Happy Birthday to Disney California Adventure

February 8, 2023, 1:26 PM · Happy birthday to Disney California Adventure, which officially opened to the public 22 years ago today, on February 8, 2001.

Today, Disney California Adventure ranks among the top 10 theme parks in the United States and top 15 in the world in annual attendance, driven by popular attractions such as Radiator Springs Racers, which ranks in our Top 10 attractions worldwide. But for years, California Adventure's story might have been more interesting that the park itself, which opened to a collective yawn from fans when it debuted.

Disney officials had been working for years on creating a second gate for what is now the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. When Disney obtained the lease for the Queen Mary in Long Beach as part of the deal which gave it control of the Disneyland Hotel, Imagineers designed a park around the Queen Mary that eventually became Tokyo DisneySea. Disney also kicked the tires on a deal to buy Knott's Berry Farm, before the Knott family sold the park to Cedar Fair.

When Disney settled on building in Anaheim, it floated the idea of a west coast version of Walt Disney World's Epcot, to be called Westcot. But then-CEO Michael Eisner and Disney executives settled on the idea of creating a park that allowed Disneyland visitors to experience popular sites around California without leaving Anaheim - Disney's California Adventure.

While Soarin' Over California hit immediately with fans, much of the rest of the park failed to connect, as punny names for stores, food windows, and carnival rides could not match the appeal of all the enduring classics across the esplanade at the original Disneyland. So in 2012, Disney unveiled DCA 2.0, with Disney California Adventure (losing the possessive "s") opening its new Buena Vista Street and Cars Land. A Pixar Pier makeover of the old Paradise Pier followed in 2018.

The new DCA is more about story than sights, which has made it a hit with fans, even as the park became less strictly about celebrating California. But a place as big and as filled with people from all over the world as the Golden State can accommodate a wide range of stories, all of which can find a home in DCA.

The latest addition to the park has been Avengers Campus, with the next being the San Fransokyo makeover of the current Pacific Wharf, which Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock recently told me will be complete by the end of this year.

For more about the park, including our most recent reader rankings and advice for visiting, please visit our Disney California Adventure page.

And for discounted multi-day tickets to California Adventure and Disneyland, please visit our partner's Disneyland Resort tickets page.

Replies (7)

February 8, 2023 at 2:54 PM

To this day, I really don’t understand some people’s fascination of DCA 1.0, the original park sucked. I first went when I was a kid when it was part of the buy a day get a day free promotion for SoCal residents and aside from Soarin’ and California Screamin’, my entire family felt ripped off.

February 8, 2023 at 3:22 PM

Let's be real, the original DCA sucked so hard that its still plagues DCA today, from the Hollywood backlot deadzone to the Pixar Pier concrete deathmarch, the park has a terrible layout with almost zero charisma beyond Cars Land and Grizzly Peak. The original rides that have stuck around--the swings, the zepplin, Goofy's crotch destruction school--also largely stink, and even with the Cars Land and Avengers Outlet Mall additions, the park just seems to be missing something fundamental. There is no heart to the park, you can easily see over the wall to the janky surrounding area, it's just a big mess. There's also hardly any shade, haha.

That said, abutting DCA to the Grand California hotel was genius, at least from the perspective of people who love to take a mid-day pool break, and at least they serve drinks throughout the park (even if the beer and wine selection is abysmal). Drink enough crappy beer and even Spiderman Mania seems fun.

February 8, 2023 at 3:42 PM

I was only at DCA once, back in August 2003 and yes, I felt it lacking even with some fun attractions like Soaring. Very excited finally going back to it next month to see how much has improved and take in some fun rides, even if Disney themselves admit it was a missed opportunity just not doing a "WestCot."

February 9, 2023 at 11:06 AM

AgustinMacias, the fascination is simply how could Disney possibly think DCA 1.0 was a good idea. The Disney+ documentary series "The Imagineering Story" does a great job explaining this and goes as far as having an interview with Michael Eisner admitting they screwed up.

February 9, 2023 at 2:06 PM

There were obviously corners cut when DCA 1.0 debuted, but I actually liked the original concept and conceit of the park. The layout and quality of attractions clearly wasn't on par with what we've come to expect from Disney, but I don't think it deserves all of the criticism that it receives. Personally, I really like the Zephyr and the plussing of some standard amusement park rides like Maliboomer and the Funwheel, which were an appropriate compromise when budgets ran out.

February 10, 2023 at 6:13 PM


Oh, I’m aware of the screw ups from DCA(This is what interest me more).

Speaking of The Imagineering Story, the book goes into more detail than the show. Plus, it’s not as bad as Walt Disney Studios Park(Which even the book admits that to this day is the least priority of all the Disney Parks).

February 11, 2023 at 2:46 PM

DCA has improved a lot since how awful it was when it opened, it's still mediocre at best. Last time I visited the Disneyland Resort, I spent two days in Disneyland Park and chose to spend ZERO time in California Adventure. Even a $1 billon dollar makeover wasn't enough to save that park from the awful idea that brought it about ("Hey, let's put a park themed around California in California where people could experience the real thing!")

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