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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