It used to be Australian travellers went to California's Anaheim for the theme parks and left. But over the past decade, things are changing in Orange County and visitors are now sticking around. Downtown Anaheim has undergone a revitalisation, new hotels are opening all the time and there's a real sense of destination.
In the past 10 years the number of travellers from Australia visiting California has more than doubled and on the back of that, Australians are now the largest long-haul visitor group to Anaheim.
"More than half of Australians reported visiting Anaheim while travelling to California," says Jay Burress, president and chief executive of Visit Anaheim. "Disneyland Resort and Knotts Berry Farm are obviously huge drawcards for Anaheim, but travellers – particularly Australians – are starting to explore more and discover the wide range of things to do in Anaheim and Orange County."
With Disneyland planning a new Star Wars-themed "land", that's only likely to grow. But once Aussies have done the parks, they can visit "some of the best beaches in Southern California" as Burress puts it, as well as an exciting and growing food scene.
"The one hidden gem that I always tell people about is the Anaheim Packing District. It's essentially a food and bar hall that has been built out the original Sunkist packing plant [Orange County is named after its historical orange grove industry] in Downtown Anaheim. You can indulge in a diverse selection of micro-restaurants – everything from Japanese to Vietnamese, as well as a hidden 'small bars'."
Anaheim is also fast becoming a beer-lover's destination, with Los Angeles Magazine recently referring to it as "winning the SoCal craft beer game".
"And it's true," Burress says. "Breweries are opening at a tremendous speed, and a new wave of restaurants are emerging as part of the burgeoning gastronomic scene. One in particular is Pour Vida Latin Flavor in Downtown Anaheim. Celebrity chef Jimmy Martinez has selected Anaheim as the location for his first restaurant and is dishing out some of the best hand-crafted tacos in Southern California."
Burress suggests it's worthwhile considering basing a Southern California visit in Anaheim. "Whether you have a family or are a couple, the properties and proximity to attractions as well as transportation options to Los Angeles and San Diego make it a really easy place to base yourself to explore all of Southern California. And the new Homewood Suites by Hilton Anaheim Resort-Convention Center even has Vegemite at its breakfast bar for those wanting comforts from home."