Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is the flagship resort at Disneyland Resort with a AAA four-diamond rating that offers direct access into California Adventure and Downtown Disney, and is 5 minutes from Disneyland. This review features room photos, pros & cons of the theme, and other thoughts on the Grand Californian. (Updated November 9, 2020.)
With styling from the 20th Century American Arts & Crafts movement, Grand Californian’s interior design resembles many of the residential styles of Pasadena architects Greene & Greene. Its lobby atrium and other design elements draw inspiration from turn of the century U.S. National Park Lodges, including Yosemite National Park’s Ahwahnee Hotel and Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn.
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa has completed its massive refurbishment that redesigned guest rooms, refreshed the lobby, pool areas, and the concierge-level Veranda Club Level. Additionally, the new GCH Craftsman Bar opened at the hotel’s pool, and White Water Snacks became the GCH Craftsman Grill. You can see all of these updates in our Photos & Videos: New Rooms at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa post.
November 9, 2020 Update: Currently, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, as well as the three hotels of Disneyland Resort, are all closed. Only the Downtown Disney shopping, dining, and entertainment district is open. We cover the likely timeframe for the return of the theme parks in When Will Disneyland Reopen? (Spoiler: not until 2021.)
However, the good news is that the Villas at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa will once again reopen beginning December 6, 2020. During this initial phase, only the Disney Vacation Club villas–and not the hotel side–of Disney’s Grand Californian will reopen.
Upon reopening, restaurants, amenities and other offerings may be modified or unavailable, limited in capacity and subject to limited availability or closure. In other words, the rest of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa will remain closed. Nevertheless, it’s an incremental step in the right direction as Disneyland Resort inches towards reopening.
In terms of basic background info, the Grand Californian was built alongside the addition of Disney’s California Adventure, and Disney Vacation Club was later added. As its name implies, the architecture is inspired by California. Most specifically, the masterpieces in Pasadena by architects Charles and Henry Greene.
Walt Disney World regulars will also notice a lot of similarities between Wilderness Lodge and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. That’s to be expected, as they are both inspired to varying degrees by U.S. National Park Lodges, and the two Disney hotels were designed by the same architect.
At first blush, Grand Californian’s soaring lobby and use of rich, dark woods makes appears very similar to Wilderness Lodge. Upon closer inspection, there are plenty of subtle differences that set them apart.
Once you really start exploring the hotel and looking at everything–the stained glass, the lamps, the fixtures, the clock, and the furniture, it’s clear that the Grand Californian is drawing from different inspirations. I highly recommend spending a late night strolling around the lobby and relaxing next to the fireplace when no one else is around.
This is where California’s Arts & Crafts movement comes into play. Here, the most obvious source of inspiration for the Grand Californian is Pasadena’s Gamble House, which is perhaps most famous for being the Back to the Future house.
We’ve toured Gamble House (see photos of it here–the similarities are uncanny, right down to the front doors) along with other homes in Pasadena’s historic district, and have come to appreciate Craftsman architecture. It’s an elegant yet simple style, with a warm and inviting sensibility.
Recognizable elements of the Craftsman style on display in the Grand Californian include handmade detailing and extensive use of exposed posts and beams to serve purposes both structural and decorative, often in creative ways.
This is evident via rich woods, natural materials, Mission-style lamps, exposed rafters, deeply overhanging eaves, tapering columns, and decorative stone. Much about the Craftsman style reflects the natural landscape, including the brown, green, and beige color choices.
Theming-wise, the result with Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel is something that can feel a bit rustic if you don’t key in on these simple yet ornate details. It’s similar to Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World in terms of the overarching space, but the details make all of the difference at Grand Californian, and the heavy inspiration of famed California architects Greene & Greene makes this a hotel worthy of the flagship distinction.
Grand Californian is arguably one of the coolest hotels in the world. It accomplishes this feat not with an overwhelming degree of opulence or lavishness, but by drawing from some of Southern California’s most interesting residential architecture and paying respectful homage to this in hotel form. (If you appreciate Grand Californian’s style and have some spare time in the area, consider doing our 1-Day Pasadena, California Itinerary.)
One of the best features of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel is its dining options. Disneyland Resort’s best restaurant is Napa Rose, which we absolutely love. There’s also another solid table service restaurant in Storyteller’s Cafe, which has a great character breakfast.
If you’re looking for lighter options, Hearthstone Lounge is great, and GCH Craftsman Grill is the most underrated counter service restaurant in all of Disneyland Resort.
For being in the middle of Disneyland Resort, Grand Californian has a surprisingly large footprint, with 3 pools, including a main pool with a 100-foot water slide that wraps around the stump of a giant redwood tree.
The entire pool area is styled to mirror the Redwood Creek Challenge, which it is adjacent to in Disney California Adventure.
The greatest amenity of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel is undoubtedly its proximity to Disneyland and entrance directly into Grizzly Peak at Disney California Adventure. This entrance makes it the closest hotel to any Disney theme park in the United States.
