Disney California Adventure Park: Twenty Years of Food and Merchandiseby Lisa Stiglic, contributing writer
Disney California Adventure Park hit the 20-year milestone last month, so I've been reminiscing and recapping much of the history, including the successes and failures. Last month, I covered what I thought was perhaps some of the best attractions the park offered; some have gone to yesteryear (Maliboomer), while others still have staying power (Grizzly River Run). This month, I'm combining the best foods and merchandise products that have come out of Disney California Adventure Park; the top 10 of each. How many of these do you remember?
SURFBOARD PIZZAS (Pizza Oom-Mow-Mow)
The menu faded into the background at this beachy food location in the original Paradise Pier. Patterned after a surf shack, Pizza Oom-Mow-Mow's decor was the highlight with tiki lamps, surfboards on the walls, Hawaiian shirts hanging from lamps, and even a shark on the ceiling! The beach vibe continued into the menu with the Cowabunga Pizzas!, each shaped like a surfboard. The "Extreme Barbecue Chicken" was especially tasty.
Yet another old food spot on the original Pier, Mali-burritos served…burritos. If you visited on a day when the eatery was open, consider yourself lucky. Mali-burritos was one of the first victims of the early shuttering of shops and restaurants. The chicken burrito was my favorite, along with the "Crispitos," which was a tortilla chip dessert doused in chocolate sauce.
CHICKEN STRIPS (Boardwalk Betsy's Strips, Chips 'N Dips)
Boardwalk Betsy's lasted longer than Mali-burritos; the food was good and portable! The menu offered chicken strips, fish sticks, and mozzarella sticks, all accompanied by mega fries. You could choose from several different dipping sauces, plus there was a fried apple dessert.
MICKEY MACARON (Lunar New Year Marketplace)
Disney California Adventure Park is the go-to location for food festivals at the Resort. Lunar New Year Marketplace has some especially tasty treats, including the purple yam macaron, available at Red Dragon Spice Traders. The pastry is filled with a purple yam Creme Fraiche. The outer shell is a bright, red (sometimes) Mickey shape with a shiny gold paint stripe on top; a nod to the red and gold of the Lunar New Year celebration.
GIANT CREAM PUFFS (Pacific Wharf Cafe)
These delectable pastries weren't on Pacific Wharf Cafe's menu long, which was too bad because they were delicious! The softball-sized desserts were filled with creme and drizzled with a chocolate ganache. Yummy! Although the treats are long gone, you can still purchase fresh sourdough bread at Pacific Wharf Cafe.
RED'S APPLE FREEZE (Cozy Cone Motel)
I'm not much of a beverage consumer. Give me a diet Pepsi and I'm good. But, I have to give kudos to Red's Apple Freeze, found at Cone No. 4 of the Cozy Cone Motel. This refreshing drink is frozen apple juice swirled with marshmallow syrup. It's topped with mango foam, and it is delicious!
DATE SHAKERS (Sam Andreas Shakes)
A date shake? Say what? Yep. Sam Andreas Shakes was a frozen confectionery snack shop in the original Bountiful Valley Farm area. Similar to Dairy Queen blizzards, the shakers were thick, frosty, and delicious. The shaker base was vanilla and you could choose additions such as candy-coated chocolate pieces, blueberry crumble, and dates! It may sound odd, but it was actually very good, the dried bits of dates added another level to the already tasty treat.
HAND-DIPPED ICE CREAM BARS (Clarabelle's Hand-Scooped Ice Cream)
I'm an ice cream aficionado. I'll bypass any Mickey-shaped frozen concoction to buy a hand-dipped ice cream bar anytime. At Clarabelle's, you choose your ice cream flavor (vanilla, chocolate, or berry sorbet base), a coating you prefer (milk or dark chocolate), then your decorations (the best part). For toppings, you can opt for Mickey-shaped confetti, chocolate chips, pearls, berry bursts, or the "whole herd," which is ALL. THE. SPRINKLES. And, for a price of less than $6, the ice cream bars are one of the best deals in the park.
MAPLE BACON CHURRO (Get Your Ears On Celebration)
Maple + Bacon + Churro. That's all you need to know. This specialty churro was offered during the "Get Your Ears on Celebration" a few years ago. I'm hoping it becomes a rotating flavor because it is soooo good.
LOBSTER NACHOS (Lamplight Lounge)
There's a reason this is my No. 1. The nachos are that good. Originally created for the Avalon and Cove Bar menu, the lobster nachos have become a signature food item at Disney California Adventure Park. When Wolfgang Puck departed Disney California Adventure Park in the early years, Cove Bar remained, along with the lobster nachos. Lamplight Lounge incorporated the menu item when it opened in 2018. Smart move. I'd say the nachos are great to share with a friend, but who am I kidding? Enjoy!
AVIATOR HATS (Fly N Buy)
Fly N Buy Souvenirs was the resident shop in the original Condor Flats, now Grizzly Peak Airfield. The location sold aviation-themed souvenirs, two of which were headgear—a propeller cap and an aviator cap that had mouse ears. The propeller cap was a popular item for fans of the nearby Soarin' Over California.
