The park started with five areas but was remodeled recently to include 7 distinct areas. Each area represents various aspects of California, its culture, landmarks and history. It is home to Disney’s only real rollercoaster, a must see hang-glider ride and a unique Ferris wheel.
Visit Paradise Pier or Pacific Wharf to relive summer times at a California beach town. Or go to Hollywood Land for a look into how Disney movies are made and to live inside the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. And for a trip into California's wilderness, visit Grizzly Peak. Finally, for a thrilling race through Radiator Springs go to Cars Land.
To learn more about the history of the park, go here.
This park is full of rides, shows and parades to enjoy - so plan your visit ahead of time. Your plans should take into consideration the ages of your kids, the length of your stay and your endurance power.
To make your experience more enjoyable and stress-free, plan your visit by going to Disney’s website. The site allows visitors to filter for attractions by “Thrill Type”, “Interests” or “Age”. For example, you can choose “Big Drops”, “Slow Rides”, “Teens”, etc. But before you go there, stick around and learn about the park from a local.
I live practically around the corner from the Disney Resort and spend a lot of time at the parks. I would like to share my experiences with you. Hopefully, it will help get the most out of your visit.
The park is usually open from 9 AM to 8 PM on weekdays and from 8 AM to 11 PM on weekends and holidays.
Tip: Most rides offer a single rider line. Even if you don't see a sign indicating "Single Riders", ask the attendants. They will direct you to the "secret" line. You can take advantage of this feature even if you are with a group. If you don't mind being separated during the ride, just go for it.
Buena Vista Street
As you enter the park you will be on Buena Vista Street, which was named after the actual street in Burbank where Disney studios sit.
As you walk down this street you will notice many shops and snack stands. Restrooms are to your right as you walk in.
The street leads to the central plaza that represents Los Angeles in the 1920’s.
Before you reach the plaza, turn right onto Grizzly Peak area for some great fun.
Soarin' Around the World
I always like to make this my first ride of the day. If you are anything like me, you will end up going on it multiple times.
The ride simulates flying in a hang-glider above iconic world sites like the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China. It also flys over Swiss Alps, Greenland, Sydney and Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa - to name a few.
The amazing scenery passing right under your feet is so realistic and the smells (yes! You heard it right: Smells) are so invigorating that you can very easily forget you are in a simulator. <FastPass Available>
Tip: Some rides offer FastPass. It is a way to avoid long lines at some rides. For example if you go to Soarin' Over California and find out that the wait time is too long, get a FastPass. It will specify an appointment time for you to come back. When you come back you will go through a different line which is usually very short.
Books about the Disney Resort
Grizzly River Run
The attraction's name comes from Grizzly Peak, the bear-shaped mountain that the rapids flow around. You are guaranteed to get wet on this ride so go during warm weather, or you can buy one of the plastic smocks and avoid the worst of the drenching. If you brave the cold weather and get wet, there are drying booths right outside the ride's exit. <FastPass Available>
Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
You can climb the rocks, glide on rock slides, climb up wooden lookout towers with rope bridges or slide down a rope in a suspended tire.
Don’t forget to go through the Spirit Cave to discover your mystical animal spirit.
If you prefer to relax and let the kids run amuck, benches are available.
Tip: this play area is very large with many fun things to do. On the way in, inspect the large map to decide which way to go.
Paradise Gardens Park
The area surrounds a large manmade lake where the “World of Color” show plays.
Goofy's Sky School
This is a crazy rollercoaster ride where Goofy will "teach" you how to fly. It is based on Disney's animated cartoon "Goofy's Glider".
The ride has a lot of turns, drops and sudden stops, but it is not very fast. The sides of the tracks are wide open. This gives the rider the feeling of falling off on sharp turns. The open sides and the sudden drops may be unsettling for small children.
As you fly in your gliders, billboards on the sides of the tracks show Goofy giving step by steps instructions on how to fly. <FastPass Available>
At the Jumpin’ Jellyfish, the younger kids can enjoy a parachute jump through a Kelp forest. The secure seats will take them up to a height of 40 feet and then drop them gently to the ground. On the way down they can enjoy a nice view of Paradise Bay.
