If it’s your first trip to Disney California Adventure or you have one day at the park to do it all, you probably want to know the must-see and must-do rides, entertainment and experiences. This park has a few attractions and highly themed lands you cannot find at Disney World, such as Cars Land, Avengers Campus and Pixar Pier. You can certainly dig into must-try foods that are unique to this park, as well. Here’s what not to miss at Disney California Adventure Park!
Even though Disney California Adventure is just across from Disneyland, this park has a toadally different vibe. You get a taste of Hollywood, a beachside boardwalk, wine country, the desert and the California forests. Plus you can celebrate different cultures during certain times of the year and enjoy adult drinks throughout the park. This is the only Disneyland park that has its own hotel entrance — Disney's Grand Californian Hotel has an entrance that opens right into the park! Whether you have toddlers or teens, or you're making an adult-only trip, let's hop to it and explore the top Disney California Adventure rides, food and entertainment.
Not-to-Miss Small Thrills at Disney California Adventure Park
We're breaking up our top rides and attractions by those smaller thrills without a height requirement and those bigger thrills just for bigger frogs because we know that Tad’s and my top rides may differ from Mommy Frog’s preferences and what our toddler Lily can access. If you have a small fry, our guide to Disneyland height requirements and Rider Switch is most hopful for planning purposes. Of course, there is so much more to do that we can mention here, but we're sharing the major highlights.
Toy Story Midway Mania!
It's a 3D video game and a ride, all in one! Put on your 3D glasses, your vehicle will take you to play classic carnival games with a modern twist. Your "Toy Story" friends will guide you. Score points for some family-friendly competition.
The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
This slow, dark ride will have the whole family singing along to classic songs such as "Under the Sea" and "Part of Your World." Step into your clamshell seat and take a journey under the sea, but watch out for Ursula.
Don't let its beloved nickname, Mickey's Wheel of Death, or the fact that there are barf bags in the gondola scare you off. Even Lily loved this rocking ride as an infant! And can it really be that scary if it doesn't even require seatbelts? You can choose the tamer non-swinging gondola or the swinging one that glides on rails and swings along tracks on this giant Ferris-wheel-like ride with added thrills. The views from up top are worth the trip. We like to ride this one just after park opening for the shortest wait.
WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure
This 3D ride is the newest one in the park and the newest land, Avengers Campus. You'll attend a WEB open house hosted by Peter Parker, but the demonstration goes horribly wrong when the Spider-Bots get stuck in replication mode. Can you help Spider-Man sling webs to catch the Spider Bots and save Avengers Campus? Save this ride for the end of the day or pay to skip the line. The line at park opening is crazy long.
It’s easy to walk right past this Hollywood Land building, but there is Disney magic inside this Disney California Adventure hidden gem. You can learn to draw a Disney character, make your own cartoon, visit the magical Beast’s Library, chat with Crush during Turtle Talk and even meet Anna and Elsa (once they return to meeting guests indoors). For now, you can catch them in front of the Carthay Circle fountain.
Honorable Mention: Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
While we might not call it a must-do item, if you're not on a time crunch, the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail will thrill your tadpoles. They can enjoy some unstructured, shady playtime. Our tadpoles love running along the course, climbing rocks, discovering their spirit animal or gliding on tire zip lines. (However, note that some parts of the experience may technically have a height requirement.)
Not-to-Miss Big Thrills at Disney California Adventure Park
This park has two of our favorite thrill rides at Disneyland Resort. The thrills make Disney California Adventure especially popular with tweens, teens and adults.
Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout!
Unique to this park, the ride was originally Tower of Terror but was re-themed. And we Tower of Terror fans hate to say that we absolutely love this fun thrill ride. Ride it more than once if you can because you can get up to six different songs and video/drop sequences!
Join the Incredibles on Disneyland's only upside-down wooden roller coaster. Edna is perhaps not the best choice for a babysitter. She's lost Jack-Jack, and all members of the Parr family have to use their skills to get him back. Oh, and you're along for the thrilling ride! Dash will count you down for the 0 to 55 mph launch. Travel through three tunnels and down three large drops in your quest to catch Jack-Jack. Can you smell the cookie num nums in the second tunnel?
The riders generally break out into a round of applause at the end of this visually stunning trip over beautiful sights around the world. You'll soar over the real Matterhorn, Great Wall of China, pyramids in Egypt, Fiji, The Eiffel Tower and more distinct locations around the world. Take a big whiff as you can smell the aromas of places you visit and feel the breeze on your face.
Radiator Springs Racers
Cars Land is an immersive must-see land. At the end of Route 66, make a right and pull into Radiator Springs Racers for a dark ride meets thrilling race through the desert. Meet your favorite "Cars" friends along the way as they prepare you for the big race. Do you need tires or a new paint job? The cars are here to help you with speed and style. If your party can split up, the single rider line is significantly shorter than the standby line.
Grizzly River Run
Chances are you will get wet — even soaked — on this wild raft trip. You'll encounter waterfalls, rapids and geysers as you float and spin your way through the river of Grizzly Peak.
Not-to-Miss Disney California Adventure Entertainment
You'll always want to check the entertainment calendar to see what shows are available on the day you visit.
