I know, there are a million posts like this one and the world probably doesn’t necessarily need me to add my two cents, and yet here we are. My first experience enjoying all that Disneyland and Disney California Adventure has to offer was so memorable, I’ve actually already booked a return visit. It may be slightly (a lot) obsessive, but it’s fun so I’m not really concerned. With that in mind, today I want to share what I enjoyed most on my first visit, from rides and attractions to food and even places to relax. I imagine that this list will change over time, but if it’s your first visit I think these recommendations will serve as a helpful guide.
10. The Haunted Mansion (Disneyland)
What impresses me perhaps the most about Disneyland is the scale of everything. It very much is like walking into an alternate universe. The size and scope of the illusion is truly amazing and that’s perhaps best seen in what has become a fan favorite, the Haunted Mansion. Walking up to the mansion feels just like walking up to a real house, complete with large overgrown trees and a spooky entrance. The Haunted Mansion first premiered in 1969 and although it’s been tweaked over the years, still remains the fun and slightly scary ride it was always meant to be.
9. Dole Whip (Disneyland)
Another cult classic, this tasty dessert has become the stuff of legend among Disney devotees. It’s a simple enough concoction, a soft serve pineapple treat served in a cup. You can also get a Pineapple Float, but the purists go for the original. In Disneyland, the Dole Whip is found at the Enchanted Tiki Room in Adventureland, but be sure to plan your visit. The wait just to buy one can sometimes rival that of nearby attractions.
8. Splash Mountain (Disneyland)
For some reason I thought that this was one of Disneyland’s earlier rides, but it only premiered in Critter Country in 1989. It was conceived as a way to attract more guests to this often-ignored section of the park and, from my experience, it worked. One of the park’s most popular rides if the weather is warm, I walked away very wet but also very happy.
7. Hanging out in Grizzly Peak (Disney California Adventure)
Disney pays homage to certain places and parts of our culture that they want to promote and foster a deeper appreciation for. They’ve always done this, starting back in 1955 and continuing through today and that’s especially true in Grizzly Peak. Disney’s own fictionalized National Park, every detail here is just as perfect as it is everywhere else. From the iconic National Park signs and fonts to the experiences themselves, it looks and feels like a real park. Never heavy handed, by creating a space like this it shares the beauty of our park system, especially important for people who’ve never visited one. It instills a love of the great outdoors and hopefully the importance of conservation and stewardship of our resources. It’s wonderful that Disney decided to add this and it was one of my favorite areas of California Adventure.
6. Adventureland (Disneyland)
I think it’s fairly obvious why Adventureland quickly became my favorite spot in Disneyland, it’s all about travel. That was actually the original concept, to recreate the feeling of an exotic far-away place, and it worked. It’s amazing to walk into Adventureland and to immediately feel transported to some tropical locale. Add in some fun and very popular rides, and it’s a place where I could spend most of the day and be very happy.
5. Snack at the Cozy Cone Motel (Disney California Adventure)
Modeled after the iconic Wigwam Motel on Route 66, most of us remember the Cozy Cone Motel from the “Cars” movie franchise. At Disney California Adventure it’s been reimagined as a great place to grab a snack, all in cone form of course. My favorite lunch item isn‘t for the faint of heart but, believe me, it’s well worth the extra calories. The Bacon Mac & Cheese cone is a serving of creamy mac & cheese mixed with roasted bacon in a bread cone. If you’re still hungry afterwards, head to one of the other cones for some ice cream.
4. First time walking down Main Street, U.S.A. (Disneyland)
Arguably the heart of Disneyland, Main Street, U.S.A. is the first thing all visitors to the park experience and it sets the tone for the experience. It’s also so iconic that to be there finally was a very special moment for me. Patterned after a typical Midwest town of the early 20th century, Main Street has everything any small town would have from a movie theater and train station to restaurants and double-decker buses. At the far end is Sleeping Beauty Castle and the Walt Disney statue, making the first glimpse of the area one of the most special in all of Disneyland.
3. Cars Land (Disney California Adventure)
It seems that I can’t escape The Mother Road. I spent two weeks driving it in May, so imagine my surprise when I suddenly found myself once again walking along it in Cars Land. I love the movie “Cars,” but I had somehow forgotten that it takes place on Route 66, which is strongly and very well represented in California Adventure. Sure, they have the major features of the drive through the Southwest that we all recognize, but what really impressed me was the incredible attention to detail. There were small nods to the drive that only someone who’s driven it would know, all taken from the film of course. From the allusion to the famous Jack Rabbit Trading Post, to the many different ways Route 66 is signed, it was amazing to once again see these familiar sights, just in the middle of Disney. Even better, it was great to see both kids and adults enjoying themselves along the Route, hopefully instilling in everyone a deep love for the Mother Road.
2. Incredicoaster & Pixar Pier (Disney California Adventure)
Sadly, Pixar Pier in Disney California Adventure is temporary – it’s scheduled to close in early September – but that didn’t stop me from falling for it. All of Disney has a special kind of magic, but the characters created by Pixar have special places in all of our hearts and it’s those special movies and moments that are featured here. There are rides as well of course and hands down, the newly reimagined roller coaster on Pixar Pier, the Incredicoaster, was my favorite ride in either of the two parks. I love roller coasters, and this inverted loop ride is one of the best I’ve ridden. The reimagined ride used to be named California Screamin’ but re-themed to the Incredicoaster. Inspired by The Incredibles, the ride opened in the new Pixar Pier on June 23, 2018 in conjunction with the release of the film Incredibles 2. It was so much fun I rode it three times, the only attraction I decided to enjoy more than once during my two days in the park.
1. The Magic
As I left Disney California Adventure park for the last time and started the short walk back to my hotel, I tried to decide why I had as much fun as I did over the course of two half-days wedged in-between work obligations. The rides were fun, no doubt there. Whether it was the vintage 1955-era attractions, or newer experiences, there wasn’t a ride that failed to put a smile on my face. But Disneyland is about so much more than just rides. Walking down Main Street, I forgot for a brief moment that I was in a theme park and that’s when it dawned on me. There really is magic in the Disney experience and that is what had made me so happy while I was visiting the parks. Everything about both parks is done expertly and it forces guests to believe in the illusion. It’s a remarkable ability and I honestly felt like a kid again. It was a wonderful feeling and one I know I’ll try to recapture whenever I can.