Disneyland California with Kids: Best of California Adventure

My favourite part of Disneyland California by far, California Adventure is a must for fans of Disney-Pixar movies like Cars and A Bug’s Life. The rides and attractions are much more modern (it opened in 2001 – nearly 50 years after Disneyland Park), and have the humour and ‘coolness’ that you’d expect from Disney Pixar.

Disneyland California - Welcome to Cars LandWe were completely blown away by Cars Land… it took them 5 years to recreate Radiator Springs, complete with red rock canyons that look startlingly real, and the attention to detail is amazing. Below is a round-up of our favourite rides, attractions, character meet-and-greets and where to eat at Disneyland California Adventure Park. We were travelling with a 6 year old girl, two 5 year old boys and a 9 year old boy with autism and the ability to trick me into riding the scariest rides.

Radiator Springs Racers

Radiator Springs canyons40″ min (about 4 years old), thrills, characters, some dark scary bits. Fastpass highly recommended. We took Elliot on Radiator Springs Racers for his 5th birthday and I have never before seen a happier or more excited little boy. The ride starts out quite slowly, with appearances from Mater and the other Cars movie characters. Meeting Frank (the angry combine harvester) was pretty scary but my boy seemed to be OK knowing that we were safely buckled into Lightning McQueen. About partway through, one of the other cars pulls up alongside and challenges you to a race… and here is where it gets really good. Driving at top speed through canyons and over hills in an open top car is pretty much as exciting as life gets for a little boy (not to mention his mum), and even more so when that car is a shiny red Lightning McQueen. There aren’t any sudden drops, but there are 3 or 4 hills which you take at pretty high speeds. Get a Fast Pass as soon as you arrive in the morning. When we were there, the Fast Passes had run out by about 10 a.m. despite the park as a whole being relatively quiet.

Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree

32″ (about 3 years old), lots of spinning, nothing scary This is a great ride for the little ones, and surprisingly fun for the adults too. It’s a silly  Hillbilly version of the teacups ride, with Mater singing the songs and you (and the kids) sitting in the back of a pig tractor while it square dances with the rest of the herd. It’s a bit on the spinny side, so we’d recommend trying it on an empty stomach.

Luigi’s Flying Tires

32″, nothing spinny or scary An absolutely hilarious take on bumper cars and a little hard to describe. Essentially you’re perched on top of a giant tire, and the jets of air are keeping it floating a teensy bit off the ground. A little like an enormous table hockey game. Steering will have you in stitches, as the only way to control your direction is for both/all of you to lean in the same direction at the same time – completely impossible with a giggling 5 year old. Really simple and great fun.

Grizzly River Run

42″, big thrills, very wet I absolutely loved this white water rafting ride, as did the older kids. The little ones were pretty terrified as the rapids are too choppy and realistic for their liking and they didn’t like tumbling over waterfalls backwards (apparently this would have been fine facing forwards). Be warned you will get pretty wet, especially if you’re sitting near the door.

Redwood Creek Challenge Trail

Any height, any age What a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant idea, and my hat goes off to whoever designed this wonderful haven in the middle of a theme park. It is Brownie / Scouts heaven, and just perfect for kids of any age. Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is essentially a (fake?) woodland area with trails and obstacles, including sideways rock climbing, net walkways, t-bars and the like, but better designed than any I’ve been to before. Spotting and finding animal tracks and letting the kids be in charge of the map was a great way to wind down and for the kids to feel empowered, especially as most of the day we parents were planning which rides to go on and in which order. There are plenty of benches in the shade (perfect if you need to feed the baby while the bigger kids run around), and the trees smell divine. Even if you aren’t bothered with completing the challenge, I’d recommend hanging out in here for a bit! If you want your kids to try the sideways rock climbing, they’ll need to be wearing shoes – they won’t be allowed to complete that particular challenge in sports sandals or barefoot.

Bug’s Land

Little ones – best for toddlers, preschoolers and kids who like tamer rides Inspired by A Bug’s Life, this land is designed to make you feel like a tiny bug surrounded by enormous flowers, blades of grass, half-eaten pieces of fruit and old Chinese take-away boxes. It’s very much aimed at toddlers and preschool children, or in my case primary school children who have just had the wits scared out of them on the Grizzly River Run. You’re never short of shade, and we never waited for more than a few minutes to get on any of the rides, even in the middle of day in the middle of the summer holidays. Heimlich’s Chew-Chew Train is a good laugh and a great way to introduce your little one to (flat) roller coasters. There is also a splash park, so bring some swimsuits or spare clothes for the kids!

