Disneyland vs Disney California adventure

Disneyland vs California Adventure: 11 main differences by a local (2024)

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Planning a trip to Disneyland Resort in California and wondering whether to visit Disneyland or Disney California Adventure?

I am a California local, and over the years, I have been to Disneyland several times with my family. We have been to Disneyland almost every year and in every season.

We always make sure to visit both Disneyland and California Adventure on our trip. We plan at least one full day for each park. Why? I feel, both parks have their own unique attractions, which are a must-visit!

Both parks are similar in that they have several new awesome themes and attractions along with the old classics, faster wait lanes with paid Genie+ service, and a new mobile app to check wait times and order food.

There are also several differences between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in terms of the themes, attractions, and dining offered.

According to me, one is not better than the other. They are just different in terms of what you will experience at each park.

Read on to find out how they differ and what each park has to offer to plan your trip.

Disneyland vs California Adventure: My Quick Answer

When choosing Disneyland vs California Adventure, I recommend visiting both, just because they both are so unique, and each has some really awesome rides and attractions.

Disneyland is the classic original park built by Walt Disney and has many classic rides like Indiana Jones Adventure, Haunted Mansion, It’s a Small World, and many more.

But the addition of Star Wars Land, the really awesome Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride, and the new Mickey and Minnie Runaway Railway Ride has made Disneyland popular again.

California Adventure has Cars Land, the really, really, awesome Radiator Springs Racers ride, and the New Avenger Campus.

I think nothing can beat the Radiator Springs Racers ride in California Adventure; well, maybe the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride in Disneyland can. Both are in different parks, so you should try and visit both.

Plan for a minimum of 2 days in your Disneyland itinerary, and visit one park per day to see the highlights of both Disneyland and California Adventure.

Unless you are a Southern California local and can visit anytime, if you are making a road trip or flying to Disneyland, it is best to see both parks on your trip.

11 Main differences: Disneyland vs California Adventure

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme parks are both very unique and different from each other in the themes and attractions they offer. No park is better than the other. It all depends on your preference and what kind of experience you are looking for.

If you have kids, their age could be a factor. If you are a Star Wars or Marvel Avengers fan, that might tip the scales to pick the park that has your favorite themes.

My teen kids like California Adventure due to the Avengers Campus, and my husband and I like Disneyland more as it feels more magical and nostalgic to us!

Choosing between Disneyland or Disney California Adventure is a personal preference, and below, I will highlight the main differences between them.

1. Overall Experience

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are separate parks under the Disneyland Resort umbrella, with separate ticketed entrances.

Both theme parks are in Anaheim, California, in the same location, with their entrances right across from each other. However, the overall experience at each park is vastly different in terms of themes and attractions.

Overall Experience at Disneyland

Disneyland, California, is the original Disney theme park that was envisioned and created by Walt Disney himself and first opened its gates in 1955.

Disneyland is home to all the original Disney rides and attractions. This is where you will find the famous Mickey and Friends, the Disney princesses, the Sleeping Beauty Castle, and all the original touches of Walt Disney.

The new and best rides at Disneyland are also based on classic themes like Star Wars and Mickey and Friends, keeping up with the classics.

Disneyland railroad station
Disneyland railroad station at Main Street

The overall experience at Disneyland is nostalgic and magical. The grown-ups will relate more to this version of Disney, and the younger kids will enjoy the classic Disney movie themes.

Overall experience at Disney California Adventure

Disney California Adventure opened much later in 2001 and is a tribute to the history and culture of California. It is also known as California Adventure or as DCA.

You can see the signs of dedication to California all along the park. The Grizzly Peak is based on California’s National Parks, particularly Yosemite and Redwoods.

California Adventure Park has more modern themes from newer Disney, Pixar, and Marvel movies.

You will also find amusement park-type rides here, like Incredicoaster, which is an enormous high-speed roller coaster, and the gigantic Mickey Ferris wheel.

Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure
Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure

The overall experience at Disney California Adventure is modern, fun, and experimental. The tweens, teens, and young adults will relate more to the California Adventure Park with Cars Land and Avengers Campus.

2. Themed lands

Both parks have unique themes and lands which help shape the overall guest experience.

Disneyland has older themes with familiar classic Disney characters and movies.

California Adventure has more modern and California-based themes.

