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Sprawling out in Anaheim is Disneyland Resort, which consists of both Disneyland Park and California Adventure. As you’re planning your Disney vacation, whether it’s a 1-day park hopping trip or a multi-day extravaganza, you might be wondering which is better? Which park has which rides, shows, and food? Well, I grew up in Los Angeles and went to Disneyland multiple times a month. Now, I still closely following current Disney news and just returned from my own Disneyland Park and California Adventure visits, so I’m confident I know all the deets. In this breakdown, I’ll share the pros, cons, and everything in between for Disneyland Park vs California Adventure.

In this comprehensive theme park guide, I'm sharing everything you need to know about Disneyland Park vs California Adventure including pros, cons, the best park, which park is busiest, and so much more. Dive in!

Park Locations

Luckily, navigating Disneyland Resort is super easy (unlike the massively spread out Walt Disney World in Florida 👀). Each park is literally right across a quad from each other — it’s called the Disneyland Esplanade. You can walk between the parks making park-hopping super easy.

retro blue entrance gates for Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim
The welcome gates are always a welcome sight!

History of Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure

Disneyland opened in 1955 and was Walt Disney’s first theme park, so you just know that the Disney magic is felt here. Some rides from the 1955 opening are still around today including Autopia, Mad Tea Party, and Casey Jr. Circus Train.

If you didn’t know, the park literally changed the game and even though they had some serious ups and downs (like rides breaking and crowd management problems), Disneyland remains the most iconic amusement park to ever be created. Cue the chills.

Bronze statue of Walt Disney waving and holding hands with Mickey Mouse with Sleeping Beauty's Castle behind outlined in their silhouette
You can feel Walt’s magic at the original park here at Disneyland.

California Adventure was a late addition and took over the 55-acre parking lot area of Disneyland. This California-themed park opened in 2001 where the goal was to allow visitors to experience all of California’s diversity and beauty in one place including Southern, Central, and Northern California with areas dedicated to Hollywood, the mountains, and beaches, for example.

Over the years each park has had new attractions and lands added to them as well as ride updates, complete revamps, and new technology implemented.

For example, California Adventure recently added Avengers Campus in what once was A Bug’s Land (based on Pixar’s A Bug’s Life) and both parks now use the MagicBand technology that originated in Walt Disney World (although you can get by without a MagicBand and just use your phone).

Disney's California Adventure Redwood Creek Challenge Trail shown here with large fake redwood trunk that you can walk through
The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is a great spot to get away from it all.

Lands you’ll find in each Disneyland Resort park

Disneyland has the classic lands that you’re likely familiar with — Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland, New Orleans Square, and Main Street USA, plus the newly redone Toontown, Critter Country, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Entrance to Frontierland with overhead sign and wooden posts lining the walkway; one of the many lands in Disneyland Resort
Step into other worlds at Disneyland resort including Frontierland, shown here!

California Adventure has been undergoing lots of changes over the years. What was once a California themed park with lands matching regions and cities of California, has now shifted to include modern updates to include recent franchises. In California Adventure, you’ll find Buena Vista Street, Hollywood Land, Paradise Gardens Park, Grizzly Peak, and the newer lands — San Fransokyo Square, Pixar Pier, Cars Land, and Avengers Campus.

Radiator Springs Racers ride view of waterfall and plateau rock
Cars Land is one of the best theming in both parks!

Rides at Disneyland and in California Adventure

There are a ton of attractions at each park, after all, they’re designed for you to spend days there discovering and rediscovering every nook and cranny.

