Things are looking mighty festive around Disney’s California Adventure Park, and we don’t know about you, but we love to see it. In fact, the holidays are our favorite time to visit any Disney theme park. Why? Well, because from the yuletide ride takeovers and cozy treats to the infectious music and entertainment and downright jolly decorations, it’s hard to compete with that sweet combination of Christmas cheer and Disney magic.
But just how can you plan to spend your merrymaking this Christmas at California Adventure? 2021 has a lot to offer, so grab some paper (leftover gift wrap will do) and a pencil as we go over all the yuletide celebrations going on during the holidays at Disney’s California Adventure Park.
Looking for even more festive fun this holiday season? Get in the spirit with our ultimate guide to Christmas at Disneyland Park.
Visiting Disney Festival of Holidays During Christmas at California Adventure
Ready to pack your ugly holiday sweater and a pair of mouse ears? Before you buy your tickets, there are some things to remember when planning your magical Christmas list of California Adventure must-dos in 2021.
When does Christmas start at California Adventure Park?
The holidays last almost two full months this year at Disney California Adventure Park, from November 12 to January 9, 2022. So, even if you aren’t able to go on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve or even the rest of December, there’s still an opportunity to spread and enjoy some holiday cheer.
With Christmas at Disneyland Resort being such a festive affair – even Downtown Disney gets in on the merriment – you’ll never need to wonder what to do at Disney in California this holiday season. However, remember that you do need to make a park pass reservation to enter the park.
When does Disney’s California Adventure decorate for Christmas?
While the holiday soiree is officially scheduled for November 12 to January 9, 20201, California Adventure and the rest of Disneyland Resort actually undergo their yuletide transformations right after Halloween passes, literally. That’s right. In a flurry of activity that can only be described as a pixie-dust (and coffee!) fueled holiday miracle, California Adventure Christmas decorations largely go up overnight, with swarms of cast members decking the halls with themed garlands, wreaths, twinkle lights and more.
That being said, although it starts to look like Christmas right around the beginning of November, you’ll still have a wait a bit before all of the rides get their merry makeovers and the festive food booths get wheeled into place. So, if you absolutely must experience each and every holiday to-do at California Adventure this winter and not just the trimmings and trappings, then we recommend you plan your trip for some time over the official Disneyland Christmas 2021 dates. Keep reading for more on the Disney Christmas decorations.
Is Disney California Adventure Park open on Christmas Day?
Due to Covid-19, both Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure Park were closed on Christmas Day in 2020. This year, however, we’re thrilled to say both theme parks are back open and welcoming guests this festive season. And if all you want for Christmas is a day at California Adventure, the park is open from 8 AM to 10 PM, with park hopping availability at Disneyland Park from 1 PM to midnight.
There is a caveat to the magic, of course. Christmas Day at Disney isn’t just busy. In fact, the week of Christmas through New Year’s is the most popular time to visit the Disneyland Resort all year long. It’s so popular that there currently aren’t any more park pass reservations available for any day in December, let alone Christmas Day.
Having said that, if you must experience the magic of Christmas Day at California Adventure but haven’t secured a reservation quite yet, just keep checking back. Last-minute cancellations aren’t unheard of, so be sure to refer back to the reservation system in the days before Christmas to see if something frees up.
Things to Enjoy During Christmastime at California Adventure in 2021
While California Adventure and Disneyland Park were closed last year, victims of that ultimate scrooge, the coronavirus, the holidays have made their glorious return this year to both theme parks. From festive foods inspired by vibrant traditions and multicultural holidays to thoughtfully themed Disney Christmas decorations, here are the many ways you can celebrate this yuletide season at California Adventure Park.
See the Disney California Adventure Christmas Decorations & Holiday Attractions
Christmas isn’t Christmas without plenty of tinsel and baubles decking the halls. Fortunately, from the moment you walk through the turnstiles, you’ll find enough Disney holiday decorations at California Adventure to fill a whole forest of Christmas trees.