It’s also an incredibly short walk to Disneyland (either through Disney California Adventure or Downtown Disney). This is a huge benefit, especially when coupled with morning Extra Magic Hours, which are great for fast access to Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land!
Now let’s take a look at the guest rooms…
Unlike Wilderness Lodge, which carries the rustic theming into the guest rooms, the Grand Californian rooms feel more luxurious, with rooms befitting a flagship resort at this price point.
This vibe comes through in everything from the drapes and headboard to the bathrobes in every guest room closet. The finishing touches of the rooms are very nice.
Most importantly, the beds are incredibly comfortable with great bedding and excellent pillows.
Most of these rooms also feature excellent views to either Disney Californian Adventure (with a World of Color view!), Downtown Disney/Disneyland, or a courtyard or pool.
As noted above, we have more photos (and video!) that showcase the details of the guest rooms in our Photos & Videos: New Rooms at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa post.
The other amenities are Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel put it over the top. It has a fitness center, convention space, multiple pools, a great location, free tours and children’s activities, and–most importantly–excellent restaurants. These all greatly enhance the guest experience on a laid back “resort style” vacation. Unfortunately, the most important amenity on that list is the excellent restaurants, and you don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy these restaurants.
Unlike Walt Disney World hotel restaurants that can be difficult to access if you’re not staying in the particular hotel, all of these restaurants are–literally–a five minute walk from Disney California Adventure. Because of this, we have a hard time considering these amenities when comparing Disney’s Grand Californian to any other hotel at which we might stay.
This location would be especially great for experiencing Grizzly River Run and then running up to the room for a change of clothes. It’s also nice to be able to take a quick nap and be back inside the park 10 minutes after waking up.
The Grand Californian’s location is by no means essential, though. Many of the Harbor Boulevard hotels are only about 10 minutes away from the turnstiles. As you may know, we have been big advocates of staying off-site at Disneyland Resort. While we still feel this way, Morning Extra Magic Hours at Disney California Adventure to experience Radiator Springs Racers do help tip the scale towards staying on-site.
The other big consideration is price. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel is typically the most expensive hotel at Disneyland Resort. Its rates start at $586 per night, and escalate from there. During busier times of the year, basic rooms can exceed $800. With discounts for Disneyland Resort hotels now being rare, it’s tough to book the Grand Californian for less than $500/night, even during the off-season.
Without question, that’s a lot of money. However, if you’re going to splurge on a hotel at Disneyland Resort, Grand Californian should be it. From a thematic perspective, it’s unquestionably the best. In terms of design and amenities, it easily exceeds numerous resorts in Southern California’s beach cities, many of which charge comparable (or higher) rates.
The biggest difference between Grand Californian and those hotels is, obviously, the location. Your room at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel or Montage in Laguna Beach might have a view overlooking the ocean. Your room at Grand Californian might have a room overlooking Disney California Adventure. Different people will value those views and locations differently.
The other main difference is service. Yes, Disney Cast Members are great. However, the Grand Californian doesn’t hold a candle to the Montage, Ritz Carlton, or any number of other luxury hotels in Southern California. It doesn’t even compete with other high end hotels in Anaheim that are half the cost. If you’re after attentive service, Grand Californian is probably not the best option for you–unless you’re willing to splurge even more on the Veranda Club Level.
It’s totally a personal decision, but when all of this is considered, we love the Grand Californian as a very occasional 1-night splurge. There’s a lot to be said for the luxury of the Grand Californian, having a private entrance into Disney California Adventure, a beautiful lobby with Disney songs playing on the piano, exceptional Disney restaurants, and a view of World of Color from your hotel. (Okay, now I wish I were there right now!)
If I were going to stay at another Disneyland Resort hotel instead of the Grand Californian, I’d probably choose Disneyland Hotel. Its atmosphere (I love the new look) is great, its pool is amazing, and its proximity to Trader Sam’s is great. Plus, it’s a bit cheaper than the Grand Californian.
We’ve stayed in both (here’s our Disneyland Hotel Review if you want to compare the two) and I have a tough time saying which I prefer–it probably would come down to price and which has better discounts. Both are excellent, excellent hotels. By contrast, I wouldn’t stay at Paradise Pier Hotel again.
Overall, the Grand Californian is the perfect place to stay for those who want to be as close to the parks as possible and really enjoy the Arts & Crafts meets National Parks Lodge theming. It offers a surprising amount of luxury and meticulous attention to detail, and you could spend all day wandering its halls, seeing new and beautiful design elements. However, if you’re traveling on a budget, we feel that a stay at the Grand Californian is a poor use of your funds. Instead, stay elsewhere and put that money towards a couple nice meals at Napa Rose and Carthay Circle Restaurant.
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If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
What do you think of Disneyland Resort’s flagship resort? Are you a fan of the Grand Californian, or do you prefer Disneyland Hotel? Do you think GCH is a brilliant work of art in the spirit of Gamble House or the Ahwahnee, or do you view it as an overpriced take on Wilderness Lodge? Share your thoughts in the comments!