Disneyland devotees, many sporting Mickey Mouse sweatshirts and T-shirts, and curious local residents lined up early Friday to be the first visitors to Downtown Disney, Anaheim's new entertainment-retail complex.
A light rain during much of the day did not deter visitors from strolling the esplanade of the 300,000-square-foot complex next to Disneyland.
"My wife and I have watched everything Disney does," said Joe Walker, 72, of Irvine. "We went to Disneyland the first week it opened in 1955, and we wanted to come here the first day. . . . This is just a wonderful thing to add on."
The project is part of a $1.4-billion Disney expansion and aims to give tourists and Southern Californians a new destination for dinner and a movie, or shopping at one of 28 stores that include a bookstore, a cosmetics shop, a travel agency and toy stores. It features a House of Blues, higher-end restaurants and an ESPN Zone--the first West Coast location for the chain of mega-sports bars.
Unlike Disneyland, Downtown Disney does not require a ticket for admission.
Hundreds of people arrived before the 8 a.m. opening to catch a first glimpse.
"There's nothing to compare it to, but we're extremely gratified with the crowd," given the stormy weather, said John McClintock, a Disney spokesman.
Disneyland annual pass holders Terry Coleman and Gloria Johnson said they were there to buy some commemorative pins, take photos and have lunch. Both live nearby and say Disney is their shared hobby--they visit the theme park once or twice a month.
They are thrilled that they now have a Disney destination even when the theme park is packed with visitors.
"It's cool, because usually if the park is too crowded, we go to the movies. Now we can just walk over here," said Coleman, 46, of Orange, noting that a cinema near the entrance to Downtown Disney could be a logical first stop.
But food dictated their itinerary Friday. Johnson, 55, of Santa Ana, bought a sugar bun at an outdoor cafe, which meant she had to enjoy her treat in the drizzle. She and others didn't seem to mind.
By 9 a.m., 20 people were in line to buy croissants, Danish pastries and $5 bowls of granola. By noon, the line was twice as long.
Many said the storefronts of shops like the bakery seem designed to feel homey and warm, a place to relax away from the cacophony of the nearby amusement park.
"This all completes the circle for us," Leslie Hill, 40, of San Diego, said. "It changes your whole perspective on the place."
When she and her husband, Art, 45, visit Disneyland, she said, there always is a place to play and a place to sleep, but "never a convenient place to shop or eat."
"This is not just Disneyland anymore," said Art Hill. "Downtown Disney makes it much, much more than that."
Company officials have said they hope that Southern Californians will be a sizable portion of Downtown Disney's clientele. Across the nation, entertainment-and-retail districts have had mixed success because some local residents do not find them conveniently located.
Some visitors Friday said they found the prices too high. They said they would prefer to do their shopping at regular malls. Others said they like the Downtown Disney ambience and might choose it over the Irvine Spectrum or the Block in Orange for an evening out.
"This is our date day without the kids," said Nancy Egbert of Buena Park, "and I am so impressed."