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California Adventure is like Disneyland's older sister: Cheerful, pretty, and friendly but a bit more sophisticated and adventurous than her little sister Disneyland. She's also taller (watch for height requirements here) and enjoys a cocktail now and then (alcohol is sold here though of course children are still welcome).
Newly expanded as of June 2012, the park has 8 "lands". If you've been to Disneyland or Disney World, you know each land will truly transport you.
This is the Main Street, where you first enter. You'll immediately feel like you're on a 1920's movie set if not the 1920's themselves. The buildings, storefronts, restaurants and streetcars are all vintage 20's and there are even Disney cast members dressed in period clothing, strolling or biking around. They'll stop to chat with you using all 1920's-era expressions. Jazz bands and singers perform in the street a few times a day.
There's also a re-creation of the Carthay Circle Theatre, one of the most famous Hollywood movie palaces. (Interesting Fact: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" premiered in the original Carthay Circle Theatre in 1937.) This replica is bigger than the one at Disney World but interestingly, smaller than the original building. There's no theater inside but there is an upscale restaurant called Carthay Circle Restaurant and a members-only club called Club 1901.
Feels like an aircraft landing strip from the 1950's. You've GOT to check out "Soarin' Over California" which is half movie, half ride. It's one of my favorites. Plus you get to be indoors most of the time you're waiting in line which is a nice break. Make sure everyone is at least 40" tall.
A few steps past Condor Flats is Grizzly Peak, where you'll suddenly feel like you're in the mountains. (This is where guests of the Grand Californian Hotel have a private entrance.) The Grizzly River Run is surprisingly fast and wild. Instead of feeling like you're on a roller coaster track, you feel like you're in an untethered, out of control river raft bouncing around white-water rapids. You'll look like it when you're done, too. (Note: 42" or taller to ride.)
There's also a great big playground called the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail where your kids can run wild as long as they're 7 or older. There's even a zip line and rock-climbing wall.
Built to look, feel, sound and smell like a California boardwalk, complete with an old-fashioned carousel, ferris wheel, roller coaster, and boardwalk-style games. This is where the World of Color show is hosted and where you'll find 9 rides including my sons' favorite: Toy Story Mania 4D, my favorite: California Screamin' (48" or taller), my friend's daughter's favorite: The Little Mermaid, Ariel's Undersea Adventure, and 6 other boardwalk-style rides.
To eat, I love the Corn Dog Castle for a quick bite or Ariel's Grotto for sit-down dining or World of Color viewing.
The Pacific Wharf is all about food. There is Mexican, Asian, soups/salads, ice cream, upscale Italian, and picnic meals to take with you to the World of Color.
My 2 Quick Favorites:
OK Folks, have you been living under a rock or have you heard of Cars Land? I don't know about you but I've seen ads for this for months on every freeway, tv commercial and Internet ad. I'm so glad it's here. It is seriously cool.
Talk about being "transported"... when you walk into Cars Land you are IN a desert town along Route 66. The Cars movie was set in present-day but the town it took place in (Radiator Springs) had a very retro, 1950's feel, and Cars Land does as well. It covers 12 acres but doesn't feel that sprawling, and I mean that in a good way. It's extra-neat if you're a fan of the movie but if you haven't seen it, you will still appreciate your surroundings if you like Americana, cars of any type, and good food.
All the food is unique, from Flo's Cafe (50's diner-style, home of the "ugly crust pie") to the Cozy Cone Motel cone-themed food (you have to see it to appreciate it) to 1960's Groovy "Taste-In" snacks. So much thought went into everything, and all the food I tasted really was good. Certainly way better than most amusement park food. See the DisneyFoodBlog.com for a great in-depth review with pictures of Flo's Cafe and the Cozy Cone Motel.
This is a great spot for little ones. There are no "dark" rides; everything is set outside in a garden setting like the Bug's Land movie. (There is however a 9-minute movie called "It's Tough to Be a Bug" which is indoors and of course, dark. It's also 3D which could be a little scary for some kids). Only one of the 5 rides has a height requirement (the bumper cars: 36") yet the rides are still really fun.
If it's hot you might want to visit the splashground where kids can cool off in sprinklers.
Turn another corner and bam! You've stepped into a completely new land. Hollywood Land feels like you're on a movie lot. All the shops and restaurants are movie-themed ("Award Weiners" ha!).
The big ride here is "Tower of Terror", the mere thought of which sends shivers down my husband's spine. I highly recommend it. (You must be 40" or taller.) Here's what happens: The line to get on winds you through an old broken-down abandoned hotel to a "service elevator" which is in fact the ride. I don't want to wreck the surprise so I won't say exactly what happens but let me say it's random and supposedly never the same ride twice. Spooky Fact: During construction, the Tower of Terror was struck by lightning.
On a less creepy note, Hollywood Land also has lots of great movie-style entertainment like MuppetVision 3D, Turtle Talk with Crush, and the Sorcerer's Workshop. All are fantastically entertaining and a good chance to give your legs a break from all the walking. There are also live Broadway-style shows with current Disney characters your kids will definitely recognize.
As if this weren't enough, there is now a nighttime attraction at Disney California Adventure called Mad T Party, a family-friendly dance "club". (For those of you familiar with ElecTRONica: this has replaced it.) It's got a live band, DJ (when the band is on break), current music, stages, lights, drinks, arcade games (only a quarter to play), and conversation couches just like a real club. But your kids can come too! It's an Alice in Wonderland theme but of the Tim Burton variety, so... weird. As it gets dark, the party sets up and a "rabbit hole" made of fog appears. During the summer and holidays it's open every night but otherwise just Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. There's no cover charge.
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Thanks for stopping by! Hope you enjoy my collection of Disneyland tips. Did I miss some? Send me your favorites!