Just like over at Disneyland Park, Christmas decorations at California Adventure are themed based on where they are in the park. Buena Vista Street brings the nostalgia, with classic garlands and ribbons that would be right at home in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
The California Adventure’s 50-foot Christmas tree, draped with tinsel, bells and other retro accents, is the centerpiece of the park entrance. You can even watch it shimmer to life each night during the Buena Vista Street Holiday Tree Lighting.
Cars Land is another can’t-miss destination this yuletide season. The residents of Radiator Springs really love to get in on the festive decorating fun. So, keep an eye out for ornaments crafted out of spare car parts and other appropriate accoutrements. For example, white-wall tires with merry red bows become instant wreaths. Mater and Luigi are especially fond of the holidays, transforming Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters into Mater’s Jingle Jamboree and Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl.
Rock Around the Clock at Mater’s Jingle Jamboree
Mater loves to collect old car parts, proudly giving tours of his on-site junkyard to visitors during Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. But in the wintertime, the junkyard transforms into Mater’s Jingle Jamboree, getting a seasonal sprucing up with some tinsel and wreaths, while the ride’s soundtrack receives a few festive, Cars-inspired additions courtesy of Mater himself.
Cruise into the Holidays at Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl
As the story goes at Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, 20 of Luigi’s cousins from Carsoli, Italy are in town for the Race Day festivities. Well, the cousins are back for Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl – only this time, instead of Race Day, they’re celebrating the holidays. Roll around Luigi’s backyard from the seat of an Italian roadster as you take in the scenery, all while listening to some holiday tunes sung by Luigi.
Go on Wintery Cultural Tour at Disney Festival of Holidays
Winter is a special time for many cultures, with plenty of tempting culinary traditions to match. Taste a few of them at the Disney Festival of Holidays at California Adventure. Not to be confused with the confusingly similarly named Festival of the Holidays at Disney World’s Epcot, this worldly celebration offers the sights, sounds and tastes of holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Navidad and Three Kings Day.
A whole lineup of festival entertainment is available, with something on offer for kids to adults. For the little ones, Mickey and the gang make an appearance alongside the Holiday Toy Drummers, while Mirabel from the new Disney movie Encanto and other beloved Disney characters are out walking around. Adults, meanwhile, will enjoy listening to the live musical acts or the Diwali-inspired dance troupe.
Of course, there’s also a smorgasbord of seasonal eats with a global twist to savor at the Festive Foods Marketplace. And whether you’re hoping to make a whole holiday meal or just needing a snack to tide you over, be sure to be like St. Nick himself and save space for something sweet.
Festival of Holidays runs for the same dates as the rest of Christmas at California Adventure – November 12 to January 9. Unlike Merriest Nites at Disneyland Park, a separately ticketed event, entry to the Disney Festival of Holidays is included in your price of admission.
Get in the Spirit with Festival Entertainment
As Buddy the Elf so astutely put, “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loud for all to hear.” And while singing along isn’t required, we dare you to keep from humming or tapping your toes as you watch these holly-jolly acts.
- Mariachi Divas – A two-time Grammy Award-winning musical group, the Mariachi Divas celebrate the spirit of Navidad as they put a bilingual twist to your favorite holiday songs every day at the Pacific Wharf Stage.
- Mostly Kosher – Revel in the Festival of Lights as you listen to Mostly Kosher’s modern stylings of traditional klezmer music with hints of jazz, Latin and rock in honor of Hanukkah – held every day at Sonoma Terrace.
- Blue13 Dance Company – Bollywood is all about the party, and there’s no better time for a celebration than Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights. Be energized by the Blue13 Dance Company as they dazzle with their festive takes on traditional dance every day on the Palisades Stage.
- Phat Cat Swinger – Nothing says the holidays like big-band, brass rhythms. Swing along to the holiday music selections with classy flair on Wednesday to Saturday at the Palisades Stage.
- The Mistletoes – A cappella harmonies share the spirit of Christmas and Kwanzaa every day at the Pacific Wharf Stage when The Mistletoes bring the R&B to popular holiday songs.
