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Park Spotlight: Disney California Adventure Part 1

It is surprisingly common for many people to only think of Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, as just Disneyland Park. After all, for 45+ years, it was! But, for those who are either Californians or have visited at some point over the last 16 years, they’re quite familiar with Disney California Adventure Park (DCA). For many, the park is home to numerous fan-favorite attractions, dining locations, and lands; but, do you know how the park came to be or about some of the hidden gems it has? Are you familiar with one of the park’s most unique features? Have you heard about the Pixar-influenced changes coming to the park?

Present-day Entrance Sign

Photo credit: Disneyland Resort

Well, sit back, get comfy in your Hawaiian shirt from the John Lasseter Collection, and continue reading to learn about DCA from its concept through the upcoming changes expected over the next few years!


By 1991, The Walt Disney Company had seen success within the multi-park business at Walt Disney World with Magic Kingdom Park (1971), EPCOT Center (1982), and Disney-MGM Studios (1989). At that time, Disney announced the west coast version of EPCOT Center: WestCOT. WestCOT was to be built on the land purchased by Walt Disney in the 1950s, which served as the parking lot for Disneyland Park for over 40 years. It would have been a replica of its counterpart in Florida and celebrated human achievement through technological innovation and international culture. However, by 1995, the plans to build WestCOT were cancelled due to financial constraints and larger public relations issues with what is now Disneyland Paris.

Original Concept Art of WestCOT

Photo credit: Theme Park Tourist

Following the announcement, Michael Eisner, former Disney CEO, and other company executives met to discuss an alternate version for a second California theme park. The idea that came to fruition was a park themed around the history and culture of the state of California where “precise reproductions of California landmarks, charming streets, and gorgeous landscaping that simulates the state’s forests and farmlands” would ultimately allow guests to celebrate the California dream. With the intention of appealing to adults (while Disneyland Park was intended to appeal to children), the park’s construction began in 1998.

Just 3 years later, on February 8, 2001, Disney’s California Adventure opened to considerably smaller crowds than expected due to initial reviews from early visitors, redundant theming, the lack of attractions for children, and the lack of a park berm to create a separation from the outside neighborhoods. How small were the crowds? The park had a capacity of 33,000 guests at the time, but only reported 5,000 to 9,000 guests on weekdays and 10,000-15,000 guests on weekends. Of those guests, only 20% had a satisfying experience.

Original Disney’s California Adventure Park Entrance

Photo credit: Disney Avenue

Because the Disney Company is not known for lackluster reviews and unsatisfied guests, they realized something needed to happen and on October 17, 2007, put a plan of action into place through the announcement of a multi-year, $1.1 billion redesign and expansion. No longer would the park focus around the celebration of the California dream. Instead, the re-imagined park would be a romanticized and idealized version of California that would explore specific time periods and historic settings.

The multi-phase project began in December 2007 and Disney’s California Adventure was officially re-dedicated by Bob Iger, Disney CEO, during the park’s Grand Reopening on June 14, 2012, in which it received a modified name: Disney California Adventure Park.

Looking at the “Storytellers” statue, Iger said it best during the re-dedication:

“Thanks Walt. We’re all glad you came West to follow your heart and pursue your dreams. The world is certainly a better place for that.”

Walt Disney Tribute on June 14, 2012, Dedication

Photo credit: Ashley Hunt

For a park that eventually came to be as a result of another multi-park success, though ironically seeing its own challenges upon opening, it has become a dream come true.


Today, the re-imagineering and expansion of DCA takes guests back to Los Angeles in the 1920s, when Walt Disney first arrived in California. The entrance, known as Buena Vista Street, is laid out in the same fashion as Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland Park and features dining, shopping, and entertainment. Its main feature is the replica of the Hyperion Bridge, which also serves as a working bridge for the Disneyland Resort Monorail. At the hub, a recreation of the Carthay Circle Theater is featured, paying homage to where the world premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was shown in 1937.

Carthay Circle Restaurant

Photo credit: Ashley Hunt

DCA maintains the Disney tradition through historical displays while cohesively introducing elements from today (e.g. Marvel and Pixar films and characters). Ultimately, happy memories are created and adventures are experienced as guests travel throughout the park. The lands of DCA and some of its most popular attractions include:

Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!

Photo credit: Ashley Hunt

  • “a bug’s land”

  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!

  • Flik’s Flyers

  • Cars Land

  • Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree

  • Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters

  • Radiator Springs Racers (FP)

Radiator Springs Racers

Photo credit: Ashley Hunt

  • Pacific Wharf

  • The Bakery Tour

  • Paradise Pier

  • California Screamin’ (FP)

  • Toy Story Midway Mania! (FP)

  • Goofy’s Sky School (FP)

  • Mickey’s Fun Wheel

  • World of Color (FP)

  • Grizzly Peak

  • Grizzly River Run (FP)

  • Soarin’ Around the World (FP)

The attractions above denoted with FP have FASTPASS options. This service allows guests to place their park ticket into a FASTPASS distribution machine for a one-hour timeslot later in the day. Additionally, as of July 19, 2017, guests are now able to use the Disney MaxPass service, which allows guests to make FASTPASS reservations through the Disneyland Resort App. Either of these options will give guests the opportunity of getting through the attraction lines in a shorter amount of time. What is the difference between the two? The FASTPASS option is free and the Disney MaxPass option costs $10 per person, per ticket, per day (or $75 annually for Annual Passholders) and also provides guests with unlimited PhotoPass photos!

Up Next: Part 2

In the second part of the spotlight on Disney California Adventure Park, I will discuss some of the park’s incredible dining options, unique character interaction experiences, information about special events and nighttime shows, as well as give readers a sneak peek of things to come over the next few years. It may have had a bumpy start in the beginning, but DCA has truly become a must-visit park for guests of Disneyland Resort!

Ashley Hunt is an Independent Agent of Fairytale Adventures Travel. She is a Former Cast Member, Annual Passholder at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, and a frequent guest of the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. She specializes in couples vacations and family travel at all Disney parks worldwide, Adventures by Disney, and Disney Cruise Line. Ashley can be reached at or

Enjoy what you read? Be sure to visit Ashley’s blog at

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