The California sign at Disney's California Adventure at night.

Disneyland vs. California Adventure: 11 Differences You Should Know

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Disneyland vs. California Adventure, what’s the difference?! There are two Disney theme parks to enjoy on your next trip to southern California. But how are these parks different? Which park has the attractions you are looking for? How much time should you spend in each one?

There are several key differences when it comes to Disneyland vs. California Adventure. With this in mind, let’s break down 11 differences between the two parks that will make planning your next Disney trip to southern California much smoother!

Disneyland vs. California Adventure: 11 Differences You Should Know

We have identified 11 key differences between Disneyland and California Adventure that you, the traveler, should know! They are size, history, attendance, themed lands, attractions, parades, dining, shopping, nighttime shows, characters, and events.

1. Size

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park

The first difference you should know when it comes to Disneyland vs. California Adventure is the size of each park.

The entire Disneyland area in southern California consists of two theme parks (Disneyland Park and California Adventure Park), the Downtown Disney shopping and entertainment district, and three distinct Disneyland resorts. As a matter of fact, this entire area sits on 50 total acres in the heart of Anaheim, California.

So what is the size difference between the two theme parks? Disneyland Park, the original Disney park, sits on 85 acres of land. Comparatively, California Adventure Park, the newer of the two parks, is only slightly smaller and encompasses 72 acres.

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2. History

Disneyland vs. California Adventure.  The grand opening of Disneyland Park.

The next thing to look at when comparing Disneyland to California Adventure is the history of each park.

Disneyland Park is probably the most famous theme park in the world and a lot of that has to do with its history. Disneyland, which officially opened in July of 1955, was created by Walt Disney himself. Additionally, Walt televised much of the park creation and planning on his weekly television show. Disneyland is a historic park because it is the only Disney park that Walt Disney actually visited and walked the grounds of.

California Adventure Park is the newest of the US Disney parks. The park initially opened in 2001 but wasn’t well received by Disney fans. In 2007 California Adventure began a 5-year, $1 billion reimagining. Basically, they added more Disney touches including developing new lands and attractions. With this in mind, Disney California Adventure celebrated a grand reopening on June 15, 2012.

3. Attendance

Disneyland vs. California Adventure. 
Guests can find the Incredicoaster in California Adventure Park.

The third difference to be aware of between Disneyland vs. California Adventure is attendance and therefore crowds.

According to the website, Statista, Disneyland attendance was 18.67 million in 2019 while Disney California Adventure was a total of 9.86 million. The year 2019 represents the last normal attendance year before the coronavirus pandemic caused shutdowns and limited capacity.

The trend of double attendance at Disneyland vs. California Adventure also holds true for other years. Even with attendance numbers down post-coronavirus, the attendance ratio has remained largely the same.

TIP: Because California Adventure Park is nearly the same size as Disneyland, but typically has half the attendance, it is a much less crowded park to visit.

4. Themed Lands

Disneyland vs. California Adventure. Galaxy's Edge is at Disneyland.

The next major difference between Disneyland Park and California Adventure Park is their different themed lands.

Disneyland consists of 9 themed lands. These lands are Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Mickey’s Toontown, Frontierland, Critter Country, New Orleans Square, Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Currently, Mickey’s Toontown is closed but it will reopen in early 2023 with a new attraction (Micky and Minnie’s Runaway Railway) and some reimagined attractions.

California Adventure Park consists of 8 themed lands. The lands in this park include Buena Vista Street, Grizzly Peak, Paradise Gardens Park, Hollywoodland, Car’s Land, Pacific Wharf, Avenger’s Campus, and Pixar Pier.

5. Attractions

Attractions at Disneyland vs. California Adventure

The next difference between Disneyland and California Adventure is probably the thing that is most important for many travelers… the attractions!

When visiting Disneyland Park you will find many of the classic rides that you think of when you think of Disney Parks. Rides like Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Dumbo, and It’s a Small World can be found in Disneyland.

