Which Is Better: Downtown Disney or Universal CityWalk?

February 5, 2023, 5:50 PM · Which California theme park resort has the better shopping and dining district - is it Disneyland's Downtown Disney, or Universal Studios Hollywood's Universal CityWalk?

Let's put this up for a vote. But first, let's compare the two with a "tale of the tape."

As for activities and entertainment, each venue has a live performance stage. Downtown Disney also has

while Universal CityWalk has

But the big difference between the two may be their food line-ups. Below, I have listed the genres you can find at both Downtown Disney and Universal CityWalk, with the Disney locations listed first (simply because "D" comes before "U" in the alphabet). Then, I have the Disney-only and Universal-only selections.

Food at Both Disney and Universal

Table service Burgers & Shakes:
Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes v. Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen and Johnny Rockets

Table service Brewpub:
Ballast Point Brewing Co. v. NBC Sports Grill & Brew

Table service "Gulf Coast":
Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen v. Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville

Table service Italian:
Naples Ristorante e Bar v. Buca di Beppo and VIVO Italian Kitchen

Table service Mexican:
Tortilla Jo's v. Antojito's Cocina Mexicana

Table service - Other "Big Menu" Chains:
Splitsville Luxury Lanes v. Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

Quick serve Mexican:
Taqueria at Tortilla Jo's v. Taco Bell

Quick serve Sandwiches:
Earl of Sandwich v. Firehouse Subs

Sprinkles v. Voodoo Doughnut and Cinnabon and Spark's Mini Donuts & Chocolates (Downtown Disney has announced a Porto's.)

Ice Cream/FroYo/Smoothies:
Jamba and Salt & Straw v. Ben & Jerry's and Menchies

Wetzels' Pretzels v. Wetzels' Pretzels

Starbucks v. Starbucks

Food at Downtown Disney Only

Table service Mediterranean:
Catal Restaurant and Uva Bar & Cafe

Quick serve Pizza:
Napolini Pizzeria (Blaze Pizza has closed at CityWalk. I'd bet an imaginary dollar that Orlando's Red Oven will come to Hollywood soon.)

Food at Universal CityWalk Only

Table service Chinese:
Dongpo Kitchen (Downtown Disney has announced a Din Tai Fung.)

Table service Japanese:

Quick serve Burgers:
The Habit Burger Grill

Quick serve Chicken:
Chick Chick Chicken and KFC Express

Quick serve Chinese:
Panda Express

Hot Dogs:
Pink's Famous Hot Dogs

Mini Monster

Other snacks:
Crepe Cafe


At Downtown Disney, the first hour of parking in the Simba Lot costs $10. You can get three additional hours of parking at no extra charge by spending at least $20 and getting a validation from any Downtown Disney location. Beyond that, each additional 30 minutes costs $7. The maximum daily parking is $66.

At Universal CityWalk, general parking in any of Universal's parking structures costs $30 before 5pm and $10 after 5pm. You can get all but $5 of your general parking fee refunded with a movie admission by presenting your parking receipt at a Universal Cinema ticket window.

Break it all down and tell us in the comments below which places you prefer.

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Replies (15)

February 5, 2023 at 7:32 PM

I love the idea of thinking about food in "Genres" as opposed to cuisines or fast casual type categories.

February 5, 2023 at 8:22 PM

City Walk’s Imax is a draw for both locals and tourists.

February 5, 2023 at 8:46 PM

I abstain. Neither location wowed me on my California vacation last year. Downtown Disney is a bit of a mess at the moment, but Universal's parking fees are absurd and I haven't really heard of any locations unique to that area that are worth checking out.

February 5, 2023 at 10:26 PM

I'm with James: They are both pretty poor and far worse than they should be.

February 5, 2023 at 11:45 PM

No contest here: CityWalk by a significant margin. It's rare that I visit USH and don't spend some time in CityWalk, usually to grab lunch or dinner outside the gates as it has much better quick service offerings. By comparison, it's rare that I spend any time in Downtown Disney on Disneyland visits, both because it's a little inconvenient to trek out there and most of the offerings aren't worth their price.

That said, both pale majorly in comparison to not just their Florida equivalents, but also the larger shopping, dining, and entertainment centers scattered around Southern California.

