Downtown Disney Reimagining Details Revealed
The next evolution of Downtown Disney District is being planned for Disneyland, and demolition is already underway. 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.
The above concept art was released last fall, 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 a few months ago, and the site is now totally cleared. Although it’ll likely be a bit before new construction goes vertical, we do have another update from Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock’s meeting with Anaheim community leaders about upcoming plans for new experiences coming to the Disneyland Resort. Here’s a peek behind the curtain of what’s on the horizon for Downtown Disney…
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.
Disneyland Resort is also working with Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen to finalize an evolution that incorporates vibrant California energy and a fresh approach to the menu, while staying true to the heart of New Orleans for this guest-favorite location.
In other news, fan favorite Earl of Sandwich will also pop into Disneyland Resort’s Downtown Disney District. It’ll return in a special sandwich walk-up location, offering guests the classics they know and love for a limited time beginning later this year.
My reaction to this news about Downtown Disney is pretty much the same as to the news about Paradise Pier Hotel Getting a Pixar-Themed Reimagining: it can only get better.
We were at Disneyland Resort over the weekend, and found ourselves with the unpleasant task of navigating through Downtown Disney. This wasn’t our first rodeo, but it was our first time walking through Downtown Disney on a weekend since the trams resumed, as we had been using that walking path from the parking structures before.
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 concept art for Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen. The current restaurant is 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.
Planning a Southern California vacation? For park admission deals, read Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets. Learn about on-site and off-site hotels in our Anaheim Hotel Reviews & Rankings. For where to eat, check out our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews. For unique ideas of things that’ll improve your trip, check out What to Pack for Disney. For comprehensive advice, consult our Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide. Finally, for guides beyond Disney, check out our Southern California Itineraries for day trips to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and tons of other places!
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!
I have to be honest, although the center needed a refresh, its charm was in the Main Street pedestrian feel, which is essentially timeless. Turning everything into mid century modern seems really uninspired and a bit late to the nostalgia game that’s been riding this wave for years already. There’s also way too much midcentury architecture everywhere at the moment that I’m sick of it. We need some variety or this will get lost in the shuffle
The new design is bland, boring, lacks the Disney whimsy and charm. Ralph Brennan’s now looks like a generic overpriced restaurant in Palm Springs and a menu with less true New Orleans left. I’ll agree that DTD was showing its age and needs an update, but daaaaaang. I can go to expensive “meh” somewhere else without having a security check through my bags and walking through a magnetometer. Adding Din Tai Fung is pointless. The food quality isn’t what it was 4 years ago.
What a great idea: Make the Jazz Kitchen atmosphere as bland and generic as possible!
Disney had One Hundred acres to build a theme park and they used a lot of that for an overpriced spread out Four Star hotel and the tram area with loading and unloading and a huge esplanade. like I said in my other post DTD should have been built in the Simba Parking lot. I’m not a cheaply built theme park.
to tell you the truth I’ve never really enjoyed DTD as a whole for one thing but I dislike is the size and really the location of downtown Disney I feel they could have done a better job of planning the whole Disneyland resort expansion by developing DTD in the Simba parking lot area.
that way they could have expanded DCA. but that would require that they not develop a huge four Star hotel taking up the majority of the space. As a former cast member I walked around and through the old parking lot everyday. I was really saddened to see how the overall expansion of the Disneyland resort I wish they would have followed the Westcot idea. doing the powered walkways bringing people in from the structures to the Parks and expanding the monorail into the new park that way maybe they wouldn’t have had to do a complete re theme of the theme park after a few years or rethink of downtown Disney for that matter as you can see I’m really disappointed but with that said I do still enjoy Disneyland and for that matter DCA and downtown Disney I just wish it would have been done better.
A Mitsuwa Marketplace would be brilliant in Downtown Disney. I’ve always thought Birkenstock or a small Nike store would make a killing there, to cater to everyone who brought the wrong shoes with them.
