History of Disney California Adventure

Golden State:

Golden State might have been the strongest opening day land at Disney California Adventure. It was to be the land that represented the rich cultural and natural history of California. To accomplish this, Golden State was further divided into six sublands, known as Condor Flats, Pacific Wharf, The Bay Area, Grizzly Peak Recreation Area, Golden Vine Winery, and Bountiful Valley Farm.

Despite being the land of Disney California Adventure that was initially the strongest, The Golden State will become extinct when Disney California Adventure has its grand reopening. This is more for organizational purposes than because of substantial substantive changes that have occurred in Golden State. In its place, Disney California Adventure will add Pacific Wharf, Condor Flats, and Grizzly Peak. Bountiful Valley Farm was absorbed by ‘a bug’s land’ when that opened, The Bay Area was more or less absorbed by Paradise Pier when The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure opened in 2011, and Golden Vine Winery will be absorbed by Pacific Wharf when the park has its Grand Reopening.

Most of the changes to the Golden State have been of the “placemaking” variety (largely through an effort that has been dubbed “Project Sparkle”), as you can see below in the Condor Flats and Grizzly Peak sections.

Condor Flats:

Condor Flats has always been one of Disney California Adventure’s thematically strong lands, and changes to Condor Flats have been mostly incremental improvements to give the park a more ‘classic’ look.

The original backstory of Condor Flats was that it was a mecca for pilots and aeronautical innovators during the Age of Aviation. It was a center for testing during the 1940s until the 1960s, and was subsequently abandoned. In the 2000s, a group of young aviation enthusiasts re-discovered the area, and retrofitted the area to showcase their love for aviation.

This backstory explained why you had new graphics all over buildings that had been intentionally weathered and aged. It was a pretty clever backstory, but one that was lost on most guests. Most of the changes to Condor Flats have been to remove the layer of 2000s newness and restore the appearance of the weathered facilities from the 1940s.

Condor Flats Sunset

The Condor Flies at Night

New Chevron Gas Pumps, Condor Flats at Disney California Adventure

New Chevron Gas Pumps, Condor Flats at Disney California Adventure

The radar denoting the entrance to the land is now gone, as is the plane atop Taste Pilot’s Grill (I’m not convinced that this is permanent). The old gas pumps have been replaced with new-vintage ones.

I think these changes have been for the better, even if the immediate response is that ‘they’re taking away’ from Disney California Adventure with only removal here. I think Condor Flats will see long-term enhancements that strengthen its theme, and I prefer the idea of a pristine 1950s-era setting as opposed to the more elaborate backstory detailed above.

Grizzly Peak:

Grizzly Peak has a somewhat similar backstory to Condor Flats. Originally developed as a mine in the 1800s after a chance discovery of gold, the mine was later abandoned and the land sold to the government in the 1950s. As white-water rafting increased in popularity in the 1980s, a group of young entrepreneurs purchased the land to establish the Grizzly River Rafting Company, which would be an “X-Treme” sports facility for rafting.

If you read the history of Condor Flats above and sensed a trend, you can probably already guess what Disney is doing here: removing the layer of extreme sports theming. This is being done in favor of a theme that makes Grizzly Peak look more like one of California’s beautiful National Parks.

Grizzly River Run Refurbishment, New Paint Scheme

Grizzly River Run Refurbishment, Wheel House

What has been done thus far to remove the distinctly 1990s (or early 2000s, I suppose) extreme sports theming has been excellent. Instead of being weathered with a layer of already-dated 1990s on top of it, this area of Disney California Adventure now has a classic 1950s look to it. This is another area where I expect continued improvements to be made to strengthen the look.

The Bay Area:

The Bay Area basically became extinct in 2008 when Golden Dreams closed to make way for The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, a new Disney dark ride and the next ‘big’ element of the Disney California Adventure expansion/overhaul following World of Color.

Golden Dreams was a film celebrating the diversity of California and the people who have been influential to the state’s history. The film was hosted by the mythical Queen Califia, and Califia statues at each side of the main show’s screen came to life with the likeness of Whoopi Goldberg.

Golden Dreams

Golden Dreams Mural

Golden Dreams & Grizzly Peak

wish I could be

In 2011, The Little Mermaid dark ride (click for photos) opened in the location once home to Golden Dreams. The only thing that remained of Golden Dreams was the Palace of Fine Arts-inspired entrance.

Having never experienced Golden Dreams, it’s difficult for me to speculate whether The Little Mermaid dark ride is an improvement upon it. Certainly it cost more and brought a needed dark ride to the park. Personally, I love film-based attractions, and Golden Dreams received high marks for its show quality, but I can recognize that it didn’t resonate with park guests. Perhaps it would have succeeded as a small-scale attraction in a small out-of-the-way theatre, much as Impressions de France works well in its location at Epcot.

Bountiful Valley Farm:

Bountiful Valley Farm was home to a walk-through exhibit presented by Caterpillar that showcased California farming, the 3D film “It’s Tough To Be A Bug,” plus a few food stands and retail locations. Its Caterpillar sponsorship meant that part of the exhibit would feature displays of actual farming equipment. This was an…interesting…touch.

In 2002, ‘a bug’s land’ was added to Disney California Adventure, and Bountiful Valley Farm was absorbed into that land. While the rest of ‘a bug’s land’ still exists, the Bountiful Valley Farm attraction plus some shopping and dining locations were swallowed by Cars Land construction in late 2010.

Bountiful Valley Farms

Bountiful Valley Farms in A Bug's Land

Farmers Expo

Bountiful Valley Farms in A Bug's Land

P.T. Flea Market

Bountiful Valley Farms in A Bug's Land

Corn • Wheat • Rice • Oats

Sam Andreas Shakes at Bountiful Valley Farms in A Bug's Land

Although Cars Land has yet to open, it is highly touted, and preliminary reports and photos suggest it will be the best land in Disney California Adventure. At the very least, it has to be better than this.

Explore the rest of Disney California Adventure on the next page! You can navigate to specific lands and changes via the links below, or take the full tour by simply clicking the numbers below!

Park Entrance
Sunshine Plaza
Paradise Pier – Part 1
Paradise Pier – Part 2
Golden State
Hollywood Pictures Backlot
Parades & Events
Cars Land Construction


39 Responses to “History of Disney California Adventure”
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