The first thing you need to know about Southland’s newest pot-superstore-meets-theme-park — Planet 13 Orange County, which opens to the public in Santa Ana today — is that it’s big. Like a furniture-store big, CityTarget is big and largest-dispensary-in-California big.
The second thing you need to know is that even if you’ve never heard of Planet 13’s over-the-top approach to slinging weed (a larger flagship opened in Las Vegas in November 2018) and your knowledge of pot culture begins and ends with Cheech & Chong’s 1978 stoner comedy “Up in Smoke,” the immersive, entertaining and totally Instagram-worthy approach to cannabis commerce is going to become only more prevalent as the state’s legal marijuana market matures.
That’s because the over-the-top visuals and selfie-worthy backdrops are as much — if not more — a savvy marketing play as they are over-the-top entertainment. “We have a hard time advertising, because we keep getting shut down on Facebook and so on because we’re cannabis,” Planet 13 co-Chief Executive Larry Scheffler said during a pre-opening tour. “[Customers] advertise for us when they take a picture. … It’s unbelievable. That’s what’s helping us grow so fast; it’s the social media.”
Scheffler said the dispensary’s proximity to Disneyland (the Anaheim theme park is 8.4 miles away) and the South Coast Plaza shopping center (three miles away) and its adjacency to the 405 Freeway will help it tap into a Vegas-like flow of tourists.
“Las Vegas gets about 55 million visitors a year; there’s about 50 million to here — Orange County — so it’s almost the same visitor volume,” he said. (It doesn’t hurt that Santa Ana is the only city in a county of more than 3 million residents with legal retail cannabis storefronts up and running.)
What, exactly, is on tap for cannathusiasts who trek to this Disneyesque dispensary? Below are the seven trippiest things that caught my attention during a walkthrough of the O.C.’s newest palace of the pot.
The first visual you’re likely to see — especially if you’re rolling in off the 405 and heading east — is the massive red orb shimmering with cascading water that marks the entrance to the dispensary. Big enough to be seen from several blocks away, the globe represents the planet in the Planet 13 branding. (In case you were wondering, the numerical part of the name comes from the fact that the word marijuana starts with “M” — which is the 13th letter of the alphabet.)
In a nod to the surf and sand vibe of Southern California, the interior has several beachy elements, including an architectural wooden wave that crests over the check-in desk just inside the front door to the left.
One of several focus-pullers in the lobby area is an 80-foot-wide digital waterfall that takes up the entire wall across from the check-in desk. It appears to cascade from the ceiling, flowing and splashing around the arched portal that marks the entrance to the dispensary sales floor and onto faux rock outcroppings.
If you walk along the interactive computerized beach to the right of the arched entryway, you’ll leave footprint-like marks in the digital sand that remain until the faux waves roll in and wash them away. If you’re really paying attention, this is where you might spot a message in a bottle hidden near the shoreline and a delightfully mad crab that darts unexpectedly around the edge of the floor.
One of the most popular interactive elements of Planet 13 Las Vegas — a VW party bus — has been duplicated in the lobby here with surfer-stoner tweaks. While the bus’ bright yellow, pink and purple paint job and surfboards strapped to the roof certainly make for a fun visual, what takes it to the must-share-on-social-media level of irresistibility is a green button just inside the sliding door labeled, “Get smoked out.” Pressing the button fills the bus’ interior with fake smoke and makes it appear that the occupants have been seriously hotboxing. (“People wait in line in front of the one in Vegas to get their picture taken,” Scheffler said.)
The visual centerpiece of the 16,500-square-foot, 50-cash-register retail sales floor is a 16-foot-tall sculptural installation of a bright red octopus perched — tentacles outstretched — atop another massive red orb. Despite being in the shadow of two Orange County theme parks (Knott’s Berry Farm is about 14 miles away), the cephalopod doesn’t have a moniker. “I actually don’t think it has a name yet,” Scheffler said when asked. “I guess we’re going to have to have a contest and name the thing.”
If you happen to pull your gaze away from the glass-topped cases crammed with all manner of cannabis flowers, concentrates, vaporizer cartridges, and edibles and look up, you’ll see dozens of brightly colored umbrellas (another visual touch carried over from the Vegas location) dangling from the ceiling. “The ultimate goal, once I have time to work it all out with the fire department, is to have a CO2 machine that goes on top of every umbrella and hits so that it drips down intermittently like rain,” Scheffler said.
The indoor rain effect isn’t the only new thing visitors can expect on future visits. Scheffler said the aim is to add new elements every couple of months and that next up will be mechanical butterflies — with 18-inch wingspans — fluttering around the dispensary. Beyond that, he and co-CEO Bob Groesbeck have ambitious plans for their Orange County outpost, of which the dispensary represents just the first of three phases. In Phase 2, the rest of the 40,000-square-foot horseshoe-shaped building will be built out and used for ancillary retail and on-site private-label production (both with immersive entertainment elements). But it’s the vision for Phase 3 that will truly make touching down on Planet 13 the weed head’s equivalent of visiting Disneyland:
Plans are to add a 15,000-square-foot space at the center of the horseshoe. “That will be the consumption lounge,” Scheffler said, ” A club that will be elevated two stories with live plants inside [and] splash pools so you can take your [shoes] off and dance in the water while you’re consuming cannabis.”
To be clear, you can’t fire up doobies on the premises — yet — but you can lay in a supply for later, thanks to a deep bench of budtenders (at the opening, Planet 13 Orange County has a workforce of 250) manning some 50 cash registers. Although the shelves and cases weren’t fully stocked at the time I took a tour, expect a robust assortment of Stiiizy vaporizer batteries and cartridges, pre-rolled joints, flower and concentrates, and Select’s gummies, tinctures, and vape pens (both brands have fully built-out shop-in-shops on the sales floor) as well as Sonder’s Space Crystals (a sublingual that’s like a grown-up, THC-infused version of Pop Rocks that snaps and crackles under the tongue), Sauced vape cartridges and Wana gummies.