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From Parking Lot To Theme Park: The Story Of Disney California Adventure

Disney California Adventure

In the early 1990s, Disney began coming up with  ideas for a second theme park in California. Two locations were considered for this second park. Of course, one of those locations was the Disneyland parking lot in Anaheim. The other location considered was in Long Beach.

Why Long Beach? When Disney purchased the Disneyland Hotel in 1989, they also acquired the Queen Mary ocean liner in Long Beach, California. The theme park which would have been built near the Queen Mary was to be called DisneySea and have a nautical theme. Obviously, this idea for the California park never came to be; however, this nautical themed park was eventually built in Tokyo.

As you probably know, Disney did decide to go with a new park in Anaheim. Originally this new Anaheim park was to be called WestCOT. It would have essentially been a west coast version of Walt Disney World’s EPCOT. The park would have even had its own version of Spaceship Earth. WestCOT would have cost an estimated $3 billion. Due to the cost of the recently built Euro Disney, now called Disneyland Paris, and the losses faced by the park, spending such an enormous amount of money to build another theme park was just not practical. So the decision was made to find a less expensive theme park to built.

In 1995, Michael Eisner and his team decided on a new, less expensive idea for the new California theme park. The new park would cost an estimated $650 million to build, far less than the expected cost for WestCOT. The park would be themed to its home state of California.

On February 8, 2001, Disney new theme park opened as Disney’s California Adventure on the site of the former Disneyland parking lot. Disney’s new park did not open to the great reviews Disney had hoped for. In fact, bad reviews from the park’s soft opening lead to only a few hundred people showing up for the grand opening. Guests were disappointed by the sub-par themeing and generic attractions.

In 2007, Bob Iger annouonced big changes for Disney California Adventure (note the slight name change). These changes would include a new entrance, Buena Vista Street, CarsLand, and more. Disney hoped these new changes would turn the park into the success they had intended it to be.

The original entrance to the park, as shown in the photo above, showcased various sights from around the state including the Golden Gate Bridge. The entrance also featured large letters spelling out the state’s name. These letters were removed and can now be found at the Cal Expo located in Sacramento. The new entrance was based on Los Angeles’ Pan Pacific Auditorium. If it looks familiar, it should. The entrance for Disney’s Hollywood Studios is also based on this auditorium.

Buena Vista Street was designed to resemble to Los Angeles Walt Disney knew when he arrived in the 1920s. The street even includes Carthay Circle, the theater where Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs premiered. CarsLand is, of course, themed after Radiator Springs. This new land allows guests to feel they have stepped right into this popular Disney Pixar film! The new version of Disney California Adventure opened to rave reviews in 2012. The park has even been known to see more guests than Disneyland park on certain days.

Have you visited Disney California Adventure? Let us know your favorite part of visiting Disney’s second California park in the comments below!

Photo credit: Tours Departing Daily / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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Dawn Cullo
Guest

What a fantastic post about DCA history, I LOVE Disneyland Resort history so this post was great to read.

Kimberly @Frontierland Station
Guest

Thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

Rosanne_Mottola
Guest
Rosanne_Mottola

Kimberly, thanks for sharing! I was familiar with this story, but not totally sure (as you can see with my linked post, which incorrectly uses DISNEY’S CA!) and this was a great trip through history. Thanks for sharing!
Rosanne @ The Disney Point

Kimberly @Frontierland Station
Guest

I never could remember if it was Disney’s or just Disney. Then while I was researching for this I figured out why I was always so confused about the park’s name!

Capturing Magical Memories
Guest

Thanks for sharing. I love hearing the history of Disney and DCA has a cool one.

Kimberly @Frontierland Station
Guest

Glad you enjoyed this article!

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