Ideally, if you visit Disneyland Resort, you’d have at least two days to spend time in both of the parks. Otherwise, you need to know how to divide your time.
Disneyland has a lot in common with Disneyland Paris in that each park’s general layouts presented to guests are similar. But, if you have ever been to Disneyland Paris, you know that the second gate, Walt Disney Studios, doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
At Disneyland Resort, it’s not so simple. Disney California Adventure has come a long way in 20 years, and it continues to evolve more than any other Disney park. On the other hand, Disneyland is the original Disney theme park, and there is so much to discover, both old and new.
So, in the question of Disneyland vs. Disney California Adventure, who wins?
Note: Both parks open on April 30 to California residents!
Pros and Cons of Disneyland vs. Disney California Adventure
Both parks have a long list of pros, and the cons aren’t actually negatives. They’re meant to point out what one park has that the other doesn’t so that you can make decisions based on your interests.
As the original Disney Park, Disneyland has a lot going for it. Fans of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort like to downplay the success of Disneyland and Walt Disney’s overall satisfaction with it.
The truth is that most of Walt Disney’s disappointment with Disneyland was fixed by Michael Eisner’s approach to building a more immersive resort experience.
Disneyland has nostalgia on its side, and not just because it’s older. It was created to evoke these euphoric feelings from the beginning. That’s part of its genius.
You also can’t argue the presence of Walt Disney at Disneyland. There are traces of him everywhere, from the firehouse apartment to the Golden Horseshoe balcony to the espresso machine at Cafe Orleans.
Even if you don’t have that same sort of reverence for the man who created Disneyland there is a certain charm to the place. The level of Imagineering under Walt Disney’s guidance far surpassed what has been done since its creation.
The use of space and visual trickery that Disney is known for were operating on a scale back then that has not been reached since.
For example, take the difference between the crooked path of Adventureland and the wide-open space of Frontierland. Magic Kingdom’s versions may be larger, but they pale compared to craft and details.
Disney California Adventure Pros
Since 2001, Disney California Adventure has grown a lot. The park offered very little when it opened. However, even then, it was a remarkable tribute to the diversity of California. Some of it, such as Grizzly Peak, was stunning and still is.
Disney built on the California premise and refined it, bringing Walt Disney’s story front and center. One of the best aspects of Disney California Adventure is Buena Vista Street. The setting takes you to the beginning of Walt Disney’s California journey, starting with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit greeting guests at the park entrance.
Buena Vista Street is a gorgeously aesthetic choice for introducing the park and a perfect mirror to Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland.
Disney California Adventure is not locked into a formula like Disneyland is. It’s a testing ground for new ideas and is afforded more leniency when it comes to change. Lands have come and gone in the park’s short history.
One of the great advantages of visiting Disney California Adventure is Cars Land, which pulls right into the world of Radiator Springs. The design is flawless, and the views of Ornament Valley are breathtaking. Radiator Springs Racers is one of the best Disney rides, anywhere… ever.
Disneyland’s “deficiencies” only lie in what is available elsewhere.
You can’t meet Marvel characters in Disneyland. Certain attractions like Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Break Out and Soarin’ Around the World are not at Disneyland.
Really, the only reason not to go to Disneyland is if you want to experience the attractions and experiences that are only available at Disney California Adventure.
Disney California Adventure Cons
Due to the experimental freedom and the constant change, Disney California Adventure has not settled into a unified theme. It’s a collection of ideas at best. Many of those ideas are great, but they don’t have the timelessness or the consistency of Disneyland.
Pixar Pier is an attempt to unify an area of the park in a way that pales in comparison to how cool Cars Land is. One of Pixar Pier’s main benefits is the availability of good casual eats (see below).
Another potential downside for the park for some is the lack of any Lucasfilm presence. Disney California Adventure should have been the park of choice for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and it wasn’t.
Although Imagineers chose a location for Galaxy’s Edge within Disneyland that makes thematic sense, it would have fit in much better if incorporated into Disney California Adventure similarly to Marvel.
Dining at Disneyland Versus Disney California Adventure
We always look forward to eating at Disneyland Resort. From the Halloween and Christmas treats scattered throughout both resorts to old standbys like Dole Whip, choices abound.
