Are you planning a trip to Disneyland? Ideally, you’ll have 2-3 days to soak in the magic of Southern California’s Disney parks. But if you just have a day to make a trip to Anaheim and are trying to decide between Disneyland vs. California Adventure (also known as DCA), here are all the differences you need to know about to make a decision based on what’s important to you!
The first things we should clear up though is that Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure Park are BOTH part of the Disneyland Resort. They are BOTH Disney parks. For some of you this may seem obvious, but I have definitely had to clear this up with family members, who shall remain nameless, who I have travelled with before.
Now that we have that cleared up though, let’s get into comparing Disneyland vs. California Adventure!
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Disneyland vs. California Adventure: Location & Size
The first thing you need to know about both the Disneyland Park and California Adventure is that they are in the SAME PLACE. Literally they are right across the street from each other (or, across the esplanade from each other).
If you are coming from Disney World, you know this is a BIG change. But you can easily hop from one park to the other at Disneyland Resort without any kind of transportation except your own two feet.
They are also very similar in size. Disneyland Resort in total covers about 500 acres including theme parks and hotels. Disneyland Park takes up 85 acres of this space, while California Adventure is 72 acres.
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Disneyland vs. California Adventure: History
Disneyland was the original park created by Walt Disney. It opened 1955, and here you’ll find Disney at its most classic. Many of the original rides are still there, like Autopia, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Peter Pan’s Flight.
But Walt Disney believed that the work and improvements in the parks were never done, so you’ll find lots of recent additions here too. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge just opened at Disneyland in 2019.
California Adventure is a much more recent theme park. It opened in 2001, and while it struggled with its identity a bit at first, it’s definitely become a much loved Disney park. This has become especially true with additions like Cars Land (which opened in 2012) and Avengers Campus (which opened in 2021).
Disneyland vs. California Adventure: Themed Lands
Disneyland and California Adventure are entirely different when it comes to their themed lands.
If you’re a Disney World fan, this reference might help you: Disneyland is almost identical to Magic Kingdom (with some differences) while I like to think of California Adventure as more like Hollywood Studios (even though it’s very different, it has more of that vibe!).
Here are the lands you’ll find in each park. Note that not every land will have rides or attractions; some of the smaller areas (like Pacific Wharf in California Adventure) are more focused on shopping and dining.
Lands in Disneyland Park
- Main Street U.S.A. — The main thoroughfare of the park with shopping a dining.
- Adventureland — Home to Jungle Cruise and Indiana Jones.
- Frontierland — A wild west themed land where you’ll find Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
- New Orleans Square — Themed after New Orleans and home to Haunted Mansion (and I assume the soon to be Tiana’s Bayou Adventure).
- Critter Country — A small land near New Orleans Square that features The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Splash Mountain.
- Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge — Find yourself on the planet of Batuu and ride one of the most popular rides: Rise of the Resistance.
- Fantasyland — The most classic Disney. Full of family-friendly rides.
- Toontown — Home to Mickey, Minnie, and friends. This is also where Disneyland’s newest ride, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, will be.
- Tomorrowland — A land of the future, featuring Space Mountain.
Lands in Disney’s California Adventure
- Buena Vista Street — The street at the entrance to DCA with shopping and dining.
- Hollywood Land — Meet classic characters and ride the Monster’s Inc. ride.
- Grizzly Peak — A California themed area featuring Soarin’ and Grizzly River Run.
- Paradise Gardens Park — Full of boardwalk-type rides.
- Pixar Pier — A Pixar themed pier that features Toy Story Midway Mania and The Incredicoaster.
- Pacific Wharf — A small area with dining that is expected to soon be rethemed into San Fransokyo.
- Cars Land — Themed after Pixar’s Cars and features the most popular ride in the park: Radiator Springs Racers.
- Avenger’s Campus — Meet all your Marvel super heroes here!
For both parks, you’ll find the theming impeccable. However, I will say that you will find more space in each land in California Adventure. Because it’s a newer park, there are wider sidewalks and just generally more space to accommodate crowds.
