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California Screamin' roller coasterExploring North County
Anaheim, Buena Park, Orange and Fullerton offer theme parks, sports venues and other attractions.

Welcome to "The Happiest Place on Earth," at least in Uncle Walt's estimation. Millions have agreed—even before Disney's California Adventure and Downtown Disney joined Disneyland to form the deliriously happy Disneyland Resort, and before the huge revitalization now under way.

In the new Anaheim, palm and flowering tipuana tipu trees replace the Googie architecture and kitsch of yore. Knott's Berry Farm in nearby Buena Park remains one of the most popular visitor attractions. And the North County attractions hardly end there.

Angel StadiumAnaheim
Disneyland consists of eight "lands," each offering rides, shopping and dining. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage recently debuted, and Frontierland added Pirate's Lair at Tom Sawyer Island, tying into the film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. The Space Mountain, It's a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean rides have been updated and relaunched, too. The Fantasmic! water, fire and light show remains one of the park's most impressive attractions.

Like Disneyland, Disney's California Adventure has themed lands: Paradise Pier, Hollywood Pictures Backlot, the Golden State and A Bug's Land. California Screamin' is a way-cool roller coaster and Soarin' Over California imparts the illusion of flying. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride delivers big thrills and great views, too. Other attractions include the 3-D experience It's Tough to Be a Bug! A $1.1 billion makeover, adding attractions inspired by Pixar films such as Cars and Toy Story, begins this year.

Downtown Disney, a pedestrian promenade of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues, is admission-free and does not require a visit to the theme parks. Destinations include the House of Blues, ESPN Zone and Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen. Next door, inside the Grand Californian luxury hotel, is much-lauded Napa Rose restaurant.

Disney Music HallAnaheim is a sports haven. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, American League West champions three of four years, play at Angel Stadium, the "Big A." The Rolling Stones have played there, too. Nearby is Anaheim's new Platinum Triangle, a commercial and residential development.

On the other side of the 57 Freeway is the Honda Center, where the Anaheim Ducks hockey team is based. The Honda Center also hosts ice-skating spectaculars and pop draws such as Paul McCartney, Justin Timberlake and O.C.-raised Gwen Stefani.

Anaheim raises its cultural sights with new Muzeo. The center, at the Carnegie Library (1908) formerly occupied by the Anaheim Museum, features traveling exhibitions.

The center also dedicates space to Anaheim history: the founding of the city 150 years ago by German immigrants as a wine-producing colony for Los Angeles; the vineyards' disappearance in the 1880s; their replacement by orange groves that disappeared in the 1950s, and the construction of the 5 Freeway and Disneyland.

Buena Park
In 1920, Walter and Cordelia Knott rented 20 acres of farmland and opened a chicken restaurant and a roadside stand from which to sell their produce. The Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant is still there, a cornerstone of Knott's Berry Farm, 10 minutes from Disneyland. Walter Knott built the park's first themed area, Ghost Town, to entertain guests as they waited for a seat in the restaurant.

Today, diners stroll through a replica of Independence Hall or visit the California MarketPlace shopping area. Inside the park, thrill-seekers enjoy the 30-story-high Supreme Scream and roller coasters including Montezooma's Revenge and the Silver Bullet. Each themed area offers rides, shows, shops and dining. They include the Boardwalk, Camp Snoopy and the original Ghost Town.

There's more to do in Buena Park than just Knott's Berry Farm—believe it or not!

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum, in fact, is one option. Ripley "odditoriums" celebrate the grotesque and bizarre stuff Robert Ripley discovered on his travels. Among wacky artworks are The Last Supper, created from 280 pieces of toast, and portraits in laundry lint.

Adjacent to Ripley's, Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament provides 11th-century fare and entertainment. Serfs and wenches serve a four-course feast in the Grand Ceremonial Arena—without silverware—while knights compete at jousting. Visit the Museum of Torture's historical collection of instruments—and we don't mean musical!

Not since privateer Captain Hipólito Bouchard pillaged Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1818 has there been a high-seas adventure like Pirate's Dinner Adventure. The family dinner show delivers swashbuckling swordplay, aerial artistry, pyrotechnics, comedy and romance aboard a replica of an 18th-century Spanish galleon anchored in a 250,000-gallon indoor lagoon.

Find these attractions in Buena Park's "entertainment corridor," one block north of Knott's Berry Farm along Beach Boulevard.

Old Towne Orange is on the National Register of Historic Places, alongside Gettysburg and the Golden Gate Bridge. At one mile square, the historic district is California's largest.

Many consider it the state's antique capital—you'll find more than 50 antique shops, plus 10 antique malls. Restaurants in historic venues include the Victorian Manor Tea Rooms. The area looks back to the future with new galleries, restaurants and lounges.

You can pick up a map to the Plaza Historic District at the Orange Visitor Bureau, 439 E. Chapman Ave.; start your tour at the Plaza, at Chapman Avenue and Glassell Street.

The Block at Orange, Southern California's largest shopping, dining and entertainment center, is at the confluence of the 5, 57 and 22 freeways.

Distinctive retailers make the Block exciting for kids and adults alike. Vans Skatepark, skateboard heaven, and hip retro bowling lounge Lucky Strike Lanes are dynamic draws, as are dining spots such as Café Tu Tu Tango and Koji's Sushi & Shabu Shabu, shopping destinations Hilo Hattie and Ron Jon Surf Shop and the Burke Williams Spa.

Architecture buffs should include a stop at 12141 Lewis St. in Garden Grove. They'll find Philip Johnson's stunning Crystal Cathedral, once described by Newsweek as "the most spectacular religious edifice in the world," Richard Neutra's Tower of Hope and Richard Meier's International Center for Positive Thinking.

Historic downtown Fullerton offers upscale and vintage boutiques and antique shops.

Numerous fine restaurants include the outstanding Cellar, which occupies the original cellar of the 1920s-era California Hotel. Steamers Cafe is the county's premier jazz spot. The area is ideal for a pub crawl.

Architectural walking-tour maps of the area are available at the Fullerton Museum Center, which is housed in a Spanish Colonial Revival structure built in 1941 and consistently offers intriguing exhibits. The Leo Fender Gallery focuses on the electric-guitar pioneer, a Fullerton native. The architectural tour includes examples of Mission Revival, Zigzag Moderne, Beaux Arts, Streamline Moderne and Italian Renaissance–inspired styles. The Muckenthaler Cultural Center, in a 1920s Italian Renaissance-style mansion, hosts changing design and cultural exhibits.

In Yorba Linda, near Fullerton at the county's northern border, the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace offers exhibits, photos and memorabilia that illuminate the private and public life of the late president and the county's largest public rose garden.

Nearby Birch Street Promenade is a stretch of shopping, dining and entertainment in recently redeveloped downtown Brea, also at the county's north end. Tenants include Bellisima spa and salon, Market City Caffe, and 330.

Click HERE for a detailed map of these neighborhoods.

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