fountain,” Murphy recounted, “originally provided by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (for $585 in 1887) still proudly stands adjacent to the library 3 blocks east on Chapman.”

Murphy also said the historic Hemphill & Morse real estate building, built back in 1888, recently returned to the Old Towne Orange area. Urth Caffé co-owners Shallom and Jilla Berkman — who, according to a press release, have long been smitten with Orange — helped spearhead the restoration. “We’d come and stroll around, enjoy the restaurants, cafes and, of course, I think the best antique stores in the county,” Shallom Berkman said.

Although the architecture for their business has roots in the 19th century, the Urth Caffé adds a 21st century flavor to downtown with its heirloom-grown organic coffees and teas.

Yet, as Murphy pointed out, Orange visitors have no shortage of places to go for a variety of food and drink.

“With over 50 restaurants downtown alone, you could visit every day for almost two months and not eat at the same place twice!” he said.

— James Anderson

2. Huntington Beach

Main Street off Pacific Coast Highway and nearby areas; 714-536-8300; hbdowntown.com

From the annual Chili at the Beach event held in June to the regular Surf City Nights on Tuesdays from 5 to 9 p.m. that convert the downtown area into a giant street fair and certified farmers’ market, Huntington Beach has a number of festivities to keep Orange County entertained.

That entertainment comes courtesy of the Huntington Beach Downtown Improvement District, a non-profit organization established in 2004 that seeks to improve the business environment of the city’s downtown.

Follow the HBDID on social media — @hbdowntownusa on Twitter and Instagram — for updates on all the local events in the beach city, such as the National Cartoon Society Festival and the Miracle on Main Street special during December that gives families the opportunity for photo opps with Santa.

3. Fullerton

Area bounded by Chapman Avenue, Highland Avenue, the train tracks and Santa Fe Train Depot and Lemon Street; 714-738-6300; cityoffullerton.com

It can be hard to ignore the public art collection in downtown Fullerton. The restored “Pastoral California” artwork, which dates back to 1934, adorns the exterior of Plummer auditorium. A more recently added mural, “A City Rich in History,” by Cal State Fullerton fine arts graduate Jun Blanco, uses the south-facing wall of Capri Shoes off Commonwealth Avenue to depict California’s agricultural and industrial past.

Other downtown attractions include the South of Commonwealth district along Santa Fe Avenue; Fullerton Plaza, where market festivities run from April through October; and the Fullerton Museum, which has featured exhibits on the art of hip-hop and on the evolution of Leo Fender’s business from a small radio repair shop in town to a music instrument empire.

Downtown Fullerton features more than 70 historic buildings and in excess of 350,000 square feet of retail, according to the city’s website, which also features a 3D model of downtown available for download in Google SketchUp© format.

 

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