Oktoberfest Tradition Alive and Well in Anaheim

So now that summer is over, you’ve most likely hung up those beach chairs, deflated the pool rafts, and tucked away your board shorts back into the bottom drawer. During the summer, we hang out with friends at local hot spots, neighborhood parties, and attend summer festivals. I did all of these and more this summer, but now it’s fall, and for most people, it’s back to work, kids back to school, and back to the weekly grind. Personally, I thought the time for outdoor partying was over. That can be true if you don’t live in Southern California. But here in my backyard, there’s a month-long, outdoor extravaganza that’s just getting started — Oktoberfest!

Anaheim, California is a bustling city of over 300,000 residents located smack dab in the heart of Orange County. It’s not well known outside of the local community, but Anaheim’s ties to the German tradition of Oktoberfest go back over 150 years when German wine-makers first settled the city. The city’s name translates in German as “home by the river,” as it runs adjacent to the Santa Ana River along its northeastern border. As the initial 19th-century German farming community continued to grow, residents from across the county gathered together each year in the fall to celebrate in the Bavarian tradition of their homeland.

While Munich, Germany leads the world in terms of October partying — millions of people make the annual visit for Oktoberfest — Anaheim does its fair share of picking up some of the beer drinking and sausage eating slack for the rest of the world. The German tradition of Oktoberfest began in the early 19th century as a celebration of the marriage of Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese. The local population of the time was invited to join in the festivities and celebrate with games and horse races. As the festival continued over several generations, it evolved into more of a tradition of celebrating food and drink, dancing and singing, with games and contests. This celebration of Bavarian culture continues in Anaheim today, at an out-of-the-way German community center known as The Phoenix Club.

Although Disneyland is the most recognizable name in the city, since 1961 The Phoenix Club has attracted thousands of visitors to the county’s longest-running Oktoberfest celebration. The festivities begin on September 18th and continue through October 31st (I know, I know! It’s “Oktober”). There is also another Orange County Oktoberfest celebration in the Old World area of Huntington Beach, but The Phoenix Club is well known locally as the more authentic and traditional venue. It’s common to see both club society members and attendees dressed in traditional Bavarian-style Lederhosen or Dirndl, as they cheerfully join in with ancestral German song and dance.

Recently, I was invited by a few friends to join them on Oktoberfest opening weekend (I figured this was a good time to go since the crowds would be minimal). Entering the grounds, the first thing I noticed were the members of the German community who work the front gate and ticket booths. This is a tight-knit neighborhood community that runs the fest, and the group was friendly and welcoming, in-line with their cultural traditions. I quickly noticed that many of my neighbors and friends were either attended the celebration or working as volunteers. I was even surprised to find out by some, that they were of German heritage.

As I strolled the festival, I was first greeted by a traditional Bavarian beer garden, (as if you would expect anything less), as smiling volunteers quickly handed out cold drinks to eager attendees. Of course, you have your choice of beers — German or Bavarian. Although the dark lager was a little rich for my palette, they do have a good selection of both Hefeweizen and lighter beers, some stronger than others. It is a beer festival after all, so I thought the only responsible thing to do was try them all. Inside the grounds, there’s a massive Biergarten tent where picnic style tables are lined up end to end in front of a raised stage. According to club staff, this setup follows the German tradition of sharing tables with friends as well as strangers. It was interesting to see the interior of the tent adorned with a unique variety of German beer and food sponsorship signs, all hanging alongside historical Bavarian banners and flags.

The festival includes traditional Oom Pah Pah bands play each day, and there is what I would call a “fusion” band that performs Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. The night I attended, they rocked the house with a mix of German folk songs and contemporary rock music, played with a touch of a classic accordion. When you’re there, you can expect to see quite a few people dressed in traditional German garb joining in the songs and mingling with guests. Everyone in the tent, both young and old, seemed to be having a great time dancing and singing along with the band. Maybe it’s the beer, but when you looked around the tent, what were most noticeable were all the smiles.

Food booths dotted the grounds, offering visitors hearty samples of some traditional German fare for a decent price. Not only do they offer a good selection of German favorites that include Bratwurst, Roasted Chicken, Schnitzel, and Leberkase, but you can also grab a pretty tasty cheeseburger or hot dog with fries for the kiddies. The traditional food is popular with locals, and some will even sell out before night’s end, so if you’re hungry, you should get your grub on early. Besides eating and drinking, there are traditional dance shows, games, and contests throughout each weekend.

Oktoberfest is a great way to get outdoors with family and friends while the nights are still nice, and engage in celebration with the local community. The Phoenix Club may not be as well known as other attractions around Orange County, but if you want a healthy dose of authentic Bavarian culture, dress, music, and beer and food, then Anaheim is the place you’ll want to visit this October.

The celebration continues at The Phoenix Club every weekend throughout the month of October. Friday and Saturday feature nighttime hours only, from 5 PM until Midnight, and Sunday its open from 12 PM until 6 PM. There are no age restrictions, and there are activities the entire family will enjoy. You can find out more details by visiting www.thephoenixclub.com/oktoberfest.

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