Here’s a breakdown of the rides at each park:

Disneyland ParkDisney’s California Adventure
Adventureland TreehouseGolden Zephyr
Alice in WonderlandGoofy’s Sky School
Astro OrbiterGrizzly River Run
AutopiaGuardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT
Big Thunder Mountain RailroadIncredicoaster
Buzz Lightyear Astro BlastersInside Out Emotional Whirlwind
Casey Jr. Circus TrainJessie’s Critter Carousel
Chip ‘n’ Dale GADGETcoasterJumpin’ Jellyfish
Disneyland RailroadThe Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
Dumbo the Flying ElephantLuigi’s Rollickin Roadsters
Enchanted Tiki RoomMater’s Junkyard Jamboree
Finding Nemo Submarine VoyageMonsters, Inc. Mike & Sully to the Rescue
Haunted MansionSoarin’ Around the World
Indiana Jones AdventureSilly Symphony Swings
“it’s a small world”Toy Story Midway Mania!
Jungle CruisePixar Pal-A-Round
King Arthur CarouselRadiator Springs Racers
Mad Tea PartyWEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure
Mark Twain Riverboat
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Matterhorn Bobsleds
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
Monorail
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
Peter Pan’s Flight
Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
Pirates of the Caribbean
Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
Sailing Ship Columbia
Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough
Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
Space Mountain
Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Storybook Land Canal Boats

As you can see Disneyland has double the rides of California Adventure in terms of quantity.

Which park has longer wait times?

Rather than one park being worse than the other, it’s really specific rides in each park that are the culprits. Of course, since Disneyland has more rides by quantity, you’ll be spending more time in line there regardless.

In Disneyland, the highest wait times typically go to Rise of the Resistance, Indiana Jones, Space Mountain, Matterhorn, Big Thunder Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. For Rise of the Resistance and Indiana Jones, you’ll see wait times on the app pass 100 minutes.

In California Adventure, the culprits are Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Incredicoaster, Soarin’ Around the World, and occasionally Web-Slingers. Radiator Springs Racers is always bad with wait times frequently over 90 minutes.

Overall, Disneyland has more rides with longer wait times, but California Adventure has Radiator Springs Racers, which seriously always has a horribly long wait time. Disneyland also has way more options for rides with short wait times just based on the sheer number of rides.

Entrance to Monsters Inc ride at California Adventure
Not all rides have long wait times, so jump in line if you spot a short queue.

Shows at Disneyland Park versus California Adventure

Shows at Disneyland Resort at both Disneyland Park and California Adventure range from on-stage performances, character experiences, live entertainment including parades, and staged shows like fireworks.

At Disneyland Resort, you’ll find iconic performances including The Dapper Dans, a barbershop quarter found on Main Street. They perform classic Disney numbers including Jolly Holiday, Grim Grinning Ghosts, and the Bare Necessities, among many others. The Fantasmic! show is part fireworks and part live entertainment with Mickey defeating several Disney villains with the help of your favorite characters. The fireworks show is a classic and Mickey’s Mix Magic is a fun projection-based show that happens on Main Street.

Singing barbershop quartet dressed in red, purple, yellow, and blue pinstripe suits with matching colorful hats on Main Street USA in Disneyland also known as the Dapper Dans
The Dapper Dans are so fun to listen to and watch!

Parades occur daily and vary by season. At the time of writing, they’re doing the Magic Happens parade, but they’ve had others over the years like the Main Street Electrical Parade and the Frightfully Fun Parade during Halloween.

At Disneyland, they also have Queen and the Jambalaya Jazz Band, Storytelling at Royal Theatre, and rotating musical performances in the theatre between Fantasyland and Toontown.

At California Adventure, they have great shows as well. In fact, the Hyperion Theatre puts on big musical performances often. I’ve seen Rogers: The Musical there and it was amazing!!

Avengers Campus has a number of character experiences including Dr. Strange at the Ancient Sanctum, Spider-Man, Avengers Headquarters show, Wakanda Forever Dora Milaje, and Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Dance Off.

Woman in a lotus flower costume during a parade celebrating Lunar New Year, the year of the dragon, at California Adventure
The Lunar New Year Parade is short but so fun!

In Cars Land, there isn’t a specific show, but you might consider the nightly tradition of turning on the neon a show as everyone gathers for it and even dances together to Sh-Boom!

At Disney Theatre in Hollywood Land, there’s a Disney Junior Dance Party and at Animation Academy next door, there’s Turtle Talk with Crush and the Animation Academy interactive drawing class itself.

Learn to draw a character or do Turtle Talk with Crush at Animation Academy in California Adventure
Enjoy the air conditioning in Animation Academy, too!