Themed lands at Disneyland

Disneyland has nine main lands/themes to explore (listed in a clockwise direction from Main Street):

Main Street USA – This is the main area seen upon entering the park and looks like an old town street lined with shops and restaurants. There is a train station, movie theatre, town square, firehouse, and vehicles like double-decker buses and horse-drawn carriages.

Adventureland – Adventureland is left of the central hub of Main Street, USA, and is designed to look like a tropical jungle. Here, you will find all jungle-themed attractions.

New Orleans Square – New Orleans Square is based on 19th-century New Orleans. It has some of the most popular rides and dining restaurants.

Frontierland – Frontierland is themed as the American Frontier during the pioneer days. Here you will find the Rivers of America and some classic ships and boats.

Critter Country – Previously known as Bear Country and full of bear and critter themes, Critter Country hosts some popular attractions and restaurants.

Star Wars: Galaxy's edge  Disneyland
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – The latest addition to Disneyland and opened in 2019. Star Wars Land is themed after the popular Star Wars movies, and I think it is phenomenal. The land is set within the Black Spire Outpost village on the remote frontier planet of Batuu.

Mickey’s Toontown – This land is home to Disney’s most popular characters – Mickey and his friends. It has Mickey and Minnie’s houses as well as Donald’s boat. The new attraction, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, is really well made and our family’s favorite!

Fantasyland – Fantasyland is themed as the land of all the Disney fantasy tales like Alice in Wonderland, Disney princesses, Peter Pan, Dumbo, and many others. This land’s fairy-tale characters are most familiar to all, from grown-ups to young kids.

Tomorrowland – Tomorrowland was themed as the face of future adventures and achievements in space and technology.

Themed lands at Disney California Adventure

Disney California Adventure has eight main lands /themes to explore (listed in a clockwise direction from Buena Vista Street):

Buena Vista Street – This is the main area seen upon entering the park and looks like a downtown street lined with shops and restaurants.

Hollywood Land – Inspired by Hollywood, this area features attractions from movies, theatres, and television.

Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure
Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure

Avengers Campus -The newest addition to Disney California Adventure, Avengers Campus has several attractions featuring characters from the Marvel Avengers movies. My now teen kids love this new addition.

Cars Land – The most popular addition to the Disney California Adventure is Cars Land which is designed to look like the Radiator Springs town from the Cars movie. It is home to the most popular ride – Radiator Spring Racers. I think this is the best ride ever made. The racetrack at the end is mind-blowing.

Pacific Wharf – Themed to resemble the old waterfront of Monterey, California, the Pacific Wharf area is mainly an outdoor food court with many restaurants.

Pixar Pier – Pixar Pier is home to the iconic Mickey’s Ferris wheel and the Incredicoaster, which are the main focal points here. This is where the nightly World of Color show occurs.

Paradise Gardens – The largest outdoor area next to Pixar Pier; this is where some amusement park-style rides are. This area is also where special festivals occur.

Grizzly Peak – At Grizzly Peak, the large grizzly bear-shaped mountain and the waterfalls are symbolic of California’s Yosemite National Park. Grizzly Peak is home to the Grizzly River Run and Redwood Challenge Creek trail.

3. Rides and Attractions

Both parks have some pretty amazing and popular attractions, and many of them are a must-do. Some are more appropriate for older kids and adults, and others are geared toward younger guests and families.

Popular rides and attractions at Disneyland

Disneyland rides have something for everyone in your group ranging from thrill to family-friendly rides.

Disneyland is home to popular thrill rides like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain (closed), and Matterhorn Bobsleds. It also has the famous Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones Adventure.

Haunted Mansion still draws big crowds, and It’s a Small World is a classic.

The newly added Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is an awesome trackless ride and a must-do!

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway is the newest Disneyland ride in Toontown and is really cool!

Star Wars Resistance ride Disneyland
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride Disneyland
Adventureland popular attractions
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Jungle cruise
New Orleans Square’s popular attractions
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
Frontierland popular attractions
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Mark Twain Riverboat
Critter Country’s popular attractions
  • Splash Mountain (closed, to be reopened as Tiana’s Bayou Ride in late 2024)
  • The Many Adventures of Winne the Pooh
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge popular attractions
  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
Mickey’s Toontown popular attractions
  • Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway (new ride!)
  • Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
  • Chip ‘N’ Dale’s GADGETcoaster
Mickey and Minnie sitting under a tree in a cartoon
New Mickey Minnie Runaway Railway ride at Disneyland
Fantasyland popular attractions

Fantasyland has the most rides than any other land in the park. Some of these ride themes are from when the park first opened in 1955!

