Disney California Adventure at Disneyland Resort is the newest of Disney theme parks 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, I’ll go over Disney California Adventure’s themed areas, best rides and attractions, Disney Genie+, what the dining and restaurants are like, and what makes it stand out from other Disney parks.

Through my affiliations, you can save on tickets, tours, and hotels. I may be compensated if you purchase through some links in this post—our editorial guidelines.

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. 

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 a Park Hopper ticket that allows you to visit both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure on the same day. And you can purchase with or without Disney Genie+.

See also: How to Buy Discount Tickets to Disneyland Resort

Park History

The entrance gates to Disney California Adventure Park

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 Disney characters, including 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 street 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 in Native American 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 airfield, is home to Soarin’ Around the World, another top Disney California Adventure ride.

Journey around Grizzly Peak in either direction to reach Pixar Pier, Paradise Gardens, and San Fransokyo. 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!
  • Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind

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

SAN FRANSOKYO (Formerly Pacific Wharf)

Later this year, what was formerly Pacific Wharf will reopen as San Fransokyo Square in an exciting transformation to become home to the beloved Disney movie Big Hero 6.

New eateries like Aunt Cass Cafe and Port of San Fransokyo Cerveceria will join the sweets at Ghiradelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop and Asian bowls at Lucky Fortune Cookery along with other new shops.

Attractions and rides:

  • The Bakery Tour
  • Meet Baymax

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 and set to a desert landscape.

If you have a Cars fan on your hands, I would recommend heading straight to Radiator Springs Racers as early in the day as possible. 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 animation building.

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
  • Mickey’s Philharmagic
  • Sunset Showcase Theater
  • Animation Academy
  • Sorcerer’s Workshop
  • Turtle Talk with Crush

Avengers Campus

In July 2021, the Avengers campus opened, much to the delight of Avengers fans everywhere. The highlight is Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure dark ride and the Avengers headquarters. Not to be missed, an Ant-Man and the Wasp-themed eatery and cocktail bar called Pym Test Kitchen completes the entire experience!

Attractions and rides:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!
    • Guardians of the Galaxy – Monsters After Dark (seasonal)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Awesome Dance Off!
  • Heroic Encounters
  • Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure
  • Doctor Strange: Mysteries of the Mystic Arts
  • Avengers Headquarters

Disney California Adventure Park Lightning Lane and Genie+

Lightning Lane and Genie+ have officially replaced FastPASS. Instead of FastPASS, the first option is to purchase Genie+, which allows you to select the next arrival window via the Disneyland app for the Lightning Lane entrance at select attractions all day long. At the time of this writing, Genie+ starts at $25 per ticket per day.

The second option is to purchase individual Lightning Lane entrance access for some of the most highly demanded attractions. This way, guests can choose the next available arrival window through the mobile Disneyland app for the Lightning Lane entrance of up to two attractions. The cost of this option varies by date, so be sure to check the app for the latest prices for the dates of your visit.

Both options can be purchased and used at the same time because a different set of attractions is offered with each option. At this time, here are the rides that Lightning Lane and Genie+ cover:

Individual Purchase for Lightning Lane Entrance

  • Radiator Springs Racers

Disney Genie+ Lightning Lane Entrances

  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
  • Incredicoaster
  • Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
  • Toy Story Midway Mania!
  • WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure

Best Disney California Adventure Rides and Attractions

Our favorite rides at Disney California Adventure that the whole family (and not just kids!) will enjoy are the below.

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 (especially during the holidays) and wait times can be long so consider purchasing a Lightning Lane purchase to enjoy the ride at least once during your visit.

TIP

If you are staying at any of the Disneyland resort hotels, you’ll enjoy Early Entry or entrance to the parks 30 minutes before the general public. Consider making a beeline for this ride!

Grizzly River Run

Location: Grizzly Peak

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

Grizzly River Run is a whitewater 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 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.

TIP

This is a great ride for mid-day during the summer. The line moves quickly and it’s air conditioned.

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 Its Snow-Capped Lemon!, a non-dairy lemon soft serve with a snow-cap of white chocolate. (Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort)

The second place — a must for eating on the go — is Pixar Pier.

The many choices include Angry Dogs, Poultry Palace, Adorable Snowman’s Frosted Treats, and Señor Buzz Churros.

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.

San Fransokyo (formerly Pacific Wharf)

When guests step into San Fransokyo Square, beginning summer of 2023 at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, Calif., they may have the opportunity to encounter Baymax. The Pacific Wharf is currently undergoing an exciting transformation into San Fransokyo Square, inspired by Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Academy Award®-winning “Big Hero 6.” (Artist Concept/Disneyland Resort)

This section near Pixar Pier is brand new as of August 2023. As mentioned above, it’s home to Ghirardelli and Boudin Sourdough Bakery and will add new additions like Aunt Cass Cafe and Port of San Fransokyo Cerveceria.

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.


Live Entertainment

A lot of talent performs around the Disney California Adventure Park.

When you arrive, pick up a show schedule and a map to know what is happening that day and where. Discover all the Disney magic without spending your trip lost and overwhelmed.

Don’t miss the World of Color in the evening, Frozen — Live at the Hyperion Theater and the ¡Viva Navidad! Parade.

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.

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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2 Comments

    1. Hi! You will have to wait until out-of-state visitors are allowed to visit. Right now, only California residents can visit. It is good to have your tickets though now because when reservations open for out-of-state visitors, you can be first in line for a reservation.