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Disney California Adventure Theme Park: Totally Worth It

Disney Vacation Packing List Cars

Disney California Adventure is one of my favorites. It is so much more than the red headed stepchild of Disneyland (the red headed stepchild of Disney World). The rides are unique, the theming is intricate, and the food is not half bad for a theme park. The close proximity of all that the Disneyland Resort has to offer is a luxury that cannot be understated. It’s like the Sister Wives compound. One stop shop.

Why Should You Visit California Adventure?

1. California Adventure Location

2. MaxPass for California Adventure

3. California Adventure Rides

4. California Adventure World of Color

5. California Adventure Restaurants

6. There Are Ways to Save Money

7. Planning Tips for California Adventure

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California Adventure

1. Where is California Adventure?

The Disneyland Resort consists of two theme parks, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park. Both are accessed through Downtown Disney and are located directly across from each other. You can walk from one to the other in minutes.

The Disneyland Resort also has three hotels, all located within steps of Downtown Disney and the theme parks. No buses required. If Disneyland and Disney World were having a convenience contest, Disneyland would knock Disney World out faster than Tyson took out Frazier.

Downtown Disney

2. Disneyland MaxPass – The FastPass for California Adventure

MaxPass vs. Disney World’s FastPass+

Prior to COVID-19, Disney World allowed guests to book three FastPasses prior to arrival, then add additional FastPasses after the first three were gone or expired. This system was free to everyone. All guests had access to FastPasses on the Disney World app.

Disneyland is not giving away its good for free. Enter MaxPass Disneyland.

You Need MaxPass to Book FastPasses on the Disneyland App

MaxPass. Is. Bomb. It costs extra, which sucks, but the extra cost means everyone does not have access to it. I am a big fan of throwing money at things to make my life easier, so this is a no brainer for me.

You have to purchase MaxPass to book passes on the Disneyland app. Everyone else gets to run around grabbing paper FastPasses 1998 style.

As of the time of this writing, the MaxPass cost per day is $20 per person.

You Do Not Book FastPasses Prior to Arrival

You do not book any passes prior to arrival like at Disney World. You obtain your first FastPass when you enter the park. As a certified planning freak, this made me uneasy before our first trip. I was worried for nothing. I get way more FastPasses at Disneyland and California Adventure using MaxPass than I ever have at Disney World.

Should You Buy MaxPass?

Is MaxPass worth it? No question, yes. When this system resumes, buy MaxPass for Disneyland and California Adventure. It will make all the difference in your day. You already sold a kidney on the black market to afford this trip. What is $20 at this point?

PhotoPass is Included

As an added perk, you get free downloads of your pictures from PhotoPass with MaxPass. Without MaxPass in Disneyland, we would not have photographic evidence of this A+ parenting moment. “Stop whining and get on the ride. It will be fun.”

Splash Mountain

3. California Adventure Attractions by Carlifornia Adventure Lands

California Adventure park is special. It has a lot of unique attractions you will not find anywhere else. There is some overlap with Disney World, but not much.

California Adventure Buena Vista Street

Red Car Trolley Disneyland

Red Car Trolley California Adventure, like the Main Street Vehicles at Disneyland, is a slow moving ride down Buena Vista Street, this time in a trolley. As of the time of this writing, it is closed for refurbishment.

Height Requirement: None

MaxPass California Adventure Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: Yes (Magic Kingdom)

California Adventure Hollywood Land

Disney Junior Dance Party

Disney Junior Dance Party is a show for young children. Everyone sits on the floor (the hallmark of a good party). Some very excited twenty-somethings encourage kids to dance, then Mickey comes out at the end. There are bubbles. Little kids lose their minds with excitement, but older children will be bored.

Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: Yes (Hollywood Studios)

Mickey’s PhilharMagic California Adventure

Mickey’s PhilharMagic Disneyland California is an indoor, 3-D movie that plays in the Sunset Showcase Theatre. Mickey Mouse conducts an orchestra with characters from Fantasia, with appearances from characters from Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Lion King, among others. Donald Duck throws some fits and instruments fly.

You can always walk into this one without a wait, and the show is entertaining. If your kid hates loud noises, bring noise canceling headphones.

Mickey’s PhilharMagic at Disneyland Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: Yes (Magic Kingdom)

Sorcerer’s Workshop

Sorceror’s Workshop is a walkthrough attraction where you can interact with magical books and animation exhibits. It is entertaining for adults and kids alike, and is a pleasant experience when it isn’t crowded. When it fills up, it starts to feel a lot like Walmart on Black Friday in that room. This is located in the larger California Adventure Animation building.

Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: No

Anna & Elsa’s Royal Welcome – Frozen Meet and Greet Disneyland

You can get your fix of Frozen in Disneyland. Anna and Elsa have set up shop in the California Adventure Animation Studio building. It will be no surprise that they draw a crowd. The line gets long. Don’t save this one for the middle of the day if it is important to you to get this picture.

Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: Yes (EPCOT)

Animation Academy Disneyland

The Animation Academy California Adventure is a class that teaches you how to draw. Also located in the Disney Animation Building, these classes book up fast. I was shocked by how early people lined up to draw Mickey Mouse. You cannot walk up right when the class starts. Plan ahead. That or just draw at home and go ride a ride instead.

Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: Yes (Animal Kingdom)

Turtle Talk with Crush Disneyland

Turtle Talk with Crush California Adventure is an interactive show where Crush mocks talks to children through a screen. The actor who voices Crush is hilarious. The show is much more enjoyable if your child gets picked. You increase the odds of this happening exponentially if you visit early in the morning and there are a total of three kids in the room. If you wait until the afternoon, the room is packed.

Turtle Talk with Crush Disney California Adventure Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: Yes (EPCOT)

Disney California Adventure Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!

This Monsters, Inc. California Adventure ride moves slowly through the story in the movie. The animatronics are cute. It works well for the whole family. It seems to always be a walk on. It’s almost like people don’t know it is there at all because it is tucked back in a corner of the park.

Monsters Inc. Ride California Adventure Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: Yes

Available at Disney World: No

Frozen Disneyland California – Live at the California Adventure Hyperion Theater

The California Adventure Frozen show is live. The show clocks in at one hour, a major time suck if you don’t care that much, and you need to line up early. The show fills up. If you want to avoid the line, there are Frozen musical Disneyland dining packages available for one kidney a small fortune. As of the time of this writing, the cost is $89 per adult and $45 per child.

You can see this same show on a Disney Cruise.

Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: Yes

Available at Disney World: No

Guardians of the Galaxy Mission BREAKOUT! Ride

The California Adventure Guardians of the Galaxy ride is awesome. It is like Tower of Terror at Disney World, but fun instead of scary and a little weird. Music blasts while you bounce up and down (with the best music being that of the Jackson 5). This ride is not be missed.

Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout Height Requirement: 40″

MaxPass Accepted: Yes

Available at Disney World: No

California Adventure Cars Land Rides

Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree Disneyland

Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree California Adventure is located in the heavily themed Cars Land. The theming in the land is over the top great. This ride takes you on a ride in one of Mater’s cars. It is reminiscent of the Scrambler at your local amusement park. Get ready to spin.

Mater’s Junkyard Ride Height Requirement: 32″

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: No

Disney California Adventure Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters

Luigi’s Roadsters Disneyland involves more spinning, but it also involves a choreographed dance in a car. The ride is super cute, but ride with caution if you are prone to motion sickness.

Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters Height Requirement: 32″

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: No

California Adventure Radiator Springs Racers

Radiator Springs Racers is a California Adventure Cars ride that easily makes the list of the top ten rides on which I have ever been. The amazingness of this ride cannot be understated. Everyone knows this, so the line builds fast. Ride early if you don’t have MaxPass.

During the ride, you pass through several sections with animatronics. You also ride quickly through canyons that completely conceal your view of the rest of the park. The ride ends with the track splitting, allowing you to race the Radiator Springs car next to you. There is always a healthy amount of family friendly trash talk amongst the cars before they take off. This ride never gets old.

Radiator Springs Disneyland Ride Height Requirement: 40″

MaxPass Accepted: Yes

Available at Disney World: No

Disney California Adventure Pluto

California Adventure Grizzly Peak

Redwood Creek Challenge Trail

Redwood Creek California Adventure is the perfect place to burn some energy when you get tired of waiting in lines. This area houses a large play structure that anyone can use and explore. There are also some specific attractions with height requirements.

California Adventure Height Requirements:

Cliff Hanger Traverse Rock Climb – 42″

Hoot ‘n Holler Log Slides – 32″

Sequoia Smokejumpers Training Tower – Must be between 42″ and 63″ and under 13 years of age

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: No

California Adventure Grizzly River Run

Grizzly River Run Disneyland is a California Adventure water ride similar to Kali River Rapids at Disney World and Shipwreck Rapids at SeaWorld. You will get wet. This is not a ride for a cold day unless you don’t mind freezing, in which case this is a great option because you can walk on with no line. Bring a poncho. If it is hot, the line gets long.

