You go to Disneyland for the rides, but you come to Disney California Adventure for the calories: the latter park has some of the best, most varied eats on Disney property, and this is your gustatorial guide to all of them.
Disney food buff Jamie Nelson serves up a comprehensive compendium to the cuisines of Disney California Adventure, from snacks to sit-down splendor, with a side of history and a garnish of pixie dust.
Whether it's your first time at the table, or you're a seasoned veteran of the Disney dining experience, Nelson will steer you and your stomach to the tastiest treats, the most sublime snacks, and the most memorable meals the mouse has to offer.
Come munch on the magic with this definitive guide to dining at Disney California Adventure.
How to Use This Guide
Disney and the California Wine Culture
Buena Vista Street
Carthay Circle Restaurant and Lounge
Clarabelle’s Hand-Scooped Ice Cream
Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe
Cozy Cone Motel
Flo’s V8 Café
Studio Catering Co.
Alfresco Tasting Terrace
The Bakery Tour
Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill
Gourmet Coffee Cart
Lucky Fortune Cookery
Pacific Wharf Café
Pacific Wharf Distribution Co.
Rita’s Baja Blenders
Wine Country Trattoria
Paradise Gardens Park
Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta
Corn Dog Castle
Paradise Garden Grill
Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats
Bing Bong’s Sweet Stuff
Jack-Jack Cookie Num Nums
Señor Buzz Churros
Carts of the DCA
Hot Foods Cart
GCH Craftsman Bar
GCH Craftsman Grill
Paradise Pier Hotel
Disney’s PCH Grill
The Sand Bar
Frozen Dining Package
World of Color Dining Packages
Lunar New Year
Food and Wine
Disney Festival of Holidays
When Walt arrived in California, he arrived with a suitcase and a dream. With that one simple notion, he laid the groundwork for what was to come. He created a company and a legacy that inspired generations of dreamers and doers.
There have been immense amounts of growth and forward momentum within the Walt Disney Company over the years, but there needed to be something more. All these dreams and ideas couldn’t possibly fit inside the walls of Disneyland. It would become overcrowded with idea on top of idea. There needed to be a place where there was room for more. More excitement, more places to explore. A place that could be home for new dreams, new worlds, new lands and new ideas. And with that magical combination, Disney California Adventure came to life.
California Adventure is not Disneyland and its near impossible to really compare the two. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Sure, you may find some similarities between them (seeing that they’re fruit and all), but they are inherently different. Even though California Adventure is right across the esplanade from Disneyland, it surpasses the notion of an extension. It is its own park, its own being, born of the need to expand. The dedication plaque that sits right beyond the turnstiles reads:
"To all who come to this place of dreams… Welcome! Disney California Adventure celebrates the spirit of optimism and the promise of endless opportunities, ignited by the imaginations of daring dreamers such as Walt Disney and those like him who forever changed—and were forever changed by—the Golden State. This unique place embraces the richness and diversity of California … its land, its people, its stories and, above all, the dreamers it continues to inspire."
California Adventure continued that forward momentum by paying tribute to the foundation that Walt created and expanded it. At its heart, California Adventure was a million inspirations all rolled into one. Some critics say that this park feels disjointed and is anything but cohesive but that’s part of its charm. Everything within this park doesn’t need to fit into a perfect bubble, it can be what it is, unabashedly California. It’s a melting pot of places just like the state itself from the beautiful national forests, wine country, scenic coastline and the blend of where old meets new.
I visited California Adventure a whopping 10 years after its initial opening. My first visit in 2011 was during a time of great change and refurbishment. When I stepped foot inside, it was not the same park that opened its doors in 2001, even now it is still changing and evolving.
The biggest, breath-catching, “Aha!” moment of my first trip was watching World of Color for the very first time. I had always been drawn to water rides (I’m looking at you Splash Mountain and Grizzly River Run) and seeing the clips from so many Disney classics projected on the water took my breath away. To put it simply, I fell in love with it. I adored the light mist from the water that tickled my skin and the ability to sing along to some of my favorite Disney songs that I knew so well. It was with that first viewing that I felt like a child again. There I was, sitting in front of the TV in our living room, in awe and watching The Little Mermaid for the 500th time.
Truth be told, my love for California Adventure wasn’t immediate. It took time to understand what it was and what it meant to be inside its walls. I found myself falling in love with California Adventure when I gave in to getting lost and allowing myself to be completely immersed. Everything was new and different. I fell in love with the park first and then I was able to fall in love with its food.
Disney food and I go way back. It has been a constant in my life and an inspiration. My passion for the food has only intensified over the years. Bobby’s “Leaning Tower of Cheeza” from A Goofy Movie hit me on a personal level. I wanted to muscle my way in to the scene where the Avengers were eating shawarma. And Gurgi’s own musings about “I need munchings and crunchings” from The Black Cauldron is a phrase I often find myself muttering when the hunger hits. The food seen in Disney movies is always so delicious looking and here, inside California Adventure, they have plucked it right out of the movies and are serving it to you.
California Adventure has flourished over the years, and it’s crazy to think how such a huge variety of cuisines lives inside just one park. There is always so much to see, so much to do and so much to eat. Each year brings something new to the menu, whether it is a seasonal event or a festival. It’s not difficult to find something here to dazzle your senses as well as your ever-ready taste buds. With well over 30 places to grab a bite, California Adventure warms my foodie soul with happiness!
I have always felt that food is best enjoyed when it’s a shared experience. This adage goes for when you’re enjoying food in the parks or at one of the three resorts. In California Adventure, the chefs are doing that with you. They are creating a shared experience from their mind, to the dish and sharing it with you, the eater. The guest. The diner.
If you have the opportunity to share meals with friends, family or loved ones it only deepens the experience. Now you have a shared memory that you created together. One that you can hold near and dear for years to come. Swordfight with that corn dog, sip a glass of bubbly with your bestie and lovingly fight over that last bite of cake. Turn your dining experiences into memories and your own history of visiting the park.
Join me on a food adventure through the state of California and beyond as we dine across California Adventure and the resorts. Let’s taste the rich history from orange groves, wineries, wharfs and everything in between that makes California a culinary melting pot of flavors. Become the storyteller of your own Disney California foodie adventure.
Jamie Nelson is a New Englander, Disney food lover and, author of Disneyland Dining: A Foodie's Guide. Jamie’s love of all things Disney intensified after her first vacation to Walt Disney World at the age of five. Since that initial visit, she has made over 20 combined trips to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. With a passion for trying new flavors and busting at the seams with Disney food knowledge, Jamie is currently creating her second book featuring the food of Disney California Adventure.
Jamie resides in Connecticut where she enjoys whipping up treasured recipes for family and friends while she not-so-patiently awaits her next foodie adventure.