Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure
As one of the first movie franchise themed lands at a Disney Park (think Pandora, Galaxy’s Edge, and Toy Story Land), Cars Land has been wowing guests ever since its opening in 2012 and has continued to marvel guests with its charm and immersiveness to this day. Over the past 9 years our team at Magical Adventure Co has visited this spot numerous times, and we love everything that it has to offer.
Theming and Design
Cars Land is themed, as you would expect, after the 2006 Pixar movie by the same name and mimics the small town along Route 66 where much of the movie is set. We’re not exaggerating when we say this - it feels like you’re in Radiator Springs. As you begin your stroll down the main thoroughfare (Route 66) your attention is immediately called toward the massive backdrop of windworn red rocks and gorgeous vistas. Whether or not you have seen (or enjoy) the movies, you get the real feeling that you have actually been transported to the deserts of Arizona and Southern California. If you look closely you can see a bridge over a waterfall in the background that looks miles away. The detail that the Imagineering team put into making it look incredibly real is unbelievable and ahead of its time, even in 2012.
As you bring your attention back down to the road in front of you, you will find Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, which is home to a spinning children’s ride similar to Alien Flying Saucers in Toy Story Land at Disney World. Further on, the neon lights of Flo’s V8 Cafe and Cozy Cone Motel across the street continue to call back to the theming from the movie. These two spots are our favorites in the land. Flo’s V8 Cafe feels exactly the same as the gas station from the movie, and the Cozy Cone Motel is just incredibly cute. Both spots offer some pretty good food options that we talk more about below.
Continuing down to the end of Route 66, you will find Luigi’s and Ramone’s. Luigi’s even has the oddly tall stack of tires that always looks like it is about to tip over at any minute. Both of these spots are clever disguises for some great attractions. You will find the Rollickin Roadsters at Luigi’s and the main attraction for this land, Radiator Spring Racers, behind Ramone’s.
While this land is great during the day, at night is when it truly comes to life. If you can swing it on your next visit, try to visit at dusk. You’ll be treated to something special and unique that’s not listed in any showtimes. It’s called “Sh-boom,” and it happens every evening right around sunset. The song “Sh-Boom” (from the Cars soundtrack, reminiscent of 1950s America) is blasted over the loudspeakers, and one-by-one each building’s neon lights blink on until the whole street is aglow in neon. Add that to the lighting effects on the rock work that make it seem to glow, and you have one of the best night time experiences at any Disney park.
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
This is the first ride you’ll see on the left as you stroll down Route 66. As we mentioned above, it’s very similar to the Alien Swirling Saucers Ride in Toy Story Land, just with different music and theming. You’ll sit in a car pulled by one of the tractors that Mater and Lightning McQueen go “tractor tipping” with. The seats fit two adults or one adult and two small children. The music begins, and the tractors rotate around in a circle, with each tractor also individually rotating on its own.
Unlike the tea cups, you don’t control the speed of the spin. And if you’re one of those who starts feeling sick on the teacups, don’t worry - this ride isn’t nearly that bad. You’ll spin and twirl away to hoedown music including the vocal stylings of Larry the Cable Guy.
During Halloween season, this ride gets spiced up with new spooky music as Mater’s Junkyard JamBOOree. And during Christmastime, you’ll spin and twirl to holiday favorites in Mater’s Jingle Jamboree.
Luigi’s Rollickin Roadsters
This is the newest ride in Cars Land! The concept is that Luigi’s family is in town from Italy, and he’s throwing a big party - with lots of dancing of course! Apparently his cousins are excellent dancers… Since they’re cars, that means you can ride in them for the dance and take a load off.
This is a trackless ride system, so it’s extremely smooth… kind of like social dancing would be if you have a very good partner leading you in the dance. You’ll sit in the cars either as two adults or an adult and two kids. When the music begins, the cars… well… dance. It’s sort of like a line dance in the sense that you aren’t paired up with another car. But the cars do dance and swirl around each other.
As with Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, we don’t think this is the best ride you’ll ever do, but if it has a relatively short line, it can definitely be a fun one to add to your trip.
Radiator Springs Racers
As one of the top attractions in California Adventure, Radiator Springs Racers is not to be missed. For those of you more familiar with Disney World, this attraction is a nearly identical ride system to Test Track in Epcot. However, that is where the similarities end. The theming and storytelling of this Californian version is superior in our opinion. The basic premise is that the ride takes place after the end of the first Cars movie and you are a racer that is heading into Radiator Springs for race day now that the town is back to life again.
The adventure begins as you enter the queue and wind through the old abandoned towns along Route 66. As you get on the ride you continue your joy ride through the desert before heading into Radiator Springs at night. You meet your favorite characters from the movies and even get into a little “cow” tipping mischief along the way. Once you finish galavanting around town it then becomes time for your makeover before race day! At this point the ride splits between either heading into Luigi’s for some fresh tires or to Ramone’s for a paint job. Once you exit you are ready to race another ride vehicle around the large outdoor stone work.
As mentioned above, we love this ride because of the original Disney storytelling, but the thrilling outdoor drive also packs a punch with twists and turns throughout the countryside. While it doesn’t quite get up to the speeds of Test Track, it still feels quite fast and exhilarating. Plus the views and music that gets played along the ride are truly incredible. As the lines often get quite long, we recommend grabbing a fastpass for this spot or getting there first thing in the morning (pending Disneyland’s systems once it reopens).
Dining and Shopping
Cozy Cone Motel
The five cones at the Cozy Cone Motel each serve a different “i-cone-ic” treat! You will find Churros, Ice Cream, Chili “Cone” Queso, Pretzel Bites and Popcorn, with one offered at each cone. Be sure to also keep an eye out for all of the cone-themed puns for the drinks and treats along the way. Also, this is a great spot to grab an alcoholic beverage; cone 3 offers some tasty Vodka and lemonade drinks to go with your snacks.
Flo’s V8 Cafe
This quick service spot offers a fried chicken plate and BBQ sandwich along with other standard American fare like Burgers, Sandwiches and Salads. The food here is good (not great), but is a great spot for finding something everyone in your party will enjoy. We personally have found other Quick Service spots in California Adventure that offer some more unique options that we prefer for lunch and dinner.
Breakfast is a different story, as there aren’t many places open for breakfast in California Adventure. The brioche french toast here is DIVINE. It comes with salted caramel sauce and bananas. One of our favorite things to do on a California Adventure day is come to Flo’s for a second breakfast between 10 and 11 after we’ve already hit up a lot of the major attractions.
As with every part of this land, the theming at Flo’s really cannot be beat. You can choose to eat out front under the “filling station” overhangs. Or, and this is our preference, you can sit out back on the patio and have a great view of Radiator Springs and the race cars flying by every minute or so.
If you’re after Cars toys or more kiddie souvenirs, hit up Sarge’s Surplus Hut. If it’s clothing you’re looking for, Ramone’s House of Body Art is the place to find it. Pin traders will want to head to Radiator Springs Curios. This is also where you’ll find more typical souvenirs like mugs, purses, magnets, etc.
Cars Land is a great example of what Disney Imagineering does best. They take something completely made up, like a universe where cars are alive, and bringing it to life in incredibly realistic ways. You can even have real life character interactions with Lightning McQueen! This land is so well done that we think it's worth a trip out west just to check it out! Plus while you’re there, don’t miss everything else that Disneyland has to offer.