February 2001 – September 2010
When Imagineers began construction on California Adventure in 1998, much of the concept art for the park was focused on the new “centerpiece”, Sunshine Plaza. This land would function much like Main Street USA in Disneyland, welcoming guests into the park and immediately conveying the themes of the park: fun, excitement, and California living. In addition to bright sunshine and palm trees, much of the focus of Sunshine Plaza would be on state landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge and the California Zephyr train. Sunshine Plaza opened alongside the rest of California Adventure in 2001, and the land hosted the official commencement ceremonies marking the park’s grand opening.
Source: Static Flickr
Upon arriving through the “California” gates, guests stepped right into a California postcard. The main walkway of the park led guests underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, and into the bright and bustling Sunshine Plaza. At the center of the plaza sat a massive sun statue (called the Sun Icon) and wave fountain, where guests could make wishes, pose for photos, and soak up the afternoon sunshine. Along the various pathways surrounding the Sun Icon, guests could stop by snack carts, visit the California Zephyr, head over to the massive land known as Golden State, or shop in a number of Disney and California-themed shops. Whether guests were breezing through on their way to Golden State and Paradise Pier or spending a leisurely day in the sun, Sunshine Plaza was an open and scenic welcome into the Disneyland Resort’s brand new park.
RIDES AND ATTRACTIONS
Despite its all-encompassing theme of celebrating California, Sunshine Plaza never captured the hearts of California Adventure visitors. Most visitors didn’t pick up on the idea of walking into a postcard, and instead found the area largely disorganized and lacking in charm. To make matters worse, the land was very small, had little in the way of restaurants or attractions, and had no distinct icon like the castle at the end of Main Street USA. The Sun Icon, which was meant to be the symbol of California Adventure, turned out to be a lackluster sculpture guests and cast members often nicknamed the “Hubcap”.
Disney announced it’s major renovation and expansion project in 2007, and Sunshine Plaza was the last area in the park to undergo transformation. The plaza officially closed in 2010, and with the presence of walls around all of the existing buildings, this area served as a walkway between Golden State and Hollywood Land for two years.
Source: Static Flickr
At the time, the sweeping mountain landscape at the entrance to Sunshine Plaza was the largest ceramic mural in the world.
Sunshine Plaza officially closed in 2010, but its replacement, Buena Vista Street, did not open until 2012. During the transitional expansion and renovation period, this area was almost entirely closed or blocked by construction walls, so it did not have an official name.
During the transition from Sunshine Plaza to Buena Vista Street, Condor Flats served as the official entrance to California Adventure.
When Imagineers created Buena Vista Street, they pushed the main gate back in order to enlarge the land. As a result, the “CALIFORNIA” letters had to be removed, and were donated to the California State Fair grounds.