Five and Dime is a jazz quintet that plays on Buena Vista Street while outside musicians are brought in to play at Paradise Gardens Bandstand.

And of course, parades occur daily and are often themed for specific times of the year. For example, in February, they celebrate Lunar New Year at California Adventure and the parade reflects that.

Finally, California Adventure is home to World of Color, a magnificent water show where projections from your favorite movies are displayed on walls of water with colorful lights and accompanying music and inspirational dialogue.

Overall, in my opinion California Adventure has more shows to enjoy during your time at the park, which makes up for the fewer rides.

Water show at Disneyland Resort with projections on walls of water
World of Color is worth figuring out the virtual queue.

Characters you can meet in each park

If you’re into meeting characters, you’re in luck at both parks. While you can find more classic characters in Disneyland, you still have lots of choices in California Adventure.

In Disneyland you can meet princesses like Cinderella, Snow White, Mulan, Moana, and Elena, and sensational six characters including Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald, and Daisy, where the former and latter two have houses in Toontown. You’ll also spot fairy characters in Pixie Hollow, namely Tinkerbell. In Batuu, you can meet Rey, The Mandalorian and Grogu, Ahsoka Tano, Chopper, Kylo Ren, and more!

Mandalorian and Grogu posing for a photo in Disneyland's Star Wars Land also known as Batuu or Galaxy's Edge
You might spot Mando and Grogu in Batuu in Disneyland.

At California Adventure, you can meet Baymax and Hiro in San Fransokyo, Mater and Lightning McQueen in Cars Land, Spider-Man, Captain America (Sam and Steve), Loki, Ms. Marvel, and so many more in Avengers Campus. Plus, meet Raya in the Redwood Creek Trail and for Lunar New Year, you can meet Mei and Ming Lee just around the corner from The Little Mermaid ride. I’ve also seen meet and greets with the Incredibles, Toy Story characters, and Goofy!

Given the size of the parks, it feels like there are so many more characters to meet in California Adventure, mostly because of Avengers Campus and Cars Land. I certainly stumbled upon more meet and greets without trying in California Adventure.

Tow Mater in Cars Land driving around, one of the Disney Pixar characters you can meet at California Adventure
I caught Mater driving around!

Things to do in Disneyland

Some unique things to do in Disneyland include seeing original Mickey Mouse cartoons on Main Street, exploring Pirate’s Lair at Tom Sawyer’s Island, going inside the castle for Sleeping Beauty’s walkthrough attraction, and riding the Disneyland Railroad around the park where you’ll see dinosaurs!

Disneyland Railroad conductor waving at train riders coming through to Main Street Station
The Disneyland Railroad is a fun way to see beautiful views of the park from the comfort of a seat.

Things to do in California Adventure

California has some fun, unique things to do like learning about California’s redwoods at the Redwood Creek Trail, learning to draw your favorite character at Animation Academy, witnessing the neon lights turn on at sunset, and seeing one of the most technologically advanced animatronic Spider-Man freely swinging in Avenger’s Campus, and touring Boudin Bakery, a true San Francisco staple.

Learn to draw your favorite character like Mushu shown here at the Animation Academy in Disney's California Adventure
I learned to draw Mushu from Mulan!

Best food exclusive to Disneyland

In my experience most foods can be found at both parks.

For example, churro toffee can be found at candy shops on Main Street in Disneyland, on Buena Vista Street in California Adventure, and even at Marceline’s Confectionery at Downtown Disney.

While most foods can be found in both parks, there are some that are exclusive to either Disneyland or California Adventure, so let’s cover some examples.

First, the garlic cheesy bread found at Eidelweiss Snacks and Maurice’s Treats in Disneyland is so delicious and the perfect afternoon snack. It pulls apart and is super easy to eat because of that.

Cheesy garlic pretzel bread from Eidelweiss Snacks at Disneyland
I’ll be thinking about this thing for a good while!

Another good example are all the foods unique to specific lands, namely Galaxy’s Edge. You can only find all the themed drinks at Oga’s Cantina, Ronto wraps, blue and green milks, and flavored popcorn in Batuu, so those are great ones to try if you’re looking for something unique.