The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure

Any height, any age, dark with a few scary bits More in keeping with the classic rides in Fantasy Land (in Disneyland Park), this attraction takes you through the story of The Little Mermaid as you ride along in a clam shell. Most of the way through I thought it was “OK”, but then when we arrived at the centre of the attraction I was absolutely mesmerised. There is an enormous, elaborate, and pretty wonderful animatronic rendition of “Under the Sea” which puts all the other similar attractions to shame. Loved it! It’s worth saying it’s completely air conditioned and there never seems to be a queue, so it ‘s the perfect ride for early afternoon when the sun is at its strongest. The children found Ursula the Sea Witch a bit scary, but who wouldn’t?

Character Meet and Greets

Disneyland California - Mater Meeting the characters from Cars is so mind-blowing that I found myself chatting with my hairdresser about it when I could have been indulging in some proper salon gossip. I honestly don’t know how they do it, but Lightning McQueen, Mater and Red (the fire engine) actually drive down the road and stop to chat and for photos. I mean, these are life sized vehicles, but with no obvious driver and some great moving eyes, and – and I am being completely serious – the voices are not automated. I mean, they are not just recordings of Lightning saying “Kerchow!” – Lightning spotted (!?) Elliot’s birthday badge and wished him a happy birthday, and Mater laughed when Madeleine pulled a face at him. So who knows, it’s probably all done by magic. Either way, it’s just a brilliant experience.

World of Colour

Really, really cool, and a great way to wrap up your day. It’s essentially a musical light show over the bay featuring your favourite Disney moments, with spray and jets of water providing the canvas for the lights. It’s rather stunning, and for younger children this is miles better than taking them to the Disneyland Park fireworks display, as they can enjoy some lovely tunes rather than the loud bangs. You’ll need to grab a Fast Pass early in the day to make sure you can actually see the show – you are allowed to keep a pass for this plus still get Fast Passes for other rides. The show starts after dark, so it’s likely to be well after the children’s bedtime. We brought them back to the hotel in the afternoon to chill out, and then came back to the park after dinner to let them enjoy the show so that they didn’t end up having a 14 hour day in Disneyland. Be warned you are probably going to end up carrying them all the way home, so come prepared with strong shoulders or a good baby sling (it’ll help, even for carrying your 6 year old), or rent a pushchair for the day.

Where to eat

There are so many options, and from everything we’ve heard they’re all pretty good and with super speedy service. We actually left the park for the afternoon and had a quiet sit-down dinner at Naples in Downtown Disneyland. The food was delicious, and the servings were enormous so we were able to split one pizza and one bowl of pasta between 5 of us. A special mention for … Ariel’s Grotto

Disneyland California - Sleeping Beauty aka Aurora and Madeleine

Oh my goodness, what a treat! For lunch we enjoyed a character experience for Elliot’s 5th birthday at Ariel’s Grotto. It’s a reservation-only, ‘prix-fixe’ set menu, with tasty fresh food. They serve a stack of starters to share, including things like olives, cheeses, sundried tomatoes, cured ham and melon, plus lovely warm fresh bread. I had grilled marinated mahi mahi with some sort of rice pilaf and it was absolutely superb. The kids had things like turkey meatballs and sticky chicken skewers- very Annabel Karmel in terms of serving kids something more interesting than fish fingers and chips. Dessert was very, very exciting – we had a whole plate of assorted mini desserts, with teeny tiny pretty cupcakes, brownies and chocolate chip cookies. The best part, though is of course that while you’re enjoying your meal, Princesses Ariel, Snow White, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) and Cinderella stop by for a chat and to sign autographs. They were soooo beautiful and completely in character – so much so that it’s easy to forget that they aren’t actually real. The kids were smitten, especially by Aurora and Cinderella. It was superb on so many levels and is a must if your budget allows. David Beckham and Harper Beckham Also enjoying lunch at Ariel’s Grotto just one table over was little Harper Beckham! David Beckham has now had the rare pleasure of autographing a paper princess crown. Got other recommendations? Leave a comment below!

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Janis

Founder & Director at ReallyKidFriendly
Janis is a cheery and versatile digital expert with a healthcare background, usually seen either geeking out or sprinting through North London trying to catch her kids, Mads and Danger Boy. Thanks to her two boisterous rascals, she has become an expert in soft play areas, parks, energetic music classes, and where to get a stiff drink once they’ve gone to bed.
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