Grizzly River Run California Adventure Height Requirement: 42″

MaxPass Accepted: Yes

Available at Disney World: No

California Adventure Soarin’ Around the World

Disney Soarin’ Around the World is also available in EPCOT. The park sometimes offers California Adventure Soarin’ over California Disneyland, a special version that flies over the state only. This ride is awesome. You are lifted high into the air and given the illusion you are flying.

I feel a little uneasy when riding with my young children because of the height. They are unable to slip out, which I confirmed when my four year old tried to jump out when fireworks were shot off in the video (not a fan of loud noises).

Soarin’ Disney California Adventure Height Requirement: 40″

MaxPass Accepted: Yes

Available at Disney World: Yes (EPCOT)

California Adventure Pacific Wharf

Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar Disneyland Resort

Blue Sky Cellar California Adventure contains things that will put kids to sleep paintings and sketches of Pixar Pier in Disneyland. I personally would just go to Pixar Pier California, but if you are into Disney history, you might enjoy this.

Blue Sky Cellar at Disney California Adventure Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: No

The Bakery Tour Disneyland

The Bakery Tour California Adventure takes you on a walking tour through Boudin Bakery and ends with a sample of bread. Again, I don’t think this would be entertaining for kids, but if you are into the inner workings of Disney theme parks, this might interest you.

Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: No

Pixar Pier Disneyland

California Adventure Pixar Pier Incredicoaster Ride

Incredicoaster Disneyland is an upside down California Adventure roller coaster (a relatively rare find at a Disney theme park). This ride was recently reimagined with the update of the Pixar Pier rides to an Incredibles theme. You pass through a few animatronics, but mainly, this is like any other roller coaster you would find at another park.

California Adventure Incredicoaster Height Requirement: 48″

MaxPass Accepted: Yes

Available at Disney World: No

This Pixar Pier carousel is like any other carousel, except you ride on Toy Story themed seats. It is a great California Adventure kid ride, and usually doesn’t come with much of a wait.

Jessie’s Carousel Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: No

Pixar Pier Toy Story Midway Mania!

This California Adventure Toy Story ride is the best Pixar Pier attraction in my opinion. You shoot at different carnival-like games as you move between the screens on cars. You wear 3-D glasses. This is guaranteed to be a big hit with young children. It is our favorite shooting game of all time.

Woody is often parked outside this ride taking photos with guests.

Toy Story Mania Ride Disneyland Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: Yes

Available at Disney World: Yes (Hollywood Studios)

Pixar Pal-A-Round – Pixar Pier Ferris Wheel

Pixar Pal-A-Round is your stereotypical ferris wheel. The line moves as fast as your child when you announce he or she needs to put down his or her device. You can choose from a swinging or non-swinging seat. It is fun to be up high, but the minimal level of enjoyment is not worth a long wait.

Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: No

Pixar Pier Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind Ride Disneyland

Pixar Pier Emotional Whirlwind is a a small ride that spins you in a circle. The cars look like one of the memory balls in the Inside Out Disney movie. This ride will appeal to little kids, but it isn’t anything special.

California Adventure Inside Out Disney Ride Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: No

Paradise Gardens Park

Silly Symphony Swings Disneyland California Adventure

Silly Symphony Swings California Adventure is simply a ride in a circle on swings. They are fun, but they can be found at most amusement parks. You can sit single or double, and this almost never has a substantial wait.

Mickey’s Silly Symphony Swings Disney’s California Adventure Height Requirement: 40″ to ride tandem, 48″ to ride alone

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: No

California Adventure Goofy’s Sky School Ride

Goofy’s Sky School Disneyland is a small California Adventure coaster. It isn’t heavily themed and really isn’t anything special. It is a good option for your younger thrill seeker. You can usually get on without much of a wait.

California Adventure Goofy Ride Height Requirement: 42″

MaxPass Accepted: Yes

Available at Disney World: No

California Adventure Jumpin’ Jellyfish Attraction

Jumpin’ Jellyfish Disneyland is a ride that lifts you up and down. It appeals to little kids, but like Goofy’s Sky School, isn’t overly themed and is really nothing special. The view of California Adventure at night is nice. You can usually get on without much of a wait in the evening.

California Adventure Jellyfish Ride Height Requirement: 40″

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: No

California Adventure Golden Zephyr

California Adventure Zephyr is a ride that spins in a circle in large gondolas. You spin over the water in fresh air, so the spinning is not that bothersome if you get motion sick. They shut this ride down quickly at the first hint of inclement weather, so don’t leave it for the end of the day if that is a concern.

California Adventure Ride Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: No

The Little Mermaid California Adventure – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure

The Little Mermaid Under the Sea is one of our favorite California Adventure park rides. This ride takes you on a slow moving tour of the story of the Little Mermaid. There are tons of animatronics and bright colors. You can usually get on this one without much of a wait.

California Adventure Little Mermaid Ride Height Requirement: None

MaxPass Accepted: No

Available at Disney World: Yes (Magic Kingdom)

Disney California Adventure Goofy

4. Pixar Pier World of Color California Adventure

World of Color Disney California Adventure is the nighttime Pixar Pier water show. Disney loves its screens. This show does not shake it up. This show involves water shooting from fountains, bright colors (see what they did there?), and screens playing Disney movies. It is like Fantasmic, but not as good. Like every other Disney show on the planet, you will find loud noises and fire. Bring noise canceling headphones if this is an issue for your child.

World of Color Dining Package

We purchased a California Adventure dining package with access to a priority area. I purchased said package so as to avoid wasting park time staking out a spot. When we left the meal, the server told us to get there an hour early. The World of Color dining packages offer almost no benefit.

Standing Room Only

This California Adventure water show gets a big thumbs down because the “seating” for World of Color requires everyone to stand. That’s great for physical fitness and all, but half of California Adventure’s guests are three feet tall, and a good portion of the guests over three feet tall DNGAF if the shorter ones can see.

We are big rule followers, so we arrived to the World of Color viewing area early as instructed. My 6’4″ husband stood next to us before the show with the intention of stepping away when the show started to let kids (and not just ours) in the front. He knew if he did not hold this spot, some passive aggressive, middle aged turkey leg lover would block the way without any regard for children. Within minutes, said person arrived.

A lovely individual walked up, stood directly behind him when she had other options, and commented loudly that she would never be able to see around this tall guy. My husband offered to let her child go in front of him (intentionally omitting an invitation for her). She clearly didn’t care about her kid’s experience, because she stalked off and children in strollers behind us were able to see the show.

Disney California Adventure Theme Park Minnie

5. California Adventure Gluten Free Dining

Dining reservations can be made 60 days in advance, the same timeframe currently used at Disney World. However, unlike the early morning Disney World reservation rat race, Disneyland reservations are easy by which to come. There is no need to wake up at 5:00 a.m. on day 60. The reservations will still be there when you wake up, and probably the day after that, and the day after that. You get what I’m saying.

We saw a pattern throughout our time at both Disneyland and California Adventure. We arrived at our reservation time, observed 40 open tables, then waited 20 minutes to be seated. Most of these times, my kids were hangry and bouncing off the walls. I cannot figure out for the life of me why this system is in place, but it clearly exists, because it happened every single time. If your kids need to eat by a specific time, allow for some delay when you make your reservations.

Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill

Cocina Cucamonga Anaheim is a quick service in Pacific Wharf, an area that houses several other quick service dining locations with outdoor seating. It is convenient because each person can pick what he or she wants. The gluten free tacos are pretty good and reasonably priced for fast food at a theme park. However, this line moves like molasses. Try to eat at an off time.

Radiator Springs Flo’s V8 Cafe Anaheim CA

Flo’s V8 Diner is located in Cars Land. In keeping with the theme in the land, you eat at a gas station (sans condom machine in the bathroom). There is a gluten free cheeseburger and fries option. The quality is about what one would expect from a theme park. The line for this one also gets long, so consider ordering your food on the Disneyland app to skip it.

Pixar Pier Lamplight Lounge Anaheim CA

Lamplight Lounge Disneyland knocks it out of the park with its lobster nachos. Need I say more? This Pixar Pier restaurant is very loungy, hence the name. When I researched restaurants before our visit, I had a hard time determining whether Lamplight Lounge California Adventure was just a bar or a restaurant open to children. Kids are allowed inside. You can sit outside near the water where World of Color Disneyland is shown. This is definitely a must stop at the California Adventure pier.

Wine Country Trattoria Disneyland

Wine Country Trattoria is a California Adventure Italian restaurant. I get really impatient with inconsiderate people in crowds. To try to avoid the inevitable irritation that comes with waiting to see World of Color Disney with the general public, I booked a dining package through Wine Country Trattoria California Adventure. As of the time of this writing, the cost is $50 per person for adults and $25 per person for children ages three through nine.