- The Suffragettes – Who doesn’t love a good cover band? The Suffragettes hold a holiday concert on Sunday to Tuesday at the Palisade Stage, with a setlist of everything from Top 40 covers to holiday favorites.
- Holiday Toy Drummers – More like mischievous minstrels than militaristic percussionists, the Holiday Toy Drummers will have you in awe of their playful precision at the Palisades Stage.
Savor the Flavors of the Holidays at the Festive Foods Marketplace
Whether Christmas or Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or Diwali, Navidad or Three Kings Day, just like family and friends, food is at the heart of any holiday celebration. So, it’s no surprise that you’ll find a diverse buffet of cozy yuletide dishes and sweet (and possibly boozy!) accompaniments to sample at the Disneyland Festival of Holidays.
To maximize your eating and drinking around the world, consider investing in a Sip and Savor Pass for $57 ($52 for Magic Key holders). This convenient pass gives you eight entitlements to use however you wish at participating dining locations, including Festive Foods Marketplace booths. In addition, if you have leftover entitlement tabs from your Sip and Savor Pass from 2020’s Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival (and they’re still intact and attached), you can even use them at participating locations.
Tuck into these traditional celebratory classics from cultures around the globe at the Festive Foods Marketplace at California Adventure’s Festival of Holidays.
- A Twist on Tradition – Try holiday classics infused with a festive kick like the Reimagined Beef Wellington or Reuben Potato Bites with Russian dressing and rye toast crumble.
- Brews & Bites – Imbibe in a variety of brews followed by Impossible™ Chorizo Queso Fundido with house-made tortilla chips.
- Favorite Things – Indulge in Chana Masala with grilled garlic naan and Holiday Stuffing Mac & Cheese or sip a fizzy Hibiscus Ginger Mezcal Mule with Topo Chico Mineral Water.
- Grandma’s Recipes – Head home for the holidays with spicy dishes like Impossible™ Arepa Encantada with spiced plant-based ground meat and pickled onion or a Gingerbread Mickey.
- Holiday Duets – Harmonize with perfect pairings of Shrimp and Grits with Andouille sausage or Braised Pork Belly Adobo with garlic fried rice.
- Making Spirits Bright – Deliver the perfect toast with Maple Hazelnut Hot Buttered Rum with maple syrup and flavors of hazelnut, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, topped with a house-made salted caramel whipped cream, or a glass of imported or domestic wine served with a Hot Cocoa Marshmallow Macaron or Cinnamon & Sugar Holiday Tart.
- Merry Mashups – Kick things off with Esquites Carnitas Mac & Cheese featuring Oaxaca & Cotija cheeses or spice things up with Holiday Spiced Wings.
- Winter Sliderland – Sink your teeth into a Nashville Hot Turkey Slider on an herb roll with cranberry slaw and Beef Pot Roast on a Potato Roll with horseradish cream, and delight in Prickly Pear Tea Lemonade (non-alcoholic), Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company® Ceylon Black Tea Cold Brew or Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company® Prickly Pear Purée and House-made Lemonade.
Say Olé at Disney ¡Viva Navidad!
Christmas Day – or La Navidad, as it’s called in Spanish – is celebrated throughout the globe, specifically Central and South America and Spain. And with a wealth of music, dance, food and decorations to enjoy, your Christmas is sure to be prosperous at Disney ¡Viva Navidad!
Held multiple times each day in Paradise Gardens Park, the ¡Viva Navidad! Street Party brings the fiesta with dancers, musicians, massive puppets and more. The Three Caballeros host this seasonal street soiree, as folklórico and Brazilian samba dancers show their moves while backed by mariachis and drummers.
While revelers in the United States sing “We Three Kings,” those in Central and South America pay homage to that regal trio on Three Kings Day, or El Día de los Reyes Magos. Celebrated in Disney California Adventure Park on January 3 to 9, 2022, Three Kings Day sees Paradise Gardens bedecked with traditional decorations like papel picado, making for a vibrant selfie backdrop.
