My Favorite 15 – Disney California Adventure Celebrates 15 Years

Fifteen years never passed so quietly.  At any other park, 15 years would be a big deal.  Every park that hit this milestone has celebrated with parades, banners, special souvenirs, and a huge focus on that particular park.  But Disney California Adventure turned 15 without so much as a cavalcade.  No special year long celebration.  No huge 24-hour party.  Living in the shadow of big sister Disneyland’s 60th anniversary (which lasted an extra year), DCA seemed to be like Molly Ringwald’s character, Sam, from Sixteen Candles.  Not even an afterthought in the sparkling nearly 18-month long party for Disneyland.

But DCA is an important party of Disney history and deserves to be given its due.  Sure it started out as a huge mistake, lacking in any “character” and with more rides that seemed straight out of a county fair than the greatest amusement park company in the world.  But it’s CHANGED!  And oh so much for the better.  Here are my 15 reasons for visiting Disney California Adventure:

Love this shot of DCA at dusk
Love this shot of DCA at dusk

Carthay Circle Restaurant – If you want somewhere fancy to eat, this is most definitely the place to go. Rivaling Club 33 in elegance, this is a place open to everyone – if you reserve your spot in advance.

Rock Candy Mountain – Located in the window of Trolley Treats on Buena Vista Street, this model with working trains is a representation of a lost attraction that never made it off the drawing board.  Still you can get an idea of what it was going to be like by visiting this fun display.

Award Weiners – One of my favorite quick service places, I often come here when I want something simple to eat – or just craving a hot dog!

Emma is holding up an example of the Buena Vista Bugle
Emma is holding up an example of the Buena Vista Bugle

Buena Vista Bugle – A FREE quarterly newsletter highlighting things going on in the park, they always seem to have enough at the Buena Vista Street Chamber of Commerce (next to Oswald’s)

California Screamin’ – A classic attraction, the first Disneyland resort looping coaster (and only one so far).  It is still fun to ride and the lines are usually not too long.  Who doesn’t like that launch?

Paradise Pier Ice Cream Co. – As I’ve said before, best soft serve in either park.  Just delicious.  And a hidden gem.

Ariel’s Grotto – Not as elegant as Carthay Circle but with WAY more Princesses.  As you can imagine, Ariel is featured here, but so are many other Disney Princesses.  The food is delivered on fancy plates and serving platters and is an elegant restaurant where your kids will have as much fun as the parents.

Toy Story Mania – The original and still the best.  While they don’t have FastPass for this ride like at WDW, you also don’t have to wait in those horrendous lines without one.  Everyone waits about 30-60 minutes to get on and how much more fun could it be than to be INSIDE a 3D video game?

Winning Bullseye for my daughter Emma at Bullseye Stallion Stampede
Winning Bullseye for my daughter Emma at Bullseye Stallion Stampede

Disney Paradise Pier games – Yes, these games are not terribly inventive, but they are Disney themed and better yet, you can win Disney plush!  And not the cheap carnival kind, but some very nice ones like the big Dumbo that Emma one or the Bullseye I got for her while playing.

Radiator Springs Racers – Still the most favorite ride in the park, this one is worth the wait.  Mixing amazing technology with speed and fun, you feel like you’re racing with Lightning McQueen and its really fun to race against guests in other cars.  The details on this attraction are impressive!  Get a FastPass for this for sure – even if you ride it first thing in the morning.

All of Cars Land – While Radiator Springs Racers is the highlight of the area, the entirety of Cars Land is astounding.  It feels like you stepped right into the movie.  The details from the blinking stoplight to Flo’s V8 Cafe to the Cozy Cone Motel all look so real you’ll think they filmed the movie here.

DCA Food and Wine Festival – I don’t know if this event will become a regular feature of the park, but I hope so.  Done very well, the festival was both fun and tasty.  We loved going from booth to booth and tasting different treats both savory and sweet.  Great fun!

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – Even if it weren’t closing, this attraction would make the list for its well done craftsmanship and loads of fun ride.  But especially as it is slated to make way for the first West Coast Marvel attraction – Guardians of the Galaxy – this becomes a MUST RIDE!

Our tour guide Valerie is about to lead us into the 1901 Lounge inside the Carthay Circle Restaurant
Our tour guide Valerie is about to lead us into the 1901 Lounge inside the Carthay Circle Restaurant

Disney California Story Guided Tour – As tours go, this was one of the best!  My daughter and I loved it.  Not only for the treats, the rides, and the lunch (and the most awesome guide ever) but for the chance to tour the exclusive 1901 Lounge!  Reserved for members of Club 33, this DCA branch features some eclectic furnishings and some high tech gadgets.  The only way you get to see this place outside of being a member is on this tour.

Cove Bar – I’ve raved about it before, but this is the only place to get lobster nachos and cotton candy lemonade.  If you like mixed drinks, the staff does an amazing job coming up with some delicious concoctions, but I can’t NOT get the cotton candy lemonade.  Hint: on a hot day, eat the cotton candy fast – it turns hard as a rock otherwise.

That’s 15 folks!  Some of you might be wondering about Soarin’ but I did not enjoy the new movie.  The long and short of it is that the images on screen were so distorted that it was distracting from the ride. Is it a bad attraction?  No, not at all.  But there are so many wonderful other things to experience you won’t run out of stuff to do.  Definitely, Disney California Adventure deserves a salute for 15 years of innovation and change!

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