Happy 20th Anniversary Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa and Downtown Disney District

by Lisa Stiglic, contributing writer
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In January 2001, Disneyland Resort debuted two of its newest additions to the public. On January 2, Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa opened its doors and, 10 days later, Downtown Disney District welcomed guests. Yes, it really has been 20 years. I was next door in Disney California Adventure Park prepping for its grand opening, so I don't recall too much of the dedications of the newest resort additions. But, I can certainly call myself knowledgeable about both locations considering I've eaten at Storytellers Cafe and Napa Rose countless times, and can even remember when Department 56 was at Downtown Disney. That really was decades ago, but it truly seems like yesterday.

DISNEY'S GRAND CALIFORNIAN HOTEL AND SPA

Massive, awesome, incredible, immense all describe Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, also known as the Grand or Grand Californian. Disney's flagship hotel was a sight to behold when it first debuted. Peter Dominick, the architect behind both Disney's Wilderness Lodge and Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge in Walt Disney World, was tapped to create a California-themed hotel reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts movement. Dominick succeeded in creating a structure of beauty reflective of Californian artisans, as well as the National Parks' lodges. The hotel boasted more than 700 rooms; four eating establishments; a spa; a store; and amenities for kids, which included a pool, childcare location (Pinocchio's Workshop) and even fireside storytelling. The Grand Californian quickly became a vacation destination for travelers and locals.

DESIGN

Dominick designed the hotel to represent a towering sequoia or redwood tree. The grand lobby (patterned after Yosemite's own Ahwahnee hotel), acted as the base or trunk of the fabricated tree. Outside, the paint scheme matched that of a dominating tree—the lower levels were dark green and the upper levels were a brighter green. Native Californian artisans contributed their own wares to furnish the interior, including cabinets, chairs and even tile work. In fact, the designer who created the check-in lobby counter was a 49ers fan, so her bears are all depicted in football positions. For more information about the California Arts and Crafts movement, sign up for the Art of the Craft Tour available for free at the hotel (writer's note: when the hotel reopens).


The stained-glass door of Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa showcases yet another California artisans talents. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.

RESTAURANTS & SHOPS

  • Hearthstone Lounge: As one of the original eating places, Hearthstone Lounge continues to be a hit with guests. With festive menu appetizers and desserts, and a bar filled with artisan beers and spirits, guests and locals flock to the location for a fun night out.
  • Storytellers Cafe: The design of the hotel extends into Storytellers Cafe as well. Designer Marty Dorf, who also created lounges for the Disney Cruise Line, fabricated a virtual library around the sit-down restaurant. Several California-based stories, such as Zorro, are depicted in large murals hanging on the walls.


Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins is yet another story told through the paintings found in Storytellers Cafe. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.

  • Napa Rose: Chef Andrew Sutton has more than put Disneyland Resort on the map with Napa Rose. He has earned every accolade and award bestowed on him with his rotating California-themed menu and extensive wine offerings at this high-end restaurant. Go to the lounge for an appetizer and drink, or savor a sit-down experience complete with delectable dessert. You'll notice the rosebud pattern throughout the location as well. This again, is reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts movement, as the rosebud design is repeated with the wood carvings on the furniture, the metal works throughout the lamps and lights, and even the painted murals.
  • White Water Snacks (now GCH Craftsman Grill): This quick-service spot next to the pool area offered easy menu items like sandwiches, burgers, pizza and quick-grab snacks.
  • Acorns: Tucked inside the grand lobby, this shop offered sundries, apparel, souvenirs and whatever else travelers might have forgotten. (Acorns is still the only merchandise location inside the Grand.)

CHANGES

The Grand Californian remains the anchoring hotel of Disneyland Resort. A few things have altered over the past two decades, including the addition of more rooms, plus new suites and Disney Vacation Club villas. In 2017, all the rooms and the grand lobby were remodeled. GCH Craftsman Grill took over White Water Snacks in 2019 with an updated menu featuring avocado toast and artisan pizzas. Pinocchio's Workshop disbanded and even the fireside storytelling ended. Many of the amenities disappeared but, the popularity continues, especially during the holidays — in most years — when the lobby magically transforms to a wonderland complete with giant, decorated tree, a gingerbread house display and Santa! Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa will certainly draw new guests when Tenaya Spa opens in 2021.

DOWNTOWN DISNEY DISTRICT

Sandwiched in between Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa and Disney California Adventure's grand openings, was the dedication to the new outdoor shopping and eating venue dubbed Downtown Disney District. Anchored on one end with World of Disney, and the sports-minded ESPN Zone at the other, this new open air mall was successful, right from the start. With Southern Cailfornia's warm days and mild evenings, locals soon took to the location for a night out, without having to step foot inside a theme park. Downtown Disney opened with a variety of food and shopping locations, plus a few entertainment venues. Listed are most of the original locations.

DINING

  • La Brea Bakery and Cafe/La Brea Express
  • Naples Ristorante e Bar/Napolini
  • Häagen-Dazs
  • Wetzel's Pretzels
  • Catal Restaurant
  • Uva Bar
  • Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen and Express
  • Y Arriba! Y Arriba!
  • Rain Forest Cafe
  • ESPN Zone


The Anaheim ESPN Zone was the last Disney-owned Zone in the United States when it closed in 2018. Throughout the years, it was a favorite hang-out to watch the Anaheim Angels games. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.

SHOPS

  • World of Disney (WOD)
  • Marceline's Confectionery
  • Ann Geddes
  • Island Charters
  • Basin
  • Fossil
  • Something Silver
  • Department 56
  • LEGO
  • Compass Books


Now Earl of Sandwich, the original location, Compass Books, offered not only reading material, but coffee and sandwiches. Morning guests on their way into the theme parks, took advantage of the coffee bar before Starbucks came to DTD. Photo MousePlanet archives.

ENTERTAINMENT

  • House of Blues
  • AMC Theaters

Since its grand opening, Downtown Disney has welcomed Tortilla Jo's, Build-a-Bear, Ridemakerz, Earl of Sandwich, and a host of other shops and restaurants. The House of Blues eventually moved across the street to Anaheim GardenWalk, and Splitsville Luxury Lanes took over the vacated premises. The biggest change was in 2018 when Disney announced plans for a fourth hotel, which would be built next to Disneyland Hotel, on part of the then existing Downtown Disney District. The decision forced closures of Starbucks, AMC Theaters, Rain Forest Cafe, ESPN Zone and Earl of Sandwich. But Disney soon pulled the proverbial plug on the project and the businesses on the west side of Downtown Disney sat unused. Fan favorite Earl of Sandwich was the only previous client to return.

CELEBRATION

Those two decades went by quickly. I can still remember a group of us eating at Y Arriba! Y Arriba! for the first time not realizing it was a tapas restaurant. The entertainment was fantastic, but we left just as hungry as when we arrived! Hopefully, when it fully reopens, Disneyland Resort will have some celebration to commemorate the milestone anniversaries for both Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, and Downtown Disney District. Congratulations to them both and all their cast members for 20 terrific years!

 

Comments

  1. By maxbuffmelvin71

    Merry Christmas. I love all the Peter Dominick hotels. GCH is my favorite resort in DL in addition to WL and AKL my favorites at WDW. I fell in love with GCH when I self toured the resort and decided to splurge and buy GCH DVC points.

  2. By carolinakid

    I first stayed at the Grand in December of 2004, when every room still had a mini bar, turn down service with chocolates on the pillow, free daily newspaper ( USA Today) and so on. All that is gone now...

    I believe even the WDW deluxes all had those amenities back then, but I could be mistaken.

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