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Ride upside-down on a 6,000-foot-long roller coaster. Take a white-knuckle, white-water ride down two waterfalls. Or navigate an obstacle course of rope bridges, rock, and treetop cargo netting. An extreme sports park? No, it's Disney's new California Adventure.
This 55-acre attraction, built on Disneyland's main parking lot, is designed to inject new life into the mouse's Anaheim house. Park designers were clearly encouraged to have fun and be quirky -- in other words, to act like kids and use their imaginations. In large part, they succeeded.
California Adventure is as wild and wacky as the state it salutes. There's a dramatic Hollywood backlot, a winery, a goofy restaurant set in a TV soap opera, a flight-simulating ride, and more. Many attractions are geared specifically to young children and teens.
Reserve a full day to see the newer park -- two days if you visit Disneyland too. To make the most of your time, pick up a free FastPass at machines just inside the park entrance. With the pass, you'll skip those long, snaking lines for the park's top rides -- the computer will assign a boarding time for each ride requested, so you can eat or visit other attractions, without the mad dash.
In typical Disney fashion, you'll take a monorail, tram, or bus from the parking lot to the main gate. Once there, look for the 12-foot-high letters spelling out California and a stylized replica of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can't miss them.
"Hollywood Pictures Backlot" is a mock studio that only movie moguls could have dreamt up. You enter through larger-than-life gates, topped by a pair of gigantic carved elephants sitting on their haunches. A towering outdoor mural at the far end of this backlot features the bluest sky and fluffiest clouds ever found on a movie backdrop.
Then there's the quarter-mile Hollywood Boulevard, which is fronted by facades of Los Angeles' most architecturally distinct buildings, including the Art Deco Wiltern Theatre, the Moderne May Co. building, and Disney's Imagineering structure. Behind these facades, you'll find shops, restaurants, Jim Henson's Muppet Vision 3-D and a 2,000-seat theater for stage productions, animation, and a place to teach kids about making cartoons.
Have lunch at the Soap Opera Bistro, a restaurant mimicking sets of several ABC daytime shows. Even if you won't let the kids watch soaps at home, the restaurant is still worth a stop; it feels like a real TV set complete with overhanging lights, props, and costumes.
Nostalgia is in high gear at Paradise Pier, where California's beachfront arcades come alive with colorful, carnival-type attractions, bright lights, and amusement-park sounds.
The main attraction is California Screamin', a 6,000-foot-long steel roller coaster disguised as an old-time wooden one -- and kicked up a notch with an upside-down loop inside Mickey Mouse's head. Sun Wheel, a huge Ferris wheel with a decorative sunburst, offers more of the same. Most carriages are on tracks that slide either toward or away from the center of the wheel as it rotates.
But Disney has not forgotten your littlest ones. King Triton's Carousel, Mulholland Madness, Jumpin' Jellyfish, and the sights and sounds of Paradise Pier should keep them happy.
More thrills and chills await older kids at the Golden State area, which celebrates California's spectacular scenery (just look for bear-shaped Grizzly Peak "mountain"). Soarin' Over California is the attraction of note -- a swooping and soaring flight simulator honoring California's aviation heritage.
Sets of moveable seats rise up and forward inside a half-spherical, 40-foot-wide movie screen, creating the dizzying illusion of motion and free flight. Riders can look down past their feet, above their heads, to either side, and forward as they watch a California-from-the-air film. It's a visual feast -- one that will make you feel like a bird.
Another major attraction is Grizzly River Run, a white-water rafting ride that twirls you 360 degrees as it drops down two waterfalls. And don't forget the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, an exciting obstacle course of rope bridges, hiking trails, simple rock-climbing, and treetop cargo netting.
While the kids are strapped into their rides, sample made-in-California vino just a few feet away. A mini winery, developed in partnership with Robert Mondavi Wines, includes a small vineyard, a wine-tasting bar, and an upscale restaurant. You only have a few minutes, so enjoy this oasis of calm while you can.
Then, when the brood's back, take a walk through Bountiful Valley Farm and its cornucopia of California crops -- citrus, walnuts, avocados, and artichokes. Watch the comical 3-D presentation "It's Tough to Be a Bug." Or sniff your way to the sourdough bread exhibit, where you can sample fresh baked loaves laced with that distinctly tart taste.
At sundown, the action picks up at "Downtown Disney," an entertainment complex located next door to California Adventure and close to Disneyland. This public esplanade is aimed more at adults and teens, with a variety of restaurant, entertainment, and retail operations. And it's Anaheim's first major evening venue for visitors and locals alike.
You'll find local and name-brand entertainment, including AMC 12 Theaters, House of Blues, La Brea Bakery (a popular Los Angeles-area establishment), Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen, and Rainforest Cafe. A Latin-theme dining and entertainment club called Y Arriba! Y Arriba!, the Catal Restaurant and Uva Bar, and ESPN Zone also occupy retail space.
Type of travel: Theme park and entertainment
Best ages: 3 and up
Ideal trip length: Three days
Distance: Newport Beach, California (10 miles); Los Angeles Airport (30 miles); San Diego (100 miles)
Best time to go: Anytime, but be prepared for big crowds in summer and during holidays.
Weather: 65 to 75 degree F highs, 50 degree lows all year except winter
Squirm factor: None
California Adventure Harbor Blvd. and Katella Ave., Anaheim Phone: 714-781-4565 Admission: To either California Adventure or Disneyland (not both): Multi-day and multi-park passes are available, as are packages including lodging in Disney-owned and other hotels.
Anaheim/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau Phone: 714-765-8888
Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau Phone: 213-624-7300
Favorite local spots: Redwood Creek Challenge Trail for kids, and the upstairs patio area at The Winery for adults are becoming popular.
Best souvenir: Mickey Mouse ears cap...what else?
Tired of the controlled, manicured world of Disney? Get a taste of real California, 40 miles northwest at Venice and Santa Monica beaches. Mile-long Venice Boardwalk has a free-spirited, flea-market atmosphere, complete with colorful street performers, bronzed weight lifters, surfers, and budding artists who will sketch a child's portrait for a few dollars. The recently-completed $6.5-million renovation of Venice Beach features a refurbished quarter-mile long pier, a children's play area, new restrooms, and outdoor works of art. Santa Monica Pier, two miles north, is a popular over-the-water amusement center with a small roller coaster, merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, and its own cast of colorful characters.
Reviewed April 2004.