As a native Californian it’s easy to explain why locals go to Downtown Disney. It’s safer. Other outdoor malls don’t have the same police presence and they tend to attract gangs and other criminal elements.
When I lived there we all knew going to an outdoor mall on a weekend or late evening was a poor option for that reason. And most don’t go there to really shop.
I also don’t know why people like to go to Disney Springs either. The stores are overpriced and have little selection. Better to buy online if you’re truly going to shop. But when it’s not crowded it is a decent place to get a good walk in.
I don’t know which malls you’re visiting, but I’ve seen police and security at Irvine Spectrum, Glendale Galleria, Americana at Brand, Third Street Promenade, and the Grove. And those are just the outdoor ones–many indoor malls have the same.
I don’t doubt there are some malls that are sketchy in SoCal, but all of the upscale ones in nice areas do not have that issue.
We are fortunate to have 2 Din Tai Fung locations nearby. They are always busy, and you do need to wait at popular dining times, but 4 hours! No way! We usually manage to get seated in less than 30 minutes.
My feeling is that the change to Downtown Disney is related to potential changes to the parks in the coming years. The Tomorrowland-esque design might indicate changes coming to Tomorrowland. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the DisneylandFoward project is green-lighted for the 70th anniversary (2025) and 2028 LA Olympics.
What has held up Disney from doing stuff is mostly the local government getting in the way.
But no reimagining will make money if they don’t expand capacity and make better crowd control. IMO they also need to cut down traffic through the Grand Californian. I feel like the Disneyland hotel is more peaceful and has a better vibe which isn’t due to the design but due to the constant crowds cutting through GC to get to the parks.
But in fairness to Disney, they tried to fix all of this but the city is determined to squeeze more out of the golden goose.
What Downtown Disney has that PPH doesn’t have is location, and possibly a lack of competition. Local Passholders are likely to go there the same day they hit the park, and I think the only walkable competition is GardenWalk. Is that currently nice?
I’m not going to say No to Googie elements, especially in that first piece of concept art! Lovely.
I think Garden Walk was ALWAYS nice, just nice and EMPTY.
I don’t think I care for the remodel of the Jazz Kitchen. Not everything needs to look modern California. But apparently I am in the minority.
When it comes to Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen, I totally agree with you. The current location has personality and a theme that is perfect for the restaurant. Better than ‘generic modern’ IMO.
What I think is dated about Downtown Disney is the underlying architecture–the mall buildings that are interconnected and have a late 90s/early 2000s look to them. A lot of the standalone stores are fine as-is.
I’d actually be totally fine if each venue had its own unique style with mid-century modern being the uniform style for the rows of mall storefronts.
We live in Portland and eat regularly at Din Tai Fung and you are right, it is really good. Fair warning, those soup dumplings are fantastic and it is very easy to run up a big dining bill here. You are also correct about the wait as it is always busy. This will be a fantastic addition.
PS – And now on our next trip to So Cal I want to go to Mitsuwa Marketplace and Hokkaido Ramen Santouka. Wife and I met in Sapporo, Hokkaido 30 years ago when she heard me talking about Nebraska in the Gaijin Bar (actual name) as her family was from Nebraska.
That’s a great story, and hilarious that where you met is called Gaijin Bar. (Also not surprising, given the number of places in Japan that opt for straightforward, descriptive names!)
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka is pretty good by SoCal ramen standards. I’ve yet to visit Sapporo (so I also can’t speak to how it compares to the real thing), but the ‘Ramen Alley’ there is very high on my list.
Downtown Disney definitely needs more varied dining as well as more dining space. — AND a grocery store.
I would hate to see Ralph Brennon be replaced but would enjoy a good upgrade. Morning coffee and Benyets and watching the crowd arrive is one of our favorite things to do.
It is hard to imagine that there is enough space in the area to begin to compete with Disney Springs.
tom, what do you think crowds will be like at disneyland at the time of the D23 expo? we had expiring air credit to use and are flying in 9/6 and planning to do the parks 9/7-9/9, not realizing until after the fact the expo begins 9/8. thoughts?