The 10 Best Attractions at Disney California Adventure |

The 10 Best Attractions at Disney California Adventure

Florida is spoiled. By the late 1990s it had four different Disney theme parks, while Anaheim, the home of the original, was still stuck at one. That changed in 2001, when Disney California Adventure opened next door to Disneyland. The early reviews were harsh, but with a slight course correction (and a billion dollars in improvements) the new park has become a worthwhile addition to the classic Disneyland experience.

The California theme might seem odd for a park based in California (why bother with a fake Hollywood when the real thing is right down the freeway?), but it’s inspired some adorable architecture. Buena Vista Street feels as inviting as Disneyland’s Main Street USA, only the ersatz 1890’s midwestern vibe is replaced with cute approximations of Art Deco and Mission Revival Style. Elsewhere the park pays tribute to California’s national parks and houses a tribute to the state’s aviation history in a fake aircraft hangar. California Adventure has also become home to lands themed around some of Disney’s most popular IPs, including Marvel, Pixar, and the Cars movies; the latter’s cartoonish take on Route 66 is delightful, and also features one of the park’s very best rides. And this summer brings the return of Pixar Fest, which is running at both Disney California Adventure and Disneyland through August 4, 2024. Here are the 10 best attractions at Disney California Adventure.

10. Goofy’s Sky School

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Okay, this is a stretch. California Adventure is a top-heavy place: the best rides are amazing, and totally justify the expense, and then there’s a steep fall-off. There’s a lot else to do there, with various carnival-style rides at Pixar Pier and Cars Land. There’s a parachute-styled falling ride called Jumpin’ Jellyfish, if you don’t care for the more extreme plummets of Mission: Breakout. There’s a middling dark ride based on Monsters, Inc., and a version of the same Little Mermaid dark ride found at Magic Kingdom. I’m saying that Goofy’s Sky School, despite not being particularly fun or memorable, makes this list almost by default. It’s what is known in the industry as a “wild mouse” coaster, meaning it’s a small, short, child-friendly coaster that’s built more on quick turns than huge drops or fast speeds. Goofy’s Sky School is perched on top of a small building, and regularly tricks the rider into thinking the car is going to fly off the side and splat all over the concrete below. It jerks tight with a quick snap at every twist, and that wound up scaring me more than anything about the bigger and more extreme Incredicoaster. It’s short, largely inoffensive, but thoroughly mediocre, and just more fodder to get you through the day after you’ve hit the best rides. I give it a small bonus for the loose connection to the great 1940 short “Goofy’s Glider.”

9. Golden Zephyr

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The Golden Zephyr might be the most generic attraction at any Disney park. It’s one of a number of classically minded rides at Paradise Gardens Park, a giant swing with rockets out of old sci-fi film serials that leisurely spin around for a few minutes. Every amusement park from the last century has had a ride exactly like this, and the Golden Zephyr isn’t connected to any Disney cartoon or movie. And that’s absolutely not a problem, as this ride is such a constant because it is always enjoyable. It’s a soothing calm down spot for the dedicated thrill seeker, and has just the tiniest bit of danger for those too afraid to ride Mission: Breakout or the Incredicoaster. It was my wife’s favorite ride at the park. It isn’t something to go out of your way for, but it’s a nice, relaxing way to fill out your day.

8. Silly Symphony Swings

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There’s a pretty big drop in quality after those first seven attractions. There are a handful of classic boardwalk or carnival style rides in the Paradise Gardens Park section of the park, and although those are fun they don’t always have the uniqueness you expect from a Disney ride. The Silly Symphony Swings probably bridge that gap the best. It’s a traditional wave swinger, where you sit in a chair attached to a tower with cables, and then spin around for a few minutes. It’s based on one of the best classic Disney cartoons, “The Band Concert,” where Donald Duck tries to crash a performance by Mickey’s orchestra before a tornado sucks everybody up into the sky. The tower is painted with images from the cartoon and the ride blasts the William Tell Overture. These references are a game attempt to tie an otherwise simple and overly familiar ride into the Disney setting.

7. Pixar Pal-A-Round

Pixar Pal-A-Round

My wife doesn’t understand how I can ride roller coasters or drop towers with no issues and then completely lose my mind with fear on a Ferris wheel. Those other rides are so fast-moving and so short that my fear of heights doesn’t have time to kick in. Not so on Pixar Pal-Around, a ride I was positive would turn into a one way trip. And I was in one of the traditional gondolas that just lightly swayed when the wheel turned, and not one of the ones that slid and swung around an overhead rail. About halfway through the ride I had calmed down enough to realize how gorgeous the view is from the top, with all of California Adventure, much of Disneyland and parts of Anaheim in plain sight. I’m not a Ferris wheel convert now, or anything, but I fought through the fear and learned how to appreciate Pixar Pal-A-Round. It’s also simply a beautiful structure, with the classic Mickey Mouse logo from 1930s cartoons at its center, and an extensive light system that changes colors at night. It’s a classic carnival ride with Disney flair and a park landmark akin to a Disney castle or Epcot’s sphere.

6. Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!

Mission: Breakout

Tower of Terror is a work of art, and fortunately the original still exists, undisturbed, over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Disney World. California Adventure’s version was never as amazing as that one—it lacks the whole dark ride portion, when your elevator moves from one shaft into another—but it was still a beautifully designed building that housed a genuinely thrilling ride. That version closed in 2016, to be replaced by a new version themed to the Guardians of the Galaxy; it’s still exciting, it has a fantastic animatronic in the form of its robotic Rocket Raccoon, and it definitely has more of a party atmosphere, thanks to the ’80s pop song soundtrack. It’s still a square peg smashed into a round hole, though—a weird half-measure that doesn’t do justice to the original ride, the Guardians of the Galaxy, or the two themed areas that the attraction rests in. Is it fun? Yeah! But that’s the lowest, most foundational bar a Disney ride needs to clear. Mission: Breakout is far from a Web Slingers-style disaster—it wouldn’t be on this list if it was—but as enjoyable as it is it’s impossible to ride it without remembering how great it once was, or thinking about what Disney’s Imagineers could’ve done if they were empowered to create a brand new Guardians of the Galaxy ride that better fit the park’s Marvel-themed land.

5. Toy Story Midway Mania

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Midway Mania is a lot like the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, where you travel in a car that swivels while playing little minigames set up throughout the ride. It mixes a few classic midway game types into the Toy Story theme, like a dart throw game with Wallace Shawn’s dinosaur Rex or a shooting gallery featuring Woody. The Toy Story films are strong enough to support a great, classic dark ride without incorporating the games, but kids do seem to love playing their way through it, and perhaps it engages some adults who otherwise wouldn’t care all that much. The best part of the ride comes before it even starts, courtesy of an audio-animatronic Mr. Potato Head that heckles people while they’re waiting in line with some G-rated Don Rickles material.

4. Grizzly River Run

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Grizzly River Run is a step above the typical inner tube / whitewater ride, even if it’s surprisingly short. It has a back story about a ghost town that ties into California’s mining past, and there’s a bit of spin put on the raft that adds an extra degree of motion not always found on rides like this. It’s probably best on a hot summer’s day, but I’ve ridden it at all times of year and in all kinds of weather and always enjoyed myself. If you’ve ridden the whitewater ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Disney World, expect something about as long and with the same level of theming; it’s not overbearing or too obvious, but it is more themed than most rides like that.

3. The Incredicoaster


The former California Screamin’ is a great rollercoaster, and an unusually intense one for a Disney park, with a blistering launch start and a loop. The Incredicoaster retheme added a storyline and characters from the popular superhero movies, but none of that’s really up to the typical Disney level of quality; the figures are stationary, the story is a simple chase after the baby Jack-Jack, who’s basically the Superskrull of the family. It’s also part of the park’s bigger Pixar Pier problem; once a turn-of-the-century fun park that paid tribute to the early 1900s, it’s now a, uh, turn-of-the-century amusement park that pays tribute to Pixar movies? I don’t know, it’s weird. The Incredicoaster is a legitimately exciting roller coaster, though, one closer to what you’d expect from a Six Flags than a Disney park.

2. Soarin’ 

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Soarin’ opened in 2001, along with the rest of the park, and it became an instant Disney classic. It’s essentially just an IMAX movie that flies you over notable parts of the world, except you’re sitting, with legs dangling, in seats that lift you up towards the screen and move slightly along with the images. You can’t see anything except the screen, and the entire experience is a surprisingly powerful simulation of flying. They even pipe in appropriate smells, like oranges when you fly over groves and salty ocean scents over the Pacific. It’s not a conventional thrill ride because your actual movements are minimal, but it’s as thrilling as almost anything else found in a Disney park. And the long lines aren’t even a drag because the hangar set features a lot of fascinating information about California’s aviation history. The original film focused solely on California, and for the last few years it’s returned for short engagements in the spring. The current film, Soarin’ Around the World, loses the thematic consistency of the original, but it’s still a thrilling experience, with gorgeous views of the Great Wall of China, Arctic glaciers, the Eiffel Tower, and more.

1. Radiator Springs Racers

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This ride does the improbable: It makes me want to watch Cars again. One of the newest rides at California Adventure, Radiator Springs Racers is both a classic Disney dark ride and an exciting thrill ride in the vein of Epcot’s Test Track. It starts off like a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride set in the Cars world, with your car slowly taking sudden turns on tight curves on its way into Radiator Springs. Life-size recreations of Cars characters pop up and talk to you throughout, and they look amazing. They’re real-life cartoon cars with animated eyes where the windshields should be. Eventually you enter a race, and you and another car full of park-goers burst into a quick sprint over short hills that feels a lot faster than it actually is. The movie has always felt like an outlier in the Pixar catalogue, at least from a quality perspective, but this ride makes Cars feel like a legitimate Disney classic.

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