For decades, the land south of Disneyland was their parking lot, patrolled by trams bustling guests between their cars and the park's main gate. But in 2001, that parking lot became the Disneyland Resort's "second gate", a brand new, 55-acre theme park known as Disney's California Adventure (or "DCA", as many people call it).
What is interesting, from the vantage point of this Hollywood website, is the "Hollywood Pictures Backlot", Disney's own recreation of downtown Hollywood.
Take a look at the large gate to the right . Do those elephants look familiar? That's because they are virtually identical to the giant white elephants atop the towers at the Hollywood & Highland center in Hollywood (both were inspired by the same spectacular Babylonian set from D.W. Griffith's epic silent movie, "Intolerance").
But the Tinseltown imitation doesn't stop at the elephant gate. The main "street" in this Hollywood Pictures Backlot area is made to resemble Hollywood Blvd, copying the architectural style of well-known Hollywood buildings.
One storefront is a dead ringer for the original Max Factor building; the smoothie stand was copied after a corner of Crossroads of the World; the baroque exterior of the art gallery was copied after Chapmen Market on West 6th Street in L.A.; the restrooms' exterior resembles Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic L.A. creations; there's even a corner street sign reading "Hollywood Blvd & Sunset Blvd" (despite the fact that those two actual streets never cross in the real Hollywood).
The building below (left) is modeled after L.A.'s classic Bullock's Wilshire department store.
Other Hollywood facades at DCA were copied after the real Beverly Wilshire Hotel (in Beverly Hills), the Pantages Theatre (at Hollywood & Vine), the Baine Building (at the NE corner of Hollywood & Whitley), Owl Drug (at the SE corner of Hollywood & Cahuenga), and the old ABC Studios on Vine & Sunset (now the new Schwab’s). *
At the east end of the fake Hollywood Blvd is a wall painted to resemble a blue sky, with a matte painting which presents the illusion that the street continues. (You'll find a similar "blue sky" wall in the back lot of Paramount Studios)
Sharing this wall is the marquee of the Hyperion Theatre. It is almost an exact copy of the historic Los Angeles Theatre on Broadway in downtown L.A. (where quite a few Hollywood films have been shot over the years).
The Hyperion Theatre gives the Disney Resort something it has needed for a while: a full-size, indoor theatre for live stage productions. Disneyland has always done wonderful stage productions, but in the original park, they had to be presented in outdoor/amphitheatre areas such as the Fantasyland Theatre.
DCA's Hyperion Theatre is currently showing a live version of "Aladdin", complete with dancing genies and flying carpets. While it's not in the same league as the very best Disneyland shows (such as "Beauty & the Beast"), it a colorful romp in air conditioned comfort.
If you prefer thrills, chills and big drops, don't miss the Twilight Zone's "Tower of Terror" (based on the classic Rod Serling TV series), here housed in the old Hollywood Tower Hotel. The ride (complete with sinister elevator operator) will take you up in an elevator to the hotel's top floor - and then look out!
An Animation exhibit shows off the art of Walt Disney studios, complete with screens showing synchronized clips from Disney's classic animated films, memorabilia from the studio art department, and a gift shop.
Disney now owns the rights to the Muppets, so it's not surprising that nearby, you can join Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the other Muppets in their own distinct theatre, as they present a multimedia show that mixes 3-D movie with 'live' animatronics.
Not long ago, there was also a "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" attraction, a recreation of that popular Regis Philbin game show. But it is no more...
One original ride,
in the Hollywood Studios Backlot area, was called "Superstar Limo",
and featured a race from the airport to a studio, with caricatures of stars
such as Whoopi Goldberg popping up along the way. Most people hated it.
So in 2007, after Disney bought out Pixar, the "Superstar Limo"
was replaced by a slow, kid-friendly dark ride based on the movie "Monsters
Inc" (called "Mike & Sulley to the Rescue").
It looks that way.
In 2006, singer Lindsey
Lohan took over both DCA & Disneyland
(after they closed) for what was reported to be a somewhat rowdy private
party. In September of 2005, a paparazzo was arrested after he pushed DCA
employees who were escorting actress Reese
Witherspoon and her daughter, who was
celebrating her birthday at the park. A month earlier, actress Scarlett
Johansson was involved in a traffic accident
trying to avoid paparazzi near Disneyland.
OK, so outside of the Hollywood Backlot area, how is the rest of the new Disney's California Adventure?
In a word, problematic.
As soon as it opened, DCA immediately ran into problems.
First and foremost was the fact that everyone naturally compared it to Disneyland, and the truth is that there is no comparison. Disney's California Adventure is a decent theme park, but doesn't even come close to capturing the magic of the original Disneyland (which sits just across the plaza from DCA).
The second problem may have been its concept - a park offering a faux visit to California (complete with replicas of famous California landmarks) might have been a big hit if it had been built on the East Coast or in the Midwest, but in California (where we have the real thing just a short drive up the freeway), it was sort of like trying to sell snow to Eskimos.
The third, and perhaps most serious problem was that the Disney company originally tried to do the new park on the cheap. They didn't invest in the same kind of cutting-edge rides that made Disney famous - rides like Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion.
Instead, they settled for a few carnival-style thrill rides in their Pacific Pier area, as well as a number of 3-D movies (such as "Golden Dreams" with Whoopi Goldberg, "The Muppets 3-D" and "Life as a Bug"). And as you might expect, the park also originally lacked those familiar Disney characters and the association with the classic Disneyland films.
