So you’ve finally decided to make the trip out West to visit Walt’s Park: Disneyland. You are staying at one of the Disneyland Resort Hotels for a few nights and getting a 3-day Park Hopper to experience everything that is so wonderful about Disneyland Park and California Adventure. You may spend some time at Downtown Disney, but then you’d like to see what else Southern California has to offer. Here are a few Disney “gateway” experiences in the L.A. area; they offer a Disney influence on traditional Southern California tourist destinations.
No trip to California would be complete without a visit to one of its famous beaches. Venice and Malibu may have their own unique personalities, but nothing screams “classic California beach” like Santa Monica.
The beach is great, but I want to talk about some of the cool attractions to see around the Santa Monica area. These few things are all within walking distance to one another, so park at one and visit them all. While these aren’t connected to Disney as directly as our last entry in this series, El Capitan, you would be hard-pressed to not find a Disney connection in each of them.
Santa Monica Pier: As you approach Santa Monica, the first thing you will notice is a Ferris Wheel in the distance. This is the weenie for what is probably the most famous pier on the West Coast. As you enter the pier, with its classic amusement park-style rides, you’ll notice that the overall look of it was clearly an influence on the Paradise Pier section of Disney’s California Adventure; if not directly, at least in spirit. I can’t in good conscience compare any of the rides here to what you’ll experience at the Disney Parks; but the connection between the Pier and Paradise Pier is enough to “plus” your trip to DCA.
Another cool thing about the Pier and its connection to Disneyland: it is the end of the famous Route 66. This is made very clear by a Route 66 End of Trail marker, along with plenty of Route 66 merchandise you can buy. The Disney connection is, of course, to the film Cars, which is influenced heavily by the culture of Route 66. Not that it needs much “plussing”, but this will certainly be a cool a-ha moment for those of you who were brought to Disneyland by the recent addition of Carsland.
Santa Monica Pier Aquarium: This tiny aquarium sits at the beginning of the pier and is tucked away to the side. It is definitely not an all-day outing, but can easily provide an hour-long diversion, especially for those of you with children.
It costs $3 to get in, but there is a suggested donation of $5 per adult. Your kids will love the ability to not only observe, but to actually touch many of the their favorite characters from Finding Nemo. In addition to the popular film, Nemo is also the host of a relatively new (but simultaneously classic) attraction at Disneyland: the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. I dare anyone to see the clown fish, stingrays, seahorses and starfish housed at the aquarium and not yell out the names of their corresponding characters from the film.
Third Street Promenade/Santa Monica Place: Across the street from the pier is the world famous shopping attraction, the Third Street Promenade. This is a pedestrian-only stretch of several blocks of boutiques, restaurants and other shops. At night, you will be spectator to a variety of “street performers,” like this dog:
who made an appearance in this Muppets YouTube video:
Anchoring the promenade is the newish shopping center Santa Monica Place. There are more boutiques, restaurants and shops, with one interesting addition for Disney fans. This is the location of what was one of the first Disney Stores to receive the renovations that started a couple of years ago. This includes enhancements like video walls and children’s activities. More importantly, you can probably save a few bucks if you do some of your Disney souvenir shopping here instead of in the parks.
Santa Monica is worth a visit whether you are a Disney fan or not, but these fun connections can definitely enhance your visit to the Disneyland and California Adventure. Have fun!
- Disney in SoCal: El Capitan Theatre (dwdads.com)