Tip: If you have loose shoes or slippers on, take them off before the ride or you will lose them.
Silly Symphony Swings
As you spin, you have a great view of Paradise Bay and the other rides around you.
World of Color Show
The show projects various movie clips from the vast Disney and Pixar collections on a giant screen of water and mist – with a fiery display of pyrotechnics. Accompanying the spectacular display is a magical musical score.
The show also utilizes lights, water, fire, fog, and lasers. Expect to see clips from The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, Fantasia 2000, WALL-E, Toy Story, Aladdin and many more.
Tip: The show plays 2 times on the weekend and one time on weekdays. It is immensely popular so you will need to plan ahead.
The best way is to head straight to Grizzly River Run ride and get FastPass tickets to the show. Those free tickets run out quickly, so make it your first stop when you arrive at the park. You can combine those FastPasses with other ride FastPasses.
Another option is to reserve a dining package at one of the sit-down restaurants surrounding Paradise Bay (Ariel's Grotto, Carthay Circle Restaurant, Wine Country Trattoria). Dining at those places is a little pricey, but if you were planning to have dinner anyway, this it is a good way to catch the show too. <FastPass Available>
Continuing with the California theme, Pixar Pier is just like any beach town pier with lots of rides, food and entertainment.
Incredicoaster (California Screamin)
The 55 mph speed and all the twists and turns make this ride the most thrilling ride in the Disney parks.
Recently, Disney reimagined this ride with a Pixar Incredibles theme. As you zip through the twists and loops you get to enjoy sights and sounds from the movie series. <FastPass Available>
Tip: Another way to beat the lines and Disney parks is the single ride line. If you are traveling alone (or willing to pretend you are alone) you can go the single ride line which goes faster than the regular line.
California Adventure offers many dining options. You can get a quick snack from places like “Corn Dog Castle” or “Cozy Cone Motel” or you can get lunch for a casual dining place like “Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill” or “Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta”. If you really want to enjoy an upscale experience, try “Carthay Circle” or “Wine Country Trattoria. My favorites:
Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill
Grab your authentic Mexican tacos, burritos or tamales and take them to the shaded outdoor patio.
A fine dining restaurant that offers mouth water dishes like “Crisp Duck Confit” or “Herb-Crusted Lamb Scaloppini”. For dessert, you should try the “Tahitian vanilla bean crème brûlée tart” or the “dark chocolate mousse bar”.
Paradise Pier Ice Cream Company
Tip: Disneyland and CA Adventure now offer the Max Pass. For $10 extra you can book your FastPasses from the mobile app - avoiding the lines.
For a snack, you have to visit this soft serve ice cream stand. The lines are long, but it worth the wait. They serve the usual cup or cone – vanilla, chocolate or swirl. But they also serve coke or root beer floats.
Radiator Springs Racers
This is a car driving experience through the town of Radiator Springs. After you board your 6 passenger car, you will cruise through town and be greeted by familiar faces from the “Cars” movie.
At the start line, your car will race another car to the finish line going through some exhilarating sharp turns and steep drops. The cars in this section of the ride can go up to 40 miles an hour.
Tip: At one of those sharp turns with a drop - towards the end - your photo will be taken. Be ready to make your goofiest pose for the camera.
Cars Land also has 2 additional attractions that are more appropriate for smaller children:
Mater's Junkyard Jamboree: Ride a trailer that is pulled by a funny looking tractor.
Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters: You sit in your vintage cars then the cars start dancing around the yard.
Like any respectable Wharf in California, expect to find a variety of dining experiences and snack shops here. You can also take a tour through a functioning bakery. The main attraction is Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar where you will get a glimpse on how ideas turn into reality.
Step into the golden age of Hollywood in the 1930s and enjoy the magic of cinema and theater. Stroll through Hollywood streets and catch a show at the Hyperion Theater or go on a terrifying ride at the “The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror”.