For Star Wars fans, it will be important to know that Rise of the Resistance and Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run are also located in Disneyland Park in the Galaxy’s Edge land.

On the other hand, California Adventure Park is home to many of the newer rides and rides based on more recent Disney movies. For Pixar fans, you can ride attractions such as the Pixar Pal-a-Round, the Incredicoaster, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, and Toy Story Midway Mania.

Marvel fans will also enjoy Guardians Mission Break Out and WEB Slingers in the Avengers Campus section of California Adventure.

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6. Parades

Parades at Disneyland Park vs. California Adventure

The sixth difference to be aware of when choosing between visiting Disneyland vs. California Adventure is the parades. Viewing a parade on your Disney vacation can be a highlight of the trip so you will want to know what is available.

In Disneyland Park, right now the only parade offered is the Christmas Fantasy Parade. Guests can enjoy this parade from early November to just after the New Year. A standard park ticket is all you need to see the Christmas Fantasy Parade!

Watch for the return of the Magic Happens Parade to Disneyland Park early in 2023!

Disney California Adventure Park also has some seasonal parades to enjoy. You can take in Mulan’s Lunar New Year Procession during the Lunar New Year Season (typically from the end of January through the end of February). California Adventure is also home to the Oogie Boogie Bash Parade. Keep in mind that this parade is only available to guests who have purchased a ticket to the Oogie Boogie Bash on select nights each fall.

7. Dining

Dining at Disneyland vs. California Adventure.

The next difference between Disneyland and California Adventure is the dining selection.

In Disneyland Park, you will find restaurants like Cafe Orleans with their famous Monte Cristo sandwich, the Plaza Inn which hosts a characters breakfast, Oga’s Cantina found in the heart of Galaxy’s Edge, and the Carnation Cafe which serves up some of Walt’s favorites!

Disney California Adventure also has a great selection of dining options. The Lamplight Lounge offers cocktails and light dining with a great view. Bengal BBQ is a quick-service restaurant with delicious barbeque skewers, while Flo’s V8 offers diner-style eats. You can also find Carthay Circle which is a fun reproduction of the Carthay Circle Theater where Snow White premiered.

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8. Shopping

Shopping at Disneyland vs. California Adventure

Retail and shopping locations showcase yet another difference between Disneyland and California Adventure.

A very popular retail spot in Disneyland Park is the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Children ages 3-12 years old can receive magical makeovers to transform into knights and princesses in training. Galaxy’s Edge has several shopping locations for Star Wars fans including Black Spire Outfitters, Droid Depot, and Savi’s Workshop. The Disney Gallery is home to fine art and the Emporium has a great selection of clothing, toys, home items, and souvenirs.

In Disney California Adventure, Super Store featuring Avengers Campus and WEB Suppliers offer Avengers merchandise for Marvel fans. Elias & Co., Oswald’s, and Seaside Souvenirs are some fantastic themed shopping experiences! And to accommodate your sweet tooth, Bing Bong’s Sweet Stuff has an assortment of sweet treats you will love!

9. Nighttime Shows

Enjoy the fireworks after a day at the Disneyland Parks

The next thing to consider when visiting Disneyland vs. California Adventure is the nighttime shows in each park.

Beginning in 2023 Disneyland will be debuting a new nighttime show… Wondrous Journeys! This show will celebrate the 100 years of Walt Disney Animation Studios and will replace Fantasmic! Wondrous Journeys will transform Sleeping Beauty Castle and Main Street USA into a canvas featuring 100 years of Disney storytelling.

California Adventure Park will also see an updated nighttime show in 2023! World of Color will be replaced with the new, updated World of Color-One. World of Color is a blend of dancing water and special effects that is sure to dazzle everyone who watches.

In addition to World of Color-One, California Adventure is also home to seasonal nighttime shows. Hurry Home is a show that celebrates Lunar New Year, while the Oogie Boogie Bash has it’s own nighttime spectacular on select nights during the fall.

