The park started with five areas but was remodeled recently to include 8 distinct areas:
- Buena Vista Street
- Hollywood Land
- Cars Land
- A Bug's Land
- Paradise Pier
- Pacific Wharf
- Grizzly Peak
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.
To learn more about the history of the park, go to here.
This park is full of rides, shows and parades to enjoy - so plan your visit ahead of time. Your plan 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 attendant. They will give a special ticket and 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. 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' Over California
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 through California. It goes above San Francisco, Redwood Creek, Napa Valley, Monterey, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, Palm Springs, Camarillo, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, San Diego, Malibu and back to Los Angeles.
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.
Soon the ride will be transformed into “Soarin' Around the World”. <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. Be aware that you can only have one FastPass at a time (per rider). In other words, don’t expect to get Fast passes for several rides at the same time. Look for the symbol next to rides offering FastPass.
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. <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.
After your adventure at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, turn right into Paradise Pier. Step back in time and take a walk on the beach boardwalk where you will find carnival rides, parlor games and fast food. 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.
This is the only real rollercoaster at the Disney resort. It is currently the fastest steel rollercoaster in the US and features a full loop.
Important Note: The ride closed in Jan 2018 and slated to reopen as reimagineered ride as the "Incredicoaster" - a part of the new Pixar Pier land - slated to open in June 2018.
The 55 mph speed and all the twists and turns make this ride the most thrilling ride in the Disney parks. <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.
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>
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 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
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.
A Bug’s Land
If you have small children, you may want to stop at the Bugs Land area. It is themed after the Pixar movie “A Bug’s Life” and has several rides that are suitable for the young ones. Try a funny 3-D show, go flying on Flik's Flyers, drive bumper cars or ride the Heimlich's Chew-Chew Train.
A spinner ride in which riders climb aboard floats made by bugs out of empty food containers.
Heimlich's Chew Chew Train
Princess Dot's Puddle Park
Run around and through an oversized garden hose and a giant spigot that spurts water.
It's Tough to Be a Bug!
Done your 3d glasses and get immersed in a bug’s life. You will find out that it not so easy to be a bug. Flick from the Pixar movie tries to convince you that bugs are your friends.
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. This show replaced the Aladdin show at the same theater.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Important Note: In 2017, the ride transformed into the “Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission Breakout!”. It will still feature the free-fall drop but with characters and effects from the Marvel comic.
First, you go through the lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel. After you check in, an attendant takes you to your room on the service elevator.
Then you unwittingly pass through the twilight zone and into a world where anything could happen - and it will happen to you!
I don't want to spoil the ride for you too much, but expect to be airborne for a few seconds.
This ride is not for the faint of heart, but if you can handle it, then it is a thrill you don't want to miss. <FastPass Available>
Did you always wanted 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.
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.
Muppet Vision 3D (currently not running)
If you are like me, growing up watching the Muppet Show, you will definitely enjoy this 3-D show. You will get to watch the main characters doing their silly routine and you will be introduced to a new computer-generated Muppet. Waiting in the line is part of the fun. You will pass through Muppet Soundstage where you can view several displays and props. Don’t forget to grab your 3-D glasses on the way in.
Disney's Aladdin - A Musical Spectacular (Cancelled)
The name says it all. This is a theatrical show that lasts Approximately 45 minutes and is filled with wild imagination, dancing genies and flying carpets. Watch your favorite characters from the Disney movie Aladdin and a brand new song written especially for the show.
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).
- World of Color (distributed near Grizzly River Run)
- California Screamin’
- Goofy’s Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
- Radiator Springs Racers (distributed near It’s Tough to Be a Bug)
- Soarin’ Over California
- Toy Story Midway Mania!
- Coming soon: Guardians of the Galaxy.
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:
- California Screamin’
- Goofy’s Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Soarin’ Over California.
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.