When it comes to food, Disneyland has The Blue Bayou, a romantically-lit table service restaurant that overlooks the Pirates of the Caribbean from a beautifully designed terrace.
Adventureland offers exotic quick service small plates at The Tropical Hideaway, where one can also source a famous Dole Whip.
The Hungry Bear offers views of Tom Sawyer Island and the Mark Twain Riverboat. Carnation Cafe offers an atmospheric dining experience in the heart of Main Street U.S.A.
Disney California Adventure Dining
Disney California Adventure offers a lot of dining. Pixar Pier has tons of counter service options that pay homage to the films from Angry Dogs to Bing Bong’s Sweet Stuff.
Lamplight Lounge is where Pixar Fans can go for a drink and some inspiration from the sketches and animated movie memorabilia. I think the food is pretty good, too.
Carthay Circle Restaurant is a beautifully decorated replica of the theater of the same name that premiered Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
This fine dining experience is superb, and even the lounge is such a sweet way to unwind at the end of a thrilling day. Now that the kids are older, we come in here for air conditioning during the summer and a glass of nice wine.
With the recent opening of Avengers Campus, guests have some new dining opportunities at Disneyland California Adventure. This new area of the park hosts Pym Test Kitchen, a restaurant where Ant-Man and the Wasp use their growing and shrinking technology to create one-of-a-kind foods like giant soft pretzels and massive chicken patties.
Right next door is Pym’s Tasting Lab, which is a great spot for adults to enjoy craft beers and innovative cocktails. Avengers Campus also has two food carts: Shawarma Palace and Terran Treats.
Disney California Adventure offers something else that Disneyland does not have: food festivals. During the Lunar New Year Celebration, Food and Wine Festival, or the Festival Foods Marketplace that occurs during the Disney Festival of Holidays, you must visit Disney California Adventure if you are a foodie.
Attractions at Disneyland vs Disney California Adventure
Which park you visit depends largely on which rides and attractions you’re interested in. Disneyland rides are entirely different from Disney California Adventure rides.
Disneyland Rides and Attractions
Disneyland has many of the most popular Disney attractions. The Disney Mountain Range consisting of Space Mountain, Matterhorn, Big Thunder, and Splash Mountain all house iconic rides.
Disneyland also has the best rides for families including the entirety of Fantasyland with its princesses and rides that are popular with younger kids.
In addition, the most classic Disney rides from Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion to The Jungle Cruise and The Tiki Room all await inside.
One of the more recent offerings at Disneyland resort is Galaxy’s Edge, which opened in May 2019. In this 14-acre land, Star Wars fans can fly the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s famous ship, on Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, or join the Resistance in a climactic battle against the first order, on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
Disney California Adventure Rides and Attractions
Disney California Adventure is the place to go for Pixar and Marvel experiences. Pixar Pier has the Incredicoaster roller coaster (the only ride with an inversion in both parks) and other themed attractions.
Cars Land is home to Radiator Springs Racers and you’ll find the popular Grizzly River Run water ride in Grizzly Peak.
Since June 2021, the all-new Avengers Campus is open at Disney California Adventure, which replaced the previously existing “A Bug’s Land.” This epic new area features a Spider-Man-themed adventure called “Web Slingers,” and a portal to Doctor Strange’s lab.
At the center of the campus is the Avengers compound, home to Marvel’s mightiest heroes. Guests can also look forward to character meet-and-greets with some of the famous Avengers including Thor, Black Panther, and Black Widow. The Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission: Breakout ride is now located in Avengers Campus.
Buy Disneyland Discount Tickets to Both Parks
You can save on tickets, tours, and hotels through my affiliations. If you make purchases through the links in this post, I may be compensated.
Visiting both parks is made easy with Disneyland discount tickets that can be 1 Park Per Day tickets or Park Hopper tickets in increments of two, three, four, or five days.
Print and go straight to the gate or use a mobile ticket.
The Bottom Line
In the Battle of Disneyland vs. Disney California Adventure, Disneyland is the clear winner for now. However, with the recent opening of Avengers Campus, Disney California Adventure is slowly catching up.
Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).
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