Shows in Avengers Campus
There are several show moments when heroes spring to action in Avengers Campus. One of our favorites is The Amazing Spider-Man! Several times a day from about 10 a.m until 4 p.m., Spider-Man swings above the rooftops of the WEB building. You can usually see people waiting near the main Avengers Campus entrance to catch it. Our Avengers Campus characters post lists all of the show options.
World of Color
The world is a carousel of color. This breathtaking nighttime spectacular with fountains, colorful lights, projections and music returns in spring 2022! This is the only Disney park with this amazing show at the end of the night. It's the perfect ending to a day at Disney California Adventure.
Disney Junior Dance Party!
This show is Lily’s pick for a must-see show if you have any toddlers and preschoolers in the house. Dancing? Bubbles? Live characters? What's not to love?
Festivals and Seasonal Entertainment
This park has many festivals throughout the year that don't take place at Disneyland Park. If you hoppen to visit during one of them, you’ll be treated to special entertainment, character interactions, decor, food and beverage. Festival food booths line the paths to bring in special tastes of the season. The year kicks off with Lunar New Year, followed by Food & Wine Festival in the spring. In the fall, Halloween Time takes over Paradise Gardens with the Plaza de la Familia (plus Cars Land and Carthay Circle are highly decorated, especially when lit up at night). The Oogie Boogie Bash, a separately ticketed Halloween party, takes place on select nights during September and October. The year ends with the most entertainment-filled festival of them all — the Festival of Holidays!
Not-to-Miss Disney California Adventure Food & Beverage
This is a tough category to pin down. Disney California Adventure has the best food and beverage, in our opinion, and we have so many favorites, including seasonal flavors that are only around at certain times of the year. This park has adult drinks and lounges that make it popular with the parents while still offering kid-friendly bites. The whole family can enjoy themed eats and delicious frozen treats. You cannot try them all in one visit, but if you share, you can do some serious damage. Here’s a look at our favorite dining locations or tasty items!
Carthay Circle Restaurant and Lounge
These are two different high-end dining experiences with different menus. You cannot go wrong either way. Try to get a reservation or join the walk-up lists through the Disneyland app once you are in the park and near the restaurant. When you dine indoors, you definitely can froget you are in a theme park! The lounge (both indoor and outdoor seating) has small bites (we like the meatballs and Brussels sprouts for a hearty snack), but the main dining room has a full seasonal menu.
Lamplight Lounge also has two eating options, the downstairs restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating that takes reservations or the upstairs Boardwalk dining that only takes walk-up availability (through the app). Get the Lobster Nachos or make them vegan. If you sit upstairs at Boardwalk Dining, get the Barbacoa Nachos (with the sliders while you're at it). There are many themed drinks and even a secret menu (you bet we have a post for that!), but the one Mommy Frog goes back for time and again is the Sequel, aptly named for this bubbling beverage.
Various Frozen Treats
On the Pixar Pier, Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats has non-dairy DOLE Whip treats and beverages, including some boozy options! The beautiful Pixar Pier Parfait will satisfy your Instagram and taste buds. Smokejumpers Grill has seasonal shakes that are always so fun and delicious. For sundaes, waffle cones of hand-scooped ice cream, chocolate-dipped bananas and hand-dipped ice cream bars, it is Clarabelle’s all the way. You can even get a hard float or a Mich-Helado (Amber beer with spiced tomato and lime sorbet, Tamarindo sauce and chili-lime seasoning — aka a michelada with ice cream) there.
Clam Chowder (in a fresh sourdough bread bowl) at Pacific Wharf
It’s like visiting San Francisco without leaving the park. Do you know what else you can get in the bread bowl? Seasonal soups, salad or mac and cheese!
Pym Test Kitchen
Whether you're looking for a full breakfast, lunch or dinner, you can enjoy heroic meals at this lab test kitchen, which uses Pym particles to grow and shrink food. We've tried everything on the menu — the not-so-little chicken sandwich and giant pretzel are our favorites, but we like it all, including the green Pingo Doce soda, which isn't sold anywhere else. The tots are pretty good too! Our post on Avengers Campus food can help you pin down your best food choices in this new land.
Honorable Mention: Churro Toffee
I cannot mention food in this park without pointing you to the churro toffee in the two candy shops: Trolley Treats or BongBong's Sweet Stuff. It's our latest addiction, and luckily, you can find it year-round. Yum! Of course, Mommy Frog cannot turn down a themed caramel apple. Hop into the candy shops for some take-home treats to make the magic last after you leave the park.
As you can see, there is a lot to cover. If you want to hit most of the not-to-miss Disney California Adventure attractions, you'll need a solid plan. Hop over to our posts on tips to maximize time at Disneyland and Disney Genie to find out how to save time on your visit.
Do you have any not-to-miss Disneyland fun we didn't mention? Let us know in the comments section below. Ideally, you would take a couple of days to explore Disneyland Resort. If you need Disneyland Resort theme park tickets or hotels, you can save some green through your favorite froggy friends. We even sell tickets pre-loaded with Genie+ so you can skip the lines for key attractions. Ribbit!