Swanky 1920s style now welcomes Disneyland guests to the reinvented Disney California Adventure theme park, transporting travelers to simpler times filled with red cars and ice cream bars. Disney’s Imagineers have created an idealized version of the Hollywood that Walt Disney saw when he first arrived to California in 1923, lining the new Buena Vista Street entrance to the park with retro touches to take in and Disney details to discover.
Stepping through the new Pan-Pacific Auditorium-themed turnstiles, guests now find themselves at the foot of Buena Vista Street with open opportunity to shop the stores, dine at the restaurants, chat with local “citizens,” or simply take in the ambiance recreated from decades past. It’s like an old news reel has been brought to life, complete with the park’s own newspaper, the Buena Vista Bugle, headlining the grand (re)opening of the Carthay Circle Theatre that commands attention down the street.
In fact, it’s this film reel feel that most appropriately begins the overview video tour of Buena Vista Street below, highlighting its new shops, eateries, and decorations.
Video: Overview of Buena Vista Street sights, shops, and Carthay Circle at Disney California Adventure
A stroll on Buena Vista Street revealed the bustle Disney has added to the area, interconnecting street performances with character meet-and-greets. The park’s new flow invites guests to open doors and explore the variety of themed department stores and gift shops mixed in with a variety quick and clever food options. And along the streets guests ride the Red Car Trolley, interact with the Citizens of Buena Vista Street, and encounter a jalopy rolling in featuring the Five and Dime jazz band, all while Mickey and Goofy meet and greet near the “Storytellers” statue featuring Walt himself. Buena Vista Street has a Disney vibe while maintaining the feel of a real world place.
You can take that very stroll, as seen on press preview / opening day of Buena Vista Street, June 14, 2012 in the video below, showing a walking tour from the turnstiles to the Carthay Circle Theatre. (Just try to ignore the occasional lighting and camera rigs set up for the day’s special event.)
Video: Unedited opening day walking tour of Buena Vista Street and Carthay Circle
Buena Vista Street is divided into eight different shops and restaurants, each with its own story that drives a unique design aesthetic, all blending into one cohesive theme. And at the end of Buena Vista Street is Carthay Circle, an open area that’s home to meet-and-greets, Disney tributes, and more places to eat. All are serviced by the Red Car Trolley system, which makes stops at the foot of Buena Vista Street and within Carthay Circle before taking passengers to Hollywood Land, arriving at the Hollywood Tower Hotel.
Red Car Trolley
The most immediately noticeable addition to Disney California Adventure upon passing through the redesigned entrance is the Red Car Trolley, ready to transport passengers through the park. The free-to-ride vehicles offer more than transportation, adding authenticity to the 1920s environment. Guests can wait at a simple stop, alerted by the “wig wag” signal when a trolley is approaching. The simple sound of the bell ringing as trolleys come and go is one small part of the many details Disney has used to immerse guests in the area’s theme.
While waiting, guests can pick up and read the latest edition of the “Buena Vista Bugle,” a free 4-page newspaper distributed up and down Buena Vista Street offering the latest from this quasi-fictional town. With the first-issue headline “CARTHAY CIRCLE THEATRE OPENS DOORS” and a photo of the “Storytellers” statue featuring Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse, this instant collectible reports on all the latest additions of the park for first timers to the “new” Disney California Adventure.
Across from the Red Car Trolley stop, Oswald’s stands in Buena Vista Plaza, facade themed to a gas station and tire shop. The store actually sells a fairly standard variety of Disney merchandise, including travel mugs, sunscreen, hats and more, also with the unique addition of limited merchandise devoted to the store’s namesake character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, one of Walt Disney’s first successful creations. Oswald is whole-heartedly welcomed to the Disney theme park by fans who have craved to see more of the character since Disney reacquired the rights to him in 2006.
Continuing the retro look of Oswald’s gas station / store, an old-timey car is parked out front with no purpose other than to add to the ambiance of the area. It also proves to be a popular photo op.
