The next evolution of the Downtown Disney District at Disneyland is now under construction and will open later this year and in 2024! This post shares an update on the multi-year reimagining project with new concept art, plus details about the collection of shopping, dining and entertainment experiences coming to California. (Updated October 11, 2023.)
The above concept art was previously released, and showcases the space that’ll replace the former AMC Theater. Previously, this area closed to become a new luxury hotel–a plan that was ultimately scrapped due to a standoff between Disney and the (former) city council in Anaheim.
Demolition of the old buildings started last year, and the site is now totally cleared. As of October 2023, construction has now gone vertical and you can see the framework of Din Tai Fung starting to take shape (it’s very obvious if you compare construction to the concept art below–you can see the contours of the roofline). Here’s a peek behind the curtain of what’s on the horizon for Downtown Disney…
October 11, 2023 Update: Disneyland has shared more of the food and drink offerings coming to Downtown Disney in the future! For starters, plans are underway for Parkside Market, a new, curated collection of diverse culinary concepts brought to life by Levy, with all four offerings under one roof as part of the expansion on the west end.
Let’s whet your appetite with a bit more about what offerings are coming to this all-new location…
Seoul Sister is a fast-casual modern eatery that will serve a Korean-forward menu based on bibimbap (Korean rice bowls) with a California twist. Executive Chef Kelly Kim will showcase bold Korean flavors through marinated meats, colorful vegetables and savory sauces over rice, noodles or salad, plus appetizers, an Asian-inspired breakfast menu, and hand-crafted drinks.
Sip & Sonder, from founders Amanda-Jane Thomas and Shanita Nicholas, is a Black women-owned brand that has been recognized as one of the best cafés in L.A. by the Los Angeles Times. Guests in the district can expect to enjoy Sip & Sonder’s signature lattes, as well as fresh treats, frozen drinks and Caribbean-inspired bites.
GG’s Chicken Shop, from Boka Restaurant Group, was founded by James Beard Award-winning restaurateurs Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm, alongside Michelin Star Chef Partner Lee Wolen. Affectionately named after Wolen’s mother Geri, the shop will serve a family-friendly menu of chicken sandwiches, salads, and classic dinner table sides. The first brick-and-mortar GG’s Chicken Shop opened earlier this year in Chicago and this new location in Downtown Disney District will be its first on the West Coast.
A second story bar will be an al fresco spot offering great views to sip signature craft cocktails and mocktails from mixologists who infuse, muddle, stir, shake and swizzle the freshest mixes using local ingredients and artful garnishes. Refreshing selections will include frozen lemonades, frozés, espresso martinis, shareable cocktails and spirit-free elixirs.
Later in 2023, Downtown Disney will open a new stage and lawn for special events, activities, musical entertainment and more on the west end of the district. In this brand-new area, you’ll also be able to see a soaring new sculptural tower designed by Nikkolas Smith.
This new tower will pay tribute to the sublime work of pioneering architects of color in Southern California during the middle of the last century with unique geometric patterns in the sculpture, evoking the famed mid-century buildings they created. We look forward to this beautiful new outdoor space!
Now let’s turn to the previously-released details about the Downtown Disney reimagining and expansion…
Disneyland leadership indicates that they’re happy to share another new look at the exciting shopping and dining coming to the west side of the Downtown Disney District. While the evolution of Downtown Disney began in 2018, the company recently began work on the latest transformation to introduce more innovative shopping, dining and entertainment experiences.
Drawing inspiration from Southern California mid-century modern architecture, the west-end area will be a beautiful blend of vibrant color palettes, design elements and patterns influenced by the region, and will include an open lawn for relaxation and future events, and an even broader and diverse collection of dining and shopping.
Disneyland Resort is investing significantly in Downtown Disney District to continue growing a dynamic, exciting destination with something for everyone. The company is also intentionally diversifying its offerings to meet the needs of today’s guests, with an example of that to share.
The world-renowned restaurant Din Tai Fung will join the district to offer guests their soup dumplings hand crafted right on site! This family-run restaurant will bring flavorful Chinese cuisine to Downtown Disney, where guests can enjoy dishes served family style in a creative space near our new lawn pavilion.
