A First Timer’s Guide To Disney California Adventure With Kids

disney california adventure

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Table of Contents

A Brief History and Overview Of Disney California Adventure

Disney’s California Adventure is the newest of the six Disney theme parks within the US.  It opened in February 2001 as a tribute to California’s rich tapestry of geography, culture and industry.  The limited offerings of the park resulted in bitter backlash.  So, re-imagining of the adult centered park began almost immediately. Characters flooded the park and new rides were developed to bring in more families.

disney california adventure

A First Timer’s Guide To Disney California Adventure With Kids

Initially conceived as the west coast Epcot, the layout would have been similar to that of Animal Kingdom in Florida but that elaborate park plan was scrapped up in favor of a much more budget friendly solution.  The resulting design was more closely akin to the similarly challenged Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  The cutbacks were due in part to other massive expansions around the world and the initial failure of Disneyland Paris.

In the last two decades the park has had several expansions and cosmetic changes.  Imagineers have stripped away the California theme in favor of immersive environments based on Pixar and Marvel properties.  References to Walt Disney’s early California days have also been included in the form of Carthay Circle Theater, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and other subtle nods to early Disney history.

We recently visited Disney California Adventure with the kids and they loved it. We have been to Disneyland in Tokyo, Paris and California, and they were ready to experience something different, and I am glad that we did.

disney california adventure

Buena Vista Street

The new entrance to Disney California Adventure resembles, the entrance to the Pan Pacific Theater in California. Visitors of the park’s Floridian cousin Disney’s Hollywood Studios also recognize it.  Upon entry, you pass through fictional Buena Vista Street, a representation of early Hollywood, the way Walt first experienced it. This area mirrors Main Street USA, which resembles Walt Disney’s hometown of Marceline, MO. Likewise, the eye is drawn almost immediately down the vista to a landmark. However, instead of a castle it is a restaurant.  Carthay Circle, is modeled and named after the theater where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered. Inside is a very fine restaurant and lounge full of Disney History and Snow White art.

What to do on Buena Vista Street

  • Red Car Trolley

Where to eat on Buena Vista Street

  • Fiddler
  • Fifer & Practical Cafe
  • Carthay Circle Restaurant

disney california adventure

Hollywood Land

Hollywoodland to the left is a fictionalized version of Hollywood as well as a studio back lot with sound stages all in one.  A trolley car transports guests to the back of this area, where the Collector’s mysterious fortress looms, awaiting guests eager to ride Guardians of the Galaxy, Mission: Breakout. Hollywood Land also is home to Disney Junior, Frozen Live, Monsters Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue and Marvel superhero meet and greets.

Rides to enjoy at Hollywood Land

  • Ride the Red Car Trolley
  • Monsters Inc – Mike & Sulley to the Rescue
  • Disney Animation
    • Animation Academy
    • Turtle Talk with Crush
    • Sorcerer’s Workshop

Where to eat at Hollywood Land

  • Schmoozies
  • Award Weiners

Where to shop at Hollywood Land

  • Off the Page
  • Gone Hollywood

disney california adventure with kids

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Cars Land

The first truly immersive land based on a single movie franchise in a Disney park is Cars Land.  Flik’s Fun Fair predated this area, but it never made guests feel as though they were walking straight into the films.  Cars land faithfully recreates Radiator Springs and has three attractions.  Maters Junk Yard Jamboree and Louigi’s Rollicking Roadsters both have seasonal changes for Halloween and Christmas.  Radiator Springs Racers is a thrilling e-ticket ride through Ornament Valley that turns in a race against other guests.

cars land disneyland

What to do at Cars Land

  • Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadstars
  • Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
  • Radiator Spring Racers

Where to eat at Cars Land

  • The Cozy Cone Motel
  • Flo’s Cafe

disney california adventure

Paradise Gardens Park

This mini hub connects Grizzly Peak, Pacific Wharf and Pixar Pier.  It is home to the viewing area for Wonderful World of Color, the nighttime show on the water.  Paradise Gardens Park also contains attractions such as The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, Goofy’s Sky School and more. Do note that it contains the most amount of the rides at Disney California Adventure.  There is more Mexican food here at the Paradise Garden Cafe, and an Italian food court by the name of Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta.

disney california adventure

Grizzly Peak

Grizzly Peak at Disney California Adventure, the park icon, combines two former subsections of the park: Golden State, and Condor Flats.  The fictional mountain peak is a tribute to the redwood forested mountains of Northern California, and is based on Native American lore.  The whitewater rafting attraction has a multi-layers backstory involving native Americans, a lumber mill, and finally a rafting excursion company.  The queue conveys this exposition in detailed settings as it leads to the ride itself.  In addition to Grizzly River Run, the Grizzly Peak area also contains Soarin’ Around the World, a flight simulation ride that replaced the opening day attraction Soarin’ Over California.

