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Out and about on California’s I-5 freeway with Roger, soup, Harris Ranch … and pot roast!?!??! There’s a full selection of topic drift and other obstacles along the way!



According to Yahoo Maps, it is exactly three hundred and sixty-six point two miles from my front door to Disneyland’s front door. And if I’m lucky, that’s a trip easily made in less than eight hours. If I’m feeling particularly enthusiastic, I’ve been known to make it in less than six hours. That’s averaging sixty-five or better. And really bending the edges of the space time continuum, there was one trip that was a little more than five and a half hours. But, that is really flying, and tends to attract unwanted “Imperial entanglements”. Of course, there are times when if you’re driving less than eighty, you’re just in the way.

All of this mayhem takes place on the Interstate 5, between Tracy and Anaheim. The fun seems to begin when the speed limit goes up and the sun comes down. Crossing the line from the Alameda to the San Joaquin county, it’s “Gentlemen, start your engines!” (And yes, that’s ironic as the Altamont Raceway Park is right there as well!) That’s where the speed limit goes to the maximum in the state at seventy miles per hour. But you wouldn’t know it, unless the men and women of the California Highway Patrol were in the air and on the ground keeping the public under control. And that they do, quite well, thank you very much!

While I have not been a customer of their services, I know plenty of folks who have. From my perspective, it’s a case of not making yourself an obvious target. Weaving in and out of traffic at an excessive rate of speed, you’re just asking for attention, and they won’t hesitate to give you the letter of the law.

So with all that in mind, it’s southbound and down, to paraphrase the Jerry Reed song from the “Smokey & The Bandit” soundtrack. I made this trip for the first time as the section between Interstate 580 and Highway 152 (Pacheco Pass) at Santa Nella opened in the early Seventies. Before the Five, it was either 101 down the coast or 99 down the valley. Both are slow and make their way through a variety of small towns. Spending between ten and twelve hours on the road was not at all unusual before the Interstates came along.

Something you might have missed, but you can thank German efficiency from the pre-war era for our Interstate highway system. Eisenhower cabinet officials observed the success of the autobahn for moving troops and equipment during Cold War operations, and convinced our president that our country needed a similar system. Hence the creation of the Interstate Highway System, not purely as transportation, but as an element of the defense infrastructure. Just another over budget wonder that we’re still paying for, designed for another era and challenged on a daily basis by a lack of capacity in many places.

In 1972, we did the Disneyland thing again and traveled the entire length of the Five from Tracy down to Highway 99 near the Grapevine, now that it was completed. It was a long way between gas stations. Any fast food like McDonalds was rare, as this route was definitely not through population centers. Today, it’s a different story as bedroom communities for the Bay Area dot that first section. So we tended to pack lunches and drank a lot of water and Kool-Aid from the Coleman cooler.

One of the first places to spring up was Anderson’s at Santa Nella. It’s more or less a copy of the original location of Anderson’s Pea Soup on Highway 101 in Buellton. (And it has it’s own Disney connection … from their web pages, ” Robert (Anderson) commissioned Disney-trained artist Milt Neil to re-draw the two cartoon chefs to use for promotion and they became Pea Soup Andersen’s trademark. The big fellow is shown having all the fun and the easy side of the work, as the little one holds the chisel, looking sad and a bit frightened, always in danger of the big mallet. A contest was held and from thousands of entries the names Hap-pea and Pea-Wee were chosen.”) My first trip to Disneyland in the summer of 1965 included a stop in San Luis Obispo to the north and then in Buellton as well. I don’t recall eating there, however.

Throw in the Union Oil 76 Truck Stop, and that’s all I remember from that first time through the area. Later years saw other businesses spring up and now there’s a full selection of burger foundry’s and gas stations along with motels a plenty.

That’s pretty much the case along the rest of I-5 south. When the road first opened, you really paid attention to your vehicles gas gauge. And later when diesel vehicles jumped into the consumer arena, that became another option of choice. One especially memorable trip, I drove a rented diesel-powered Oldsmobile sedan down and back that did not have a working speedometer. That’s the fastest trip I have made to date. We left Disneyland at 2:00 p.m., stopped at Anderson’s for an hour for dinner, and still made it home to Pleasant Hill (another 30 miles up the road) in less than seven hours, arriving before 9:00 p.m.! But, oh, that fuel mileage! I don’t recall it being much better than gasoline for that trip. No economy there …

The weapon or meal of choice (out of a full menu wither in the coffee shop or restaurant) at Anderson’s is, of course, the split pea soup. You can simply enjoy a cup or a bowl, or for those with hearty appetites, there is the “Travelers Special”. It’s “all-you-can-eat” soup, a variety of fresh breads, and a drink (which can be a somewhat interesting milkshake — that’s ice cream and milk with flavoring, as it’s called here in California; not the “cabinet” as I’m told it’s called in Rhode Island.) I’ve managed to enjoy my share of bowls over the years, somewhere in the less than 100 range, I think …

Before we moved to Livermore, this was about ninety minutes from home. (Now, it’s seventy two odd miles and about an hour.) So it was a good chance to pull over and stretch the legs, use the restroom and get a soda before continuing on south or north. Usually a meal stop was in order if the time was right. But if not, it was on down the road.

Another 77 miles down the Five, and it’s the exit for Coalinga. A funny name for an interesting town. Back in the early days when the Southern Pacific was looking to build it’s railroad to connect San Francisco with Los Angeles, one option considered was to run a line south from San Jose, through Hollister, up and over the Coast Range of mountains and connect up with another line going down the San Joaquin valley. The lines from both sides of the mountains were completed, but crossing was abandoned. On the east side of the range, a small town sprang up at what was supposed to be a water and fuel station for the locomotives. Coaling Station “A” became better known as Coalinga. The area saw a boom and later bust of it’s own as oil was discovered along the west side of the valley. It’s a nice little town, and lot’s going on …

1977 was a good year. I met my future wife, graduated high school, and enjoyed a mid-summer visit to Disneyland. Rather than spend the long drive in the Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon with my parents, and four other siblings, I managed to fly down from Oakland to Ontario, and managed to ride Amtrak from San Bernadino to LA and then on to Martinez. As much as I like the train, I have only ridden this route a total of four times. This first trip was aboard the Southwest Limited (now the Southwest Chief) for the short haul and then the Coast Starlight for the rest of the way. I made an identical trip a few years later when returning my sister and her Volkswagen Beetle to Cal Poly Pomona. (Okay, so it was an excuse to go for the train ride home …) Then Michele and I rode the Starlight down and back on our honeymoon in April of 1986. I’ve made a few other trips down by rail on the San Joaquin with it’s bus connections to various LA basin locations, including the Disneyland hotel.

If memory serves, I made my first visit to Harris Ranch the following summer. The Star Trek hobby got me involved with a bunch of folks volunteering at various conventions. One group I shared time with was the crew for a stage illusion based on the original series transporter effect. Under the right circumstances, it was pretty good and you couldn’t see how it was done. One event we were going to set up and perform at was at the Anaheim Convention Center. So one the trip down and back, I’m fairly certain we made a stop at I-5 and Highway 198 in Coalinga. Since then, it’s a regular event on almost any trip down the Five.

Now according to their web pages, the family has been involved in ranching in the area since 1937, and they opened the doors on the restaurant and hotel complex in 1977. Sharing their passions for good food and good times, they’ve created a great place. Whether for a quick stop to refuel your vehicle and or your body, or for the chance to linger over a meal at one of the four opportunities, or spend the night or longer, they have you covered! And if you’re capable, you can even fly in to this place! A landing strip adjacent to the hotel offers pilots the perfect place for lunch. One friend says that whenever he needs to spend some hours keeping himself current, this is his favorite destination.

And if you need another excuse to stop, the place has a great store offering all of the great food products from Harris Ranch along with a Country Store and bakery. On a number of trips, I’ve made purchases of all kinds for birthdays, holidays and just plain fun. One item of note was the Pepper Patch Tipsy Cake. As the web page says, “To make the award-winning Tipsy Cake, we mix pure butter, fresh eggs, new crop pecans and plump raisins, bake ’till golden, and then soak the whole cake in premium Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.” Or as a friend said while enjoying this cake with his cup of coffee at the local emporium, “It’s only nine o’clock in the morning and this cake is seriously kicking my ass!” Sadly, the last time I passed through Coalinga, they were no longer selling the cake there … It made one heck of great gift!

Now the four places to eat … The Horseshoe Bar “… is the more casual option for a decent meal. Relax by the fireplace, or outside by the fountain. Either way, you can watch any one of our dozen televisions, or enjoy live entertainment on select nights.” (Spent an enjoyable evening here watching Monday Night Football with all the trimmings …) The Jockey Club … “is a favorite establishment among ranchers and local business professionals. Located in our award winning, beautifully appointed Steakhouse, enjoy the ambiance and rich history of the Harris Farm Thoroughbred racing memorabilia. This exclusive, reservation only lunch club, offers small intimate dining areas, perfect for business discussions or private celebrations. Our Executive Chef shares his imaginative and innovative approach to fine dining through his weekly gourmet lunch creations.” Then there is the Steak House. It’s one place I have yet to enjoy, mostly because I fear having to have a room to sleep off a meal here.

But my place of choice here is the Ranch Kitchen. I’ve enjoyed breakfast (eggs and chile rellenos, yumola!), lunch (how about a tri-tip club sandwich?), dinner (beef is best!) and even a late night snack (we’re talking serious pie here) and cup of coffee … A look at the menu gives you an idea of just how industrial a place this is. We are not talking a place for light eaters. The menu does offer choices for smaller appetites. But if you’re hungry, they have you covered!

Now if you’ve driven the Five you can’t help but notice the place. The exit north (of Harris Ranch) is the junction of State Route 33, Highway 145 and the Five. It’s also the location of the Harris Ranch feedlot. That means a large number of cattle and tons of manure. That smell is one powerful odor. If you’re caught unaware, likely it will be with you for more than a few miles. Usually, I turn the air conditioning full up and recirculate the inside air, keeping the odor to a minimum. Sometimes, even that won’t help.

But beef is really what this is all about. Harris Ranch beef is some of the best available in the Golden State. I’ve enjoyed some fine Tri-Tip during a few meals. But it is the Pot Roast that is my entrée of choice. Now it’s a sentimental favorite with me anyway. Something about my grandmother and mother both offering it for Sunday dinners. The kind where it just falls apart on the fork, tender and juicy, served with a fresh steamed vegetable and a mound of mashed potatoes with gravy. Pardon me, while I drool at the memories for a few minutes …




It’s always a great moment to pull in to the parking lot here and find the grill stoked up out in front of the place. Just the smell of all that meat cooking is enough to make me stop, no questions asked!

Stepping inside, you check in at the desk in front of the Ranch Kitchen. (Take the Virtual Tour for a look at the place!) The wait isn’t very long — I’ve never had one more than thirty minutes — and then you’re seated at a table or in a booth inside. On your way in, you pass by some of the local produce displayed, and it is for sale. The décor is just what you would expect with photo’s and artifacts from various things connected with the family’s past. One favorite room has a great display of vintage fruit crate labels. (My personal favorite is “Big Game” showing a Stanford football player (from the Twenties) superimposed above Stanford Stadium.

The staff is part of the success here. I can say in all honesty that these folks do this right. We’ve always been asked about a favorite beverage (both alcoholic and non) soon after being seated, and had our meal choices taken in quick order. And the kitchen staff doesn’t disappoint either; as food somehow seems to end up on our tables quickly.

For me, the Pot Roast or the Pot Roast Sandwich are the usual suspects. This slow roasted tender brisket of beef is served with a selection of fresh steamed vegetables and some great mashed potatoes and gravy. The Pot Roast Sandwich came on fantastic toasted garlic sourdough bread, instead of potatoes, the last time I enjoyed it! I suspect one could even order Pot Roast and eggs for breakfast, but I haven’t made that leap quite yet.

But you don’t need to drive all that way, just for pot roast. As part of their retail efforts, Pot Roast is one of the items easily available from Harris Ranch — either by mail order or from a local retailer. On several train trips, including a short afternoon tour a few months back, we’ve made use of it because of the simplicity of preparation. Fully cooked entrees needing a short time for preparation also include Beef Stew, Tri-Tip Roast, Swiss Steak, Beef Stroganoff and Short Ribs.

