All too often, we as humans have the tendency to look for something new and exciting. Many times this comes at the expense of something old and historic. On rare occasions, we are able to balance the preservation of the old while transforming it into something new. Here in Anaheim, in California’s Orange County, I found a remarkable example of that fantastic point of equilibrium: Anaheim Packing District.

Anaheim Packing District

By the early 20th century, oranges were a huge crop in Orange County. (Shockingly, when Orange County split from Los Angeles County in 1889, there was not a single commercial grove. Rather, those naming the new county thought it sounded warm and tropical, according to the Orange County Historical Society. Oranges didn’t become a crop until later.) By 1920, the citrus industry employed about one third of the county’s workforce. In 1919, the Anaheim Packing House was constructed along a rail offshoot to be a center of shipping of citrus.

The industry grew over the first half of the 20th century, and in 1948 – at its peak – Orange County had 67,000 acres of orange trees, mainly Valencia oranges (as opposed to the navel oranges of Riverside, which you can click here to read about). The industry would decline from there, as Orange County became mostly suburban sprawl and California’s Central Valley became the hub for citrus in the state. (Today, even though California produces about one third of the United States’ oranges, there are only 76 acres of commercial groves remaining in Orange County, a drop of nearly 99.9%.)

The decor of the packing house is warehouse-chic

With the decline of the industry, the packing house fell into disuse. However, its place in history was well documented, and in 2015 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it and the surrounding buildings have become a true community space for Anaheim, with the building itself preserved, although repurposed.

The front facade of the packing house

A visit to the Anaheim Packing District begins, of course, at the packing house itself. Walking in feels like walking into a warehouse; the interior is airy, and decorations are reminiscent of its former life. However, today this is a truly top-end food market, with more than a dozen delicious looking and smelling offerings.

The interior is amazing, and you can note the citrus-themed decor

After a coffee at a French bakery, I opt for Asian noodles at 206 BCE Noodles. They advertise anti-gravity noodles, whereby one’s dish comes with the noodles themselves (and chopsticks in them) seemingly floating by way of a stand hidden inside. It’s gimmicky but fun, and the noodles are actually really great.

Anti-gravity noodles

Just outside the packing house is Farmer’s Park. This small green space was once where local farmers would sell their wares. Now it is home to more restaurants (mostly of the sit-down variety) and some wonderful outdoor seating.

Farmer’s Park

On the other side of the packing house, and across the street, sits the MAKE Building. Once a marmalade factory, MAKE has been transformed into yet another food hall. I stop into Unsung Brewery for a local beer on tap, and settle into a truly beautiful outdoor space to enjoy a lovely day in the sun.

A recipe for a good day

All three spaces have, in addition to incredible edible offerings, performance spaces for public concerts (which seem to happen at least a couple evenings a week) and lovely public art. And with free parking on site and the Orange County transit bus running just outside, it’s not even a tough place to get to.

Cool neon art inside MAKE

The Anaheim Packing District really does tick all the boxes. Cool history preserved? Check. Great food? Check. Lovely space? Check. Easy access? Check. More importantly, it is a fun conduit to learning about Orange County and its citrus industry in what has become a real centerpiece for the local community to enjoy.

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