Michelin-starred Chef Carlos Gaytan will bring his inclusive vision of Mexican cuisine to Paseo and Centrico in the locations currently occupied by Catal & Uva Bar, brought to life by Patina Restaurant Group.
The restaurant and central courtyard bar and dining area will offer guests a multi-sensory journey to the heart of Chef Gaytan’s homeland.
When it comes to what’s done already, Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen now has a new look, new name and new menu! The location is celebrating its reopening as Jazz Kitchen Coastal Grill & Patio, a modern, casual and fun celebration of the Gulf and Pacific coasts, and Beignets Expressed.
The restaurant’s all-day menu features long-time fan favorites alongside new selections such as Lobster & Crawfish Sliders, Chile-Spiced Honey Glazed Grilled Salmon, Gumbo LA-LA filled with succulent seafood, the Grilled Open Faced Lobster BLT Po-Boy and the Reef & Beef, a delectable entrée of grilled shrimp and braised short ribs. This contemporary menu pairs perfectly with a newly expanded wine list from California vintners, and seasonal, seaside-style cocktails.
The crowds at Downtown Disney never cease to amaze me. It’s one thing to encounter wall-to-wall people at Disney Springs. Not only is that a bona-fide tourist destination, but it’s one of the best outdoor malls in the area.
Disney Springs is also objectively better than Downtown Disney by orders of magnitude.
Conversely, I’ll never understand why Downtown Disney is treated as a destination by locals. It’s definitely not one of the top 5 outdoor malls in Orange or Los Angeles Counties. No matter where to live in Southern California, you have a superior option about as close–one that’s more convenient, has better offerings, or both.
Much like Paradise Pier Hotel, I suspect the “Disney” branding is doing the heavy lifting–if Downtown Disney were substantively the same but instead called the Anaheim Marketplace, it would see a fraction of its current traffic.
With that said, I’m legitimately excited for the addition of Din Tai Fung. This instantly becomes a top 5 restaurant at Disneyland Resort–maybe top 3. Din Tai Fung is that good, and is literally world renowned.
One word of warning: Din Tai Fung has a huge following in Southern California. The last time we went to the South Coast Plaza location was around Christmas, and the wait time we were quoted was literally 4 hours. That’s not abnormal, and although reservations are accepted, they’re not easy to score.
We ended up bailing and going to a nearby grocery store for ramen. A bit of an aside, but if Disneyland is “intentionally diversifying its offerings to meet the needs of today’s guests,” they should add that grocery store. It would also instantly become one of the top dining options at Downtown Disney. (Okay, I’m talking about Mitsuwa Marketplace and its food court shop, Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, so calling it “grocery store ramen” is reductionist and selling both short.)
About the only thing I don’t like here is the new look for Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen. The restaurant previously looked like something out of the French Quarter, a perfectly fitting setting for the creole and cajun cuisine served up there. It’s hardly an exemplar of themed design, but it has personality and charm. By contrast, the modern look that replaces it is relatively cold and generic (and I say that as someone biased towards modern design).
Other than that, I like the mid-century style of the open area. It’s not fantastic, but it’s an improvement over the vaguely Art Deco meets 90s ornamentation of the current main corridor of Downtown Disney.
Ultimately, mostly good news here. Downtown Disney could really benefit from better placemaking if it wants to compete with real world outdoor malls in Southern California. Same goes for more diverse and ambitious cuisine. On both fronts, this is a start–but that’s all it is.
Downtown Disney needs a comprehensive aesthetic overhaul and new restaurant and retail lineup…pretty much across the board. It’s no longer 2001. The competition has intensified, while Downtown Disney has been left in the past. Fortunately, Imagineering won’t have to venture too far for “research trips” to figure out how to improve Downtown Disney–the best mall in Southern California is only a few miles from their Glendale offices.
What do you think of this news about Disneyland Resort? Are you excited that Downtown Disney is getting reimagined (to some degree)? Or do you think DtD is already perfect, far and away the best mall in Southern California? Will Din Tai Fung cause you to visit Downtown Disney? Any other restaurant or retail locations at the Glendale Galleria/Americana at Brand that Disney should bring to Downtown Disney? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!