Guide to Disney California Adventure

Best rides, how to save money on tickets, where to eat and more

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Disney California Adventure is the newest Disney park in the United States. You’ll appreciate a visit more when armed with some knowledge of its history and reputation as one of the most quickly evolving Disney parks in the world.

In this guide, we’ll talk about Disney California Adventure’s themed areas, best rides and attractions, FASTPASS, what the dining is like, and what makes it stand out from other Disney parks.

Disney California Adventure Tickets and Tips

While one-day tickets are rarely discounted, it’s possible to save money on multi-day Disney California Adventure tickets. 

Tip: It’s still possible to purchase multi-day Disneyland Resort tickets at 2018 prices through January 15, 2019!

Tickets that are three, four or five days in length qualify for one Magic Morning admission where you receive entry one hour early to select rides, stores, dining and entertainment at Disneyland Park.

Children ages 0—2 do not need a ticket. 

One-day ticket pricing is determined whether you’re visiting on a value, regular, or peak day. Multi-day ticket pricing is the same regardless of when you visit.

You’ll choose whether you’d like a single park ticket or Park Hopper ticket that allows you to visit both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure on the same day.

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See also: How to Buy Discount Tickets to Disneyland Resort

History

The iconic entrance to Disney California Adventure theme park
Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland

Before Disney California Adventure, there were many dreams on the table.

Michael Eisner wanted to build an America-themed park in Virginia that was met with too much controversy. Meanwhile, in Long Beach, CA, Imagineers designed a new park called DisneySea, but they built it in Tokyo instead.

Tokyo DisneySea features a series of waterfronts inspired by the World Showcase at Epcot. One of these waterfronts — the American one — used designs from the canceled park in Virginia.

Finally, the idea of a West Coast version of EPCOT called WestCOT was considered. WestCOT would have been an amalgamation of the spirit of EPCOT and the design of Disney’s Animal Kingdom which opened in 1998. Disney scrapped Westcot due to budget.

However, the educational spirit of EPCOT remained. Disney replaced the global experience with a celebration of California’s diverse industry, landscape, and cultural influences. The design borrowed heavily from the 1989 park that was then called Disney MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) in Orlando.

Disney’s California Adventure Park opened in 2001 to a lackluster welcome. It was a disappointment, lacking in proper attractions, affordable dining, and shade.

Over the last two decades, the park has been refined to include a more cohesive story reflecting Walt Disney’s personal experience in California as a young man. The name was also shortened to Disney California Adventure. Buena Vista Street opened in 2012, and Carthay Circle Theater replaced a giant Sun Icon to become the “castle” at the park’s hub. Changes have also been made to incorporate favorite Pixar and Marvel characters.

Disney California Adventure Themed Areas

Disney California Adventure is home to eight themed areas. We’ll start at Buena Vista Street and move clockwise through the park.

Buena Vista Street

Your welcome into Disney California Adventure begins on Buena Vista Street, named after the street in Burbank where Walt Disney Studios is located.

It showcases what Los Angeles was like in the 1920s when Walt Disney’s career was just getting started. His optimistic arrival to the city is reflected in this “Storytellers” statue of him and Mickey Mouse where Buena Vista Street meets Carthay Circle.

As part of the newly unveiled entryway to Disney California Adventure park, "Storytellers," a new bronze statue of a young Walt Disney and his most famous creation, Mickey Mouse, can be found where Carthay Circle meets Buena Vista Street. The stunning statue reflects the optimistic outlook of Walt Disney upon his arrival in California in 1923
“Storytellers” statue — Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort

Similar to Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland Park, you’ll find toys, candy, a department store, and a bakery along this vista that leads to the park’s hub.

The hub is more or less a roundabout nearly circled by the Red Car Trolley cable car that runs that from Buena Vista Street to Hollywood Land on the left.

The most prominent structure in the area is the Carthay Circle, a replica of the theater where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs first premiered. It’s a fine dining restaurant and not a theater.

