In the beginning, Disney used the area now occupied by California Adventure as massive parking space for Disneyland. But as Disney World in Florida grew into multiple parks and became increasingly popular, Disney wanted to repeat this set up in California. So in 1991, Disney announced plans to launch “WestCOT”, a California version of EPCOT in Orlando. However, financial and PR issues with the newly opened Disneyland Paris during the 1990’s delayed WestCOT, until Disney finally scrapped the project in 1995.

But Disney was still determined to build a second park in California, so company executives began brainstorming ideas for the next addition to the Disneyland Resort. Before long, Disney unveiled the theme of the second park: California. The new park would incorporate California history, landmarks, and boardwalk-style rides, primarily appealing to adults rather than children. Construction began in 1998, and California Adventure debuted on February 8, 2001.

OpeningDayCaliforniaAdventure20011Source: Flickr


As Disney prepared to open California Adventure to the public, the media anticipated massive crowds, similar to those that flooded Disneyland at its opening in 1955. The LA Times reported that Disney would likely have to turn away guests due to overcrowding, and some reporters predicted that California Adventure’s popularity may even eclipse that of Disneyland.

This photo shows Roy E. Disney, Michael Eisner, and Mickey Mouse at the opening ceremony:

OpeningDayCaliforniaAdventure20012 Source: Jim Hill Media

However, California Adventure’s opening was immensely disappointing. In all of 2001, the park welcomed only 5 million visitors, just over 1/3 of those who attended Disneyland in its first year. And of those that did visit California Adventure, only 20% surveyed said they were satisfied with their experience.

Why the disappointment? For starters, California Adventure had a pretty standard theme, without the presence of Disney characters that make the parks so unique worldwide. Visitors felt like they were visiting a generic theme park, and quickly lost interest. Furthermore, California Adventure wasn’t enclosed by trees and backdrops the way Disneyland is, so guests could always see Anaheim looming in the background.

But California Adventure’s biggest problem was its target audience. Critics complained that there were few rides for children, and far more shops and restaurants than rides or attractions. While adults do make up a large portion of resort guests, a park that didn’t cater to children was sure to fail.


By 2007, Disney formally acknowledged that California Adventure needed to undergo substantial changes. CEO Bob Iger weighed a number of options, including combining the two separate parks into one major park. In the end, Disney announced a plan to bring a multi-year expansion and renovation of California Adventure, to be completed in 2012.

Read more about California Adventure’s expansion and renovation here.

After the project came to an end in 2012, attendance jumped dramatically. Disney now had exactly what they’d hoped for: two beloved parks for guests to visit during their stay at the Disneyland Resort. Since 2012, California Adventure’s attendance has continued to flourish, giving guests a new hobby of frequent “park hopping”. The Disneyland Resort finally has a park that compliments Disneyland, with a truly original theme and style.

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