10. Characters

Meet Mickey Mouse at Disneyland
Credit: Disney

Another aspect to consider when comparing Disneyland and California Adventure is the characters you will find in each park. For many Disney goers seeing and interacting with your favorite Disney characters is a huge part of your trip! For that reason, it is important to know which park has the characters you want to see.

TIP: Make sure to check the Disneyland app for meeting times and locations for your favorite characters as they are subject to change.

In Disneyland you can often spot these popular characters:

🏰 Mickey and Friends are found near the park entrance

🏰 Mirabel and Miguel are in Frontierland

🏰 Mary Poppins has been spotted riding the carousel

🏰 Star Wars Characters can be found in Galaxy’s Edge

🏰 Disney Princesses are near the Royal Hall in Fantasy Faire

In California Adventure make time to see these popular characters:

🎡 Oswald is near the park entrance

🎡 Toy Story characters are in front of Midway Mania

🎡 The Incredibles are across from the Incredicoaster entrance

🎡 Lightning McQueen and Mater are along Route 66

🎡 Several Marvel characters are available at the Avengers Campus

🎡 Mickey and Friends are on Buena Vista Street

🎡 Friends from Frozen can be found inside the Disney Animation building

Although there are many characters that have specific locations and times to meet guests in the parks, characters will also just randomly pop up in both parks. This is something different from the parks at Walt Disney World.

TIP: You can use Genie + to skip lines when meeting characters at Disneyland, but for the most part character lines are much shorter than at Disney World.

11. Events

Enjoy Mulan's Lunar New Year celebration every spring.

The last thing to consider when planning your Disneyland vs. California Adventure trip is the special events each park hosts.

Disneyland Park has several events happening at the park throughout the year. Disneyland After Dark is one of the most popular of these events. On select nights throughout the year, guests can enjoy after-hours magic! Each Disneyland After Dark event is 4 hours long and has a specific theme such as Sweethearts Nite and Princess Nite.

Additionally, Disneyland also plays host to several holiday-themed special events. Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort offers fall decorations, special characters, ride overlays, and Halloween-themed snacks throughout the park. During Holidays at Disneyland Resort, the park is transformed into a winter wonderland! Santa Claus can be seen in the park greeting guests and the day ends with a special holiday fireworks display. And in the spring, enjoy the Eggstravaganza at Disneyland! Scattered throughout the park are large Easter eggs decorated as your favorite Disney characters for you to find.

TIP: Both Halloween Time and Holidays at the Disneyland Resort can be enjoyed as a part of your regular park admission and do not require an additional ticket.

Disney California Adventure also plays host to several special events. Kick off the New Year with the Lunar New Year Celebration! This multicultural event features food selections and performances. In the spring, Plaza de la Familia at Paradise Gardens is a celebration of Dia de Los Muertos with mariachi music, Mexican food and crafts and your favorite characters from Disney’s Coco!

During the fall guest can enjoy the Food and Wine Festival featuring recipes from around the world. And on select nights, the Oogie Boogie Bash celebrates the spirit of Halloween. The Festival of the Holidays celebrates diverse cultural holiday celebrations with food and music.

Why You Should Go to Disneyland

Disneyland vs. California Adventure. 
 Riding the Tea Cups can be found at Disneyland.

When visiting the Disney parks in southern California, why should you visit Disneyland Park? There are several reasons why we think a trip to Disneyland Park is worth your time.

Disneyland is the original Disney theme park which makes it a very unique experience to visit. It is also the only park that Walt Disney personally oversaw the construction of and walked the grounds after it was opened. For that reason, it becomes a bucket list experience!

Another reason you should go to Disneyland is that it is home to some of the world’s most iconic rides! I don’t think there is a person on the planet that hasn’t heard of “It’s a Small World” or Dumbo the Flying Elephant. These rides find their origin at Disneyland. Another classic Disney experience is getting to meet the mouse himself! No Disneyland trip is complete without a hug from Mickey Mouse.

