If you’re headed to Anaheim and looking for a stylish, affordable place to stay that has the mid century charm you expect from the home of Disneyland, you should give Howard Johnson a ring. The recently renovated Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel captures the spirit and style of Disneyland’s first decade in a low-priced package within walking distance of the park. If you want to keep that Disneyland magic going even when you leave the park, but can’t afford or get a booking at one of Disney’s three hotels, your best bet is Howard Johnson.
Located on South Harbor Boulevard, the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel is literally across the street from Disneyland. You can see the Matterhorn right outside the window from some rooms. It takes about 10 minutes to walk from the hotel to the ticket gates at Disneyland, so it’s close enough that you can take an afternoon break and go back to the room for a bit if you need to recharge during a park day. And although it’s always had that distinctively retro exterior of a hotel from the ‘60s—it actually opened one day before Disneyland’s 10th anniversary, in July 1965—its renovation has made the inside match the outside, with vintage Disney signage in the hallways and decor and furniture that evoke the ‘60s.
Smartly, that theming isn’t as obvious or overwhelming as what you’d find in a typical theme park hotel. You’ll get a distinctly retro vibe from the Howard Johnson, with strong ties to Disney, but you won’t feel as fully submerged in Disney marketing and nostalgia as you would if you were staying in an official Disney hotel. It’s the best of both worlds: enough to feel like an extension of Disneyland for the biggest fans, but also not overwhelming to the point where it might turn off anybody who needs a break from Disney.
Perhaps it’s because it’s not as ostentatious as many theme park hotels that the Howard Johnson Anaheim feels less artificial. I recently stayed there for the first time, and, having never seen it in any other way, the retro ambiance felt natural and unforced—like it’s always been that way. Compare that to Universal Studios Florida’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort in Orlando; I love Cabana Bay, which is inspired by the roadside motels of the pre-interstate era, but it’s impossible to stay there without being fully aware that you’re essentially inside an extension of a theme park. Cabana Bay is larger than life, an idealized form of something that hasn’t existed in decades and probably never existed in just quite the way Universal’s motel envisions it. The Howard Johnson Anaheim, meanwhile, feels more authentic in comparison—as if it could have existed in this state since the 1960s, and wasn’t trying to recapture the faded glory of a long-gone aesthetic.
The one room at the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel that does feel like a theme park in and of itself is the House of the Retro Future Suite. Named after a ‘50s/’60s Disneyland attraction that was basically an ad for Monsanto, the House of the Retro Future is a deluxe suite with a bedroom with two queen beds, a living room with vintage-styled furniture and a mid century record player console, a separate dining room with a fridge and microwave, and a spacious bathroom with separate chambers for the shower, toilet, and vanity area. The room’s unique decor is more detailed and period-specific than most rooms at the hotel; it’s like a space age bachelor pad with its mod accouterments, with only the occasional piece of mandatory modern technology—a wall-mounted HD TV, a Keurig, an Amazon Echo with Volara—breaking the spell. It’s definitely pricey at $1,957 a night (1957 is when the Monsanto House of the Future opened at Disneyland), but if you’re able to splurge and want to stay in an unforgettable hotel room, here’s your chance.
Finally, if you have kids, or are a child at heart, the Howard Johnson Anaheim also has its own water playground. Castaway Cove has two water slides (one just for toddlers), water cannons, a giant bucket that dumps 200 gallons of water on a regular schedule, a hot tub, and more, and it’s free for hotel guests. I didn’t take the plunge myself—I was there for Disneyland, natch—but I did walk through the playground area and it’s a good bit more exciting than a typical hotel pool. If a typical hotel pool is all you need, though, there’s a separate one on property far from Castaway Cove, so you can take a leisurely dip without the commotion of a very small water park.
As nice as the water playground and the fancy retro suite are, I’d recommend the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel even without them. The location can only be beaten by Disney’s own three Disneyland Resort hotels, all of which are significantly more expensive. If you stay at the Howard Johnson you won’t have to worry about paying an expensive parking fee, ordering an Uber or Lyft (it’s actually just as close to the parks as Disneyland’s rideshare drop off area), or walking an extra 20 to 30 minutes after already wearing your feet out at the parks. Its location has always been spectacular, and with its recent renovation the Howard Johnson Anaheim is now cute and charming, as well. Between price, location, and style, the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel might be the best all-around place to stay if you’re headed to Disneyland.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.