CARS LAND SOUVENIR CONTAINERS (Cars Land)
Cars Land has been one of the best improvements in Disney California Adventure. The details, the attractions, and even the merchandise all add up to a first-place win. Where else can you get a bright, orange construction cone beverage sipper? You have to admit, the Lightning McQueen popcorn bucket is one of the best Disneyland Resort has ever released. Ka-Chow!
GRR BEAR IN GEAR
The Grizzly Bear is considered the unofficial mascot of the park. The bear is everywhere from Grizzly Peak to the 20-foot-tall wooden statue that stands as a sentinel in front of Grizzly River Run, When the park opened, bears were everywhere! One of the cutest plush toys was a GRR Bear dressed in his safety vest and helmet, holding his raft oar. Even though he was adorable, he was hard to display in the stores because the helmet made him too top-heavy causing him to fall off the shelves. But we still loved him.
POTATO HEAD BUILDING STATION (Engine-Ears Toys)
Engine-Ears Toys opened in Entry Plaza as one of the two original shops at the entrance of Disney California Adventure Park. It catered to a train theme selling toys, souvenirs, and train whistles. The train theme slowly disappeared as the focus shifted to just toys such as plush, action figures, and a build-your-own Potato Head station. The display was round with sections filled with various face pieces (lips, mustache, eyes, ears) and accessories (purses, shoes, Mouse ears). The idea caught on as it was a fun interactive shopping experience for littles.
SPIRIT JERSEYS (Lunar New Year)
One of the hottest trends to hit Disneyland Resort has been the Spirit Jerseys. There have been some gorgeous styles throughout the years such as Rose Gold and the specialty Disneyland 60th anniversary, but I have to give the award to the Lunar New Year Spirit Jersey. Every year the jersey is a little different to include the current Lunar New Year animal, but the bright cherry red color adorned with the metallic gold sets this one apart from all the others.
LUIGI'S FLYING TIRES HAT (Cars Land)
Back to the Cars Land merch. My son is a teen, which puts him at that age of watching the Cars movies on endless loops when they were released back in the 2000s. I can't even fathom how many times I've watched the original Cars. So, a trip to Cars Land was his highlight as a little guy. The Luigi Flying Tire Hat has to be the best headgear I've seen come out of Disney California Adventure Park. It was based on Luigi's Flying Tires (now Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters) and was just a tire with a chin strap. Hilarious!
STARBUCKS MUGS (Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe)
I'll leave the Starbucks drinks to the connoisseurs, but I will stand in line for my specialty Starbucks series mug. Both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Parks have their own mug that you can only purchase at that particular location. So far, two styles have been released—"You Are Here" and "Been There" mugs. Starbucks also sells travel mugs and tree ornaments specific to each park.
The mug pictured is from the "Been There" series, which shows different components of Disney California Adventure Park in a blue and maroon motif. The "You Are Here" series shows Grizzly Peak and has green overtones. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.
Sure, there are still some cute T-shirts sold at DCA, but some of the originals were the best. My favorite was a Screamin' Over California one where an upside-down Mickey Mouse was petrified and hanging on for his mouse life. "Get a Grip" was printed below the image. Some other notable ones were a tie-dye version for Grizzly River Run with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy spinning in one of the rafts, and anything with "Nice Job, Pal" referenced on it. You can still buy the styles on second-hand retail sights such as Poshmark and eBay, but you might pay a bit more.
PARADISE PIER ATTRACTION TOYS
Probably the most popular toys in the early days of Disney California Adventure Park were the Paradise Pier attraction toys. These were plastic, working mini models of the Pier's rides and each came with two Disney characters. You could choose from Sun Wheel (Goofy and Pluto), Orange Stinger (Mickey and Goofy), King Triton's Carousel of the Sea (Mickey and Minnie), and Golden Zephyr (Donald and Daisy). Maybe for the 25th anniversary, Disney will bring these back. Until then, check eBay.
GRIZZLY BEAR PAWS
Disneyland had the white Mickey Mouse gloves, and Californa Adventure Park had the grizzly bear paws. These big paws were the hottest commodity at Rushin' River Outfitters (except for maybe the ponchos). Sold separately, each paw fit over your hand and when you smacked the paw pad, which was a Hidden Mickey, the paw would emit a growling sound. We sold them in Greetings From California too and had plenty of bear paw wars. They're still my favorite merchandise from 20 years ago.
READY TO ASSEMBLE
That's it. No more on Disney California Adventure's past 20 years. I've written one book and at least a dozen articles covering every aspect of the DCA's first two decades. Time to move on and what better way than to celebrate the re-opening of Disneyland Resort than with some superheroes ready for action. Next month, it's all about Avengers Campus. I'll have a super summary of the newest land, including attractions, foods, and more merchandise. Get ready to assemble!