Cars Land at Disney California Adventure has solidified its place as one of the most popular theme park lands at Disneyland Resort. This guide covers saving time in line for Radiator Springs Racers, what to eat, secret spots & moments, and more in this truly magical area of DCA. (Updated June 15, 2022.)
For Summer 2022, we’re revisiting this guide to Cars Land with some fresh tips & tricks in honor of the 10th Anniversary of Cars Land! It’s hard to believe that Disney California Adventure 2.0 is now a decade old, existing almost as long as the original incarnation of the park. Both Buena Vista Street and Cars Land still feel simultaneously new and like they’ve always been a part of the park.
Starting with a drive down memory lane, Cars Land opened on June 15, 2012. The new land played fast and loose with the park’s California theme, expanding that to Route 66 while bringing guests into Radiator Springs. The land felt like stepping into the “set” of a Pixar film, and still does! Spanning a whopping 12 acres, Cars Land today remains something special.
Cars Land is also one of the biggest reasons why Walt Disney World fans should make the road trip to Disneyland Resort. The entire Route 66 is fantastic, right up there with New Orleans Square as unique-to-Disneyland lands that every Walt Disney World fan should see. (We’d also include Buena Vista Street, Grizzly Peak, and Avengers Campus on that list–albeit much lower down.)
With that said, let’s get this guide to Cars Land rolling! (Okay, sorry for that awful pun…but it’s pretty consistent with the generally corny writing style of this blog, so are you really that surprised?)
5. Saving Time
Rope drop at Disney California Adventure might as well be called the “Race for Racers,” because the vast majority of guests prioritize Radiator Springs Racers over everything else. This remains true a decade later, even after the addition of other popular newer rides like Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure and Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout.
There’s a reason Radiator Springs Racers is #5 on our list of Disneyland & DCA Ride Rankings, and the #1 attraction in Disney California Adventure. It’s a masterpiece of modern Imagineering, right behind Indiana Jones Adventure and the longer Pirates of the Caribbean as the most compelling rides that Walt Disney World fans need to visit California to experience.
Radiator Springs Racers is so good that you’ll probably want to ride more than once. Fortunately, there are a few different ways to approach Radiator Springs Racers to accomplish exactly that–and minimize your time waiting in line.
First, the straightforward rope drop dash.
This is the tried and true method. As noted above, it’s also what most DCA visitors will do. As discussed in our 1-Day Disney California Adventure Itinerary, we favor starting in Avengers Campus instead. Our reasoning is that it’s easier to knock out two headliners early-on by starting on that side of the park.
The fastest option for experiencing Radiator Springs Racers is purchasing an Individual Lightning Lane. While we’re not personally keen on the pay-per-ride option, we’ve also experienced Radiator Springs Racers (literally) hundreds of times and thus have no sense of urgency.
Another option–and one we use regularly–is the Single Rider line. If this line is backed up to near the bridge, we recommend getting out of line and coming back later.
Wait times for this fluctuate dramatically, but tend to be lower earlier in the day or towards the very end of the night. They’re usually worst on afternoon, weekends, and any other times when Californians are disproportionately visiting DCA. Locals tend utilize the Single Rider line with much more frequency than tourists.
Our final strategy is getting in line 5 minutes before Disney California Adventure closes for the night.
Ignore the posted wait time, as that’s always inflated to discourage guests from jumping in line for one final ride of the evening. Typically, the line dies down a bit by this point, but the real benefit is that you’ll be “wasting” your time waiting in line after the park is closed, anyway, so it’s not like you’re missing out on valuable park time. Plus, you exit to a mostly-empty Route 66, which is pretty cool.
The one thing you should avoid is getting in the regular standby line during the middle of the day.
Typically, wait times for Radiator Springs Racers are consistently bad between around 11 am and 8 pm. There are a couple of reprieves during this, however. The first is at noon, which is when most people are eating. The second is typically around 4 pm; for this one, you need to get in line before or right as the posted wait time falls. Otherwise, rope drop or late nights are your best options.
As for Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters, morning or late at night are the best options for avoiding long waits. This attraction replaced Luigi’s Flying Tires, which was unpopular due to its learning curve. The new version of the attraction is a trackless ride that should remain popular long-term, and see waits of 30+ minutes most of the day.
Wait times are never really all that bad for Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. Make no mistake, though, these are just minor diversions in comparison to Radiator Springs Racers. Think of them as the piece of orange sometimes garnishing a plate with the delicious burger you might order at a restaurant. Sure, oranges are fine, but no one is ordering the burger thinking, “OH MAN, I CAN’T WAIT TO GET MY ORANGE WEDGE!”
4. It Has Great Decent Food
There are two restaurants in Cars Land: Flo’s V8 Cafe and Cozy Cone Motel (click on each name to read our full reviews of those restaurants). There’s also Filmore’s Taste-In, but it just sells fruits and other nonsense that no one wants. Stupid hippy.
The Cozy Cone Motel has grown on us. The Chili Cone Queso and Bacon Mac & Cheese Cones are both winners, and fun handheld foods you can eat on the go. Beyond that, there are some good desserts here, and there’s usually a good seasonal item or two.
The main draw in Cars Land dining is Flo’s V8 Cafe, which has unfortunately fallen from grace considerably since opening.
Flo’s used to have amazing breakfast options and lots of great comfort food options for lunch and dinner. Currently, it doesn’t serve breakfast at all and the lunch & dinner menu is incredibly scaled back. Our pick right now is Flo’s Famous Fried Chicken, but even that is an (expensive) gamble; we’ve had fantastic fried chicken on occasion–but also dry and underwhelming chicken other times.
With that said, Flo’s V8 Cafe remains one of our go-to spots for late afternoons and evenings in Disney California Adventure.
The restaurant’s “back porch” is a relaxing respite from Disneyland Resort’s crowds, and the spot offers a great view of Radiator Springs Racers and the Cadillac Mountain Range. A lot of people pass this right by or don’t see it at all, but it’s accessible both from the inside and outside of the restaurant. A great spot to grab a cold beer or ice cream (or even bring over some bread pudding from Pacific Wharf Cafe) and enjoy some vehicle and people watching.
3. Nightly “Sh-Boom” Lighting Moment
Every night immediately after sunset (no, we cannot give you an exact time…for reasons that should be obvious), the lights go on in Cars Land. You can get the exact time by asking a Cast Member in Cars Land, but in our experience they often don’t know.
Your better bet is to pull up the sunset time on your phone, and to position yourself in front of Flo’s V8 Cafe about 5-10 minutes before this time. The lighting typically occurs about 1-5 minutes after sunset. By positioning yourself in front of Flo’s, you’re right in the middle of the action.
This is just a little thing, so don’t go in with overly high expectations, but if you’re like us, it’s one of those magic moments like the Kiss Goodnight at Walt Disney World that might make your eyes leak a little. There are a lot of videos on YouTube of this moment, but we aren’t going to link to any of them, as we think watching it ahead of time sort of ruins it…
2. Cars Land Hidden Details
Disney is quick to tout the “Disney Details” as the difference between it and competitors. In general, this is the general meticulous level of detail in any (good) project that Walt Disney Imagineering completes.
Frankly, this was something that was generally lacking in Disney California Adventure 1.0, with few exceptions (Golden State being the land that immediately comes to mind). Both new lands, Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, rectified this problem in a big way.
In Cars Land, the Disney Details take two forms: layered organic detail and Easter Eggs. The layered organic details are just the types of thing you’d expect to find in an actual environment like this along Route 66. They give the land depth and make it feel real and lived-in, rather than an artificial theme park environment.
This is my favorite type of detail, as I think it allows you to lose yourself in an environment, and forget you’re in a theme park. Disney’s best work, from New Orleans Square to World Showcase to Tokyo DisneySea, excel in this department. You can add Cars Land to the list of those preceding three examples.
Easter Eggs are a bit different (and more divisive among fans). These are things that do not organically belong in the land, but don’t necessarily detract from it, and give guests familiar with Disney (or whatever is being referenced) a pleasant surprise when they stumble upon them. We have a list of Disneyland Easter Eggs, but that doesn’t cover Cars Land.
These are essentially trivia book and scavenger hunt fodder. A good example of this type of detail is Hidden Mickeys. Cars Land takes this to the next level, with lots of Pixar in-jokes, car culture references, and, of course, Hidden Mickeys.
1. It’s Better at Night
Cars Land looks better at night. Much better. So much better that we highly recommend your first visit to Cars Land being at night, if possible. Obviously this is not going to be possible for many people especially if you’re following our advice about saving time (or if you only have a couple of days at Disneyland Resort), but if you have a longer trip and you can do your first day in Disneyland and Park Hop to Disney California Adventure that night, you won’t regret it.
If you can, here’s exactly what we recommend doing: when you get to the main entrance to Cars Land, instead of turning onto Route 66, keeping walking towards Paradise Pier. On the way, you’ll see a bridge to Pacific Wharf on the left. Take that. Walk all the way through Pacific Wharf, and you’ll come to a bluff that’s part of Cars Land (see the photo above). Walk through that for a real “wow” moment.
Even if that’s not practical, make sure to take the time to visit Cars Land at night. Ornament Valley and the Cadillac Mountain Range in Cars Land are lit beautifully at night, which makes a ride on Radiator Springs Racers at night especially awesome. This is one of the main reasons we recommend riding at night, so the beginning and race sequences of the ride seriously take on a totally different feel at night.
Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters is also prettier at night, as it’s many strands of popcorn lights plus that beautiful Italian music really make for a peaceful experience. It’s not as improved of an experience at night as Radiator Springs Racers, but the lines are shorter at night anyway, so hey, why not?
Then, there’s the neon lighting. So much glorious neon. If you are like me, you will be enamored with these neon lights like a raccoon who has just found a shiny piece of tinfoil in the trash. Not that the neon lighting is anything like tinfoil that’s been found in trash, but you get the idea.
Thanks to the neon, Cars Land at night truly feels like the “set” from the movie Cars. We know animated movies don’t have sets, but you’ll know exactly what we mean when you step foot in that land at night. Radiator Springs Racers might be the most popular Disney ride anywhere right now, but that land itself at night is the true E-Ticket experience. Do not miss it.
It’s also pretty awesome at night during Christmas at Disneyland Resort. The decorations sort of combine #1 and #2. Some people don’t like them, but we love them.
That covers our tips for visiting Cars Land. By following these you can save yourself a lot of time and potentially improve your experience, but they just scratch the surface of what Cars Land has to offer. The important thing to keep in mind is that Cars Land isn’t just a land to run through to get to Radiator Springs Racers. It’s a place that should be slowed down and savored. If you do, you might be surprised at just how much time you spend in Cars Land!
If you’ve been to Cars Land, what else do you recommend for the best possible experience there? Any tips to add? If you haven’t been, what interests you more: the general ambiance of the land or Radiator Springs Racers? Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below!