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Why did we visit Disney's California Adventure, located in Anaheim, CA? We love everything Californian — Napa Valley wines, Hollywood, the Beach Boys, California cuisine, scenery and climate.

Hollywood Land entrance
Hollywood Land entrance
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Downtown Disney, a free admission dining, shopping and entertainment district, links Disneyland and California Adventure with Disney's Grand Californian Hotel.

Cars Land

We also love Pixar films, including Toy Story and Cars Land. Nine of California Adventure's 20 rides are based on animated movies made by Pixar.

Cars Land, a 12-acre (five-hectare) park, opened in 2012. Rides include Radiator Springs race cars, an aerial tire ride and a tractor-led ride with jukebox music.

Red trolley cars on Buena Vista Street lead to a replica of the Carthay Circle Theatre, where you will find the best restaurant in Disney California Adventure.

Hollywood Land

We began our circular tour of the park in Hollywood Land, where the Mad T Party is located.

Reality merges with illusion in this ersatz Tinseltown. Two gold elephants top the colossal archway entrance to Hollywood Boulevard, while a massive backdrop, at the end of the street, ensures perpetually blue skies.

Award Wieners restaurant sign
Award Wieners restaurant sign
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Windows along Hollywood Boulevard's Art Deco façades showcase designer pet products for celebrities' pampered pooches. Would you like to buy a miniature doggie tuxedo and silk top hat? Four tiny paw-size rollerblades? Or a 'diamond'-studded silver fire hydrant?

One tongue-in-cheek sign reads: "Gone with the Chin Plastic Surgery Center. Dr. Nipandtuck — We Never Tell." A hot dog stand boasts: "Award Wieners — Best Wiener in a Supporting Roll." The fast food restaurant serves traditional hot dogs, as well as chili cheese dogs and Italian sausages.

At the Animation Academy, a computerized enchanted book matched our personalities with famous animated heroines and villains as we answered a quiz by touching its illuminated pages. The results? Beauty and the Beast!

We screamed our way down a 13-storey elevator drop at The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, then calmed our racing hearts in the 2,000-seat Hyperion Theatre, with the Broadway-style musical, Disney's Aladdin. For laughs we watched MuppetVision 3D and took a mad-cap cab ride, Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue.

Soarin' Over California ride sign
Soarin' Over California ride sign
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Best rides in California Adventure

Soarin' Over California, in the Condor Flats area, ties with Radiator Springs racers as the best ride in the California Adventure park. Suspended in the middle of a massive dome-shaped IMAX movie screen, we and 85 other passengers took a simulated hang-glider trip over California's magnificent landscapes.

We soared over San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, skiers carving turns on Lake Tahoe's slopes, and surfers riding the foamy crest of waves at Malibu. Wind blew our hair as we banked over Yosemite Falls and skimmed a crest to dangle our feet over orange groves so close we could smell their citrus fragrance.

Pacific Wharf

The Pacific Wharf is a cross between San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf and Monterey's Cannery Row. Pacific Wharf Café showcases California foods like hot and fragrant sourdough bread from Boudin Bakery.

The most popular new place to eat is the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop. In Mission Foods Tortilla Factory, a machine creates stacks of tortillas which chefs turn into tasty quesadillas at the Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill next door.

Boudin Bakery chef juggles sourdough bread in Pacific Wharf.
Boudin Bakery chef juggles sourdough bread in Pacific Wharf.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Waterfalls cascade down the sides of nearby Grizzly Peak. Whitewater rafts swirl down two precipitous drops on Grizzly River Run. Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is a fun place for kids to climb rocks, run along rope bridges, explore caves and swing from rubber tires.

A Bug's Land

Don't miss the hilarious 3D movie, It's Tough to be a Bug in a bug's land. Outside the theater, Flik, the blue ant star of the computer-animated movie, a bug's life, and insect-lover, Professor Melvin T. Fleasinger, trade quips with guests. Rides like Heimlich's Chew Chew Train in Flik's Fun Fair attract young children to this area of the park.

Paradise Gardens Park

Mix a penny-arcade and a Coney Island-style midway with Venice Beach's boardwalk, and you get Paradise Gardens Park (formerly Paradise Pier), another land in our circular tour of Disney's California Adventure. Beach Boys music sets the mood along a boardwalk lined with carnival games.

Colorful Jumpin' Jellyfish parachuted happy kids down a short tower, near a giant pink dinosaur sunglasses shop. We rode the massive Mickey Mouse-faced Ferris wheel and Goofy's Sky School roller coaster.

A Bug's Life star, the blue ant Flik
A Bug's Life star, the blue ant Flik
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

After all this adrenalin, we were happy to watch the Pixar Play parade, which winds its way through Golden State to the Silly Symphony Swings ride area of Paradise Gardens Park. Costumed dancers, puppets, acrobats and floats depict characters from Disney-Pixar movies like Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and A Bug's Life. The music is so contagious that kids can't resist dancing with the parade performers and acrobats.

Our favorite time to visit Paradise Gardens Park is after dark. What's the best place for viewing the thousands of colorful lights outlining the rides and reflected in the lagoon? We like Ariel's Grotto, a family restaurant, which faces the water.

A good ride for kids in Disney California Adventure is Ariel's Undersea Adventure. Located at Paradise Gardens Park, it features music and characters from the Little Mermaid.

Pixar Pier

In 2018, part of Paradise Gardens Park became Pixar Pier. Toy Story, The Incredibles and Inside Out characters, rides, restaurants and entertainment now occupy neighborhoods on the southern shore of Paradise Bay.

Ballast Point, the first Disney on-site brewery is here. The former California Screamin' roller coaster, now called the Incredicoaster, accelerates riders from zero to 88 kilometers per hour in just four seconds.

Between April and September, the Paint by Night parade dazzles viewers with more than 1.5 million LED lights and lively music.

World of Color

World of Color is a 25-minute evening light show that combines Disney animation and music with light, fire and water special effects.

World of Color features scenes from Toy Story, Little Mermaid, WALL-E, Pocahontas and The Lion King, projected on a water screen. Created from 1,200 fountains, the water screen includes surround-sound, lasers and fountains that spray up to 61 meters (200 feet) high.

Located in Paradise Pier, World of Color can be viewed by up to 9,000 people at one time.

Paradise Pier ride lights reflect in lagoon at night.
Paradise Pier ride lights reflect in lagoon at night.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Hotels near Disneyland

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel is the only hotel inside Disney's California Adventure. It offers guests of any of the three Disney-owned hotels direct first entry into the park. Guests who want to re-enter the park can also use this entrance. With its soaring lobby, supported by massive log trusses and stone fireplaces, rocking chairs, handcrafted lamps, rugs and furniture, it resembles a Rocky Mountain wilderness lodge.

Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel is located opposite Paradise Pier. Disneyland Hotel is the farthest from the park, but still within walking distance.


Disneyland Resort: www.disneyland.com

More things to see and do at Disney theme parks (Walt Disney World):

Disney Animal Kingdom Offers Family Fun

Walt Disney World Florida Honeymoon

Disney Water Parks Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids