Due to the opening of Cars Land, Buena Vista Street, and the conclusion of a huge 5-year construction project at Disney California Adventure, a lot of you are probably planning a vacation to Disneyland Resort. If you are, you might be wondering which Disney California Adventure rides are best. Our list of the top Disney California Adventure attractions includes plenty of recognizable names, along with a few sleeper-picks that we think a lot of people overlook, but are actually really enjoyable.
Our top pick is Radiator Springs Racers, which is the best attraction from the newly Cars Land opened and Buena Vista Street. While we don’t recommend skipping any attractions based upon the advice of others if you have the time to experience them all (why not form your own opinion–you might like something totally different than us!), if your time is limited, here are reviews of every attraction in Disney California Adventure, with our “must do” attractions listed first, and in slightly more depth. Note that we have a separate page for tips and info about all Disneyland attractions. If you’re visiting in Summer 2016, there will be some changes to this list, with Soarin’ Around the World and the Frozen Musical both opening in June 2016.
Not everything on this list is a thrilling, “E-Ticket” attraction with long lines. We enjoy the flagship attractions, but we also like variety in our experiences. Some of the lesser-known attractions are also very well done, just not in a ‘knock-your-socks-off’ way. The list of “top attractions” includes everything we feel makes for a well-rounded day at Disney California Adventure. Ideally, a day to experience Disney California Adventure and a separate day (or days) to do Disneyland (read our Disneyland Ticket Guide to determine which tickets are best), so you will be able to experience everything, not just our top picks. If you are stretched for time and only have one day for both parks, you won’t be able to experience everything on this “top attractions” list.
Numerical review scores for Disney California Adventure’s attractions are on a scale of 1 to 10, and only take into consideration overall quality relative to that specific type of attraction. Dark rides are judged against other dark rides, coasters against other coasters, and so on, to create a relatively level playing field. We do not take into account how different demographics will like the attraction. Obviously, if an attraction has a height restriction that precludes kids from riding it, its “score” for them wouldn’t be as high as what we have listed. Likewise on attractions that are geared towards kids but may not appeal as much to adults. Here, we only consider the overall quality of an attraction in its category.
Top DCA Attractions
Radiator Springs Racers (10/10) – The most succinct way to describe Radiator Springs Racers is by saying it uses the basis of the ride system of Test Track to combine dark ride elements and outdoor race sequences through the detailed Ornament Valley. It’s also rumored to be the most expensive attraction Disney has ever built, and is easily the best overall attraction at Disney California Adventure, and perhaps Disneyland, too. Make sure to get there early or use FastPass (read more strategy in our Cars Land Tips & Tricks post), as Radiator Springs Racers promises to have long lines for years to come! We CANNOT WAIT to experience Radiator Springs Racers again!
Red Car Trolleys (8/10) – Okay, so these are trolleys modeled after the Pacific Electric Railway that travel between Buena Vista Street and the Tower of Terror in Hollywood Land. However, they set the tone for the ‘new’ Disney California Adventure, and really immerse guests in the experience and period of Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Land. There’s no better way to get from Buena Vista Street to Tower of Terror.
Grizzly River Run (7.5/10) – Grizzly River Run takes the white water raft ride concept to the next level, offering some beautiful visuals along the way. While I think the beautiful details found in Grizzly River Run are great, it would nice to see a bit more to make this a “next level” Disney attraction. Still, it’s something you should experience at least once if you don’t mind being soaked!
California Screamin’ (8.5/10) – One of the best rollercoasters you’ll experience in a United States Disney theme park. There is some theming in and around the queue, and on the track itself, but California Screamin’ is unabashedly a ride more about thrills and fun than it is about Disney attention to detail.
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (7/10) – Mater hosts his junkyard jamboree, where his tractors spin and whip around guests. To get an idea of what to expect, think Mad Tea Party, except with guests in freely moving trailers attached to the tea cups instead of in the cups themselves. Unlike Radiator Springs Racers, lines for Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree typically are not that bad, so you should be able to safely do this attraction at your leisure during the day.
The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure (8/10) – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is a classic Fantasyland dark ride (in Disney California Adventure) with some 21st century technology used to spice the concept up. If you’ve read this guide in the past, you might notice the score for this attraction has gone up, which is because of a recent overhaul that substantially improved the lighting and overall feel of the attraction. It’s a very enjoyable attraction that goes beyond what you’ll find in Fantasyland, but updated for this generation. This is a people-eater in terms of capacity, so do it whenever.
Soarin’ Over California (9.5/10) – Soarin’ is a Walt Disney World fan-favorite, and it’s also pretty popular at Disney California Adventure. This attraction simulates the sensation of flight with a huge screen, effects, and an impressive ‘hang-glider’ ride system. In June 2016, this will become Soarin’ Around the World, with footage from locations around the globe.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (8.5/10) – The original Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is one of the best attractions that Disney has ever created. Disney California Adventure’s Tower of Terror follows the same general formula, with minor changes as to how this dropping-elevator thrill ride is executed. The Walt Disney World version is pretty much perfect (and better than this version), but the DCA version is still great. We recommend using your second FastPass of the day (after Radiator Springs Racers) for Tower of Terror.
Toy Story Midway Mania (8/10) – This interactive 3D game featuring the characters from Toy Story is one of the most popular attractions in all of Walt Disney World thanks to its placement in a park lacking rides for kids. In Disney California Adventure, the better balance in attractions plus the lack of FastPass makes wait times for Toy Story Midway Mania much shorter. The line moves quickly and it’s a fun game for the normal 30-45 minute wait to experience it. It’s a good idea to do this early in the morning, after Radiator Springs Racers for a wait or 20-30 minutes.