Attractions and rides:

  • Red Car Trolley

Grizzly Peak

Grizzly Peak land at Disney California Adventure
Grizzly River Run — Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland

The Buena Vista Street hub and Carthay Circle rest at the base of Grizzly Peak, a rugged mountain inspired by true pieces of nature found in the mountains of California (mainly Yosemite and Redwood National Parks).

The white water rafting attraction it houses, Grizzly River Run, is steeped Native Americans lore and piles on layers of back story for the keen observer to uncover. (The grizzly bear is California’s state animal though it has not been seen in California since the 1920s.)

Grizzly Peak Airfield, a 2015 expansion of this area reminiscent of a 1950s High Sierra’s airfield, is home to Soarin’ Around the World, another top Disney California Adventure ride.

Journey around Grizzly Peak in either direction to get to Pixar Pier, Paradise Gardens and Pacific Wharf. If you pass it on the left, you may again turn left to Disney California Adventure’s most celebrated land — a faithful re-creation of Radiator Springs.

Tip: Guests of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa enter and exit Disney California adventure through Grizzly Peak.

Attractions and rides:

  • Grizzly River Run
  • Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
  • Soarin’ Around the World

Pixar Pier

A guide to visiting Disney California Adventure
Pixar Pier — Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

Pixar Pier draws inspiration from California’s coastal boardwalks like Santa Monica Pier and Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Opened in summer 2018, it’s divided into four neighborhoods that include Incredibles Park, Toy Story Boardwalk, Pixar Promenade, and Inside Out Headquarters.

Head toward the Pixar Pal-A-Round wheel with Mickey Mouse in the center, and you’ll find yourself in Pixar Pier.

Attractions and rides:

  • Games of Pixar Pier
  • Incredicoaster
  • Jessie’s Critter Carousel
  • Pixar Pal-A-Round (Swinging and Non-Swinging)
  • Toy Story Midway Mania!

Paradise Gardens Park

Goofy's Sky School at Disney California Adventure's Paradise Pier
Goofy’s Sky School — Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland

Paradise Gardens Park is also imagined after Victorian-era California boardwalks and adjacent to Pixar Pier.

Attractions and rides:

  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Silly Symphony Swings
  • Jumpin’ Jellyfish
  • Golden Zephyr
  • The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure

Pacific Wharf

Have you been to Cannery Row in Monterey or Fisherman’s Wharf? Then, you might recognize Pacific Wharf. Here, you’ll mostly find dining from Boudin sourdough bowls (you can tour the bakery to see how they’re made), sweets at Ghiradelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop, Asian bowls at Lucky Fortune Cookery and more.

Attractions and rides:

  • The Bakery Tour
  • Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar

Cars Land

Cars Land at Disney California Adventure is home to Radiator Springs Racers
Cars Land — Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Cars Land is the town of Radiator Springs inspired by Route 66 and the Disney-Pixar film, Cars.

If you have a Cars fan on your hands, I would recommend taking advantage of Extra Magic hour and heading straight to Radiator Springs Racers. It is the largest and most elaborate attraction ever created for a Disney park.

Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree help to round out the area with some fun attractions for kids.

Attractions and rides:

  • Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters
  • Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
  • Radiator Springs Racers

Hollywood Land

Monsters, Inc. at Disney California Adventure
Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland

Hollywood Land’s buildings reflect the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1930s, with a portion of it designed similar to an active studio back lot.

It’s the home of Marvel Characters now, some shows, and the towering Guardians of the Galaxy-Mission: Breakout (formerly known as the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror).

Attractions and rides:

  • Disney Junior Dance Party
  • Frozen — Live at the Hyperion
  • Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout!
  • Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
  • Red Car Trolley
  • Sunset Showcase Theater
  • Animation Academy
  • Sorcerer’s Workshop
  • Turtle Talk with Crush

Future Areas

“a bug’s land” is currently closed to make room for a Marvel-themed land announced in March 2018.

Disney California Adventure FASTPASS and MaxPass

Before we talk about the best rides at Disney California Adventure, let’s talk about how to minimize line waiting with FASTPASS.