  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • It’s a small world
  • Peter Pan’s flight
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Dumbo, the flying elephant
  • Mad Tea Party
  • King Arthur Carrousel
  • Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
  • Storybook Land Canal Boats
  • Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-through
Tomorrowland popular attractions
  • Space Mountain
  • Star Wars: The adventure continues
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
  • Autopia
  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
  • Astro Orbitor

Popular rides and attractions at Disney California Adventure

Disney California Adventure rides and attractions are highly popular and unique. California Adventure became popular after the Radiator Springs Racers Ride and Cars Land were added.

The Avengers Campus is now bringing in all the Marvel movie fans with the Spiderman Web Slingers and Guardians of the Galaxy attractions.

Soarin’ Around the World, The Incredicoaster, and Toy Story Mania are also popular attractions, and so is the Grizzly River Run.

Cars Land popular attractions
  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
  • Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters
Web Slingers Spiderman ride at DCA
Web Slingers Spiderman ride at California Adventure
Avengers Campus’s popular attractions
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
  • Web Slingers: A Spider-Man adventure
  • Dr. Strange: Mysteries of the Mystic Arts
Pixar Pier’s popular attractions
  • Incredicoaster
  • Toy Story Midway Mania!
  • Pixar Pal-A-Round – Swinging
  • Jessie’s Critter Carousel
  • Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind
Guardians of the Galaxy ride at California Adventure
Guardians of the Galaxy ride at California Adventure
Paradise Gardens Park’s popular attractions
  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
  • Golden Zephyr
  • Silly Symphony Swings
  • Jumpin’ Jellyfish
Grizzly Peak popular attractions
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Soarin’ Around the World
Hollywood Land’s popular attractions
  • Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
  • Disney Junior Dance Party!

4. Night Shows and Entertainment

Disneyland and DCA both offer nighttime entertainment, although they are very different and unique experiences.

Sleeping Beauty Castle Disneyland
Sleeping Beauty Castle at night Disneyland

Disneyland has two nighttime entertainment shows – Fantasmic and Fireworks.

Disney California Adventure has one night-time entertainment show – World of Color.

Fantasmic at Disneyland

Disneyland’s Fantasmic is a nighttime light and water spectacular that includes live actors, life-size boat props, music, lasers, and fireworks. It has everything and is a really magical experience to watch.

Mickey Mouse opens the show, and there are several characters and clips from Disney movies projected. The show is offered at 9 PM and 10:15 PM daily.

Fireworks show at Disneyland

Disneyland Fireworks show is amazingly synchronized to Disney movie songs and colorful projections on the Sleeping Beauty Castle and Main Street walls.

There are character appearances from Tinkerbell and Dumbo and other seasonal characters.

The fireworks are quite grand with bursting color, and the music takes it to another level. The fireworks theme keeps changing as the seasons and holidays change. The fireworks show is at 9:30 PM.

World of Color at California Adventure

Disney California Adventure has World of Color, which is a nighttime light and water spectacular at Pixar Pier.

The water fountains at Pixar Pier dance with music from Disney and Pixar movies, and movie clips are projected on the giant Mickey Ferris wheel at Pixar Pier. The show is offered daily at 9 PM and 10:15 PM.

World of Color DCA
World of Color at Pixar Pier at California Adventure

5. Dining Options

Both Disneyland and DCA have a variety of restaurants offering fine dining with table reservations as well as quick counter service options.

Both parks have plenty of street vendors as well, serving water, drinks, coffee, frozen treats, and snacks like churros and popcorn.

You can place mobile food orders through the Disneyland app for any of the quick counter service restaurants.

Popular dining options at Disneyland

Blue Bayou restaurant, situated in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at New Orleans Square, is a unique fine dining option in Disneyland and booked quite in advance.

Oga’s Cantina at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge offers non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks and light snacks and takes reservations. They have a walk-up list but can fill up fast.

Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo in Star Wars Land has quick-service American dining and includes vegetarian options.

Disneyland CA Alien pizza planet
Alien pizza planet at Disneyland

Alien Pizza Planet in Tomorrowland is a popular quick-service option among families and they serve pizza, pasta, and sides.