Next door, the Buena Vista Street Chamber of Commerce houses the park’s Guest Relations team, who also offer the lesser known service of offering to stamp a copy of the Buena Vista Bugle with any date, including the park’s reopening date, June 15, 2012.
High above and throughout Buena Vista Street, “advertisements” preview the new stores added to the park.
Los Feliz Five & Dime
Stores run the length of Buena Vista Street along both sides, each interconnected from within, allowing guests to pass between them with ease. The left/east side begins with Los Feliz Five & Dime, passing through to Big Top Toys, and ending up in the Elias & Co. department store. Los Feliz Five & Dime is themed to a vintage five-and-dime store, decorated with trinkets on out-of-reach shelves. The store is named after the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, near the site where Walt Disney’s Hyperion studios were built. Inside, merchandise includes t-shirts, fleece, hats, figurines, souvenirs, and an array of Red Car Trolley items including a few fun play sets.
Big Top Toys
The one store in all of Buena Vista Street that is noticeably different in design than the rest is Big Top Toys, replacing otherwise mostly muted colors with a vibrant circus-themed design. The store features (obviously) toys as well as games and plush inspired by such Disney characters as Tinker Bell, Disney Princesses, Phineas & Ferb and Duffy the Bear. The shop itself does have roots in Disney history, as a nod to the Disney animated film “Dumbo,” both for its look and and the background music playing within. And the ringmaster painted on one of the store’s walls bears more than a slight resemblance to one of the Disney Imagineers who worked on Buena Vista Street, Ray Spencer.
Elias & Co.
The crown jewel of Buena Vista Street is the Elias & Co. department store, featuring the middle name of Walt Disney himself (and his father’s first). Its art deco style changes hues from room to room, from warm browns to bright yellows to classy blues. Within each store, apparel, watches, handbags, accessories and other unique items are sold, including fedoras and leather jackets for those who want to dress the part. Elias & Co. spans more than half of the east side of Buena Vista Street, with several intricately themed entrances for guests to choose from.
Inside, sharp-eyed Disney fans will also spot the familiar costumes worn by mannequins standing on overhead balconies within one of the store’s sections. A well-dressed man in the middle sports a suit tailored after one of Walt Disney’s own. Next to him stands a boy dressed like the kid in “Dick Tracy,” a period-appropriate film. And to the right, familiar outfits from “The Rocketeer” are featured, blending in perfectly while also being a nod to Disney past.
Kingswell Camera Shop
Turning to the west side of Buena Vista Street, beginning back at the park’s entrance, Kingswell Camera Shop is the headquarters for Disney’s PhotoPass, where guests can pick up their photos taken by Disney’s roving photographers. The shop also sells memory cards, cameras, film, batteries, frames and photo albums. Its name is derived from Kingswell Avenue, the site of an early Disney animation studio.
Nearby, Mortimer’s Market offers whole and cut fruits, bottled water, juices and soft drinks set in a retro-looking outdoor store. “Mortimer” is the name Walt Disney originally gave his new character created in 1928, later changed to Mickey. According to Disney legend, it was Walt Disney’s wife Lillian who objected to the name, saying Mortimer was too formal.
Julius Katz & Sons
Julius Katz & Sons carries a variety of home decor and seasonal merchandise including kitchen gadgets, dinnerware, hand towels and aprons. “Julius Katz” was inspired by Julius the Cat, an animated cat who joined the live-action Alice in Disney’s silent “Alice in Cartoonland” shorts of the 1920s. It’s also home to one of the few Oswald the Lucky Rabbit items currently for sale on Buena Vista Street, a “medium figure.”
Atwater Ink & Paint
Atwater Ink & Paint may simply sell coffee, tea and a few other treats, but Disney fans will spend time exploring the rich details found throughout this shop. The store’s name refers to the Atwater Village district of Los Angeles, a regular haunt of animators in the early days of the Disney Studio. As such, a bulletin board in the back of the store features notes with enough references to challenge even the most knowledgable Disney fan, some of which are highlighted below.