If the pre-cooked entrees don’t quite hit the spot, they don’t disappoint. Lots of other great beef packages are available from the web pages. These include select steaks (Filet Mignon, New York Striploin, Sirloins, Porterhouse, Rib Eye and T-Bone cuts) and beef roasts (Santa Maria Tri-Tip, Chipotle Tri-Tip, Beer ‘n’ Spice Tri-Tip, Tri-Tip, Tri-Tip Lovers Special, Santa Maria Barbecue, Corned Beef Brisket, Corned Beef Boneless Round, Boneless Prime Rib, 3 Bone-In Prime Rib Roast, 4 Bone-In Prime Rib Roast, and the 7 Bone-In Prime Rib Roast!)

And they have lots of other great goodies to tempt you to go along with all of this from bakery goods right down to hats, t-shirts and aprons, so you’re all set to handle the next barbecue on your own spread …

Now, I’ll admit that beef is not for everyone. But if you’re like me and enjoy a good slab of cow now and then, a stop here on your next trip down the Five will be worth your time. Check out the menu for the Ranch Kitchen. There’s a great selection of things to tempt your palate.

So there you have another gastronomic tale from the open road. It’s been almost four months since Roger made the pilgrimage, and he’s probably about ready for another road trip, just to fill up.

Next week? Finally, it’s a good look at the life and art of a really nice guy, and a big influence on the Southern California car culture with hot rods, theme parks, and more tales of big food. Don’t miss it!

About Roger’s Amazon Honor System Paybox … here’s the shamless plug! If you’ve enjoyed one of these columns, you can show your appreciation by dropping a buck or two in the box. It doesn’t hurt much, and it keeps him plugging away every week for another nugget of information to share.

Roger Colton

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The Evolution and History of Mickey’s ToonTown



Disneyland in Anaheim, California, holds a special place in the hearts of Disney fans worldwide, I mean heck, it’s where the magic began after all.  Over the years it’s become a place that people visit in search of memorable experiences. One fan favorite area of the park is Mickey’s Toontown, a unique land that lets guests step right into the colorful, “Toony” world of Disney animation. With the recent reimagining of the land and the introduction of Micky and Minnies Runaway Railway, have you ever wondered how this land came to be?

There is a fascinating backstory of how Mickey’s Toontown came into existence. It’s a tale of strategic vision, the influence of Disney executives, and a commitment to meeting the needs of Disney’s valued guests.

The Beginning: Mickey’s Birthdayland

The story of Mickey’s Toontown starts with Mickey’s Birthdayland at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Opened in 1988 to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday, this temporary attraction was met with such overwhelming popularity that it inspired Disney executives to think bigger. The idea was to create a permanent, immersive land where guests could step into the animated world of Mickey Mouse and his friends.

In the early ’90s, Disneyland was in need of a refresh. Michael Eisner, the visionary leader of The Walt Disney Company at the time, had an audacious idea: create a brand-new land in Disneyland that would celebrate Disney characters in a whole new way. This was the birth of Mickey’s Toontown.

Initially, Disney’s creative minds toyed with various concepts, including the idea of crafting a 100-Acre Woods or a land inspired by the Muppets. However, the turning point came when they considered the success of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” This film’s popularity and the desire to capitalize on contemporary trends set the stage for Toontown’s creation.

From Concept to Reality: The Birth of Toontown

In 1993, Mickey’s Toontown opened its gates at Disneyland, marking the first time in Disney Park history where guests could experience a fully realized, three-dimensional world of animation. This new land was not just a collection of attractions but a living, breathing community where Disney characters “lived,” worked, and played.

Building Challenges: Innovative Solutions

The design of Mickey’s Toontown broke new ground in theme park aesthetics. Imagineers were tasked with bringing the two-dimensional world of cartoons into a three-dimensional space. This led to the creation of over 2000 custom-built props and structures that embodied the ‘squash and stretch’ principle of animation, giving Toontown its distinctiveness.

And then there was also the challenge of hiding the Team Disney Anaheim building, which bore a striking resemblance to a giant hotdog. The Imagineers had to think creatively, using balloon tests and imaginative landscaping to seamlessly integrate Toontown into the larger park.

Key Attractions: Bringing Animation to Life

Mickey’s Toontown featured several groundbreaking attractions. “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin,” inspired by the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” became a staple of Toontown, offering an innovative ride experience. Gadget’s Go-Coaster, though initially conceived as a Rescue Rangers-themed ride, became a hit with younger visitors, proving that innovative design could create memorable experiences for all ages.