Disneyland vs. California Adventure: Rides & Attractions
The rides you’ll find are Disneyland vs. California Adventure are entirely different!
Disneyland has more rides and things to do, but additions at California Adventure means there’s tons to do there as well.
I DO think there is an age preference for each park though. If you are traveling with little kids who want classic characters, then hit up Disneyland Park. You’ll find a lot more slow rides there that are perfect for younger kids.
If you are traveling with older kids, I think there are great thrill rides at each park. BUT I think California Adventure hits a little older and has some bigger thrills.
Here are a few highlights for the rides and attractions at each park! (Think of these as some of the most popular rides, and if it’s your first time at Disneyland or California Adventure, they are probably the rides you most want to hit!)
Disneyland Ride Highlights
- Alice in Wonderland (slow, dark ride)
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (roller coaster)
- Haunted Mansion (slow, dark ride)
- Indiana Jones Adventure (thrill ride — my favorite ride at Disneyland!)
- it’s a small world (slow boat ride)
- Jungle Cruise (slow boat ride)
- Mad Tea Party (spinning ride)
- Matterhorn Bobsleds (classic roller coaster)
- Mickey & Minnie Runaway Railway (dark ride, opening January 27, 2023)
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (slow dark ride)
- Peter Pan’s Flight (slow dark ride)
- Pirates of the Caribbean (boat ride with two small drops)
- Snow White’s Enchanted Wish (slow dark ride)
- Space Mountain (roller coaster)
- Splash Mountain (water ride with big drop, soon to be rethemed as Tiana’s Bayou Adventure)
- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (thrill ride)
California Adventure Ride Highlights
- Goofy’s Sky School (roller coaster)
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout (thrill drop ride)
- Incredicoaster (roller coaster with an inversion)
- The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure (slow dark ride)
- Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (spinning ride)
- Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue (slow dark ride)
- Radiator Springs Racers (mild thrill ride)
- Soarin’ Around the World (mild thrill ride)
- Toy Story Midway Mania (interactive dark ride)
- Web Slingers: A Spider-Adventure (interactive dark ride)
Disneyland vs. California Adventure: Entertainment
Both Disneyland and California Adventure offer great entertainment! But if you want fireworks, you’re going to want to go to Disneyland.
Disneyland offers multiple nightly fireworks show. Each night there are usually two times to see fireworks on Main Street U.S.A. The season you are visiting will dictate the fireworks show you see (e.g. at Christmas you’ll get a holiday-themed fireworks show).
Disneyland Park is also where you can see the popular show Fantasmic! This show takes place on the Rivers of America and you can view it from the area around New Orleans Square. It features Sorcerer Mickey creating scenes from favorite Disney movies before he fights villains.
The main nighttime show at California Adventure is World of Color, a show that features fountain projections at Paradise Gardens Park. This is a fan-favorite show (and it’s getting an update in 2023), but note that they aren’t any fireworks with this show.
Disneyland is also where you’ll find the Magic Happens Parade (returning February 24, 2023). And sometimes (like in Summer of 2022) you’ll find the Main Street Electrical Parade.
While California Adventure does sometimes have small character parades, there is not a big parade like there is at Disneyland.
Both parks have lots of other entertainment to offer too! At Disneyland you’ll find small acts like the Dapper Dans (a barbershop quartet on Main Street U.S.A.) and Storytelling at Royal Theater.
At California Adventure you’ll find a few more smaller acts, like all kinds of superhero shows at Avengers Campus, music at the Paradise Garden Bandstand, and the entertaining Citizens of Buena Vista Street.
Disneyland vs. California Adventure: Characters
One of the best things about both Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure is that the characters experiences are amazing!
At Walt Disney World in Florida, so many of the character interactions are scheduled, with people lining up in advance to meet their favorites. And while that also happens at Disneyland Resort, you are much more liking to stumble across a character you didn’t expect in Disneyland!
Characters roam all over Disneyland, greeting guests, taking pictures, and making magic. But there are differences in the characters you’ll see at each park.
