Disney’s California Adventure Park in a Day

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Disney’s California Adventure Park (henceforth DCA because it’s a mouthful) is the newer of the two parks in California. I still remember many a trip just going into Disneyland! And then they started tearing up the parking lot for this new “California Adventure Park” and we were apprehensive that it wouldn’t “feel” the same. Truth be told, it really didn’t feel the same at the beginning. There wasn’t a real “Disney” feel to the park other than store merchandise. There’s been lots of changes since then, and they’ve done a great job of changing it up to make it more appealing! If you’re curious about how to do Disneyland in a Day, check out our post here.

You start off on Buena Vista Street. On your left is Hollywood Land. On your right is Grizzly Peak. Straight(ish) is Cars Land, Pacific Wharf and Pixar Pier. (On the map below, reverse those directions)

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The gates will open early (about a half hour before the park “officially” opens Buena Vista Street will be open to stroll down and meander through), which is when we get our family photos (best first thing… before water rides and sweat and snacks!). Once the park is open, we send a runner with the tickets straight to get FastPasses for a ride that we know will have a long line-up later. Our group decided to do the MaxPass this trip. We chose either Radiator Springs Racers or Guardians of the Galaxy right away because those were gone the fastest. The Incredicoaster usually still had availability later in the day. Depending on your group, I would suggest:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! (for thrill-seekers)
  • Radiator Springs Racers (if your group likes fast but also cute for kids)
  • Toy Story Midway Mania! (if your group has a wide range of ages and preferences, since it’s a game-based ride that everyone can enjoy)

Keep your eyes open when you get to the end of Buena Vista Street. On busy days, FastPass lines will back up to near the entrance, but there will be Cast Members holding signs with the ride name on it to show you where the end of the FastPass line is. If you’re unsure what a FastPass is, read our blog here about passes.

While our runner is securing the FastPasses we usually head to Soarin’ Around the World and then wait for said runner to finish so we can get on Soarin’ before it’s too long. We just did this in peak season (FastPass Racers and headed straight to Soarin’) and we only waited 20 mins. Even with a FastPass, you are usually waiting 15 mins so that was great! Head to Grizzly River Run before the line gets too long, (the littles can play across from it at the Redwood Cheek Challenge Trail… just designate a meet up place inside, as it’s quite big! We tend to say lower left corner). Caution: this ride has the potential to SOAK you. During our recent trip a couple of weeks ago, the boys and girls split up, and the boys came off absolutely drenched. You would have thought they’d just jumped in the shower. The girls, however, were just splashed on the side a bit. I don’t like doing this ride after dinner because I don’t dry off. Pro Tip: if you don’t like getting super wet, grab a poncho at Walmart or the dollar store (a poncho in the park costs $8.49). They are reusable and perfect for staying dry while still enjoying the ride!

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Before you leave this area grab a FastPass for World of Colour, the night time fountain show. The FastPass distribution for it is near the Grizzly River Run. When we were there in April, on days that the park closed earlier, we planned for the 9:30 pm show, which was technically AFTER closing. It was a nice way to end the day. The park hours for DCA are changing, but do not come out until six weeks prior, so take a look before you leave. 

Since the park is roughly a circle, you can continue going in a counter clockwise direction towards Pixar Pier before it gets too hot! Pixar Pier doesn’t offer a lot of shade, so you either want to hit it in the morning, or after dinner. It’s pretty awesome after dinner! 

This is where I have to share a story… when I worked at a daycare, there was a family that went to Disney for the first time in the summer. They drove all the way there, and had 3 day tickets. They went to DCA first instead of Disneyland and spent the heat of the day on the Pier. They spent over $100 on drinks to stay hydrated… then they left the rest of the days on the table and drove home because it was so miserable! This makes me unspeakably sad. The whole reason we wanted to start this blog was to help everyone love Disney, even on days that are packed and smokin’ hot!!! 

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It should be around lunch time by now…. we really love the options at the Pacific Wharf… you can grab a rice bowl or sourdough bread bowl to share!