What to do at Grizzly Peak

  • Grizzly River Run
  • Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
  • Soarin’ Around The World (ps: this is our favorite ride in the entire park)
disney california adventure with kids
Grizzly River Run – the wettest ride at Disney California Adventure

Where to eat at Grizzly Peak

  • Napa Rose
  • Smokejumpers Grill

Where to shop at Grizzly Peak

  • Rushin’ River Outfitters

Pixar Pier

Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure is the most recent change to California Adventure.  However, the change is almost purely cosmetic as it consists mostly of re-theming existing attractions, food carts and shops.  The Incredicoaster replaced the whimsical boardwalk coaster California Screamin’.  King Triton’s Carousel is now Jessie’s Critter Carousel, Toy Story Midway Mania remains as does the Giant Mickey Face on the Fun Wheel, despite being otherwise redressed as the Pixar Pal Around.  Other Pixar mentions in the area are Jack-Jack Cookie Num Nums, Poultry Palace, Angry Dogs, Adorable Snowman’s Frosty Treats, and Lamplight Lounge.

disney california adventure

What to do at Pixar Pier:

  • Jumpin’ Jellyfish
  • King Triton’s Carousel
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Games of the Boardwalk
  • Golden Zephyr
  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Mickey’s Fun Wheel
  • The Incredicoaster
  • Elena of Avalor
  • Silly Symphony Swings
  • Toy Story Mania

elena of avalor disneyland

Where to eat at Pixar Pier

  • Lamplight Lounge
  • Poultry Palace
  • Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats
  • Senor Buzz Churros
  • Angry Dogs

Where to shop at Pixar Pier

  • Knick’s Knacks
  • Bing Bong’s Sweet Stuff

Pacific Wharf

Next to Cars Land is an area resembling Fisherman’s Wharf.  This is the place to stop for Mexican, or Chinese food as well as sourdough, craft beer, or Ghirardelli sundaes. Pacific Wharf is a small oceanside food stop adjacent to Pixar Pier and Paradise Gardens, which has San Franciscan overtones.

What to do at Pacific Wharf

  • Bakery Tour

Where to eat at Pacific Wharf

  • Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop

ice cream at disneyland

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Tips For Visiting Disney California Adventure With Kids

  • Get a fast pass for $10 to save yourself time on rides. You can schedule a fast pass for busy rides so you don’t have to wait in long lines. You can also download all photos taken at the park for free with the Fast Pass. Fast pass reservations can be made every 90 minutes by using the Disney App.
  • Check Disneyland California Entertainment to see what shows are on for they day. We enjoyed the Disney Viva Navidad show.
  • Expect to spend less time here as it is a much smaller park than the actual Disneyland California Park.
  • If you want to grab breakfast or even Starbucks, you can do so on Buena Vista Street which opens 30 minutes before the rest of Disneyland. The shops on Buena Visata Street also stay open after park closing time too for your shopping needs.
  • Parades can be seen from almost anywhere as long as you are on the parade route. If you want to beat the crowds and head back to the rides before any one else, then the best place to watch the parade is by Carthay Circle.
  • You can rent a charging locker  or use an electrical outlet location from this list and charge your phone for free.
  • There are lockers right inside the entrance of Buena Vista Street just in case your backpack is too heavy for you to carry around the park.
  • If you stay at a Disney Hotel, purchase multi-day tickets or stay in a Good Neighbor hotel, you can get early entry into California Adventure one hour before the park opens.
  • There are so many places to eat at Disney’s California Adventure, you’ll never run out of food options.
  • You can use the street car / trolley to get from Carthay Circle to Tower of Terror.
  • Take a tour at Boudin’s to enjoy free samples of sourdough bread.

disney california adventure

See More Disneyland California Posts below:

Are you interested in visiting Disneyworld Florida with kids instead, then check out these posts below:

We celebrated two of the kiddos birthdays (Milania turned 5 and Ethan turned 6 – both on the same day) at Disney California Adventure Park. We got there early in the morning at about 9am and we were able to get on 90% of the rides before we left. We had fast passes and packed a bag full of food and snacks so we spent very little money at the park. The kids loved it and we plan to visit again soon.

disney california adventure

Booking Your Trip – Tips & Tricks

How To Book Cheap Flights When You Travel

If you are looking to book the cheapest flights you can possibly find on the internet, then make sure to use Skyscanner when searching for flights. Don’t forget to download the Skyscanner App also which is very handy. This is how I was able to get $12.40 airfare from Los Angeles to London, as well as $9.40 airfare from London to Italy.

How To Book Affordable Accommodation When You Travel

When booking accommodation, TripAdvisor is the way to go because you can read reviews and see photos from other travelers to get a feel of where you will be staying. Other great sites to book hotels are HotelsCombined, Booking.com and Hotels.com. Don’t forget to check HomeAway and VRBO for house and villa rentals too. Perfect for when you travel with a large family, and also to save money when hotels are expensive. Another favorite of mine is BookVIP – they offer huge resort savings.

How To Book Activities When You Travel

My favorite website to search for activities, tours and especially skip the line tickets is Viator and Get Your Guide. This makes trip planning so much easier because you don’t have to search several sites as both websites have several options to choose from. Same also goes with TripAdvisor Attractions – you can search and book activities as well as read reviews.

How To Book Rental Cars When You Travel

Instead of checking every single website, I use RentalCars.com, Car Rental 8 and Skyscanner Car Rentals to find car rentals all over the world with just one click. If you plan to park at the airport, visit Airport Parking and make a reservation.

Why Travel Insurance Is a Must When You Travel

People book trips and forget the most important part, purchasing travel insurance. Because we travel often, I purchase our travel insurance through Allianz for a year at a time which means that we are covered for all trips within that year. Travel insurance will protect you and your family against theft, injury illness, flight cancellations and so much more. It is a MUST!

Looking to save even more money when you travel?

Visit my Travel Resources page to see all the reliable and trustworthy brands that I use to book my travel with. I only recommend brands that I’ve used and can vouch for, so you’re in good hands! ? Also check out these posts below:

Top Travel With Kids Tips

Traveling with kids and have a few questions you need answers too, these posts below will help your trip run smooth.

Kay, The Mom Trotter

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