Disneyland vs. California Adventure

Disneyland offers the classic Disney experience, whereas California Adventure offers more adult-oriented thrills.
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Written by Jennifer Calonia
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Edited by Meg Lee
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Whether you’re visiting the Happiest Place on Earth for the first time or as a return guest, deciding whether to maximize your time at Disneyland Park versus California Adventure can be difficult. Each theme park has distinct lands, attractions, dining options and experiences that are unique to each park.

If you’re planning a visit to Disneyland Resort, here are the main differences between Disneyland and California Adventure.

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What to know about Disneyland

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Disneyland's Frontierland. (Photo courtesy of Disneyland Resort)

Disneyland, located in Anaheim, California, was the first park to catapult Walt Disney’s vision as “a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”

It first opened to the public in July 1955 and has expanded over the years to include nine lands for guests to explore. 

Disneyland themes, attractions and notable dining

Each land immerses you in different themes, dining experiences and attractions. At Disneyland, you’ll encounter:

  • Main Street, U.S.A. This is the first land that guests encounter upon entering Disneyland. On Main Street, you can hop on the Disneyland Railroad or purchase from eateries, like the popular Carnation Cafe, and souvenir shops. 

  • Adventureland. You’ll find historic attractions here, like Jungle Cruise and Indiana Jones Adventure, and you can grab a Dole Whip at the Tiki Juice Bar.

  • New Orleans Square. New Orleans Square is home to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction that inspired the Hollywood film franchise. You can also experience the Haunted Mansion or book a fine dining reservation at Blue Bayou Restaurant.

  • Critter Country. On especially hot California summer days, Splash Mountain in Critter Country can be a refreshing experience. And if your appetite is roaring, take a break at Hungry Bear Restaurant.

  • Frontierland. If you’re aching for a more thrilling ride, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is Disneyland’s high-speed, coaster-style attraction. Frontierland is also the place to be if you enjoy collecting and swapping Disney pins with other guests.  

  • Fantasyland. Fantasyland is home to Sleeping Beauty’s iconic castle, which you can walk through. This land has the most attractions compared to any other land in the park for any age group, like Matterhorn Bobsleds, Peter Pan’s Flight and King Arthur’s Carrousel.

  • Mickey’s Toontown. Mickey’s Toontown is a friendly land for young families to play inside the park. It’s currently closed for renovation, but it's expected to reopen in March 2023 with an anticipated new attraction: Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

  • Tomorrowland. If you prefer daydreaming about the future, Tomorrowland’s futuristic theme brings attractions like Autopia, Space Mountain and more. And if you’re craving a pizza after your space battle on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, head over to Alien Pizza Planet - "A Better Place."

  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. For fans of The Force, the biggest difference between Disneyland and California Adventure is that Disneyland is home to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the park’s newest land. Experience a close encounter with Kylo Ren on Rise of the Resistance. As you chart your course across the galaxy, grab themed eats at Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo. Guests 21 and over can grab an adult concoction at Oga’s Cantina — the only other place to purchase alcohol at Disneyland aside from the Blue Bayou Restaurant.

Disneyland-specific experiences

On select nights, Disneyland guests can enjoy light and fireworks shows from specific spots in the park. (Photo courtesy of Disneyland Resort)

Aside from delicious dining and exciting attractions, it’s not a visit to the parks without catching a show. There are multiple shows throughout the different lands, but one notable show at Disneyland is Fantasmic! You can enjoy this 27-minute show, starring Mickey Mouse, at Tom Sawyer Island in Frontierland. 

You can also close out your visit with Disneyland’s fireworks shows, which are visible at specific corded areas, like along Main Street, in front of the “It’s a Small World” attraction or at the resort’s main entry plaza.

What to know about Disney California Adventure

Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure. (Photo courtesy of Disneyland Resort)

Disney California Adventure is the second park at Disneyland Resort. It opened in February 2001 and is designed to give guests a glimpse of California state’s most notable attractions and places. 

Disney California Adventure themes, attractions and notable dining

California Adventure has fewer themed areas compared to Disneyland.

Its eight themed areas are:

Minnie Mouse wears retro gear for meet and greets on Buena Vista Street. (Photo by Sally French)

  • Buena Vista Street. Upon entering the park, walk along Buena Vista Street, named for the location of The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. Find fine dining at Carthay Circle Restaurant or grab a scoop of ice cream at Clarabelle’s.

  • Hollywood Land. Watch Mickey Mouse’s PhilharMagic at Hollywood Land, or cool off in the wonderfully air-conditioned Animation Academy for a hands-on drawing experience. You’ll also find Award Wieners here, where you can grab a hot dog loaded with different toppings.

  • Paradise Gardens Park. Young families can enjoy this side of the park with kid-friendly rides, like Goofy’s Sky School, Jumpin’ Jellyfish and Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.

Dine on cone-themed items (like Popcone) at the Cozy Cone in Cars Land. (Photo by Sally French)

  • Cars Land. Cars Land plops you in the middle of Radiator Springs, the world built by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Studios. Ride Radiator Springs Racers and stop by Cozy Cone Motel for various cone-based snacks and treats.

  • Pacific Wharf. Guests can beeline to Pacific Wharf, inspired by the waterfront piers of the Monterey and San Francisco areas, for meals. It’s California Adventure’s main eating area with sit-down restaurants like Wine Country Trattoria. Magic Key holders can dine at the exclusive Magic Key Terrace.

  • Grizzly Peak. Grizzly Peak offers a rafting attraction with Grizzly River Run. If you prefer staying dry on your visit, ride Soarin’ Around the World, which lets you hang glide along an international tour using a projector dome.  

Pixar Pier lights up at night. (Photo by Sally French)

  • Pixar Pier. Thrill-seekers will love the Incredicoaster at Pixar Pier. For a birds-eye view of the park, hop aboard the Pixar Pal-A-Round Ferris wheel. If you want a bite with a view, the area is home to the Lamplight Lounge, which serves gastropub-style food on the waterfront.

  • Avengers Campus. The newest addition to the park is the Avengers Campus. It’s home to your favorite Marvel superheroes as well as attractions like Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure and the freefall ride, Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! Pym Test Kitchen and Testing Lab is a callout to Marvel’s Ant-Man and serves themed food, like the Quantum Pretzel.

California Adventure-specific experiences

Getting beers from the Pym Tasting Lab in California Adventure's Avenger's Campus is just one of several options available to guests looking to enjoy a cold, adult beverage. (Photo courtesy of Disneyland Resort)

Like Disneyland, California Adventure has park-exclusive shows for guests to enjoy. World of Color is a 22-minute evening water and color-projection show that takes place in Paradise Gardens Park. There are also live-action shows to catch in Avengers Campus, like The Amazing Spider-Man!

A notable difference between Disneyland and California Adventure is the accessibility of alcohol throughout the park. At Disneyland, guests who are of age can only grab a drink at Oga’s Cantina or Blue Bayou, and alcohol must be consumed inside.

In contrast, alcohol is available across multiple California Adventure restaurants, casual dining locations and carts. Also, guests are allowed to explore the park with an alcoholic beverage in hand, giving California Adventure a more “adult” vibe.

California Adventure vs. Disneyland, recapped

Figuring out which park to visit depends on the themed lands you want to experience, as each park caters to specific themes, shows and attractions. If it’s your first visit to Disneyland Resort, and the possibility of a return trip is unlikely in the near future, the resort offers a Park Hopper ticket that provides access to both theme parks. 

(Top photo courtesy of Disneyland Resort)

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