This California Adventure food is just OK. There are gluten free dining options available. Service is slow. The dining package still requires you to get there way before the show starts, so there is very little benefit to purchasing it. You can reserve a spot using a World of Color MaxPass selection if you don’t want to fight the crowds on your own, but that will result in one less pass for a ride, so decide what is more important for you.

Disneyland Vacation Packing List Star Wars

6. Ways to Save

California Adventure and Disneyland Tickets

Types of Disneyland Anaheim Tickets

Disneyland offers single park and Park Hopper tickets. Park Hoppers allow you to bounce between Disneyland and California Adventure. Park Hopper tickets are more expensive.

We never purchase Park Hopper tickets at Disney World because traveling between the parks is about as convenient as a quick stop at the DMV, but at Disneyland, it is worth it. If you don’t want to pay the extra money, your kids will still have fun. The inability to hop will not come up in their future therapy sessions.

Direct Sale of Tickets for California Adventure and Disneyland

I always buy tickets from the Disneyland website using discounted Disney gift cards. A direct purchase is not the best choice unless you did not pay full price for the gift cards.

Check the expiration dates on the tickets before you purchase them.

Discount Tickets to California Adventure

If you do not want to juggle Disney gift cards, try a discount ticket broker like Undercover Tourist or Viator. You can usually find California Adventure ticket prices below rack rate. You can still add MaxPass at Disneyland and California Adventure to your ticket if you purchase it elsewhere.

Again, be aware of expiration dates.

California Adventure Hotel

Grand Californian

The Disneyland Resort has three on property hotels. You can stay at the nicest one, the Grand Californian in Disneyland, on rented Disney Vacation Club points. You can arrange these stays through brokers like David’s Vacation Club Rentals and DVC Rental Store. These companies act as intermediaries for suckers people who committed to paying Disney for approximately four trillion years.

We also rent points for our stays at Disney World. We consistently pay roughly half of the rack rate.

Staying on property gets you California Adventure early entry, a huge perk. Disney World’s extra magic hours bring huge crowds to that particular park. That is not the case at the Disneyland Resort where the majority of visitors are locals. You can accomplish a ton in that extra hour.

Pro tip: If renting Disney Vacation Club points doesn’t work for you, you may be able to find discounted rooms on sites like Tripadvisor, Travelocity, Expedia, or Hotels.com.

7. Planning Tips

Visit at Off Peak Times

It is fun to wait in lines and all, but if you would like to avoid it, check a crowd calendar when selecting your dates. Try not to visit at the most busy times. California Adventure Is It Packed? can give you an idea of how crowded it will be on particular dates.

Touring Plans

I enjoy planning trips just as much as I love taking them. Normal people do not plan the order in which they will ride things 18 months in advance. Normal people are missing out. I use the free version of Touring Plans. I like this app because it lets you input what you want to ride, then spits out an itinerary for California Adventure to minimize waiting. You can refresh it to get updated recommendations based on wait times.

You can definitely do California Adventure in one day with a plan.

Arrive Early

Disney California Adventure is a ghost town first thing in the morning. Unlike Disney World, the California parks are frequented largely by locals. Locals don’t need to participate in the rope drop foot race. They can just come back tomorrow. Get there as early as possible. If you cave and let your family sleep in, you will battle the crowds the rest of the day. Ask me how I know this. Vacation is not for relaxing. It is for sticking to your California Adventure touring plan. Lesson learned.

Disney California Adventure Park Street

Download the Disneyland App

The Disneyland app allows you to check ride wait times, make MaxPass attractions reservations, purchase tickets, make dining reservations, order quick service food ahead of time to skip the line, and view PhotoPass downloads, among others. There is an interactive map to direct you where to go.

Pro tip: Bring a portable phone charger. The app drains your cell phone battery faster than a group of thirty-somethings can polish off a case of White Claw.

Final Thoughts

We love Disney California Adventure Park. The rides are awesome and unique. The ability to walk to everything the Disneyland Resort has to offer is huge. You can maximize your day without wasting time. MaxPass is definitely worth the money.

Wake up early! Even if you purchase MaxPass, wake up early! Did I say wake up early yet? The Anaheim locals do not arrive at park opening, so you should. This will make a huge difference in what you can accomplish.

Is California Adventure worth it? Hard yes. Visit California Adventure Disneyland. You will not regret it.

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Disney California Adventure Theme Park: Totally Worth It

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  1. All practical and sound advice! Really helpful. And I enjoyed the candid mature humor… exactly what people think but are afraid to say. Thanks for sharing!!

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