Frozen – Live at the Hyperion
If you loved the movie, you will enjoy this theatrical rendition of the story.
The show retells the story of Elsa and Anna in an hour-long spectacular production. Disney pulled all the stops with dynamic scenes, movie animation on the all the walls and special effects.
This show is worth your time even if you don't have kids in your group.
Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission Breakout!
This should give an idea of what to expect on this thrill ride.
Be prepared to be flung up high and then dropped in fits and starts.
The ride used to be called The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror but it was engineered recently with a Marvels Guardians of the Galaxy theme.
Your mission, if you are willing to take it, is to rescue the guardians from the evil collecter Taneleer Tivan who imprisoned them at the top of his tower. Your assistant on this dangerous mission is Rocket.
The ride uses the latest visual and audio special effects with clips from the movie series. <FastPass Available>
Did you always want to draw Disney characters but didn’t know how? Then join this session with a Disney animator to learn the basics of animation. At the end of the session, take your creation home with you. No talent is required and all ages are welcome.
The gang must be hungry after all this excitement.
If you are in the mood for something casual, go to “Award Wieners” where they serve delicious sausage and hotdogs.
For food truck experience, try the “Studio Catering Co.” for some corn dogs, chips or caramel popcorn.
For dessert head to “Schmoozies” for some great fruit smoothies.
For a luxurious sit-down dinner, try the "Lamplight Lounge" with seats on the lake and overlooking Paradise Pier and the Roller Coaster ride.
The view is great but the food is even better. During my last visit, I had the Cheddar Burger with fries. The burger was cooked to perfection and fries were seasoned and very tasty. For my drink, I chose the Open Ocean - a frozen raspberry and rum drink.
Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
Based on the 2001 Pixar movie, the ride takes passengers through the dark streets of Monstropolis where they encounter all kinds of monsters.
In a cavernous space with doors leading to children rooms, Randall the angry monster tries to destroy Boo's door to trap her in Monstropolis forever.
Mike and Sulley find the door and save the day as usual.
Southern California Pass
If you are staying in the area for a week or more, you can purchase Southern California Pass. It includes 3-Day Disneyland Tickets, tickets for one day each at Universal Studios, SeaWorld and your choice of a ticket to the San Diego Zoo OR San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park:
Multi-day park hopper
You get a better value for your dollar when buying multi-day park hopper passes. They come in 2, 3, 4, 5-day packages.
California Adventure FASTPASS Attractions
FastPass is a way to avoid long lines at some rides. For example, if you go to space mountain and find out that the wait time is too long, get a FastPass. It will specify an appointment time for you to come back. When you come back you go through a different line which is usually very short. Be aware that you can only have one FastPass at a time (per rider).
- Goofy’s Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
- Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
- Guardians of the Galaxy – Monsters After Dark
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Soarin’ Around the World
- Toy Story Midway Mania!
- World of Color.
California Adventure Single Rider Lines
Another way to beat the lines and Disney parks are the single rider lines. If you are traveling alone (or willing to split from your group when you reach the ride) you can go to the single rider line which goes faster than the regular line. On a recent visit, the wait line for my ride was 75 minutes. I was able to get in within 5 minutes through the single rider line.
Rides that offer single rider line:
- Incredicoaster (California Screamin')
- Goofy’s Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
- Radiator Springs Racers (distributed near It’s Tough to Be a Bug)
- Soarin’ Over the World.
Rider Switch (Swap) Rides
Do you have small children but you don't want to miss out on the thrilling rides? Line up with the whole group and when you reach the attendants let them know you would like to swap. One adult will stay with the young children and the other adults can go on the ride. When the first ride is done, the adult that stayed with the children can now enjoy the ride while the others wait.
Rides that offer rider swapping:
- California Screamin'
- Goofy's Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Silly Symphony Swings - Single
- Silly Symphony Swings - Tandem
- Soarin' Over California
- The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
- Tuck and Roll's Drive 'Em Buggies.