My family is taking a short trip to Anaheim, CA in a few weeks and I am searching for the best "to do's" for us. We will be there 5 days, but only 3 full days (April 10-14). I know this will likely be a busy/crowded time, too. We plan to do a day, or at least part of a day at DisneyLand/California Adventure, but unsure about what else to prioritize. Some of the options are a Hollywood or LA bus tour, a studio tour (Sony, etc.), whale watching, & an Angels game. What are the "must-do's"? Any other suggestions from this list? Anything off the beaten path that's worth forgoing the usual touristy efforts? What are some local (Anaheim to LA) places/experiences/dining we should be sure to do? And any good places to spot a celebrity or see a movie being made? I know 3 days (plus a couple of hours on the first evening) isn't very long...Just want to make the most of the time we have! Thanks!
I don't know where you're coming from but I not miss the opportunity to hit the beach. Southern Orange County has plenty of them. My favorites are Laguna and Balboa Island but there are many others (Santa Monica as well, although that's closer to LAX). So the idea would be to drive on Pacific Coast Highway and stop at places you'd like to visit. Driving on PCH is a major highlight and it's very scenic and relaxing. Other highlights are all the ethnic foods you can try (anything from Vietnamese to Chinese to Mexican to Lebanese, etc), but that depends on your tastes. If you opt to drive to LA, just prepare for getting stuck in traffic if you go during peak hours. Also, consider Legoland which is further south of Anaheim. San Diego has lots of kid-friendly stuff to do - the zoo, wild animal park, etc. As far as celebrities go, you can see them in the airport, shopping, or dining but it's really the luck of the draw. I've lived in LA for more than 20 years so I was able to see a lot just by happenstance, but it wasn't part of any tour or staged event...it was pure luck. Since celebrities are typically quite wealthy, you can expect to see them in wealthy (and sometimes quite pretentious) circumstances, like shopping in very upscale districts or dining in really expensive restaurants, etc.
You should check this out and stop at any one of the Welcome Centers once you're on the ground:
I wouldn't miss the beach for anything personally. Amusement parks are great but there is a lot of natural beauty in CA. I always steer in favor of seeing things you can't see back home...something truly unique. Joshua Tree NP is one example (although it may be too far for you). My parents live not too far from Anaheim and we make a trip out to Joshua Tree and Palm Springs whenever I come visit for the holidays. Without knowing your interests, it's hard to guess what you'd like to do, but hopefully you have enough ideas to go on. Libraries have tons of books just on Southern CA...I would check them out. Also, the tourist website and Welcome Centers will have sample driving itineraries. The only caveat I would make is whatever you've heard about traffic is definitely true. Try not to drive when people are going or coming from work.
Heed the above warnings about traffic. If you are staying in Anaheim and want to go to LA, you would not want to leave your hotel until after 10 AM, and not plan to return until after dinner (7 PM or later.) The main freeway between Anaheim and LA (I-5) is under continuing construction in LA county (they're making it wider) and so the traffic is worse than normal. Of course, there are other freeways/routes available, but they are crowded as well. I haven't been to any sights up in LA for a long time, so can't offer any advice on them.
If your 9-year-old is anything like mine were, you will difficulty pulling them away from Disneyland/California Adventure once you get there. Each park can easily fill a full day.
The Angels are in town 11th--13th, but note the game on the 13th is a day game, starting about 12:30.
The beaches are, of course, famous, but note that the ocean temperature is not as warm as other parts of the country (don't know where you're from, but if you're expecting Florida ocean temps you will be disappointed!) As mentioned above, Newport or Balboa are nice beaches and pretty much a straight shot South of Anaheim.
Celebrity sightings/seeing a movie being made is a total crap-shoot.
There is a science museum in Santa Ana (very close to Anaheim) called the Discovery Cube that's aimed towards children.
Besides whale watching, there are also boats that go to Catalina Island, which can be a fun way to spend the day.
As far as local flavor, you could head to Little Saigon, which is close to Anaheim.
As someone who lives here, I can honestly say you should just stay in Orange County the whole time and skip anything to do with Hollywood. Hollywood is severely overrated, you don't see celebrities, the traffic to get there is 2 hours (easily), and its really grungy (think hobos walking the streets, a faint whiff of pee, smiling or potentially talking to themselves meth heads walking where the "stars" are on Hollywood blvd, and don't think about going out on the road past about 7pm during the summer-its dangerous to be honest).
Instead focus on seeing Disneyland (2 days as everyone else has said- its huge--use the fast-passes at the larger rides to avoid waiting in line).
After that? Go to the beach! Laguna Beach is beautiful and not too far away. I'd highly recommend renting a car- you will need it, public transportation here really sucks- which is why everyone has cars. If you don't feel like Laguna you could do Huntington or Newport Beach. They are both quite nice. Check out the beaches on a non-weekend. They can be very nice and calm. Weather is usually great so you don't have to worry about that.
If you like museums The Bowers is really great- it has some educational parts for children and interesting and on-going changing displays and special exhibits that can be enjoyed by all, it is about 18 minutes from Disneyland in the nearby city of Orange.
Whale watching from boat launches in Newport Beach is possible- but that will take up a half to a whole day. Nearby Newport is a cute area called "Balboa Island" - its a great tourist trap but offers most of what Huntington Beach has but its cuter than there. If you like fancy food or shopping Fashion Island is also in Newport Beach, they have all the high-end stores you could want and some good food selections as well. Corona Del mar (along with their beach "Little Corona" is a hidden gem of a town between Newport and Laguna. Its very cute, there are numerous shops along Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH as we call it).
Always anticipate that traffic to get places is 30-45 minutes longer than Google tells you during "rush hour" 7am-9am & 4:30-7pm. I wouldn't attempt going into Los Angeles.....the OC has plenty of things to do, and its cleaner and easier to drive in.
As for particular food-- depends what you are looking for. How much you want to spend, etc. I'd use yelp. If you want amazing but more pricey food, check out some of the places near South Coast Plaza- Pueblo, Taco Maria, (easy to spend around $60+ pp), Ruth Chris' steakhouse in Irvine ($100pp but worth every dollar). There are cheaper places out and about---but yelp them first...
If you go around Laguna Beach- Victoria Beach is an off the beaten path AMAZING place to check out. You'd have to go during the week- when the tide is low, its awkward to get to and they have 2 parking spots near some houses on a sloped hill (don't be driving a stick shift). However, the quirks are worth it. The beach is calm and relaxing, they have some charming tide-pool like areas when the tide is low, and a quirky fun feeling Rapunzel like tower that gives it an otherworldly like feeling.
Thanks so much for these tips!! The beach info/suggestions are a great help, as is the low-down on LA/Hollywood. We are Looking forward to it all!