Gay Days Disney Shows the Best of Anaheim
They call it "The Happiest Place on Earth," and when you throw in an estimated 30,000 LGBT visitors for Gay Days, it easily becomes the gayest place on Earth. Although millions visit Anaheim every year for the theme park, many are surprised to discover the wide array of cultural events, dining, shopping and pristine beaches the area boasts.
A sea of red shirts spanned Disneyland on the weekend of Oct. 5-7, as LGBT visitors queued up to ride Space Mountain or to enjoy a Grizzly River ride down the rapids in Critter Country. As is Disney’s tradition, the park was decorated to reflect the upcoming holiday, with Halloween décor and a wide variety of merchandise from Tim Burton’s "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
Gay Days Disney began in 1998 with about 2,500 guests, and large-scale organized protests that have been absent for the past several years. Although the event isn’t officially sanctioned by Disney, said Gay Days Anaheim Producer Eddie Shapiro, the park cooperates with organizers with events like a morning "gay cruise" on the Mark Twain Riverboat, a photo op in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle and special lunch events for gay families, lesbians and bears.
"Although it has evolved beyond just the red shirts, we have to wear them to show that we are the majority this weekend," said Shapiro. "It’s also a place for gays to reclaim that childhood comfort and safety. In Disney films, the underdog always triumphs, and that appeals to gays."
At Disney California Adventure, located across from Disneyland, Hollywood was the theme, with many attractions for the kids, including "Cars" Land, and "a bug’s land," plus attractions based on "Aladdin," "Monsters, Inc." "The Little Mermaid" and The Muppets.
But there was also plenty for the adults, as well, including a fast-dropping Hollywood Tower Hotel ride, plus a midway-style Pacific Wharf leading to the park’s best attraction, California Screamin’, the 120-foot steel coaster that is the eighth-longest in the world. Standing in line just moments before workers closed the ride for the evening fireworks display, we found ourselves sandwiched between a group of lively, friendly lesbians from Ohio, and Reichen Lehmkuhl, Logo reality TV star of "The A List: New York."
There was also a wide array of Gay Days events outside the park. A Welcome Center provided free gift bags for attendees, and a Pride Cocktails event provided a meet and greet at the Grand Californian Hotel, a large Alpine lodge-style accommodation at the threshold of Disneyland.
The hotel also sponsored screening of ABC’s "Nashville," and Logo’s "RuPaul’s Drag Race," plus "An Evening With Miss Coco Peru!" On Sunday, Mrs. Carol Brady herself hosted, "An Intimate Conversation with Florence Henderson," to benefit Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS.
At the nearby House of Blues, "The Derek and Romaine Show" from Sirius/XM did a special broadcast before a live audience, and the club hosted Kingdom, a dance party with DJ Kimberly S. and Karmin. Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen welcomed DJ Ray Rhodes and Momma for Wonderland, a dance party benefiting The Trevor Project.
The Anabella Hotel was the place for Gay Days pool parties, with the modestly attended Saturday night Ladies Lounge and Sunday’s Plunge! pool party with DJ Zach Moos.
Located within walking distance of Disney, the hotel was a natural fit for Gay Days guests. The clean, spacious rooms featured a king size bed and an additional full size, to accommodate large parties, plus a veranda at the entryway only slightly marred by dripping AC units. Other amenities included hotel bathrobes and slippers, and an in-room safe.
Although it offers a breakfast buffet and other meals, the hotel restaurant Tangerine Grill misses the mark, and guests would do better to order pizza from local mom-and-pop shop Marri’s Pizza, or authentic Tex-Mex eatery Taco Mi Pueblo, both located nearby on Katella Ave.
In fact, some of the best experiences during your trip to Disneyland can actually occur once you delve into Orange County’s local favorites.
Exploring Orange County’s Hidden Bounty
Downtown Anaheim is currently in the midst of a renaissance, including the development of the 100,000-square-foot Anaheim Convention Center. Grab lunch at the Gypsy Den, OC’s original alt café, featuring healthy salads, a daily panini special and hearty soups.
On Thursdays, a local Farmer’s Market flanks the Center Street Promenade, which is lined with twee little shops like the juice bar Healthy Junk, hair cuttery/drinkery Barbeer, card shop Home Eco·nomics and shop store Heart & Sole.
A short walk away in an old Packard dealership on Anaheim Blvd. is Umami Burger, a local chain that offers artisanal hamburgers like the Truffle Burger with house-made truffle cheese and glaze, and the Manly Burger, with beer-cheddar cheese, smoke salt-onion strings and bacon lardons. The décor features chandeliers created from 400 sequentially numbered California license plates found while excavating the property.
Through a glass door next door, Greg and Barbara Gerovac man the large silver brewing tanks of the Anaheim Brewery. They are the fourth owners since the brewery first opened in 1870, and as a nod to history, keep the slogan, "One for a nickel, two for a dime/ Get your beer in Anaheim."
Their tasting room offers a delicious selection of Anaheim Gold, Red, Hefeweizen, Stout and Old Pacific IPA, all served on the long wooden bar purchased for the brewery after their partnership with the City of Anaheim.
The Brewery stands next to the new Anaheim Packing District, a former citrus packing house that the city is renovating to be like San Francisco’s famed Ferry Building, a high-end shopping district with a "plug and play" kiosk format with an Americana theme. The restoration is well under way, and will be open to the public in Spring 2013. The local Anaheim Resort Transportation system can ferry riders from place to place.