History of Disney California Adventure 

It’s time for another grand anniversary! With Disney’s California Adventure Park having officially opened on Feb. 8, 2001 – this year (and this week) marks 17 magical years for the park!

Ever-evolving, ever-changing, the park has never stopped being a reflection of Disney imagination, creativity and ingenuity. But, it hasn’t been without its challenges. 

The Beginning 

When it opened in 2001, the park, located next to Disneyland, featured 22 shows and attractions, 15 restaurants and four distinct “districts.” It had once been the original Disneyland parking lot, but in the mid-1990s, then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner decided it would be a good idea to create an adjacent park that celebrated both the history and culture of California. Construction began in June 1998 and within just three years it was open for business. In its first year, California Adventure welcomed 5 million guests while Disneyland attracted 12.3 million. There were definitely growing pains as both tourists and locals figured out exactly how to “use” the park.

The Changes

Two things many people noticed in California Adventure’s first year of business were the lack of attractions that were designed with small children in mind along with the absence of any sort of nighttime parade or program to keep people from leaving when the sun went down. So, Disney began adding more attractions for kids along with Disney’s Electrical Parade to keep people interested and engaged after dark. Then, six years in, Disney made the bold move to do a major overhaul at the park. In 2007, the work began and within just a year, Toy Story Midway Mania! opened on Paradise Pier. In 2008, World of Color was also introduced on Paradise Bay and then in 2011, The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure opened.


In 2011, Goofy’s Sky School opened, replacing the former Mulholland Madness rollercoaster, but the track was essentially unchanged. By 2012, Disney announced that California Adventure would now be divided into eight themed lands, which would include Buena Vista Street, Cars Land, Paradise Pier, Condor Flats, a Bug’s Land, Pacific Wharf, Hollywood Land and Grizzly Peak.

2012’s 12-acre Cars Land was truly a game changer for the park, featuring Radiator Springs Racers, a “dark ride” utilizing the technology of Epcot’s test track and based on Pixar’s Cars films. Cars Land was essentially designed as a life-size model and exact replica of the town Radiator Springs from the Cars films (the land also includes several dining and shopping venues).


In 2017, the popular Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride closed and was revamped several months later into Guardians of the Galaxy-Mission: Breakout! More recently, the California Screamin’ roller coaster was closed and is currently being re-themed into a Pixar-themed roller coaster.

The Future

In Summer 2018, Pixar Pier is set to open with new themed neighborhoods and a reimagined attraction, “The Incredicoaster.” Previously Paradise Pier, the newly designed waterfront section of Disney California Adventure Park increases the presence of Pixar to the parks. In celebration of what’s to come at Disney California Adventure, Mickey Mouse and his pals have planned Pixar Fest, a limited-time and all things-Pixar celebration slated to begin on April 13. 


In the 17 years since it has opened, California Adventure has been able to roll with the changes, deal with the criticisms and evolve and reinvent itself in very unique ways. In addition to great rides and attractions, today the park also features a vibrant host of holiday festivals along with food and wine festivals. Through it all, California Adventure has managed to grow and thrive into one of the world’s top theme parks and on it 17th anniversary, we congratulate and celebrate its success.