Not surprisingly, attendance at the new park fell far below expectations. Lines remained long at Disneyland, but over at DCA visitors were few and far between. Soon, on "The Simpsons", Homer was joking about hiding his fugitive mother where no one would find her: "in a place where there's nobody for miles - Disney's California Adventure."
It didn't take long
before the Disney company started to wise up. They began making improvements
to DCA. First, they introduced Disney characters into the new park (don't
be surprised to spot Cinderella or one of the other Disney princesses strolling
down "Hollywood Blvd"). Then they made a big move by building
the "Tower of Terror", a big-bucks thrill ride which had been
popular in Florida's Disney World. They revived the retired-but-beloved
Main Street Electrical Parade and moved it into DCA (in hopes of
luring Disneyland fans into the new park). Then they added the new dark
ride featuring the characters from the hit movie "Monsters Inc."
In 2012, Disney opened a massive remake/expansion of California Adventure, which included the addition of an entire new land, "Cars Land", based on the Disney/Pixar animated hit "Cars", which features an extremely popular new ride, "Radiator Springs Racers",
where guests ride in 'Lightning McQueen'-style talking cars, as they
race through the picturesque landscape of Monument Valley - part of a
recreation of the entire town of "Radiator Springs" from the popular
That same major re-do added a new dark ride based on the Disney classic "The Little Mermaid",
which uses the same kind of "Doom Buggy" ride vehicles as the Haunted
Mansion - only shaped like clam shells this time - in which
guests ride for a colorful, musical underwater adventure.
Also added was a spectacular new "Disney's World of Color"
night time water
show on the lagoon (the show is impressive, but can be difficult to
view, due to huge crowds and a poorly-planned viewing area), and a
general upgrade of all areas of DCA. ( Click
here for artists' renderings of some of the new attractions.)
Another addition was an entire new entrance area to the park, called Buena Vista Street,
which recreates 1920's Los Angeles, at the time when a young Walt
Disney first arrived in the City of Angels - complete with red car
trolleys, plus a central recreation of Carthay Circle Theatre (where the movie "Snow White" premiered in 1938), which houses a new upscale restaurant.
Of the original rides at DCA which survived the massive makeover, the one sure-fire hit ride is Soarin' over California: it's a top-notch simulator in which riders are lifted 40 feet in the air above an IMAX-sized screen, to experience 'hang-gliding' over California's scenic wonders (they even spray the scent of oranges in the air as you pass over orange groves).
Another big ride,
albeit less original, is Grizzly River Run, a water raft ride down
roaring rapids (where have we seen that
before?) through redwood
country. They even built a bear-shaped mountain peak for this part of
park. Recently, they updated the area surrounding that ride to resemble
a California State Park, with an emphasis on redwoods and nature.
If you have kids, you should enjoy DCA's "Bountiful Valley Farm" area. With a rural theme, it is based around an attraction inspired by the movie "It's a Bug's Life" - it's essentially a 3-D movie with a few animatronics thrown in. To reach the underground theatre, you follow a human-sized ant tunnel down past giant vegetables. Nearby (on the surface), there is a small collection of colorful kiddie rides, called "Flik's Fun Fair", themed to both the farm & the "Bug's Life" motif.
At the "Pacific Pier" area, they have attempted to recreate an idealized version of those old seaside amusement parks, such as The Pike or Coney Island, only without the seedy characters you might have found loitering around those real ocean parks.
I find it hard to get past the irony that it was Disneyland itself which put those old seaside parks (and their giant coasters) out of business in the first place, by setting a standard back in the 1950's that the old carnivals couldn't hope to match. Yet 50 years later, here's the Disney Company copying them - instead of vice versa...
But still, if you
can get past the Disneyland comparison, Pacific Pier is a beautiful place, with fanciful Victorian
architecture and towering old-style carnival rides, such as the huge "Mickey's Fun
Wheel" (ferris wheel) and California Screamin' roller
coaster that takes riders zero to 55mph in about four seconds for a roaring
start). Just as those old parks were located next to the ocean, the
Pacific Pier area is built atop a man-made lake/lagoon.
Adventure is especially impressive after dark, when the lights come on
- as the photos below will amply demonstrate. (* Most of these photos were shot before the massive DCA renovation. I'll be adding updated photos soon of the new attractions.)
Admission Price (as of February 2015): (for one-day passports)
(Admission price includes free concerts, parades & shows. Prices keep going up, so phone ahead to check on the current cost of a admission. Disneyland usually offers discounted admission to California residents during the winter season.)
Hours: Open daily, 365 days a year. Hours vary with season. Phone for exact hours.
During the main
summer tourist season, the park is usually open daily from 8 AM to
Getting there: Disneyland is located in the city of Anaheim, at the northwest corner of Harbor Boulevard and Katella Boulevard. / From the Santa Ana (5) Freeway, take the Harbor Boulevard exit. Follow the freeway signs to Disney Drive and it will take you right into the Disneyland parking garage. / Alternatively, from the Garden Grove (22) Freeway, take the Harbor Boulevard exit, then drive north up Harbor about 3 miles and turn left on Katella, then right on Disney Drive.
more information on the Hollywood buildings that inspired DCA architecture
(Disneyland, Disney's California Adventure and the DCA logo are trademarks of the Walt Disney Company)
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