Next door, Trolley Treats offers plenty of sweets, including hand-pulled taffy, gourmet marshmallows, caramel apples, toffee, dipped strawberries, some of which are made on the spot by Disney candy makers. But like its neighbor, this store also contains several nods to Disney history, from a faux candy machine in the back to an animated window display dedicated to Rock Candy Mountain, an attraction designed for Disneyland park but never built. Rock Candy Mountain is a bit difficult to see from the street due to glare on the window, but its backside is easily approachable from within.
Trolley Treats marks the end of the west side of Buena Vista Street before meeting the roundabout that is Carthay Circle. This side of the street is known as the Elysian Arcade, a reference to Elysian Park, LA, current home of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Looking back down Buena Vista Street provides an excellent view of the openness of the new area while looking ahead offers a stunning view of Carthay Circle, with restaurants continuing along the path around.
Clarabelle’s Hand-Scooped Ice Cream
Just past Trolley Treats and connected from within is Clarabelle’s Hand-Scooped Ice Cream, a counter service soda fountain and ice cream shop referencing of one of Mickey Mouse’s friends, Clarabelle Cow. Clarabelle’s serves hand-scooped ice cream in waffle cones, sundaes (hot fudge, mocha, mint, strawberry) and chocolate-dipped ice cream bars (milk or dark chocolate).
Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Café
Many park guests are excited about the Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Café, a diner-style, quick-service restaurant connected to Clarabelle’s but also featuring several outdoor entrances due to its massive size. The excitement not only stems from its unique menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches, but also because it’s the first Disney theme park location to serve Starbucks brand coffee. The café name references the names of the Three Little Pigs in the award-winning Silly Symphonies cartoon. Stepping inside, it’s hard to imagine this location was formerly a winding gift shop, now transformed into a popular hot spot for food and drinks.
Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Café contains 134 seats inside and 44 outside open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Signature sandwiches with kettle potato chips include roast beef and cheddar, turkey Reuben, paneer and roasted vegetable, and salami with olive tapenade.
Carthay Circle Restaurant and Lounge
Towering high above all other nearby buildings, the Carthay Circle Theatre is the focal point while walking down Buena Vista Street and the surrounding area. It’s modeled after the real-life theater in which Disney premiered “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” accented by a stylish fountain that mirrors its shape, acting as the centerpiece to Carthay Circle. The building itself houses an exquisite restaurant and lounge, serving all-new lunch and dinner menus developed by executive chef Andrew Sutton of Napa Rose fame. (We’ll have a full review of this restaurant posted soon.)
Whether riding by Red Car Trolley or walking on foot, guests entering Disney California Adventure inevitably end up in Carthay Circle, surrounded on all sides not only by restaurants but also street entertainment and other sights to take in. From the park’s information booth to the new “Storytellers” statue, a tribute to Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse, Carthay Circle serves as the new hub of activity for the park. It’s where characters like Mickey and Goofy come to meet and greet with fans and also where street entertainment like Five and Dime and the Red Car News Boys stop to perform.
Little of the entrance area remains recognizable from the Disney California Adventure that opened more than 10 years ago. The Disneyland Resort monorail system still passes through, no longer gliding over a miniature Golden Gate Bridge, instead across what Disney’s calling the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge. Even the look of the monorails themselves has changed since the park opened, now featuring a retro style harking back to the originals from decades ago.
At night, Buena Vista Street is filled not only with guests leaving the park, but many casually sitting on its available benches, taking in the ambiance. Disney parks always feel more magical at night and as Buena Vista Street and Carthay Circle light up, a soft orange glow takes over, adding even more warmth.
Buena Vista Street is both the start of and the exclamation point at the end of a day at Disney California Adventure, offering a welcome environment for all who pass through. Disney California Adventure is no longer about recreating the experience of hitting all the popular tourist stops throughout the Golden State, instead instantly transporting visitors to the California that perhaps never existed exactly as it’s depicted here, but certainly was seen through the visionary eyes of Walt Disney when he first arrived. The 1920s were a beginning for Walt and an exciting time to return to for Disneyland Resort guests.
More photos of Buena Vista Street and Carthay Circle: