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5 Ways to Celebrate Christmas at Disney’s California Adventure Park

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Disneyland is known for its incredible holiday parade, fireworks, and “snow” on Main Street. Its sister Anaheim property, Disney’s California Adventure Park also becomes a Christmas wonderland during the winter holiday season. Here are five ways to celebrate the Christmas season at Disney’s California Adventure.

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Christmas at Cars Land

Christmas comes to Cars Land

1) Visit Santa

Sure, you can go see Santa at the mall, but what’s more magical than visiting the jolliest elf on Earth at the Happiest Place on Earth? Besides, if you were the real Santa, you’d choose to hang out at Disney’s California Adventure. This is what I told my 7-year-old, who is suspicious of too many Santas hanging out at the malls. Visit Santa first thing in the morning, when lines are typically shorter while other park-goers are clamoring to get on rides, and when your family’s hair and make-up (mom) is fresh and clothes are free from chocolate stains (dad and the kids). Santa makes his home at Elias & Co. on Buena Vista Street. In my experience, the lines for Santa are shorter here than over at Disneyland’s Jingle Jangle Jamboree.

Santa at Disney's California Adventure

The jolliest elf on Earth at the Happiest Place on Earth

2) Get a Disney-themed holiday sweet

One of the most glorious things about visiting a Disney park during the holidays is indulging in their Christmas-themed sweets, which taste just as yummy as they look. Once you’ve gotten the Santa photo out of the way, you are free to dig into a treat like a Cars-themed cupcake with a giant crown of green and red icing. Sweets lovers won’t be disappointed with a stop at Trolley Treats candy shop on Buena Vista Street.

Christmas Cars cupcakes at Disney's California Adventure

Cars-themed Christmas cupcakes

3) Do some Christmas shopping

Put a little Disney magic under your tree with a gift or two purchased at Disney’s California Adventure. Although you can always buy stuff from Disney’s website or Disney Stores, many items can only be purchase in the parks. If you have kids who love the Cars movies, you will definitely want to check out the unique toys and clothing only available in Cars Land. If you’re looking for merchandise featuring other Disney*Pixar favorites, like Toy Story or Finding Nemo, Disney’s California Adventure is an ideal place to shop. Beautiful Christmas and Hanukkah decorations, with and without Disney characters, will tempt holiday shoppers too.

Disney's California Adventure Christmas shopping

A tempting array of holiday decorations

4) Meet holiday-bedecked Disney characters

Mickey, Minnie, Donald and the rest of the gang can be found throughout the park, sporting festive apparel. A photo with a favorite character just might make a darling holiday card.

Donald Duck at Christmas

A wintry Donald Duck posing with my kiddos

5) Check out the festive decorations

If you thought the neon lights of Cars Land looked spectacular, just wait until you see Radiator Springs all lit up for the holidays! Greenery, lights, and trees made from piles of tires, hubcaps and traffic cones put a Cars spin on the holidays.

Rest your amusement park weary feet with a curbside seat along Buena Vista Street to watch the nightly Christmas tree lighting ceremony while listening to Christmas songs sung by carolers.

Disney's California Adventure Christmas tree lighting

Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Buena Vista Street

What else to know about visiting Disney’s California Adventure during the holidays

My children had never seen Disney’s “World of Color”, so I was excited to experience this light, water and music nighttime spectacular with them for their first time during our recent California Adventure holiday visit. I felt all warm and gooey like a fresh-baked holiday cookie when the show started with lights shining in green and red across the dancing streams of water to the sounds of Christmas carols. The holiday portion, however, was woefully short and the show was otherwise the same as I’d seen in the past. Although I highly recommend “World of Color”, don’t get your hopes up for a holiday show if visiting during the Christmas season.

Christmas at Cars Land

A Christmas made of traffic cones at the Cozy Cone Motel in Cars Land

Also, California Adventure’s Pixar Play Parade starring characters from such films as The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and A Bug’s Life—while awesome, does not feature any hint of the holidays. This did not seem to faze my kids in the slightest and the parade was a highlight of our visit.

Since 2008, Disney’s California Adventure Park has undergone its most significant expansion since its opening, with the addition of numerous rides, a redesigned entry area, and the incredible “World of Color”. Then, of course, there’s Cars Land—where the cartoon world of Radiator Springs comes to life. With so much to do, I recommend you avoid wasting precious Disney time traipsing from one park to the other AND save money by purchasing 2-Day 1-Park Per Day tickets (instead of Park Hoppers) so you can soak up the holiday fun at both Disney’s California Adventure and Disneyland, one day at time.

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Which Disney park do you think is best to visit during the Christmas season? Let us know in the comments!

A Note from The Travel Mama: Thank you to Disney for inviting us to experience Christmas at Disney’s California Adventure Park! All opinions are my own, as always.

All photos by Colleen Lanin.

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show,, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. I’ve lived in Los Angeles my entire life & have never been to Disneyland during the holidays (oh, the shame!). I must take my boys next year!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Debi – Oh, you MUST! I know your family will love the holidays at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure!

  2. Great photo with Santa. Disney knows how to make our adventures there better and better.

  3. Phil Grossfield says

    I love Disneyland this time of year, and we didn’t even experience the snow or the holiday parade!

  4. We spent New Year’s Day at Disneyland two years ago and 6 days at Disney World over the post-Christmas holidays last year – in my opinion, Disneyland was much better! The festive decorations and the characters in their holiday apparel are my favourite part of visiting Disney over the holidays. Haven’t been to California Adventure Park yet – I’ll have to add it to my wish list!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Lisa – I hope you will get a chance to visit Disney’s California Adventure with your family sometime soon. It just keeps getting better and better. My 7-year-old actually prefers it to Disneyland! (In many ways I do too, but I love them both too much…it’s a tie!)

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