Lastly, some of the restaurants serve unique dishes that you can’t get elsewhere including Bengal Barbecue with their meat skewers, enchiladas and cauliflower tacos at Rancho del Zocalo, and gumbo and lemon filled beignets from Tiana’s Palace.

Galaxy's Edge ronto wrap for breakfast being held by a woman's hand outstretched from the camera with a Star Wars machine in the background
This breakfast ronto wrap was a great deal as it was super filling!

California Adventure’s best food

The most unique part of California Adventure from a food and drink standpoint is that you can get alcohol more readily in California Adventure. Technically, you can find a bit in Disneyland, too, namely at Oga’s Cantina and fine dining restaurants, but in California Adventure it’s everywhere and there’s options!

Many of the vending carts have beer and you’ll find wine at Wine Trattoria, craft beer from Karl Strauss Brewing Company, and mixed drinks, cocktails, floats, and more! Seriously, so many options in California Adventure.

Not to mention that they host foodie events each year including Lunar New Year and the Food and Wine Festival, where there are themed food and beverages.

Some unique foods to try in California Adventure is quesabirria from Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill, chile cone queso from Cozy Cone Motel (number 3), Jack Jack’s Cookie Num Num from the namesake booth near Incredicoaster, and both tiny and huge items from Pym’s Test Kitchen (I love the quantum pretzel and choco-crunch bar).

Multi-layer candy bar with layers of brownie, carmel, nougat, and peanut butter all coated in chocolate.
*Not shown: this candy bar’s length of 12 inches or more!

The vibes in Disneyland vs California Adventure

I’m sure this is different for everyone, but I’ll share how I feel in each park and you can comment down below and tell me if you agree!

Disneyland is classic, magical, and busy. Busy in a good way and busy in a bad way. On one hand it’s often more crowded, especially because it’s the classic park, but on the other hand there’s simply more rides and more to do and see in Disneyland. It’ll keep you more busy and you won’t run out of things to do for the entire day from rope drop to park closing.

Disneyland ultimately feels like a typical theme park to me. Yes, still completely magical, classic, and iconic, but busy.

Cloudy day at Disneyland showing the castle in blue and pink
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is iconic in her own right!

California Adventure is more modern and in my opinion, more immersive aside from Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland. With Avengers Campus, Cars Land, San Fransokyo, the Redwood Creek area, and even Hollywood Land, you feel more immersed in each area’s theme, which makes you feel like you’re in that specific land and not in a massive theme park full of crowds. My point is that the “land” separation is beneficial in California Adventure.

To me, California Adventure feels more chill. It’s more open, especially with the open water, and you can find so many little corners to relax and get away. On the flip side, you might be in need of some recommended things to do because you can knock out the rides fairly quickly, especially using Lightning Lanes.

View of Pixar Pier during sunset when rides are lit up
California Adventure at sunset is too gorgeous!

Pros and cons of Disneyland

Disneyland has a certain magic to it since it was Disney’s first park. Still, there are always some drawbacks, so here’s the breakdown.

Pro: It’s magical. And yes, that’s a legit pro. You can feel the nostalgia, the effort, the innovation that went into this park. It feels truly created by pioneers and that’s a pro, if I ever.

Pro: Great for all ages. There are plenty of rides that cater toward younger guests as well as thrill rides for the older guests.

Pro: It stays open later than California Adventure on most nights.

Pro: Star Wars Land aka Batuu aka the best new addition to the park! I love an immersive world (read: the Wizarding World) and this is IT.

Pro: There are so many rides. You won’t be bored here, that’s for sure.

New toontown renovation with Mickey and Minnie fountain and cartoon buildings in the background
Toontown is another great immersive section of Disneyland.

Con: There are so many rides…it can feel overwhelming and it helps to accept that you likely won’t get to everything in one day.

Con: It’s crowded. I mentioned this before but such an iconic park brings the heat…ahem, I mean crowds.

View of Pizza Planet and Space Mountain in Tomorrowland at Disneyland during sunset, one of the best sections of the park
Disneyland can get quite crowded, but the magic is certainly there regardless.

