California Dreaming

Some people might think we were crazy, hopping a flight to California just to see a smaller version of the parks here in our own Orlando backyard. I hadn’t been to California since 2012, and Dan had never been at all. When we learned that $100 could buy us a stop in California before heading home from Washington, we were all over it. In the future, I’d love to spend several days enjoying all the natural beauty California has to offer…but this trip was all about the theme parks.

It was the perfect time to visit. We planned our trip for November, when there would surely be less tourists to deal with. We hopped a two hour flight from Seattle to Long Beach, landing in the cutest little airport I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching a lot of Mad Men lately, but the airport definitely had a beachy, laid-back 60s vibe. I was thrilled when the flight attendants announced that we could exit onto the tarmac from either end of the plane. I didn’t even know people in the states could exit onto the tarmac anymore! Obviously I leapt at the chance to exit from the back of the plane, feeling like Jackie O as I descended the steps of the plane. The airport itself was tiny. There was one short terminal, dominated by JetBlue Airlines, and one small baggage claim for the entire airport.

Stepping Out on the Tarmac at Long Beach Municipal Airport, California

Of course, it couldn’t all be rainbows and butterflies. We were brought back to the present day when we realized our luggage had not made it to Long Beach. The baggage claim office was a tiny two-desk portable just a few steps from the carousel, and once we filed our claim, we walked across the miniscule parking lot to another portable unit housing a few rental car agencies. In the end, the lost baggage turned out to be a blessing. JetBlue delivered it to our hotel in Anaheim the very next day, and we received the flight voucher that spurred a very inexpensive flight to see my sister in Utah a few months later.

I could easily imagine Don Draper putting on his hat as he stepped into the California sunshine and ducked into one of the black cars waiting at the curb. I don’t normally gush about airports, but I really loved the vintage feel of the terminal in Long Beach. As we pulled away in our rental car, I regretted that we would be flying home out of LAX.

The Modernized Open Airport Layout of Long Beach Municipal Airport in California
The Long Beach airport was completely modernized in late 2012, and is absolutely beautiful, from an airy outdoor security checkpoint, to its floor to ceiling windows, to the abundance of plant life and sunshine making its way into the terminal. This is just one image taken from Click the photo to see more information and photos on the recent upgrades.

While in Anaheim, we stayed at the Anabella Hotel. I unfortunately did not get any photos of the room we stayed in. When we visited back in November, this little travel blog was still just a distant dream. We won the lottery with this hotel; scoring it in a gamble with Hotwire Secret Hotels. We got a really good deal, price-wise, which helped us to look past some of the dingier room details. The room itself was beautiful, for the most part, with white shuttered windows, wood floors, and a generous mirrored vanity space for getting ready. This is one of those places that looks really great in pictures, but has plenty of dust in the corners and spots in the shower. Luckily, Dan and I are hardly used to luxury hotel stays. We were just happy to be so close to Disneyland and to stay within our budget!

Guest Room at the Anabella Hotel in Anaheim, California
A room similar to the one we stayed in. Photo Credit: Anabella Hotel

We were a little annoyed to discover that the hotel also charged for parking, after searching specifically for hotels with complimentary parking. Lesson learned: check and double-check the extra fees! The hotels around Disneyland all seemed to charge for parking, presumably to prevent park guests from stealing free parking spots and walking to the park. With that in mind, we shouldered the fee and moved on. Small details aside, this was a good home base for the Disneyland portion of our trip. The location was fantastic! It’s right behind California Adventure, and just a few minutes from the Downtown Disney shopping area.

Our first night in California was relatively quiet. After making a quick stop to replace our missing toiletries, we drove to Downtown Disney to grab a bite to eat. The shopping and dining complex had plenty of dining options, and the best part was, several of their larger restaurants also had budget-friendly “quick service” options attached to them. Since we were on a tight vacation budget, we opted to dine at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express. The prices here, and at most Disneyland quick service options, were surprisingly affordable! Dan and I each ordered a sandwich, which came with seasoned fries, and took in the crowd passing by.

Pulled Pork Sandwich and Fries at Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen Express at Downtown Disney in California
Pulled pork and seasoned fries! Dan opted for the po’ boy.

We strolled around the complex in search of unique Disneyland mugs, and I picked up the most adorable Peter Pan mermaid-themed mug by Liana Hee at the Art of Disney store. Despite budgetary restrictions, we had a great time just wandering the complex. I loved the lobby and ground floor of the famous Disneyland Hotel, which features images from the park’s early days.

Old Photos Line the Walls of the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California
Historic photos in the lobby.
Dan and I With a Wall-Sized Park Map Print in the Lobby of the Disneyland Hotel
This map behind us took up the whole wall, and had little lights on it to make the water and some rides appear to move.

We walked to the park turnstiles, wishing desperately that we didn’t have to wait until the next morning to finally enter the park, and finally drove back to our hotel to rest up for the day of fun ahead.

We weren’t in the room long before the sound of fireworks lured us back out into the street. We had a wonderful view of the fireworks, which I presume were from Disneyland Park (we only spent one evening in the parks, and chose to see World of Color over the traditional fireworks show). A few more couples and families joined us on the sidewalk to watch the show taking place across the street, the warm California breeze rippling through our hair.

Fireworks Over California Adventure From the Anabella Hotel in Anaheim, California
This image, taken from the official website for the Anabella Hotel, shows just how close we were to California Adventure. Better yet, the fireworks really did look like this from our vantage point on the sidewalk. Best secret rate booking ever? I think so.

Finally, it was time to go to bed. We chatted idly about our plan for the next day. It would be hard to fit everything we wanted to see into one short day, but we would do our best! Dan drifted off quickly, but I was too excited to sleep. In just a few hours, we would be entering the gates of Disneyland!

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