Another crown jewel of Toontown is Mickey’s House, a walkthrough attraction that allowed guests to explore the home of Mickey Mouse himself. This attraction was more than just a house; it was a carefully crafted piece of Disney lore. The house was designed in the American Craftsman style, reflecting the era when Mickey would have theoretically purchased his first home in Hollywood. The attention to detail was meticulous, with over 2000 hand-crafted, custom-built props, ensuring that every corner of the house was brimming with character and charm. Interestingly, the design of Mickey’s House was inspired by a real home in Wichita Falls, making it a unique blend of real-world inspiration and Disney magic.

Mickey’s House also showcased Disney’s commitment to creating interactive and engaging experiences. Guests could make themselves at home, sitting in Mickey’s chair, listening to the radio, and exploring the many mementos and references to Mickey’s animated adventures throughout the years. This approach to attraction design – where storytelling and interactivity merged seamlessly – was a defining characteristic of ToonTown’s success.

Executive Decisions: Shaping ToonTown’s Unique Attractions

The development of Mickey’s Toontown wasn’t just about creative imagination; it was significantly influenced by strategic decisions from Disney executives. One notable input came from Jeffrey Katzenberg, who suggested incorporating a Rescue Rangers-themed ride. This idea was a reflection of the broader Disney strategy to integrate popular contemporary characters and themes into the park, ensuring that the attractions remained relevant and engaging for visitors.

In addition to Katzenberg’s influence, Frank Wells, the then-President of The Walt Disney Company, played a key role in the strategic launch of Toontown’s attractions. His decision to delay the opening of “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin” until a year after Toontown’s debut was a calculated move. It was designed to maintain public interest in the park by offering new experiences over time, thereby giving guests more reasons to return to Disneyland.

These executive decisions highlight the careful planning and foresight that went into making Toontown a dynamic and continuously appealing part of Disneyland. By integrating current trends and strategically planning the rollout of attractions, Disney executives ensured that Toontown would not only capture the hearts of visitors upon its opening but would continue to draw them back for new experiences in the years to follow.

Global Influence: Toontown’s Worldwide Appeal

The concept of Mickey’s Toontown resonated so strongly that it was replicated at Tokyo Disneyland and influenced elements in Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland. Each park’s version of Toontown maintained the core essence of the original while adapting to its cultural and logistical environment.

Evolution and Reimagining: Toontown Today

As we approach the present day, Mickey’s Toontown has recently undergone a significant reimagining to welcome “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway” in 2023. This refurbishment aimed to enhance the land’s interactivity and appeal to a new generation of Disney fans, all while retaining the charm that has made ToonTown a beloved destination for nearly three decades.

Dive Deeper into ToonTown’s Story

Want to know more about Mickey’s Toontown and hear some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, then check out the latest episode of Disney Unpacked on Patreon @JimHillMedia. In this episode, the main Imagineer who worked on the Toontown project shares lots of interesting stories and details that you can’t find anywhere else. It’s full of great information and fun facts, so be sure to give it a listen!

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Unpacking the History of the Pixar Place Hotel



Pixar Place Hotel, the newly unveiled 15-story tower at the Disneyland Resort, has been making waves in the Disney community. With its unique Pixar-themed design, it promises to be a favorite among visitors.

However, before we delve into this exciting addition to the Disneyland Resort, let’s take a look at the fascinating history of this remarkable hotel.

The Emergence of the Disneyland Hotel

To truly appreciate the story of the Pixar Place Hotel, we must turn back the clock to the early days of Disneyland. While Walt Disney had the visionary ideas and funding to create the iconic theme park, he faced a challenge when it came to providing accommodations for the park’s visitors. This is where his friend Jack Wrather enters the picture.

Jack Wrather, a fellow pioneer in the television industry, stepped in to assist Walt Disney in realizing his dream. Thanks to the success of the “Lassie” TV show produced by Wrather’s company, he had the financial means to build a hotel right across from Disneyland.

The result was the Disneyland Hotel, which opened its doors in October 1955. Interestingly, the early incarnation of this hotel had more of a motel feel than a hotel, with two-story buildings reminiscent of the roadside motels popular during the 1950s. The initial Disneyland Hotel consisted of modest structures that catered to visitors looking for affordable lodging close to the park. While the rooms were basic, it marked the beginning of something extraordinary.

