Physically, we’re on the couch dreaming of our next theme park trip. Mentally, we’re singing “Life is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts and strutting down Disney’s version of Route 66 to rope drop Radiator Springs Racers. That’s right, Discrew — today, we’re talking Cars Land.
It’s been 10 years since Cars Land opened at Disney California Adventure, and we’re still not over it. This land is what theme park dreams are made of. It feels like you’re stepping foot into a Pixar Animation Studios film, and just like Pandora – the World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you don’t have to be a superfan to enjoy this place. Cars Land truly signaled a Disney park renaissance when it comes to immersive experiences. Since it opened, we’ve looked forward to taking in its magic (and trying to figure out a way to win the Piston Cup IRL) every time we return to the happiest place on Earth.
Let’s get our kicks on Route 66 as we drive into Cars Land in celebration of its 10th anniversary.
Cars Land at Disney California Adventure
Inspired by the 2006 Disney-Pixar animated film “Cars,” Cars Land is one of the most beloved and well-themed lands in all of Disneyland Resort. The land opened in 2012 as part of the billion-dollar expansion project for Disney California Adventure, and it’s been delighting guests ever since.
Imagineer Kevin Rafferty originally dreamed up Cars Land as a celebration of California car culture and Route 66. However, after the “Cars” film was released, Rafferty’s original iteration of Carland evolved to become Cars Land, incorporating both the celebration of cars and Route 66 life with the hit Pixar film’s themes. You could say that “Cars” was a vehicle for Rafferty’s DCA expansion idea (pun intended) to be brought to life eventually. The unofficial Disney fandom wiki gives an excellent overview of the land’s history and conception, so you can check that out here.
Today, the land boasts three attractions — including one E-ticket ride — and a few eateries serving up classic theme park dishes and unique grub that you can only get here.
How Cars Land Changed Over the Years
Cars Land has undergone a few changes over the years, but none detrimentally impacted the land. Quite the opposite. The most significant change occurred in 2016 when Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters replaced Luigi’s Flying Tires, a bumper car-style attraction where guests rode around in, you guessed it, tires. The old attraction was cute and kitschy, but it’s nothing like its replacement, which is, in our opinion, one of the most underrated rides in all of DCA. Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters was the first attraction at Disneyland to employ trackless technology, and trust us when we say that this dancing cars ride is a ton of fun.
Another seasonal change that we totally love? Holiday celebrations in Cars Land! Nowadays, every year, the land is completely decked out for the Halloween and Christmas holidays, and we are so here for it. We already appreciate the screen-accurate theming of the land year-round. Still, we also love a good holiday overlay, and Cars Land arguably does it best (other than the “Nightmare Before Christmas” overlay on Haunted Mansion, but let’s be honest, that’s in a league of its own).
Themerica has a great post all about Cars Land: Then and Now, which we highly recommend checking out here.
The Cars Land Aesthetic
The Cars Land aesthetic has us swooning every time we visit, especially at sunset. There is nothing like those neon lights at dusk, when “Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)” is playing over the loudspeakers. We love grabbing a snack from the Cozy Cone Motel and chilling on a bench, soaking up that Pixar-inspired atmosphere that we can’t get anywhere else.
Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention a huge reason why we love the Cars Land aesthetics: the photo opportunities! There are unlimited photo ops here. We love the pastels of Flo’s V8 Cafe, the bright orange of the Cozy Cone, and the overall energy of the land. Strike a pose in front of basically any of the land’s iconic signs or facades — especially during golden hour — and you’ll be thrilled with the results. This land has no bad sides and looks good from all angles (and so do you, bestie).
The iconic neon signs are part of what makes Cars Land so iconic. Disney did a ton of research when dreaming up Cars Land, from studying the 2006 “Cars” film to on-location research on Route 66, to figure out how to incorporate neon lights into the land. Imagineers examined the signs that existed in real life to create signs as close to the real thing as possible. Below, you can watch a video on the importance of the neon signs to the Cars Land aesthetic.
Why We Love Cars Land
Cars Land is a total mood. There’s just no other place like it. Where else can you eat food shaped like traffic cones, spin around in a tractor gone haywire, and meet a famous talking racecar? (By the way, we still haven’t figured out exactly how this all-car society works, but if you’ve got a theory, slide into our DMs.) The vibes are immaculate, the food is solid, and the rides are some of the most fun attractions you’ll experience at DCA.
Another reason we love Cars Land? That Disney magic. You can find it around every corner of the land, but our most cherished example occurs every night around sunset. You won’t find any showtimes posted for this on the Disneyland app, so make sure you’re in the land a few minutes before sunset to experience all of the neon lights turn on sequentially to the tune of “Sh-Boom” by — if you haven’t noticed, that song is legendary here. “Life could be a dream,” indeed.
We love the land for its food, rides, and overall atmosphere, but the attention to detail is really why it’s a must-see on every Disneyland trip. Disney brings that Main Street, USA-level of attention to detail right here to Cars Land. This can best be described by one element: the traffic light. In the film, Fillmore, the “hippie” Volkswagen bus, tells Sarge that every third blink on the Radiator Springs traffic light is slower. And, he was right! Imagineers made sure that in Cars Land, every third blink on the traffic light is, in fact, slower.
Most of all, we love Cars Land for what it has contributed to DCA. This land breathed fresh air into a park that needed more than a little TLC, propelling it into a new era of fun and adventure. Since Cars Land opened, we’ve gotten the rethemed Pixar Pier and Avengers Campus, two lands that we couldn’t imagine DCA without. Cars Land made DCA more than a stop on the way to Disneyland — it helped transform the park into a destination we’re completely psyched about.
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