February 5, 2023 at 11:56 PM

This is a good match up here but Im a fan, nostalgia-driven perhaps, of the hanging king kong in City walk and that atrium looking thing where the fountains are in citywalk. Back in the day street performer Flat Top was out there entertaining folks with his style. Downtown Disney is cool too but Citywalk just has a more "it" factor for me. Plus its really, really convenient to the park.

February 6, 2023 at 12:14 AM

If it was pre-pandemic, I would go for Citywalk. After it reopened, all the good restaurants and bars either didn’t come back or were closed downed before the shutdown(RIP Howl at the Moon) thus eliminating the nightlife it once had. Current Citywalk has so much empty space and most of the table service food offerings are mostly American cuisine that doesn’t really entice me to grab a bite.

February 6, 2023 at 7:58 AM

Cinnabon is the clincher !

I had a fond memory at the Saddle Ranch Chop House back in 2015, but surprisingly overlooked that it was closed last time I was there in 2019. Too bad.

Side note - I’m not a fan of this new login process, I would understand it for logging into bank account, but not to leave a comment on a Themepark website.

February 6, 2023 at 9:47 AM

CityWalk 100%. Was so disappointed in Downtown Disney when I first saw it. Honestly I thought CityWalk would have a much bigger landslide. I guess Disney people have a hard time being objective..lol

I wonder how much of a landslide Disney Springs would get in Orlando. Disney did such a great job with that shopping district. The only fault I find with it is that it's not close to the entrance of any park. Regardless every year we go to Universal parks and avoid the Disney parks but we always go a few times to Disney Springs because its so great.

February 6, 2023 at 2:46 PM

I really don't care for either area, because there really isn't a reason to hang out in either of them beyond the walk to the respective parks. I guess Universal has more appeal as a place to have lunch outside of the park, but with few hotels in the area, most guests are not spending time at the complex outside of theme park hours. Downtown Disney has plenty of hotels nearby, but also has tons of other restaurants and places to frequent outside of the complex. In fact, the past 2 times we've visited Disneyland, we've entered the parks from the opposite side of the Esplanade, so we never bothered walking through DD.

February 6, 2023 at 3:37 PM

Downtown Disney has always been a bit… lackluster.
Even more laughable the past few years (ESPN & Rainforest buildings).

February 6, 2023 at 5:02 PM

Surprised by the poll results. We find Downtown Disney much more comfortable to spend time in than CityWalk. The music and vibe at CityWalk is high energy, but not in any way relaxing. There aren’t many restaurants there that seem worth the money (we’ve had reasonable luck with Vivo, but Buca di Beppo, the sushi place, and Bubba Gumps are all outdated and not high quality—haven’t tried Antojitos or the new Toothsome). DD seems to be moving more in the direction of locally strong restaurant groups, including Ballast Point and Salt and Straw (two favorites in our household), and the upcoming Porto’s and Din Tai Fun. We love the pizza as well. Honestly, it just seems like Universal is not prioritizing updates to the dining experience at CityWalk. In theory, we like to exit the parks and eat in the dining district as a break in the middle of a busy park day. DD really serves that function well, whereas at CityWalk it feels like an afterthought on the way to the car. CityWalk does have a good movie theatre, and that counts for something. But DD wins overall and especially if you add our favorite “non-DD” DD option: Trader Sam’s, which is often available for walk-up outdoor seating, especially in the afternoon. It’s a great pause from the hubbub. Follow that up with a cone from Salt and Straw, which is fun to eat on the Grand Californian property under the monorail line, and you get a nice relaxing respite from the crowds!

February 6, 2023 at 9:27 PM

Losing Howl and the Moon and other nightlife had nothing to do with the Pandemic. Howl at the moon moved before Covid and relocated to a new space Hollywood. The loss of the nightlife was due to Universal not wanting late night clubs at the property anymore.

February 7, 2023 at 10:42 AM


I didn’t specify that it was caused by the pandemic. I stated that there’s a difference between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic at Citywalk and I preferred when it was the former.

February 8, 2023 at 7:13 AM

Isn’t this tiring … Disney or Universal gig ? You only go to one or the other if you’re visiting their parks. it’s a captured crowd and you either enjoy the idea or you run away from it.

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