I make it out to Orange County a couple times a year, and every time I leave there's always a thousand things still left on my to-do list, no matter how long I stay. Anaheim is the center of all that happens in Southern California, and something is always going on, either in town or close by. If you haven't been, let's get started planning your first trip.

Disneyland

Image via Flickr by fortherock

That's right — next time you hear Anaheim and nothing registers, remind yourself, "Oh, this person means Disneyland." It's the happiest place on Earth, so I won't bore you with the incredibly long list of things to do here. Just know that Cars Land is surprisingly cool, Soarin' is worth any length of wait, and the Fantasmic! show at night warrants the hundreds of people clamoring to see it each evening. 

That being said, we all know even a one-day trip to Disneyland can break the bank. In that case, check out Downtown Disney. It's free (with free three-hour parking) and there's tons of Disney-themed shops and restaurants, and the entire stretch still has that happy vibe. There's even an impressive fireworks show on some weekends, quenching your Disney thirst for a much more manageable price.

Angels Stadium, Anaheim Convention Center, and More

Image via Flickr by Ray_LAC

After you've got Disneyland under your belt, it's time to explore the actual city. Catch a game at Angels Stadium, join in the fun of events like BlizzCon at the Anaheim Convention Center, or just take a trip to the ocean. Long Beach, Huntington Beach, and even L.A. are just short drives away. You'll be whale watching, farmers-market hopping, or spotting celebs at The Grove in no time.

If you're traveling with kids in tow, check out the Santa Ana Zoo and the Discovery Cube. Make it north toward L.A., and they'll also love Griffith Observatory and the La Brea Tar Pits (and you will, too).

Finding a Place to Stay

Image via Flickr by CL Photographs

Let's be honest: It would be nice to stay in the hotels Disney has to offer, but those prices aren't exactly family-friendly. A great alternative is any of the IHG hotels near the Anaheim Convention Center.  The center is right across the street from Disney, so it won't feel like you're making any sacrifices. If Disney is your dream but you don't own a money tree, this is the way to go.

If you're not in the area for the Mickey Mouse ears, your choices are nearly endless. Choose from lodging ranging from five-star hotels to hostels and cute B&Bs to beachside retro motels. Here, the world is your oyster.

Dining and Entertainment

Image via Flickr by larry&flo

Got your Dole Whip needs met? Great. Now it's time for some real food. For a great burger, make the jaunt to Ruby's — they've got locations all over, including on the piers at Huntington, Newport, and Oceanside. For live music, check out FiRE+iCE, and for comedy, try Irvine Improv Comedy Club. For something of a different taste, you'll find everything from authentic German (Jagerhaus) to Middle Eastern (Kareem's) to vegan (Healthy Junk). In and around Anaheim, the only obstacle is deciding. 

And the best part about all this? The weather is always good if you're from just about anywhere else in the United States. Come in late fall to early spring, and you'll find the beaches virtually empty because the 60-degree weather turns off the natives. But fun events still happen around town, and the hotel prices are more manageable. See you there!

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