At Disneyland you’ll be able to meet characters like Mickey & Minnie, Disney princesses, Tinkerbell, Pooh and Friends, Star Wars characters, and many others.
At California Adventure you’ll see Mickey & Minnie, Marvel superheroes, Pixar characters, Anna and Elsa, and lots more!
It’s really impossible to make a definitive list of all the characters you can meet at each park, because they seem to change on a daily basis. You never know who is going to pop out!
But if you are trying to decide on Disneyland vs. California Adventure:
- Go to Disneyland if you want to meet classic characters and princesses
- Go to California Adventure if you want to meet Marvel characters and Pixar animation character.
Disneyland vs. California Adventure: Dining
Honestly, I think there is a big difference in dining at Disneyland vs. Disney’s California Adventure!
While they each have both Table Service and Quick Service restaurants, I’ve found the food at California Adventure to be a little more of a cut above.
At Disneyland you have four Table Service restaurants:
- Blue Bayou (inside Pirates of the Caribbean, Cajun dishes)
- Cafe Orleans (New Orleans dishes, like gumbo and monte cristos)
- Carnation Cafe (classic American dishes)
- River Belle Terrace (Southern Dishes)
While the food at some of these is pretty solid, it can also be sometimes underwhelming.
For Quick Service you’ll find lots of places offering standard theme park food (pizza, burgers, etc.). Some popular places include:
- Alien Pizza Planet
- Bengal Barbecue
- Docking Bay 7
- Hungry Bear Cafe
- Plaza Inn
California Adventure has fewer Table Service options, but those they do have are extremely popular and truly fantastic.
You can choose from:
- Carthay Circle Restaurant — Themed after old Hollywood and featuring sophisticated California dishes. (I had some salmon here that I still dream about.)
- Lamplight Lounge — A Pixar themed restaurant that offers drinks, small bites, and full meal options.
- Wine Country Trattoria — Modern Mediterranean food.
California Adventure also has some great Quick Service options. Some of the most popular include:
- Flo’s V8 Cafe
- Pym’s Test Kitchen
- Smokejumpers Grill
- Schwarma Palace
Honestly, there are plenty of food options in both parks. Disneyland has more options, but the food at Disney’s California Adventure is more memorable for me.
Disneyland vs. California Adventure: Crowds
If you’re looking to avoid crowds (crowds being a relative term when it comes to Disneyland), then you will want to head to California Adventure.
Disneyland gets TONS more visitors each year than California Adventure. And because it was built over 60 years ago, not all areas of the park have the infrastructure to handle the crowds. Fantasyland can feel especially packed in the afternoons!
California Adventure, however, gets less crowds. And since it is a newer park, the sidewalks and ride queues are better able to handle crowds in a way that makes the park feel less crowded.
Disneyland vs. California Adventure: Pros & Cons
There are pros and cons for both California Adventure and Disneyland. Here are some to think about.
- Classic Disney. This is Walt’s original park and full of nostalgia.
- Classic rides, and plenty of family-friendly rides.
- Classic characters and lots of character magic throughout the park.
- Gets more visitors and walking spaces in some areas of tighter, so it can feel a lot more crowded.
- Overall food isn’t quite as good.
California Adventure Pros:
- Some great thrill rides and amazingly themed lands.
- Less dining options, but they are all so good!
- More space, less crowds. (But still crowded!)
California Adventure Cons:
- Less rides, and less rides that younger kids will love (although there are still several!)
- A bit more of a mash-up of a park without a unified theme.
Disneyland vs. California Adventure: Which Should You Visit?
So if you’re thinking about visiting Disneyland Resort and only have one day to enjoy one park, which one should you visit? As usual, it’s going to totally depend on what your priorities are!
If you have young children, want to see classic characters, and enjoy fireworks for your nighttime entertainment visit Disneyland Park. Likewise, if you have a big Star Wars fan in your family, Disneyland Park is the place to go.
But if you are traveling with older kids, love Marvel superheroes, and want a few bigger thrill rides, then you might want to go to California Adventure instead.
But I can promise you this: whichever park you choose, you are bound to have a magical time.
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