The Evolution: From Emerald of Anaheim to Paradise Pier

As Disneyland’s popularity continued to soar, so did the demand for expansion and improved accommodations. In 1962, the addition of an 11-story tower transformed the Disneyland Hotel, marking a significant transition from a motel to a full-fledged hotel.

The addition of the 11-story tower elevated the Disneyland Hotel into a more prominent presence on the Anaheim skyline. At the time, it was the tallest structure in all of Orange County. The hotel’s prime location across from Disneyland made it an ideal choice for visitors. With the introduction of the monorail linking the park and the hotel, accessibility became even more convenient. Unique features like the Japanese-themed reflecting pools added to the hotel’s charm, reflecting a cultural influence that extended beyond Disney’s borders.

Japanese Tourism and Its Impact

During the 1960s and 1970s, Disneyland was attracting visitors from all corners of the world, including Japan. A significant number of Japanese tourists flocked to Anaheim to experience Walt Disney’s creation. To cater to this growing market, it wasn’t just the Disneyland Hotel that aimed to capture the attention of Japanese tourists. The Japanese Village in Buena Park, inspired by a similar attraction in Nara, Japan, was another significant spot.

These attractions sought to provide a taste of Japanese culture and hospitality, showcasing elements like tea ceremonies and beautiful ponds with rare carp and black swans. However, the Japanese Village closed its doors in 1975, likely due to the highly competitive nature of the Southern California tourist market.

The Emergence of the Emerald of Anaheim

With the surge in Japanese tourism, an opportunity arose—the construction of the Emerald of Anaheim, later known as the Disneyland Pacific Hotel. In May 1984, this 15-story hotel opened its doors.

What made the Emerald unique was its ownership. It was built not by The Walt Disney Company or the Oriental Land Company (which operated Tokyo Disneyland) but by the Tokyu Group. This group of Japanese businessmen already had a pair of hotels in Hawaii and saw potential in Anaheim’s proximity to Disneyland. Thus, they decided to embark on this new venture, specifically designed to cater to Japanese tourists looking to experience Southern California.

Financial Challenges and a Changing Landscape

The late 1980s brought about two significant financial crises in Japan—the crash of the NIKKEI stock market and the collapse of the Japanese real estate market. These crises had far-reaching effects, causing Japanese tourists to postpone or cancel their trips to the United States. As a result, reservations at the Emerald of Anaheim dwindled.

To adapt to these challenging times, the Tokyu Group merged the Emerald brand with its Pacific hotel chain, attempting to weather the storm. However, the financial turmoil took its toll on the Emerald, and changes were imminent.

The Transition to the Disneyland Pacific Hotel

In 1995, The Walt Disney Company took a significant step by purchasing the hotel formerly known as the Emerald of Anaheim for $35 million. This acquisition marked a change in the hotel’s fortunes. With Disney now in control, the hotel underwent a name change, becoming the Disneyland Pacific Hotel.

Transformation to Paradise Pier

The next phase of transformation occurred when Disney decided to rebrand the hotel as Paradise Pier Hotel. This decision aligned with Disney’s broader vision for the Disneyland Resort.

While the structural changes were limited, the hotel underwent a significant cosmetic makeover. Its exterior was painted to complement the color scheme of Paradise Pier, and wave-shaped crenellations adorned the rooftop, creating an illusion of seaside charm. This transformation was Disney’s attempt to seamlessly integrate the hotel into the Paradise Pier theme of Disney’s California Adventure Park.

Looking Beyond Paradise Pier: The Shift to Pixar Place

In 2018, Disneyland Resort rebranded Paradise Pier as Pixar Pier, a thematic area dedicated to celebrating the beloved characters and stories from Pixar Animation Studios. As a part of this transition, it became evident that the hotel formally known as the Disneyland Pacific Hotel could no longer maintain its Paradise Pier theme.

With Pixar Pier in full swing and two successful Pixar-themed hotels (Toy Story Hotels in Shanghai Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland), Disney decided to embark on a new venture—a hotel that would celebrate the vast world of Pixar. The result is Pixar Place Hotel, a 15-story tower that embraces the characters and stories from multiple Pixar movies and shorts. This fully Pixar-themed hotel is a first of its kind in the United States.

The Future of Pixar Place and Disneyland Resort

As we look ahead to the future, the Disneyland Resort continues to evolve. The recent news of a proposed $1.9 billion expansion as part of the Disneyland Forward project indicates that the area surrounding Pixar Place is expected to see further changes. Disneyland’s rich history and innovative spirit continue to shape its destiny.