Don’t forget to check your FastPass tickets; they might be ready! Remember that if your FastPass is hours away, you are able to FastPass again within a couple of hours. Check the Disneyland App and see when the FastPass return times are. Incredicoaster has been remodeled, so you can guarantee it’ll have a long stand-by line, so FastPass it when you can. You can always send a runner with everyone’s passes to kindly grab FastPasses for the group. (In our family, we usually send the Dads… they are awesome like that). Pro Tip: If you are traveling with littles and want to go on some of the rides they are too short for, check out the “single rider” lanes. Radiator Springs Racers and Incredicoaster specifically have fast(er) single rider lines, and you could then trade off. Or if there are 2 or 3 of you that want to ride it again when you’re in the area, all of you can go as single riders. It’s a quick way to pop onto a big ride. Just keep in mind that you will most likely not be riding together, and there could be anywhere from a couple of minutes to fifteen minutes when they use the single rider line again.

Continue your circle around the park, hitting up Cars Land on your way to Hollywood Land. Cars Land currently has three rides. Radiator Springs Racers is really fun, and a good mix between story-telling and thrill-seeking. The line up for this ride gets very long, so we will only do it if we have FastPasses. The other two rides (Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree & Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters) are worth riding if the lines are 20 min or less.

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In the heat of the day, we will go to the Frozen show at the Hyperion Theatre. If musicals and Frozen aren’t your thing, I’m prepared to put my neck out and say you won’t regret this! It’s an air conditioned theatre with plenty of seating. Pro Tip: You are allowed food inside!!! Bring your packed lunch or at least popcorn and some fruit, and enjoy an hour of your kids totally enthralled!

Hollywood Land also includes Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!, and meeting the Marvel Characters, which can all be done after Frozen in the heat of the day.

The Disney Animation Building is also a great place to hang out when it is hot. And it is also my absolute favorite non-ride thing to do in the park. It has so much to offer. Character meet and greets, drawing lessons, showing how animation is done (plus allowing you to make your own animation strip), finding out what Disney character you are… ok, I’m getting ahead of myself.

So once you get into the main area, there’s multiple entrances for different experiences. (But the main area itself is quite beautiful to look at!) Strollers are not allowed inside, so if it’s nap time, pop your babe in the carrier for a nice air-conditioned nap on Dad (or Mom, or Auntie, or Uncle…) There’s an amphitheater to the left that offers drawing classes on how to draw a Disney character! They post a board about what characters will be taught at what times, so you can pick and choose if you would prefer (so far I’ve done Winnie the Pooh, Donald Duck, and Mickey Mouse). There is also often character meet and greets (the last few times I was there it was Anna and Elsa). If you follow signs towards the Beast’s Library you pass through some animation rooms, where they show animation strips and offer places with pencils to create your own! I love checking this out as an artist. If you continue into the Beast’s Library you can sit down at a computer and answer a questionnaire to find out what Disney Character you are. Be careful how you answer, because it can be the difference between a villain or a hero! We didn’t do this on this past trip and it’s one of my regrets. It’s one of those things that if you don’t know it’s there, you walk right by it. But once you know it is, it’s something to look forward to. “Turtle Talk with Crush” is also available for your littles in which you have a conversation with Crush.

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The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is also a great one. It is fairly central, and is often a very short line. Do not wait more than ten minutes for this ride! If ride line-ups are long around the park, at least get in a ride that’ll be worth your timeWe went on this every time we walked by it, which is a lot! Also, if you think that grabbing a latte at the cart right by the entrance and going onto this nice, long, seated ride is a good idea… you’d be RIGHT… except they don’t allow drinks on the ride! So heads up, get that piping hot latte right after! 😉

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Don’t forget to get FastPass tickets for World Of Colour! It’s worth the wait. Check out the Entertainment Schedule for showtimes.

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Guys. Let’s talk food for a minute. TBH, my fave places to eat are on this side of the park. For starters, there is the Pacific Wharf across from The Little Mermaid ride. It’s basically the “food court” of DCA. There is a great Mexican place (Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill), a bread bowl and soup place (Pacific Wharf Cafe), Asian cuisine (Lucky Fortune Cookery), as well as the ultimate in soda fountain and chocolate shops, Ghirardellis. Smokejumpers Grill (which can be found in Grizzly Peak) has a toppings bar, which I like to use for my chili cheese fries ($6.99!).

It is worth noting that DCA has more extreme rides than Disneyland, so there can be less to ride in this park for some groups. Personally, my ultimate favourite rides and food stops are on this side.

Have a magical day!
Erica, Heidi, Danielle and Elisia

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