Top Five Ways to End Your Day at Disney California Adventure

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Photos by Seth Kubersky

Recently, I shared some of my favorite ways to start a morning at Disney California Adventure. Today, let’s look at the flip side of the operating day. While crowds are arriving early every day at DCA’s front gate since Cars Land‘s arrival, some of the park’s highlights can only be experienced after dark. Here are my top five ways to finish off an evening at DCA:

Drinks With a View

One distinct advantage DCA has over its older brother across the Esplanade is the ability to imbibe alcoholic beverages as you tour. You’ll find spots to whet your whistle all around the park, from Carthay Circle’s swanky downstairs lounge to the imported beer kiosk near the Paradise Garden Grill. Nothing beats having a finely crafted cocktail in the night air, enjoying the park’s cleverly Imagineered aesthetics, and DCA has a couple of ideal evening watering holes.

I’ve already extolled the romantic virtues of the Alfresco Lounge at Golden Valley Winery, which has a second-story view down Route 66 to the stunning Cadillac Mountain range. Another great spot for a beverage is the Cove Bar behind Ariel’s Grotto; simply cut through the restaurant lobby to reach this often-overlooked gem. In addition to the standard extensive drink list, the Cove offers a small menu of large appetizers; the lobster nachos are big enough for four or more to share. Best of all, the bar recently rescinded its policy of levying a $10 cover charge during World of Color performances, making it a great place to watch the show, provided you don’t mind an obtuse perspective of the water screens.

Buena Vista Shopping

On your way into the park, you probably were too intent on getting on your first E-ticket ride to pay much attention to the gorgeous theming outside and inside the storefronts of Buena Vista Street, DCA’s charming entrance corridor. Before you depart, be sure to take the time to stroll through DCA’s premier shops, especially the Elias and Co. department store. Much like Disneyland’s famed Emporium, you’ll find a diverse mix of high-dollar haute couture and affordable adorable souvenirs, with a healthy dose of DCA-exclusive merchandise.

Originally, the period-accurate display windows on Buena Vista Street were as lovingly detailed as the rest of the renovated park, but lately they’ve been desecrated with haphazard piles of modern goods. Even so, there are tons of telling thematic touches up and down the street, with inside-joke details that should delight hard-core Disney fans. Be sure to do some shopping — even if it is only the window kind — before waving Buena Vista bye-bye.

Last Race Around Radiator Springs

If you follow our earlier advice, you’ll among the first in the park before the official opening, and secure your Fastpasses for the hit ride Radiator Springs Racers first thing. By the end of the day, you’ll have already used your Fastpass (remember to mind the time window printed on your ticket, as the end time is now strictly enforced) but you’ll surely be itching for a second lap.

Similar to Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain, Radiator Springs Racers becomes a different ride after dark. Evening illumination does the impossible, making the attraction’s stunning rockwork even more striking. Your eyes, adjusted to the lower light levels, will allow you to better enjoy the dark indoor portions. And the high-speed finale feels even faster and more exhilarating in the cool night air.

Your best bet for a late-day ride on RSR without a ridiculous wait is to jump into the single rider line during a World of Color performance, or just before the park closes. You may still encounter a moderate wait, but probably not the multi-hour queues found at midday.

Watch World of Color

You knew this one was coming, right? Naturally, no night at DCA can be considered complete without a viewing of World of Color, the park’s one-of-a-kind moist musical spectacular. The good news is that Fastpasses for the show’s limited viewing areas are no longer as hard to come by as when the production premiered, thanks to demand for DCA’s other new offerings. Still, you’ll want to pull a Fastpass (found near Grizzly River Run) by mid-morning. Otherwise, you can arrange for a dining package — ranging from cold picnic baskets to lavish multi-course meals — or take your chances watching from around the Paradise Bay lagoon.

If you end up watching WoC from within the tiered viewing park, you’ll have the best experience if you find a spot at the front edge of whichever level you are on. Standing further back provides a better panoramic picture of the performance, and you’ll be less likely to get soaked by spraying water (a frequent occurrence in the front row) or singed by propane flames. And those in the rear also get the best look at the synchronized effects from other guests’ Glow with the Show light-up hats.

A Grand Nightcap

Finally, if after World of Color‘s umpteenth finale finally concludes (don’t move until you’re very, very sure it’s over) you still aren’t ready end your DCA day, divert from the herd heading out the main exit and detour towards Grizzly River Run. The exclusive entrance to the Grand Californian Hotel usually provides a more peaceful exit from the park the overcrowded front gate, and offers a shortcut to the bars and restaurants of Downtown Disney and other on-property hotels. You can even grab a cab at the hotel’s main entrance if your feet can’t handle the walk back to your hotel.

More importantly, the Grand Californian features one of the best spots in all of Disneyland for a nightcap in the Hearthstone Lounge. In addition to a full selection of top-shelf liquor, the friendly bartenders can also whip you up an adult coffee concoction, or a cup soothing tea. Take your selection to one of the comfy chairs in the library-like lounge, or walk around the corner to settle down before the lobby’s super-sized fireplace. If you took my advice about napping during your Disney day, you’re probably already familiar with this spot. Just don’t fall asleep, or you may find a cast member rousing you in the middle of the night!

What is your favorite way of finishing a visit to Disney California Adventure? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!

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Posted on April 22, 2013

2 Responses to “Top Five Ways to End Your Day at Disney California Adventure”

  • It’s a little strange that enjoying the Mad T Party didn’t make the top 5 list, especially when #5 is “leave DCA”. While the DJ and dancing portions of the party may not be everyone’s bag, the live band is fantastic (a different set starts at the top of every hour) and the cocktails are mighty strong.