Of Disney’s six North American theme parks, Disney California Adventure is one of my favorites. It’s such a strange little place that it has a charm that many other parks don’t. It’s not the park with the best rides, although it does have some really good ones. It also doesn’t have the history of a place like Disneyland, but its own story is just as noteworthy.
However, as part of this history, Disney California Adventure has undergone more significant changes to its core identity than probably any other Disney park in its lifetime. Perhaps Walt Disney World’s Epcot has seen so many changes in its entire lifespan, and Epcot has lasted about twice as long. California Adventure is still a great park, but does its name still have any meaning? With the news that the last area of the original park, Pacific Wharf, is about to be revamped, is it time to do something that hasn’t been done since Disney and MGM parted ways and rename an American Disney park?
What Disney California Adventure was originally designed
From its inception, Disney’s California Adventure had the most unique concept for a theme park, perhaps ever. It was a theme park designed to bring all aspects of a California vacation together in one place…California. You had to go to California to go to a theme park to experience California.
Ok, maybe the idea wasn’t so weird. Disney found that people traveling to California on vacation would frequently stop at Disneyland on larger Golden State vacations. So the idea was that if Disney could provide all the things vacationers were looking for, they could come to Disneyland Resort, stay longer, and still get what they were looking for.
So the initial layout of Disney’s California Adventure featured areas inspired by the Napa wine country, the Monterey waterfront, the Santa Monica Pier, the redwood forests of Northern California, national parks like Yosemite, Hollywood and even central California farmland. He certainly succeeded in bringing together the different parts of a diverse state in one place.
Some of these areas had Disney-style attractions, many of which focused solely on the food and drink of the particular location depicted. However, the initial response to Disney’s California Adventure hasn’t been great. The park fell well below initial attendance estimates, and changes to the park began almost immediately.
How Disney California Adventure has changed over the years
One important thing to mention about the original California Adventure is that, like Epcot before it, the park didn’t focus on Disney characters or movies. Unlike the early days of Epcot, there was intellectual property at DCA. The 3D movie It’s Tough To Be A Bug based on The life of an insect was there, and Disney movies and references could be found in the Art of Animation building, but that was about it.
All of that changed pretty quickly. Less than a year after California Adventure opened, the park’s least popular attraction, Superstar Limo, has closed. It will eventually be replaced by Monsters Inc: Mike & Sully to the Rescue. Adjacent to the theater showing the bug life film, a new land dedicated to The life of an insect was built, adding rides for younger children, which the park desperately needed.
In 2007, a major overhaul of Disney California Adventure began that would cost more than the park’s initial construction. He added major areas to the park and completely redesigned others. A portion of Cars Land was built on the area that once celebrated California farmland. A California state history film was replaced by The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. Various other remaining attractions would be redesigned to include Disney characters, such as the wild mouse roller coaster Mulholland Madness becoming Goofy’s Sky School.
This overhaul and overhaul has only continued. In 2018, the Paradise Pier area became Pixar Pier, including a new theme from the park’s flagship attraction, California Screamin’ into the Incredicoaster. 2019, of course, gave us Avengers Campus, replacing Bug’s Land. Even more recently, at the D23 Expo earlier this month, we learned that the Pacific Wharf area was going to have its own theme in Big Hero 6This is San Fransokyo.
Pacific Wharf was part of California Adventure on day one, and it’s essentially the last part of the original park that’s remained mostly untouched. Many of the elements that made up the original park are still there, but their direct connection to the Golden State has largely disappeared. So, does Disneyland Resort’s second gate need a new name?
Should Disney California Adventure change its name? Yes, kind of…
At this point, while the bones of the original Disney’s California Adventure are certainly still there, as anyone who visited the first day would still recognize the park, almost everything has changed one way or another, and almost everything has changed in a way that makes the park more Disney and less California. That’s why I’d say Disney California Adventure should actually change its name, but only slightly.
You see, there was another change when all those other major renovations happened 15 years ago. It was originally called Disney’s California Adventure, but is now called Disney California Adventure. It was an odd choice because other Disney parks, like Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, still use the possessive, and DCA should too.
The name should be changed to Disney’s California Adventure because there’s still a distinctly California vibe inside the park, but it’s Disney’s version of what a California-themed theme park would be like. To whatever degree it ever was, California Adventure can no longer compete with what California really is, but it can give you Disney’s perspective on what California would be like through a Disney lens.
Pixar Pier still has entertainment similar to what you’ll find at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk or the Santa Monica Pier, but with Pixar Characters and Disney’s Imagineers taking those games halfway through the higher level. You can still feel like you’re walking through a national park as you walk through the park with Grizzly Peak on one side and the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa on the other. And Buena Vista Street doesn’t quite feel like Los Angeles in the 1920s when Walt Disney arrived, but it does feel like you should in a Disney park.
When San Fransokyo opens in a few years, there will still be elements of San Francisco, just like the city was there in Big Hero 6. It’s not the real San Francisco, sure, but it’s not entirely separate from reality either.
California Adventure is now such a weird combination of places and characters that there’s probably no name that better captures what the park is than the name it already has, but that weirdness is part of the park’s charm. . It’s a Disney adventure found in California, and that’s all it needs.