Redwood Creek Challenge Trail (8/10) – When Disney originally created Disney California Adventure, they did the Golden State area right. Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is evidence of this, as it’s a beautiful play area to explore. Check out the elevated rope bridges for great views of the park!
World of Color: Celebrate (9.5/10) – A day in Disney California is capped off with this nighttime, water spectacular. Featuring projections, fire, and other amazing effects, the dancing fountains of Paradise Bay present a jaw-droppingly beautiful montage presentation of Disney animated classics. Make sure to check out our World of Color Photography and Viewing Tips article to pick the best spot to see the show! While the Celebrate version (hosted by Neil Patrick Harris) for Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary isn’t as good as regular World of Color, a first-timer will still be blown away by the colorful fountains, projections, and other visuals. World of Color is the perfect way to end a day at Disney California Adventure.
If you experience everything on the “Top Attractions” list, and enjoy a copy of meals or drinks at one of DCA’s great bars, you probably won’t have time for much else. If you do have some extra time, we highly recommend rounding out your day with at least a few attractions from “The Rest” below…
Animation Academy (7.5/10) – Animation Academy is the highlight of the Animation Building at Disney California Adventure, and might even be considered a hidden gem. The animation classes are fun and education, and the exhibits throughout the building are neat diversions.
Disney Junior – Live on Stage! (?/10) – This is the one attraction at DCA that we’ve never done. It’s not exactly aimed towards the ‘adults without kids’ demographic. Might be worth doing if you have toddlers.
Flik’s Flyers (3.5/10) – Each of the ‘a bug’s land’ attractions is a varying degree of, “okay, but nothing special.” Don’t waste your time with any of these rides if your time is limited.
Francis’ Ladybug Boogie (3/10) – Same idea as the Mad Tea Party at Disneyland, without iconic status or any great views. Skip it.
Golden Zephyr (3.5/10) – Worth doing if it’s open for the neat views of Paradise Pier, but it closes in even a slight breeze. Plan on doing Silly Symphony Swings instead.
Goofy’s Sky School (4/10) – Garish wild mouse coaster that replaced an even more garish wild mouse coaster. The theming with Goofy is neat (even if the farm/sky school thing makes little sense) and the ride is mildly thrilling, but this eyesore doesn’t belong in a Disney theme park.
Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train (4.5/10) – Similar to Casey Jr. in nature, but shorter and less fun. The best ride in ‘a bug’s land’ thanks to scents and some clever one-liners, but that’s not saying much.
It’s Tough to Be a Bug! (8/10) – As far as 3D shows go, It’s Tough to Be a Bug is great. Clever writing and effects. Arguably belongs on the “Top Attractions” list.
Jumpin Jellyfish (4.5/10) – Kiddie “drop” ride that slowly goes up and down. Offers neat views and might be thrilling to small children.
King Triton’s Carousel (4.5/10) – Fairly standard carousel, except themed to sea-life.
Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters (7/10) – This replaced Luigi’s Flying Tires in March 2016. Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters is the newest attraction at Disney California Adventure, and the first trackless ride in the U.S. Disney Parks. It features cute little roadsters “dancing” around the track, with some charming sequences and a fun finish. It’ll put a smile on your face, but long wait times as compared to its short (90 seconds) duration make it skippable.
Mickey’s Fun Wheel (4/10) – A standard Ferris Wheel that often has long waits. Cool views, though.
Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue (7/10) – A dark ride slightly above Fantasyland caliber, Monsters, Inc. is a good dark ride, but given when it was built, some better tech would’ve been nice.
Pixar Play Parade (6/10) – This high energy parade has decent-enough floats and music, but it just doesn’t rank among Disney’s great parades for us. Definitely catch it if your party contains Pixar fans.
Silly Symphony Swings (6/10) – Silly Symphony Swings is a dressed-up off-the-shelf ‘wave swinger’ attraction that spins guests in circles in a somewhat thrilling manner. The highlight of the attraction is the views it offers of the gorgeous Paradise Pier area. Make sure to see it at night of our a beautiful blue-sky day!
Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies (3/10) – Basic bumper cars without much of a unique hook. Can be skipped.
Turtle Talk with Crush (7.5/10) – An interactive digital show with Crush “inside” a tank as he interacts with kids in the audience. Although the interactions are with kids, the humor is often geared towards adults, and this “Living Character Initiative” based show is a lot of fun for everyone. Another reason the Animation Building shouldn’t be skipped.
This list leaves out a few pieces of roaming entertainment and a few other things, but that covers everything major that you’d find on a Disney California Adventure park map. As you probably notice, Disney California Adventure has fewer attractions than Disneyland, and more of DCA’s attractions are below 5/10 than are Disneyland’s. This is due to many of the Disney California Adventure attractions being generic “off the shelf” amusement park rides with Disney theming slapped on, a problem that has been mostly rectified in recent years with the overhaul of DCA.
While the overall attraction slate isn’t nearly as strong at Disney California Adventure, thanks to flagship attractions like Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin’, Tower of Terror, California Screamin’, Toy Story Midway Mania, and World of Color, the top of the lineup at Disney California Adventure is very strong. These adult-oriented attractions plus the slightly more mature nature of the park (unlike Disneyland, it serves alcohol) might actually make it more appealing to older demographics.
As for figuring out the rest of your Disney California Adventure and Disneyland Resort trip, including what to pack, whether you should stay off-site or on-site in a Disney hotel, where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland trip planning guide!
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Which Disney California Adventure attractions are your favorites and which do you skip? If you haven’t visited DCA, which ones are on your “must do” list? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your questions and thoughts in the comments!