One of the newest additions to Disneyland is Galaxy’s Edge! Certainly, getting to interact with this immersive land and the Star Wars characters found there is another great reason to visit Disneyland park.

Why You Should Go to California Adventure

Strolling the lands at Disney California Adventure

Certainly Disneyland Park is a must-see destination, but there are also several reasons to visit Disney California Adventure Park as well.

Guests with younger children will recognize rides themed to some of the more recent Disney movies. Kids will love interacting with characters and experiences that they are more familiar with. And for fans of Marvel, the Avengers Campus with its ride and characters will be a huge draw!

Seasonal events and festivals with their unique entertainment and foods is also another fantastic reason to visit California Adventure.

Need to know what to bring into the parks on your Disney vacation? Check out our What to Bring to Disneyland: 21 Things You Should Pack for the Parks!

Where to Stay at Disneyland and California Adventure

The Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California

There are several great onsite options for places to stay when visiting the Disney parks in California.

Grand Californian Hotel and Spa is a craftsman-style resort inspired by the beauty of California. This hotel has a Tenaya stone spa that offers body treatments, massages, and salon services. There are several pools for guests to enjoy and even private cabanas available to rent. The Napa Rose restaurant has a Disney Princess breakfast that your little princess will love! An added perk to the Grand Californian is that it has an entrance with direct access to California Adventure Park.

Disneyland Hotel is a hotel with a modern look and luxurious rooms. This hotel celebrates Disneyland past and present and pays homage to the park’s original lands. The pool area features 2 towering monorail-themed waterslides for guests to enjoy. Goofy’s Kitchen is a restaurant themed like Goofy’s zany kitchen. Enjoy a breakfast buffet where you may just see some of your favorite characters pay a visit!

Paradise Pier Hotel is a 1920’s seaside-themed hotel. This hotel features an incredible rooftop pool with a California Streamin’ water slide, a children’s pool, and views of California Adventure Park. You can even watch the Disneyland fireworks from the 3rd-floor pool deck! Disney’s PCH Grill is the onsite restaurant where you can enjoy Donald Duck’s Seaside Breakfast.

TIP: When staying at a Disneyland Resort Hotel you have access to early entry hours for both theme parks.

FAQ’s: Disneyland vs. California Adventure

How Far Apart Are Disneyland and California Adventure?

If you are used to frequenting Walt Disney World Resort in Florida then you are familiar with the Disney transportation system that shuttles guests from parks to resorts. The Disney Parks in California are much closer together. In fact, the park entrances face each other and are about 100 steps from gate to gate!

TIP: Disneyland and California Adventure are so close that if you move fast enough you can catch both park’s nighttime shows in the same evening!

Can You Visit Both Parks on the Same Day?

Yes! Disneyland and California Adventure are within walking distance of each other. You can visit each park on the same day if you have purchased a park hopper ticket. Park hopping for the California parks begins at 1 pm, but you must have a park reservation for the first park of the day.

Save Money on Disneyland and California Adventure Tickets

The thrill of the Flying Dumbo ride at Disneyland

Using an authorized Disney vacation planner is the absolute best way to save money on your Disney vacation. We keep up to date on deals and promos as well as know the best and sometimes cheapest times to visit the parks.

If you are ready to see for yourself what each of the southern California Disney Parks has to offer then it’s time to get your package booked!

A Disney vacation package of tickets and resort stay can be booked for as little as a $200 deposit!

Click the box below and we can get started planning your most magical Disney vacation! And when booking a Disneyland trip with me, my services are always free!

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Conclusion: Disneyland vs. California Adventure

Southern California is home to two fantastic Disney Parks! Though there are several key differences between Disneyland and California Adventure Park, each offers the same Disney magic Disney parkgoers have come to love!

And if you decide to make your way to Disneyland Park, make sure you check out the Top 25 Best Rides at Disneyland!

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