Disneyland CA
Disneyland CA

Disneyland is one of the top vacation destinations in the US. Like a little bit of Middle America grafted onto the southern edge of Los Angeles, inland Orange County used to feel like a totally different world. Though the demographics have changed considerably in the past decade or two, in contrast to L.A.'s fast-paced, edgily creative multiethnic stew, Orange County in the 1950s and 1960s was suburban America writ large: mostly white, mostly well-off, and not the most exciting place to be. In short, a perfect place to build the ultimate escapist fantasy, the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth: Disneyland.

Disneyland Theme Park
Disneyland Theme Park

The phenomenon of Disneyland has been done to death by all sorts of social critics but the truth is, it can be great fun, especially if you visit out of season and get there early to avoid the crowds, and really immerse yourself in the extroverted joy of it all. Most of the rides are great, each in different ways, from the Pirates of the Caribbean, which inspired the movie of the same name, Space Mountain, and the Mad Tea Party, also known as the classic spinning teacup ride.

If you haven't been before, or not for a while at any rate, here are some useful tidbits of information: Disneyland is 20 miles south of downtown L.A., right off I-5 in the city of Anaheim, and you can see the Matterhorn ride from the freeway. The park is open daily at least 10 am to 6 pm, including winter weekends; in summer, it remains open until midnight. Admission to the park includes all rides, with discounts for extended visits, and tickets are cheaper for kids under 12. For further park details, including opening hours, call Disneyland (714-781-7290).

Disneyland opened in 1955, when there was nothing around it; in intervening years an entire metropolis has grown up around it, and in 2001 the park was joined by the much smaller, more grown-up oriented California Adventure. Instead of cuddly cartoon characters, this billion-dollar park has thrill rides like California Screamin, a 60-mph roller coaster, and the excellent Soaring Over California motion simulator, offering an airborne tour of the Golden State from Yosemite to the Malibu beaches. California Adventure is totally separate from Disneyland, but the hours and admission are about the same.

The whole Disney ensemble is surrounded by motels and more motels, and it's well worth staying overnight so you can get an early start, go rest for a while, and come back for the nightly fireworks show. A highly recommended place to stay is the West Coast Anaheim Hotel, a block from Disneyland at 1855 S. Harbor Boulevard (714-750-1811), offering spacious modern rooms (and a nice pool) at reasonable rates, with free parking and free shuttles every half-hour to and from Disneyland. For more lodging and other travel information, call the Anaheim Convention and Visitors Bureau (714-758-0222).

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