In conclusion, the history of the Pixar Place Hotel is a testament to the ever-changing landscape of Disneyland Resort. From its humble beginnings as the Disneyland Hotel to its transformation into the fully Pixar-themed Pixar Place Hotel, this establishment has undergone several iterations. As Disneyland Resort continues to grow and adapt, we can only imagine what exciting developments lie ahead for this iconic destination.

If you want to hear more stories about the History of the Pixar Place hotel, check our special edition of Disney Unpacked over on YouTube.

Stay tuned for more updates and developments as we continue to explore the fascinating world of Disney, one story at a time.

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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From Birthday Wishes to Toontown Dreams: How Toontown Came to Be



Mickey's Birthday Land

In the latest release of Episode 4 of Disney Unpacked, Len and I return, joined as always by Disney Imagineering legend, Jim Shull. This two-part episode covers all things Mickey’s Birthday Land and how it ultimately led to the inspiration behind Disneyland’s fan-favorite land, “Toontown”. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. It all starts in the early days at Disneyland.

Early Challenges in Meeting Mickey

Picture this: it’s the late 1970s and early 1980s, and you’re at Disneyland. You want to meet the one and only Mickey Mouse, but there’s no clear way to make it happen. You rely on Character Guides, those daily printed sheets that point you in Mickey’s general direction. But let’s be honest, it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Sometimes, you got lucky; other times, not so much.

Mickey’s Birthdayland: A Birthday Wish that Came True

Fast forward to the late 1980s. Disney World faced a big challenge. The Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park was under construction, with the company’s marketing machine in full swing, hyping up the opening of Walt Disney World’s third theme park, MGM Studios, in the Spring of 1989. This extensive marketing meant that many people were opting to postpone their family’s next trip to Walt Disney World until the following year. Walt Disney World needed something compelling to motivate guests to visit Florida in 1988, the year before Disney MGM Studios opened.

Enter stage left, Mickey’s Birthdayland. For the first time ever, an entire land was dedicated to a single character – and not just any character, but the mouse who started it all. Meeting Mickey was no longer a game of chance; it was practically guaranteed.

The Birth of Birthdayland: Creative Brilliance Meets Practicality

In this episode, we dissect the birth of Mickey’s Birthdayland, an initiative that went beyond celebrating a birthday. It was a calculated move, driven by guest feedback and a need to address issues dating back to 1971. Imagineers faced the monumental task of designing an experience that honored Mickey while efficiently managing the crowds. This required the perfect blend of creative flair and logistical prowess – a hallmark of Disney’s approach to theme park design.

Evolution: From Birthdayland to Toontown

The success of Mickey’s Birthdayland was a real game-changer, setting the stage for the birth of Toontown – an entire land that elevated character-centric areas to monumental new heights. Toontown wasn’t merely a spot to meet characters; it was an immersive experience that brought Disney animation to life. In the episode, we explore its innovative designs, playful architecture, and how every nook and cranny tells a story.

Impact on Disney Parks and Guests

Mickey’s Birthdayland and Toontown didn’t just reshape the physical landscape of Disney parks; they transformed the very essence of the guest experience. These lands introduced groundbreaking ways for visitors to connect with their beloved characters, making their Disney vacations even more unforgettable.

Beyond Attractions: A Cultural Influence

But the influence of these lands goes beyond mere attractions. Our episode delves into how Mickey’s Birthdayland and Toontown left an indelible mark on Disney’s culture, reflecting the company’s relentless dedication to innovation and guest satisfaction. It’s a journey into how a single idea can grow into a cherished cornerstone of the Disney Park experience.

Interested in learning about Jim Shull’s original idea for a Winnie the Pooh ride? Here’s concept art of the attraction proposed for the original Toontown in Disneyland. More on [Disney Unpacked].

Unwrapping the Full Story of Mickey’s Birthdayland

Our two-part episode of Disney Unpacked is available for your viewing pleasure on our Patreon page. And for those seeking a quicker Disney fix, we’ve got a condensed version waiting for you on our YouTube channel. Thank you for being a part of our Disney Unpacked community. Stay tuned for more episodes as we continue to “Unpack” the fascinating world of Disney, one story at a time.

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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