What is the Difference between Disneyland and California Adventure Park?

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 We often think of the Disneyland Resort in California as one park, but there are actually two parks and they require separate admission (unless you buy the “Park Hopper” ticket). In this article I’ll explain the difference between Disneyland and California Adventure.

As the name suggested the Park Hopper ticket allows you to hop back and forth between the two parks: Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park.

Difference between disneyland and california adventure -- showing it on the Disney app's map
The Esplanade (open area where black line is) separates Disneyland and California Adventure Park

The picture above is a screenshot from the Disneyland app.

I’ve drawn the shoddy black line to show that Disneyland Park is above the line, and Disney California Adventure Park is below the line (south). The black line is drawn over top of an open-air area known as the Esplanade.

Here is some information about ticket prices on the Disneyland website.

What is the difference between Disneyland and California Adventure?

Below we’ll look at some of the differences between these two separate parks that make up the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim California.

But first lets quickly look at each of the parks individually.

What is the Disneyland Park?

The Disneyland Park is the classic park opened by Walt Disney back in 1955.

It has the iconic Fantasyland, and rides such as the King Arthur Carousel, the tea cups, It’s a Small World and of course the famous Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle is in Disneyland park. They used forced perspective techniques to make it seem larger than it really is.
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland Park

There are other “Lands” such as Adventureland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, the new Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, and more.

Each of these “Lands” is within Disneyland Park and you’re free to roam in and out of these Lands. 

Your admission to Disneyland Park gets you access to every “Land” within it.

Each Land is based around a theme suggested by the Land’s name.

For instance, Adventureland is jungle-themed with rides such as Indiana Jones, Jungle Cruise and has dining like the Bengal Barbeque.

This shows the entrance to Adventureland within Disneyland park.
Entrance to Adventureland in Disneyland Park

What is the Disney California Adventure Park?

Disney California Adventure Park is right across the pavilion from Disneyland Park. (They call this open area between the parks the Esplanade.)

In my opinion it has more thrill rides (such as IncrediCoaster and the Guardians of the Galaxy ride), and has more of an adult-feel to many parts of the park (such as alcohol…see further below.)

Parts of the park feels like you’re walking along a waterfront pier and strolling along ocean-side promenades.

Disney California Adventure Park has different areas inside it including:

  • Buena Vista Street (right inside the main entrance)
  • Hollywood Land (which has the awesome “Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!” ride)
  • Cars Land (themed like the Disney-Pixar film “Cars” and includes one of the busiest rides in either park called “Radiator Springs Racers”)
  • Grizzly Peak (has the wet ride “Grizzly River Run”)
  • Pacific Wharf (has lots of food carts and restaurants)
  • Pixar Pier (includes the super fun roller coaster the “IncrediCoaster”)
  • Paradise Gardens Park (has the Little Mermaid ride)

Below is a snapshot of the paper map for Disney California Adventure Park that I picked up right inside the main gate in September 2019.

Map of Disney California Adventure Park

Theming in the Parks (differences between Disneyland and California Adventure)

Disney’s California Adventure Park is heavily themed toward the Disney-Pixar films such as Cars, The Incredibles and Toy Story.

And it is increasing its Marvel attractions and characters such as the Avengers Campus.

Disneyland Park being the first and original park (and the only one Walt Disney lived to see) is filled with lots of nostalgic Disney characters and theming – especially in Fantasy Land where you’ll find attractions dedicated to Peter Pan, Snow White and Alice in Wonderland.

Disneyland does have some rides inspired from LucasFilms such as the Indiana Jones ride, and even a whole “land” dedicated to Stars Wars called Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

But for the most part…

Disney California Adventure Park feels more “modern” Disney versus “classic” Disney of Disneyland.

Alcohol in the Parks – a big difference between the parks

You can buy alcohol in Disney California Adventure Park, but not in Disneyland Park.

I’ve read that alcohol is going to be served in a cantina in the Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge land in Disneyland park, but I never saw this.

When you’re in Disney California Adventure Park you’ll see people walking around with plastic glasses of beer.

This gave me the impression that Disney California Adventure Park was built with adults and parents in mind…not just kids. I’m sure the money made from selling alcohol doesn’t hurt Disney’s bottom line either.

Buying Tickets to the two Parks at the Disneyland Resort

To save some money I initially thought I’d buy the 2 days One Park per Day pass, but I’m glad I didn’t. I bought the Park Hopper ticket.

On the first day I found myself wanting to go back and forth between the two parks to explore. 

On Day 1 I wanted to see everything.

My Park Hopper ticket

Then on Day 2 I’m glad I had the Park Hopper ticket because I was able to look at my Disneyland app, see what the wait times were of my favorite rides, then go to any ride in either park I wanted to.

By Day 2 I knew which rides I’d liked and which ones I felt were worth waiting for.

Plus, on Day 2 you really get to start absorbing and appreciating the details.

There are so many fantastic details put into the creation of the parks…it’s truly amazing.

How to use Park Hopper Tickets

I suggest you buy a Park Hopper ticket to give you the freedom to go back and forth between the parks in the same day. But they do cost a bit more than buying admission to just one park.

I’d recommend you buy a ticket BEFORE you get to the park.

It will avoid waiting in another line-up once you pass security.

I bought my 2 Day Park Hopper ticket from my hotel (Motel 6 Maingate). They gave me a printed piece of paper with a barcode on it.

Once I got past the security stalls I went to Disneyland Park first.

The main entrance to the Disneyland Park has stalls where attendants check your ticket. (Picture of the main entrance below)

Entrance to Disneyland Park at Halloween time

When I first presented my ticket that I’d bought from Motel 6, the attendant scanned the barcode and then took a picture of me.

She then handed me my small little Park Hopper ticket shown above.

The ticket from Motel 6 was taken from me and I only had the little paper ticket.

She took the picture of me because the tickets are non-transferable.

If I lost that little ticket, someone else wouldn’t be able to use it because the picture wouldn’t match.

When you are given that little paper ticket, don’t lose it.

It’s what you have to present to the attendants at the entrance of each park.

In the early afternoon on my first day I decided I wanted to explore Disney California Adventure Park.

So I exited Disneyland Park, walked across the Esplanade (open area between the parks), and then presented my Park Hopper ticket to the attendant at California Adventure Park.

The attendant scanned my ticket, looked on their device to see my picture come up, made sure I was the proper ticket-holder, and then I was allowed to enter the park.

Can I leave the Disneyland Parks and come back in later?

Yes, you can leave the parks and then come back later in the same day.

Just make sure you have your ticket to present the attendants at the entrance to either park.

This is nice because it means you can leave the parks, head to a restaurant off-park, or head back to your hotel for a swim or a nap, and then head back to the parks later in the day.

Difference between Disneyland and California adventure -- comparing the two Disney parks in Anaheim
Difference between Disneyland and California Adventure – Pin to Pinterest so you can find it again.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick introduction to the difference between Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park.

You might also like:

If you want to know some of the money saving tips I used to save money at Disneyland, check out my article here.

Plus, you’ll want to check out this list of 41 Awesome Disney shirts for your next Disney vacation. They are the perfect “going to Disney shirts.”

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Disneyland Rides Ranked according to thrill factor! (My top 5 thrill rides here and it includes rides at California Adventure too.)

Plus if you’re going to Disneyland, check out:

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