No matter when you visit from November 12, 2021 to January 15, 2022, take some time to enjoy some holiday food and music. Paradise Garden Grill is serving up celebratory Mexican specialties like plant-based Chile Relleno, Torta al Pastor or a House-made Pozole with tortilla chips. And as we mentioned earlier, live musical acts also take to the Palisades Stage just nearby, so feel free to grab something to munch on as you take in the show.
Along with Disney characters like Donald Duck, José Carioca and Panchito, Mickey and Minnie also stop by in their fiesta finery. You’ll even get to see Mirabel from Encanto, Disney’s newest animated film, in her Disneyland debut, complete with live entertainment and photo opportunities. Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Claus also make an appearance in the form of mojiganga puppets that tower up to 12 feet in height.
Meet Santa and His Elves
Santa Claus is coming to Redwood Creek Challenge Trail from November 12 to December 24, 2021. Each year, jolly old St. Nick stops by California Adventure for his annual visit. In his honor, the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail has gone through a merry transformation filled with festive games and other outdoor activities.
The elves have hidden lots of toys and trinkets along the trail, so pick up a map at the trailhead to Redwood Creek as you hunt for them all. While you’re there, be sure to swing past Ahwahnee Camp Circle to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus. Then, once you’ve updated him on your Christmas wishlist, snap a selfie for the ‘gram.
Get in the Spirit with Other Christmas Food at California Adventure
Along with all the global eats in the Festive Foods Marketplace, you can also indulge in all manner of holiday sweets and other treats around California Adventure. From a Creamy Pesto Alfredo Cone stuffed with Cars Land’s take on Christmas Fettuccine at the Cozy Cone Motel to Peppermint Shakes crowned with chocolate crème cookies from Schmoozies!, these culinary yuletide treasures are only available for a limited time and are on offer at snack carts, quick-service restaurants and lounges. There are even seasonal churros and funnel cakes. Sounds like the makings of an epic Christmas-themed food tour to us!
Have a sweet tooth? Then you won’t want to miss the park’s highly sought-after, hand-pulled candy canes. Standing almost 20 inches tall, these traditional treats have been made in the same way for the last 36 years, resulting in a candy cane so fresh that people will show up early just to claim one.
This year, guests at California Adventure and Disneyland Park will have to join a mobile waitlist to get their nostalgic sweet. As this is the first time the candy canes have ever been distributed this way, we’re not exactly sure how it will go. However, Disney has shared that guests will be required to give their name and phone number on location before getting a text later on with your candy cane’s ETA.
At California Adventure, candy canes are only available at Trolley Treats on December 8, 14, 16 and 22, 2021. Keep in mind that if the mobile waitlist works like previous years’ wristband system, then each person is only able to reserve one candy cane.
For our best guess at how to snag one, we suggest you arrive at California Adventure at least one hour prior to park open. Given the extremely limited quantities, the closer you can get to the front of the line, the easier it will be to earn your candy cane. And you will earn it – because if this year is anything like previous years, then people will start running for their dessert as soon as they’re through the turnstiles. So, while the competition may be stiff, the rewards are sweet.
Well folks, that’s a wrap on our guide to the holidays at Disney’s California Adventure in 2021. Even with all the people and waiting in line, there’s still no shortage of Christmas cheer. You just need a bit of patience and some careful planning to make the most of it.
Wanting to maximize your merriment? Get ahead of the crowds and spend more time feeling festive with our 1-Day Disneyland Park Plan. Don’t want to dig into your gift budget? Keep things thrifty with our discount Disneyland tickets.
Have you spent Christmastime at California Adventure? Which Festive Food Marketplace booth or holiday ride takeover is your favorite? Are the hand-pulled candy canes worth the early start? Let us know in the comments!
Amber is a proud former Walt Disney World Cast Member, an unabashed travel addict, and a hospitality and tourism specialist with over 10 years in the industry. She likes getting her wanderlust fix by sharing her favorite park tips and tricks with other Disney fans. When she isn’t working, you can usually catch her in a hot power yoga class or spending way too much money at Disney Springs.