Hungry Bear restaurant in Critter Country is an American quick-service restaurant serving burgers and sides.

Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe on Main Street serves quick-service breakfast, lunch, and dinner including sandwiches and bakery treats, and desserts.

French Market Restaurant and Café Orleans at New Orleans Square both offer Cajun-Creole cuisine.

Rancho Del Zocalo Restaurant at Frontierland offers Mexican cuisine.

Tiki Juice Bar at Adventureland offers the legendary Dole Whip frozen pineapple treat.

Popular dining options at Disney California Adventure

There are a variety of restaurants and dining options at Disney California Adventure, offering traditional and ethnic cuisines.

Pym Test Kitchen at Avengers Campus has quick-service American dining options. They have a giant Bavarian-style pretzel.

Flo's V8 Cafe Cars Land
Flo’s V8 Cafe at Cars Land

Flo’s V8 Cafe in Cars Land also has quick-service American cuisine dining options.

Carthay Circle Restaurant at Buena Vista Street offers fine dining with table service. Reservations are required and fill up way ahead in advance.

Lamplight Lounge in Pixar Pier offers fine dining with table service and takes reservations.

Paradise Garden Grill in Paradise Gardens Park has quick-service Mexican Cuisine.

Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta at Paradise Gardens Park offers familiar options with quick service and is great for families.

Smokejumpers Grill in Grizzly Peak offers burgers and shakes and quick-service dining.

Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop in Pacific Wharf offers the famous Ghirardelli ice cream and candy treats.

6. Genie Plus value

Disney Genie Plus is a paid add-on service to your Disneyland tickets and replaces the previous Fast Pass system, which was free.

Genie Plus is offered starting at $30 per person per day in the parks.

Genie Plus allows you to book a ride time window called Lighting Lane for some popular attractions so that you can avoid the long regular standby lines.

Popular rides have two paths at the entrance – Regular standby lanes and Lightning Lanes. You need either Genie Plus or Individual Lightning lane purchases to use the Lightning lane path.

Disneyland offers much more value for Genie Plus as it has 12 Lightning Lane rides offered as compared to California Adventure, which only offers 8 Lightning Lane rides.

Haunted Mansion Disneyland
Haunted Mansion Ride at Disneyland

Disneyland Genie + Lightning Lane attractions include:

  • Autopia
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • It’s a small world
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Millenium Falcon: Smugglers Run
  • Space Mountain
  • Star Tours – The Adventure Continues
  • Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
  • Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway

Disney California Adventure Genie + Lightning Lane attractions include:

  • Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure
  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
  • Incredicoaster
  • Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
  • Soarin’ Around the World
  • Toy Story Midway Mania!

7. Individual Lighting Lane attractions

The Lightning Lanes for a few of the most popular attractions are offered as a paid service irrespective of Genie Plus. These a la carte paid lightning lanes are called Individual lightning lanes.

Anyone can pay extra for these rides and get in the Lightning Lanes. This can come in handy if the standby lines are 2+ hours and you are short on time.

Disneyland offers Individual Lightning Lane for one ride, currently priced at $15-$25 per person, depending on the day:

  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure
Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure

Disney California Adventure offers Individual Lightning Lane for one ride, currently priced at $15-$25 per person, depending on the day:

  • Radiator Springs Racers

8. Crowds at Disneyland vs California Adventure

Pixar Pier at California Adventure
Pixar Pier at California Adventure

Disneyland is always a little more crowded than Disney California Adventure, but it is also a bigger park and has more rides and attractions.

But after the addition of Cars Land and Avengers Campus at California Adventure, the crowds feel the same at both parks, and they are always very crowded! With the park hopper tickets, guests can move around between the two parks.

Unless you are visiting in the middle of the week when schools are in session, expect either park to be very crowded.

You can check the crowd calendar at Disney by visiting https://www.isitpacked.com/disneyland-crowd-forecast-predictor-calendar/.

Anu’s Pro-Tip: Use the Disneyland rope drop strategy to maximize your day. Be at the park entrance gate 30-45 minutes before the Disneyland opening hours to take advantage of the shorter wait times in the first couple of open hours in the morning. The crowds are the highest in the evenings till the nighttime shows.

Tomorrowland at Disneyland
Tomorrowland at Disneyland

9. Special events

Disneyland has special events during Halloween and Christmas Holidays.

