Inside the city's GardenWalk center, in the suite formerly occupied by Tommy Bahama, is a new walk-through exhibition called "Encounters: U.F.O. Experience," which organizers call a beginner's course to ufology — the study of visual records and other alleged evidence of unidentified flying objects — that will appeal to both children and adults.
"This is a 101 on UFOs," said Brian Bouquet, a San Juan Capistrano resident who curated the content and created the storyline.
The exhibition, which opened Jan. 1 and is tentatively scheduled to run through May 31, features galleries containing replicas of artifacts related to ufology, as well as videos and informative text, all in about 3,800 square feet.
A vampire squid is among the various alien specimens on display. (Kevin Chang / Weekend)
After passing the entrance, which is highlighted with a replica E.T. from the 1982 classic film, patrons go into a gallery dedicated to the "ancient aliens" hypothesis, which theorized that extraterrestrials visited Earth and influenced early humanity.
Inside, viewers can learn about the mysterious Moai statues on Easter Island, the Nazca Lines in Peru and Pumapunku in Bolivia, where precisely cut stones held together without any mortar has some theorizing that advanced alien technology served as an aid in the construction.
Alien specimens align a wall at the "Encounters: U.F.O. Experience" exhibit. (Kevin Chang / Weekend)
"We don't have even modern cranes that can lift the heavy rocks into those positions," Bouquet said.
The second room, which Bouquet considers the "Area 51 military room," brings viewers into the modern era of ufology, beginning in the 1940s to the 1950s. During that time, the term "flying saucers" came into the general lexicon, and government entities like the military began paying attention to reports of UFO sightings.
Among the displays is information about the Roswell, N.M., incident of 1947 when, some believe, the U.S. military recovered a crashed alien spacecraft and bodies. Replicas of the Roswell Daily Record are among the artifacts, and the different classifications of alien encounters and UFO sightings are described.
News articles of Roswell, New Mexico from 1947. (Kevin Chang / Weekend)
Around the corner is the "sightings gallery," where a video plays UFO eyewitness testimonies. Another video shows footage of spacecrafts and asks viewers to determine if what they are seeing could be real or is a known hoax.
And, particularly for kids, Bouquet said, is the alien body whose "guts" can be touched.
The gallery also includes a room where guests can listen with headphones to real 911 calls — 82 in total — from people reporting UFOs.
The final room is dubbed the "abduction gallery," meant to look like the inside of an alien mothership. It holds preserved species inside jars and attempts to explain ufology from the 1970s to the present day, including some tie-ins to pop culture.
Getting into the abduction gallery involves going past the door marked "Do not enter: Alien autopsy occurring" and walking through a small tunnel where a fog machine offers an eerie feel. The tunnel, Bouquet said, is meant to re-create the feeling of abductees who report seeing a white light and feeling disoriented.
Before exiting the exhibition, viewers can take pictures next to a menacing alien from the "Alien" films.
An "escape room" experience, themed as fleeing from an alien abduction, is expected to open in the coming weeks. It will have a separate admission fee.
"Encounters: U.F.O. Experience" came to Anaheim after runs in Arizona and South Carolina. About 1,000 people have seen it so far in Orange County, and nearly 40,000 viewed it during its three-week run in Arizona, Bouquet said.
IF YOU GO
What: "Encounters: U.F.O. Experience"
Where: Anaheim GardenWalk, Suite 132, 321 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim
When: 2 to 9 p.m. Sundays and Tuesdays through Thursdays; noon to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Mondays.
Cost: $12 for adults, $8 for children. Children under 8 are free. Audio guides are $2. The exhibition is offering a limited-time Groupon special: two adults for $14.
Information: ufoexhibition.com or (310) 902-5461.