Pros and cons of California Adventure

Okay now California Adventure’s turn.

Pro: Many immersive worlds to get sucked into. I especially love Cars Land at sunset and enjoying a Ghirardelli mocha in San Fransokyo in the morning.

Pro: Lots of great character meet and greets and shows. Avengers Campus really upped the ante on this one.

Pro: Wide open spaces. Walking around Pixar Pier and pulling off toward the water is so lovely. You just don’t get that kind of space and serenity in Disneyland unless you venture to Pirate’s Lair at Tom Sawyer’s Island.

Pro: Dining is better than at Disneyland. Not to say there isn’t great fine dining in Disneyland, but I think California Adventure has them beat with Lamplight Lounge, Wine Trattoria, and Carthay Circle.

Pro: You can easily do California Adventure in a day.

California Adventure San Fransokyo view of the entrance gates that are a mixture of the Golden Gate Bridge and Fushimi Inari Shrine Gates
I love the new San Fransokyo transformation!

Con: Fewer rides, so if you are looking for only thrills, you may want a park hopper.

Con: Not as classically nostalgic, although if you grew up there in the early 2000s, you’ll be just fine on the nostalgia.

Con: Typically closes earlier than Disneyland Park.

Con (or Pro depending who you ask): Rides are not geared toward younger kids.

View of Avengers ship and Guardians of the Galaxy ride behind in Avengers Campus in California Adventure Park
Avengers Campus is so much fun!

Which park is more busy?

I’d say 9 times out of 10, Disneyland is more busy than California Adventure. More people choose Disneyland over California Adventure, especially if they just have one day to spend at Disneyland Resort.

That said, Radiator Springs Racers is always the most busy ride out of both parks and that’s at California Adventure.

Radiator Springs Racers ride wait time sign at night with neon lit up
Peep that 120 minute wait time. I took this photo at 7:30 pm, just an hour and a half before park closing during the pouring rain.

When park hopping, which park should you go to first?

I recommend doing California Adventure first. It’s less busy and you can knock out a lot in the morning as most people typically start in Disneyland.

If you only have one day for both parks, I have a full itinerary broken down here.

California Adventure lake view of Pixar Pier Pal-a-Round and Incredicoaster on a partly cloudy day
Mornings in California Adventure >>

Which Disneyland Park is better for adults?

California Adventure is better for adults in my opinion and here’s why! First, the rides are almost all geared towards older (and taller) guests. You won’t find any dark rides here except Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.

Not to mention, California Adventure serves alcohol throughout the entire park. Plus, they host a couple festivals throughout the year that include themed food and alcoholic drinks, which are obviously best enjoyed by adults.

Lunar New Year celebration archway and decor with red lamps
Lunar New Year is one of the best festivals at California Adventure.

Disneyland Park vs California Adventure: Which park is better?

This ultimately comes down to what you’re looking for from your theme park.

If you want classic nostalgia, a full day of rides, innovation and magic, it’s Disneyland.

If you want a chill, immersive experience with thrill rides sprinkled in, it’s California Adventure.

When in doubt, do both! 😉

Woman posing for the camera on a small ferry boat on the way to Pirate's Lair at Disneyland with Mark Twain boat behind
You really can’t go wrong!

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In this comprehensive theme park guide, I'm sharing everything you need to know about Disneyland Park vs California Adventure including pros, cons, the best park, which park is busiest, and so much more. Dive in!
In this guide to Disneyland versus California Adventure, I'm sharing pros, cons, tips, and so much more information on each park.
In this guide to Disneyland vs California Adventure, learn the pros, cons, and everything in between including rides, lands, food, crowds, wait times, and more!
Wondering which park is better? I'm sharing everything you need to know about Disneyland Park versus California Adventure, both parks found in Anaheim, California. This theme park guide includes info on the rides, food, festivals, wait times, and more!

Sharing is caring!

Recent PhD graduate and hyper-planner of Periodic Adventures, my goal is to share travel inspiration, budget tips, detailed guides, and fun travel stories!

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