FASTPASS is a priority queue system designed to shorten waits for popular rides. FASTPASS selections allow you to use the FASTPASS priority lines at participating attractions within a given time frame. 

You can indicate FASTPASS selections via mobile device by purchasing Disney MaxPass ($15/day). Alternatively, you may skip the app and use in-park FASTPASS distribution points.

Mobile selection is far easier and allows you to cancel/change FASTPASS selections. How many FASTPASS selections you can hold at one time is a bit tricky. If you select a FASTPASS within 30 minutes of your ride time, you can choose another FASTPASS after 30 minutes have passed. You may select another FASTPASS if it has been two hours since your first FASTPASS selection or at the start time of your current FASTPASS selection window.

Another benefit to having MaxPass is that the app will help guide you through the process.

Disney California Adventure FASTPASS attractions include:

  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT!
  • Guardians of the Galaxy — Monsters After Dark
  • Incredicoaster
  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • Soarin’ Around the World
  • Toy Story Midway Mania!
  • World of Color

Top Disney California Adventure Rides and Attractions

These are the best Disney California Adventure rides and attractions.

Radiator Springs Racers (Top Pick)

Location: Cars Land

A guide to visiting Disney California Adventure
Radiator Springs Racers — Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort

Radiator Springs Racers is an exhilarating ride through Monument Valley, that is a must-do especially for Cars fans. You’ll race against the car next to you, and some believe this is the best ride of both Disneyland parks. 

It does get crowded so take advantage of FASTPASS or Extra Magic hour to enjoy the ride at least once during your visit.

Grizzly River Run

Location: Grizzly Peak

Disney California Adventure: Grizzly River Run
Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort

Grizzly River Run is a white water rafting ride around Grizzly Peak. The wet and wild attraction breaks from tradition in that it features no monsters.

However, the carefully constructed river rapids and waterfalls provide all of the necessary thrills.

Tip: Don’t worry too much about getting wet as there are now full-body dryers at the exit.

Soarin’ Around the World

Location: Grizzly Peak

Soarin' Around the World at Disney California Adventure
Patrick Pelletier [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Soarin’ Around the World replaced Soarin’ over California in 2016. The stunning 4K projection of the flight motion simulator and sweeping views of destinations worldwide makes the ride very exciting.

A helpful tip: ask to sit in the center. The technological achievement of this attraction is undercut by the curvature of the screen, which makes tall structures like the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal bend annoyingly. If you are in the center, the alignment is correct. (This ride is also at Shanghai Disneyland.)

Incredicoaster

Location: Pixar Pier

Incredicoaster at Disney California Adventure
Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

The Incredicoaster, which used to be California Screamin’, now has a storyline inspired by the Incredibles franchise. This roller coaster is the only ride at Disneyland Resort with an inversion and is also the fastest ride of both parks.

It’s the flagship attraction at Pixar Pier which is now broken down into neighborhoods for Incredibles, Toy Story, and Inside Out.

Toy Story Midway Mania

Location: Pixar Pier

Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney California Adventure park
Gene Duncan/Disneyland

Toy Story Midway Mania is another major attraction on Pixar Pier. The 3-D attraction is a game that you ride through while playing five mini-games featuring the cast of Toy Story. You’ll wear 3-D glasses.

The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure

Location: Paradise Gardens Park

Disney California Adventure: The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel's Undersea Adventure, Happily Ever After scene with King Triton
Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort

The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is an exciting, yet calm (perfect for young kids), dark ride based on the movie. The scenes are held together and connected through the original songs written by Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman.

Guardians of the Galaxy- Mission: Breakout

Location: Hollywood Land

Disney California Adventure Rides: Guardians of the Galaxy--Mission: BREAKOUT!
Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

Back in Hollywood Land Guardians of the Galaxy- Mission: Breakout exhilarates and accelerates guests in a jailbreak scenario where you help the guardians escape the Collector’s fortress through free-fall drop sequences.

