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 Reimaginingit 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!

YOUR THOUGHTS

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!

16 Responses to “Downtown Disney Reimagining Details Revealed”
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