Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Castle
Sleeping Beauty Castle/Flickr/HarshLight

[Updated August 2016]

On July 17, 1955, the world was introduced to a new force in family entertainment and vacations: Disneyland. Though many critics predicted that it would fail, the park’s millionth guest passed through the gates just seven weeks after its debut. Since then, Disneyland has set the standard for the theme park industry, eventually paving the way for nearly a dozen more Disney parks around the world.


A second park, Disney California Adventure, was added to the Anaheim complex in early 2001, delivering a completely different experience. Here, on the resort’s 60th anniversary, we take a look at some of the major differences between the two.


1. Size & Attendance
The entire complex that comprises the two theme parks, three hotels, and the Downtown Disney District is 500 acres. Among those acres, Disneyland claims 85 and Disney California Adventure takes up another 72. According to the Themed Entertainment Association’s 2014 Theme Park Index, more than 16 million visitors came to Disneyland in 2014, and about half of that visited Disney California Adventure.

2. Themed Areas
Disneyland: Guests get their initial taste of Disneyland as they enter onto Main Street, USA — the first of eight themed sections in the park. Others are Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Mickey’s Toontown, Frontierland, Critter Country, New Orleans Square, and Adventureland. Sleeping Beauty Castle serves as the centerpiece, standing behind Partners, a statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse holding hands.

Disney California Adventure: Here, you can meander through seven themed areas: Buena Vista Street, Grizzly Peak, Paradise Pier, Pacific Wharf, Hollywood Land, Cars Land, and “a bug’s land.” There isn’t an official icon here, but Buena Vista Street sets the stage for what the rest of the park has in store. (Fun fact: Buena Vista Street is home to a reproduction of the Carthay Circle Theater, the venue where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — Disney’s first animated film — hosted its premiere in 1937.)  This park has its own statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse; called Storytellers, the piece depicts Walt arriving in Los Angeles in 1923.

3. Dining
The parks each have around 30 quick service and table service restaurants, where you can snack on Mickey pretzels and lobster nachos or sit down for duck wings and shrimp scampi. There’s one major difference when it comes to drinking in the parks: Disneyland doesn’t serve alcohol, but Disney California Adventure has a number of places where you can imbibe.

4. Big-name Attractions
Classic attractions abound at these two parks. Even if you’ve never been a visitor there, chances are you’ve probably heard the name of one of their world famous rides at least once.

Disneyland: Did you know the first Pirates of the Caribbean film is based on the ride of the same name at Disneyland? Coming full circle, the popularity of the film series has since inspired some additions to the park. Other headlining attractions at this park include Splash Mountain, Dumbo, Space Mountain, The Haunted Mansion, Matterhorn Bobsleds, and the adorable “it’s a small world.”

Disney California Adventure: It may not be as old as Disneyland, but the park has certainly has produced some modern classic rides, including Mickey’s Fun Wheel, Soarin’ Over California, Radiator Springs Racers, Toy Story Midway Mania, and The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. And Disney California Adventure claims something Disneyland doesn’t have: an inverted rollercoaster, California Screamin’.
Note: In early 2017, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror will close so that it can become an all-new Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout.

5. Nighttime entertainment
Entertainment goes well into the evening hours at Disneyland resort, with stage shows and street performances to 3D productions and parades that dazzle guests.

Disneyland: There’s a fireworks display that lights up the night, plus a show called “Fantasmic!” that features your favorite Disney characters, floats, puppets, and music. New this year for the Disneyland Diamond Celebration is Paint the Night, a parade of more than one million lights and tons of characters.
Note: On September 5, 2016, Paint the Night will end its run, though it will be presented on select nights during the 2016 holiday season. The Main Street Electrical Parade will be brought over from Florida’s Magic Kingdom to start a Disneyland stint in early 2017.

Disney California Adventure: You won’t want to miss the “World of Color — Celebrate! The Wonderful World of Walt Disney” show. “Hosted” by an on-screen Neil Patrick Harris and Mickey Mouse, the show incorporates mist, water, color, and projection to showcase the incredible imagination of Walt Disney. The visuals are impressive, but equally mind-boggling are the logistics behind it: World of Color uses a whopping 1,200 fountains that shoot water up to 200 feet in the air, casting a 19,000-square-foot aqua projection screen.
Note: “World of Color — Celebrate!” will have its last show on September 5, 2016, followed by a return of the original show the next night.

Disney California Adventure Paradise Pier
Flickr/Sam Howzit

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