Halloween – From September to October, the park celebrates Halloween by decorating it with a Halloween theme. There is a special fireworks show called ‘Halloween Screams.’

Christmas and Holidays – From November to early January, the park is decorated in a holiday theme. The special seasonal fireworks show is called ‘Believe in Holiday Magic’. Haunted Mansion is decorated in a holiday theme called the ‘Haunted Mansion Holiday.’

Disney California Adventure has quite a few special events throughout the year that bring in huge crowds and sold-out days.

Halloween at Cars Land
Halloween at Cars Land
  •  Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival celebrates the cuisine and wine in California and takes place in Spring, around March and April.
  • The Lunar New Year Festival celebrates Asian culture and takes place in Winter, around January and February.
  • Disney Festival of holidays celebrating the holiday season for several cultures takes place from November to early January.
  • Oogie Boogie Bash occurs on select nights in September and October and is a separately ticketed event celebrating Halloween with themed shows, entertainment, and food.

10. Disneyland vs California Adventure for adults

Both parks offer a good variety of thrill rides for adults. Disneyland has classic themes and Star Wars! California Adventure has Cars Land and Avengers Campus!

Disneyland features more classic themes from older Disney movies. The grown-ups will relate more to Disneyland themes and lands like Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean and the nostalgia and magic associated with them.

The newly added Star Wars universe will bring in all the Star Wars fans, which are again more of the grown-ups.

The teens and adults will definitely enjoy the thrill rides like Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, and the new Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance ride.

Disney California Adventure is more relatable to tweens, teens, and young adults with the newly added Marvel Avengers campus and Cars Land.

The Web Slingers Spiderman ride and Guardians of the Galaxy thrill rides are very popular among teens and adults. The Incredicoaster and Grizzly River Run are also very popular thrill rides.

11. Disneyland vs California Adventure for toddlers

Disneyland is like a magical land for toddlers and young children. Toontown is a magical playground for young kids with several play areas, Mickey and Minnie’s house, as well as Donald’s boat.

Fantasyland has a large number of low-thrill rides for toddlers to enjoy. The younger kids will enjoy Fantasyland, princesses, fairies, and fairytales.

Mickey and Friends Disneyland
Mickey and Friends at Disneyland

Mickey and Friends’ character sightings are more present at Disneyland.

For toddlers, Disneyland will be more fun and relatable as the characters are familiar from Disney movies.

Disney California Adventure has the Disney Junior Dance Party and amusement park-type rides in Paradise Gardens, like Silly Swings, Golden Zephyr, and Jumpin’ Jellyfish for the younger kids.

Cars lined up at Luigis Rollickin Roadsters ride
Cars lined up at Luigis Rollickin Roadsters ride

Cars Land has two rides for the younger crowds as well – Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters. We grown-ups enjoy these rides as well!

Where to stay for Disneyland

If you’re wondering about the best accommodation for your visit to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, I highly recommend staying at hotels within walking distance to Disneyland.

This usually saves us an hour in the morning by avoiding the hassle of parking and taking the tram.

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, is a luxury Disneyland Resort hotel right inside California Adventure Park and the ultimate place to stay!

Other Disneyland Resort hotels like Disney Paradise Pier Hotel and The Disneyland Hotel are equally good.

Fairfield by Marriott Anaheim Resort is on S Harbor Blvd across the park and just a 10-minute walk. We stayed here on our recent visit, and the hotel was quite comfortable.

Best Western Plus Park Place Inn is basic but right across the street from Disneyland. It also has a complimentary breakfast and a pool with a hot tub! We have stayed here as well in the past, and it is literally across the street from the park entrance.

Final Takeaways: Disneyland or California Adventure: Which one is better?

Both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure have some unique and awesome attractions that cannot be missed. One is not better than the other. They both are worth visiting 100%.

I recommend visiting both parks, at least one day per park, if you can.

If you really do not have two days to visit both parks, then just go with the park whose attractions appeal to you more. You cannot pick wrongly here. Both parks are awesome!

If you really can’t decide and you only have one day, then just go with Disneyland first, as that is the original park that Walt Disney created and what we think of when we think of Disneyland. This is where the nostalgia and magic are.

The next time around, make sure to visit Disney California Adventure. Hope you have great fun!

Up next, check out my carefully planned Disneyland itinerary for your visit!

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