You’ll view fun storyline details as you wait in the queue. The thrill ride is true to the tone and spirit of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and features a number of alternate scenes and soundtracks.

Where to Eat

There are two table service restaurants in Disney California Adventure in addition to kiosks and ten counter service locations (not to mention Starbucks).

Kiosks

There are two main places to grab a bite in Disney California Adventure Park. The first is at the Cozy Cone Motel in Cars Land.

Cozy Cone Motel at Disney California Adventure
The Cozy Cone Motel in Cars Land is inspired by the quirky wigwam motels along Route 66 with each of the five teepees offering tasty cone-themed treats including chili cone queso. (Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

This series of cone-shaped food huts has a menu that changes periodically, but it is always a go-to for things like churros, popcorn and ice cream.

Adorable Snowman at Disney California Adventure's Pixar Pier
Specialty treats at Adorable Snowman include the It’s Snow-Capped Lemon!, a non-dairy lemon soft serve with a “snow-cap” of white chocolate. (Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort)

The second place that is a must for eating on the go is Pixar Pier. They feature Angry Dogs, Poultry Palace, Adorable Snowman’s Frosted Treats and Jack-Jack Cookie Num Nums.

Counter Service

Where you go for counter service depends a lot on your appetite, but I recommend Flo’s V8 Cafe or the Smokejumper’s Grill.

Flo's V8 Cafe at Disney California Adventure
Neon signs light up the night in Cars Land at Disney California Adventure park in Anaheim, Calif. Flo’s V8 Cafe, a Route 66-inspired diner, is part of the 12-acre land that immerses guests in the thrilling world of the Disney•Pixar blockbuster “Cars” film franchise as they step into the town of Radiator Springs.
(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Flo’s is a very classic diner right in the heart of Cars Land. The décor is so perfect, and the view of Radiator Springs Racers is spectacular.

Smokejumpers Grill is a burger joint in an airplane hangar right next to Soarin’ Around the World. If you love this State Park themed area, you will want to hang out a while and have a bite while you soak it all in.

Pacific Wharf

This section near Pixar Pier is based on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. As mentioned above, it’s home to Ghirardelli and Boudin Sourdough bakery, in addition to Mexican and Chinese cuisine.

Paradise Gardens

In Paradise Gardens there is more Mexican food as well as Italian food and corn dogs.

Hollywood Land

Over in Hollywood Land is a hot dog stand called Award Weiners. There are also refreshments dotting the back lot that are open seasonally and on peak days.

Table Service

Carthay Circle Restaurant at Disney California Adventure
The Del Pacifico Shrimp Gorditas is one of the many dishes served at Carthay Circle. (Disneyland Resort)

Carthay Circle Restaurant is a beautiful signature restaurant with a Snow White theme. Photos of Walt Disney line the walls and the ceiling in the main dining room is painted with a scene from Snow White.

Carthay Circle Lounge plays calming piano versions of classic Disney songs. Make sure to reserve your table in advance and request the main dining area.

Lamplight Lounge is a Pixar themed dining location on the pier that features Pixar artwork and small bites. It’s a must for hardcore Pixar fans.

Entertainment

There is a lot of talent that performs around the Disney California Adventure Park.

When you arrive, pick up a show schedule along with a map, so you can know what is happening that day and where.

The Wonderful World of Color is currently down for extended refurbishment, and the return date is not yet announced. However, you can still see Frozen — Live at the Hyperion Theater and the ¡Viva Navidad! Parade.

Frozen Live: Disney California Adventure
Scott Brinegar/Disneyland Resort

Of all the characters you can meet in Disney California Adventure Park, perhaps the best is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Walt Disney’s studio created Oswald under contract with Universal in the 1920s. In 2006, Disney regained the rights to the character. Without Oswald, there would have been no Mickey Mouse.

So, it’s perfect that Oswald greets visitors as they enter the park through Buena Vista Street. Also, don’t forget to look for Hidden Mickeys while touring the park.

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