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Holidays in Southern California: Disney California Adventure

What do you get when you combine the magic of Disney with the best that California has to offer?  Disney California Adventure of course!

The older CALIFORNIA sign has been replaced with a sleeker, more retro-style entrance

The older CALIFORNIA sign has been replaced with a sleeker, more retro-style entrance

Opened in 2001 as the second of two theme parks built at the Disneyland Resort complex in Anaheim California, the park celebrates California, the land of promise, opportunity and glamour!  Walk through its gates and you will be transported to a California of yesterday and today, where you can take a ride on the Red Car Trolley in 1920s Los Angeles, take a raft down the rapids, travel down Route 66 and brave a white knuckled roller coaster ride at a seaside amusement park.  Whether you prefer action, comedy or romance, this 72-acre park has something for everyone!

The new gate

The new gate

The Red Car Trolley

The Red Car Trolley

The concept of a theme park dedicated to California arose from a meeting of Disney executives in 1995, following the cancellation of the WestCOT project. Construction of the park began in 1998, and was completed by early 2001. Disney initially projected high attendance rates at the new park, but a series of preview openings held in January 2001 led to negative reviews, and after the park officially opened to the public on February 8, 2001, the company’s attendance projections were never met.

Disney spent the next several years incrementally adding new rides, shows, and attractions, and implementing other promotions aimed at boosting attendance. In 2007, Disney announced a major expansion of the park as well as a major overhaul of a significant portion of the park. Construction lasted for five years and was completed in stages, culminating with the opening of Cars Land in June 2012.

Today, Disney California Adventure is divided into eight themed areas called “districts”. Buena Vista Street is the main thoroughfare where you can catch the Red Car Trolley or dine at various restaurants lining the street like the Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Café or the Carthay Circle Restaurant.

Carthay Circle Restaurant

Carthay Circle Restaurant

Christmas tree on Buena Vista Street

Christmas tree on Buena Vista Street

Who should be at the foot of the Christmas tree? Steamboat Willie, of course!

Who should be at the foot of the Christmas tree? Steamboat Willie, of course!

Oswald's serves as one of many giftshops at the theme park

Oswald’s serves as one of many giftshops at the theme park

Buena Vista Street shops

Buena Vista Street shops

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To the left of the bustling Buena Vista Street you will find Hollywood Land, home to The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, The Hollywood Backlot Stage, Muppets Vision 3D and  Monster’s Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!

Catch the musical spectacular, Disney’s Aladdin at the Hyperion Theater or pick up a quick hotdog to snack on at the Award Wieners stand before heading over to “a bug’s land.”

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Billboard showing the beginnings of Mickey Mouse and Disney

Billboard showing the beginnings of Mickey Mouse and Disney

a bug’s land” is designed for the younger Disney visitors in mind with rides and attractions such as Francis’ Ladybug Boogie where kids can take a spin on a ladybug’s back, Flik’s Flyers where they can soar in a hot air balloon made of leaves or bump around under a big top umbrella in Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies.  As Disney so aptly put it in their brochure, “The smaller you are, the bigger the fun in this play area for kids” will be.

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Flik’s Flyers

Flik’s Flyers

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Not far from a bug’s land you will find the newly added Cars Land featuring Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Radiator Spings Racers among several rides.  If you are feeling a little hungry, stop off at Flo’s V8 Café serving up rotisserie meats, home-style sides and pies.

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The Pacific Wharf district is based on the attractions in and around San Francisco and offers tours of the famous Boudin Bakery, incredible ice cream creations at the Ghiradelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop, and a place for Disney’s adult patrons to relax.  Here visitors can sample the hand crafted beers from Karl Strauss at the Pacific Wharf Distribution Co., cool off with a frozen margarita at Rita’s Baja Blenders or enjoy various wines and snacks or a full course dinner at one of the three establishments based on the various California wine regions which include Mendocino Terrace at the Golden Vine Winery, Wine Country Trattoria at the Golden Vine Winery and the Sonoma Terrace at the Golden Vine Winery.

Welcome to Pacific Wharf

Welcome to Pacific Wharf

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From there you can wind your way to the Paradise Pier district based on the old boardwalk entertainment establishments in California.  Test your skills at the Games of the Boardwalk, get a bird’s eye view of the Disneyland resort on the Mickey’s Fun Wheel Ferris wheel or for the more adventurous, try California Screamin’, DCA’s high speed roller coaster that reaches speeds of 55 mph!

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Christmas tree at Paradise Pier

Christmas tree at Paradise Pier

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One of the many holiday themed gift items that can be found at the Paradise Pier gift shops, Duffy, Mickey's own teddy bear!

One of the many holiday themed gift items that can be found at the Paradise Pier gift shops, Duffy, Mickey’s own teddy bear!

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King Triton's Carousel

King Triton’s Carousel

Games of the Boardwalk

Games of the Boardwalk

Santa Mickey at the giftshops along the boardwalk

Santa Mickey at the giftshops along the boardwalk

You certainly can't leave the park without a pair of Christmas ears!

You certainly can’t leave the park without a pair of Christmas ears!

Rocket around in spinning spaceships on the Golden Zephyr

Rocket around in spinning spaceships on the Golden Zephyr

Silly Symphony Swings will whirl you around

Silly Symphony Swings will whirl you around

Jumpin' Jellyfish!

Jumpin’ Jellyfish!

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Disney Viva Navidad - celebrates the holidays through time-honored Latino traditions.

Disney Viva Navidad – celebrates the holidays through time-honored Latino traditions.

If that is not enough adventure, trek on over to Grizzly Peak and test your courage on the whitewater rafting ride called Grizzly River Run.  From there, try and earn your Wilderness Explorer badges at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail!

Grizzly Peak

Grizzly Peak

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Finally, if you have enough energy left, visit Condor Flats where you can swoop over famous California landmarks on the Soarin’ Over California ride or just rest up and enjoy some burgers at Taste Pilots’ Grill.

Condor Flats district

Condor Flats district

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When the sun goes down and if you can find a nice viewing spot, enjoy the World of Color show which takes place on Paradise Bay in front of the roller coaster and Ferris wheel rides. It is a nice alternative to the fireworks show at the Disneyland Park.

World of Color Show

World of Color Show

World of Color

The holidays are always the best time to visit the parks as far as I am concerned.  Every corner of Disney California Adventure is decked out for Christmas as only Disney can! However, be mindful that everyone else basically has the same idea and the large crowds can be very frustrating. Get there early to find the best parking spot.  You can park at Downtown Disney for free for the first 3 hours, definitely worth it to save the $16 parking charge at the main Mickey and Friends parking structure.

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Have fun and make Disney a part of your holiday family tradition!  You will be glad you did.

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Santa visits Disney California Adventure too!

Santa visits Disney California Adventure too!

3 comments

  1. I let my Disney Annual Pass expire earlier this year so thanks so much for posting this so I could see how CA Adventures is decorated for XMAS. I was thinking of renewing it so I can watch the new holiday World of Color and your post is really pushing me to do so!

    1. I had an annual pass when I lived in Anaheim but I let it expire when I moved to South Bay. I still try to go to the parks once and year, usually around the holidays. The $92 admission is steep but once you immerse yourself in all that Disney has to offer makes it worth spending the money. I hope you will get a chance to enjoy the resort in person but if that is not possible, I am happy I was able to share my experiences and photos with you! Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

      1. I know, Dland admission is outrageously expensive! Will probably spring for an annual pass again since we live so close by. We’ll really try and make it worth it by going many, many times! I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s as well!

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