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In Orlando or Anaheim for a Disney vacation? Explore the cities beyond the gates, too

Kayakers explore the waters at the edge of

Kayakers explore the waters at the edge of the Everglades at Shingle Creek in Florida. Photo Credit: The Paddling Center/The Paddling Center

When you vacation at the Disney resorts in Florida or California, every moment of every day can be filled with Disney-related activities. But what if you want to burst out of the Disney bubble? If you stay at the resorts in Orlando or Anaheim, can you have fun without lining the pockets of Mickey’s ill-fitting red shorts?

Anaheim, California

Anaheim’s sunny weather is its own great attraction. That glorious climate lured the indigenous Tongva tribe, which based a village nearby, and the 19th-century Bavarian vintners who gave the city its current name. It also attracted Harrison “Buzz” Price, a research economist and consultant for animator and studio owner Walt Disney.

Disney had an unusual idea: He wanted to build an entertainment complex that focused on storytelling and families. Price calculated traffic patterns, population growth and proximity to freeways — and in 1953 homed in on 160 acres of orange groves as the perfect site for a manicured magic land.

Luckily for those who don’t share Disney’s vision — or need a break from the two-park, 2,500-room resort — Anaheim offers its own enticements. All can be reached via a 10-minute Lyft ride or a short Anaheim Resort Transportation bus trip from Disneyland’s Main Transportation Center.

WHERE TO EAT For good food other than Mickey-shaped starches and Dole Whip, and items more affordably priced, turn to the Center City section of downtown Anaheim. Center Street Promenade is lined with restaurants, including a Japanese bakery, a storefront selling gigantic Hungarian “chimney cakes” crammed with ice cream and Pour Vida Latin Flavor, a friendly joint with a heart-stopping, ooey-gooey “Anaheim Burger” taco. A few blocks away on South Anaheim Boulevard — but still within Center City — is Anaheim Packing District, an upscale food hall set in and around a former citrus packing warehouse, which will delight both grilled-cheese lovers and gourmet-popsicle gnawers. Head to Urbana for punchy tacos or Adya for Indian street food bites.

(If you overindulge, Center City also offers Free Rides Around the Neighborhood or FRAN, an app-powered system of shared electric minibuses that shuttle passengers to specific drop-off points within the area.)

Ten minutes west of Disneyland is Little Arabia, a vibrant stretch of strip-mall eateries and markets lining Brookhurst Street. You can ride the 35 bus along the main drag and roll out to enjoy the namesake dish at Kareem’s Falafel or bouza, a stretchy Middle Eastern ice cream, at Le Mirage Pastry.

WHERE TO DRINK You may find it funny that Disney set his (until recently) teetotaling park in a city with a storied history of winemaking — and a plethora of modern-day breweries and other adults-only options. Craft Brew Tours offers tours of brew houses in Anaheim and neighboring cities. If you have time for only one brewery, head 10 minutes east of Disneyland to multiple award-winner Noble Ale Works for its cheekily named beers.

Travelers motivated enough to make reservations and ditch their cargo shorts can book into the Blind Rabbit, a speak-easy with a dress code, housed in Anaheim Packing District.

WHAT TO DO For visitors wanting just a peek at Disney spectacle, rooftop bar and restaurant the Fifth offers a prime spot for taking in Disneyland’s nightly fireworks. Make a reservation for before 9:30 p.m. or show up early and be prepared to stand.

Anaheim can give you your art or history fix. The compact Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center in Center City includes a main art gallery and the historical 1908 Carnegie Library. The free exhibits in the Carnegie space include a rotating art exhibition and a permanent display on Anaheim’s history.

Located 10 minutes north of Disney, Founders’ Park is more of a historical site, featuring two original buildings from Anaheim’s early days: the understated 1857 Mother Colony House and the turreted 1894 Woelke-Stoffel House. Visiting the park is free.

There are other activities in Anaheim. Get your Top Gun on 10 minutes east of Disneyland at Flightdeck, which offers flight-simulation experiences in the mode of either fighter jets or a Boeing 737.

Orlando, Florida

WHERE TO STAY Walt Disney spent the mid-1960s anonymously snatching up Florida ranches and swampland. He wanted room — a lot of room — to build a second magical theme park.


if you want to spend significant time off Disney property, you should rent a car. Yes, you can hail a taxi, Uber or Lyft, but the property is so vast that you’ll run a healthy fare before you’ve technically left the World.

WHERE TO EAT One of the best parts of staying at Disney World is the diverse food options, and the best place to be hungry is Epcot. Around the park’s World Showcase are pavilions featuring nine countries, each with interesting dining options.

Sofrito Latin Cafe, about 2 miles from Disney Springs at the south end of the property, is a clearinghouse for Latin American cuisine. India isn’t represented in Epcot, so head to A’taj, just outside one of the resort’s southern gates, for kebabs, curries and kormas.

WHAT TO DO If your shopping habits align more with Prada and Jimmy Choo than Pluto and Jiminy Cricket, the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets are just 3 miles from Disney Springs. There are 160 stores with outlet pricing on designer brands and the outlets’ Disney’s Character Warehouse is a good place to stock up on Mickey swag.

Just five miles northeast of the Magic Kingdom at the north end of the property, the Tibet-Butler Preserve is a 440-acre park with almost four miles of trails and boardwalks along a wetlands area that’s home to herons, osprey, eagles, otters, armadillos and snakes.

At the theme parks, a lot of the rides will load the hordes into boats that float through movie scenes or saddle you with an earworm. But at the Paddling Center at Shingle Creek, about 10 miles from Disney Springs, you can rent kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards to travel to the edge of the Everglades.

Just 12 miles north of the Magic Kingdom, you’ll find downtown Winter Garden, where Plant Street acts a living version of Disney’s idyllic creation. Real life happens here, with farmers markets, art festivals and street fairs.


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