If you’ve ever fantasized about going to Disneyland without the kids, now’s the perfect time (and excuse). Disney California Adventure’s annual six-week Food and Wine Festival has begun, bringing with it more than 60 choices of grown-up beverages, a roster of fun culinary seminars and a marketplace full of delicious California-grown tastes. Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s festival:
photo: Belle B. via Yelp
Let’s start at the beginning. When California Adventure opened in 2001, it was hailed as a celebration of all-things Golden State, from California’s moviemaking biz and beach vibes to its gorgeous views and varied landscapes. The Food & Wine Festival aims to keep that tradition going by giving park-goers a sampling of the state’s finest crops (Avocados! Garlic! Citrus!) as well as a selection of its wine and craft beers.
The highlight of the festival is the Food & Wine Marketplace, an avenue of food kiosks that offer wine, beer, and cocktails as well as food tastings at $4-to-$8 a plate. It’s a buy as you go sort of affair. If you want to make a meal out of it, plan on buying three or four plates.
Foodies can take their passions a couple steps further and check out the daily schedule of entertainment including culinary demonstrations plus food and wine seminars. The hope, says California Adventure Park’s General Manager Gary Maggetti, is to “communicate clearly that California really is pretty much the coolest state.” (Cheers to that Gary!)
The 411 on Drinks
OK, we know you Disney folks are a wholesome and children-loving lot, but there’s nothing like strolling through the Disney crowds with a glass of cabernet in one hand and NO STROLLER in the other. Of course, if you do happen to have the kidlets by your side, that glass of cabernet will make taking your little one to the bathroom to wash hands for the twentieth time all that much more tolerable.
There are more than 60 (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) beverages available, more than 30 California-made craft beers and almost as many local wines, all ranging in price from $7-to-$12.50 a glass. There’s also an assortment of mixed drinks, all of which sound delicious (if you’re a fruity drink kind of person).
Brunching? We recommend the Pineapple, Raspberry & Strawberry Mimosa Flight from the “Nuts About Cheese” booth (located in Hollywood Land near the Monsters Inc. ride). Feeling adventurous? Try the Beet Kombucha Sangria (located at the “Eat Your Greens” booth in the main drag of the marketplace). We also totally wanted to try the Popcorn Lemonade Cocktail with Tequila, but Guardians of the Galaxy was in our future, so… nope (See “What Not To Ride After a Few Cocktails” below).
As for non-alcoholic drinks, there are plenty available, including a strawberry watermelon lemonade that’s super-refreshing and an orange vanilla float that your kids will loo-ove.
Speaking of nonalcoholic drinks, now’s our time to mention that you should have a designated driver if you plan on boozing at all. Or, better yet, take a Lyft or Uber, both easily accessible at the parks.
We know there’s nothing quite like indulging in a day’s worth of popcorn, hot dogs, and all of the other deliciously yummy junk food you can get at a theme park, but this is not a cotton candy and soda sort of event. Instead, imagine snacking on Brie toast with fig, mint, and almond crumble while you’re waiting for your Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass time. Or, how about noshing on a grilled Harris Ranch beef tenderloin slider while you’re watching the parade? Sure, the old standbys are still there, but the Food & Wine Festival team hopes you’ll try something different this time.
Note: It adds up quick. Food items range from $4-to-$8 per small plate and most portion sizes are small enough that it’ll take three or four items to really fill you up so expect to spend at least $20.
A Primer in Food
Don’t know where to start? No problem, we’ve got your must-eats guide here:
- Strawberry and Coconut Rice “Frushi”: A strawberries-and-yogurt version of a sushi roll that tastes as good as it looks. Sold at the Strawberry Patch booth.
- Chicken Teriyaki Slider with Spicy Dole Pineapple Jam: The perfect amount of spicy sweetness.
- The spiced “Oumph” on Pita with Hummus and Garlic Sauce: Tastes like chicken despite being a vegan protein. Even the most dedicated of meat-eaters will be impressed. Sold at the Avocado Time booth.
- Bourbon Chocolate Whoopie Pie: A decadent treat for any chocolate fanatic (and culinary director John State wants everyone to know that it’s supposed to be sticky because “that’s what makes a good whoopie pie).
Watch the Masters
If you get tired of walking or want a fun place to sit while you snack, head to Hollywood Land, where the festival’s culinary demonstrations run all day long. The 30-minute Family Time with Chef Daniela demonstration gives some simple ideas for easy family dinners. Got kids in tow? The Junior Chef show is adorable and, if your kids participate, comes with a free cookie.
What If You Bring the Kids?
While we think you should try this Disney day sans kiddos, there is, of course, plenty on tap for little foodies. Don’t miss the Junior Chef show (located on the Hollywood Land Backlot Stage), which invites up to 60 kids at a time on stage to help Goofy and friends make oatmeal cookies. Kids will get to mix the dough themselves, then watch as Disney makes some yummy magic happen. Grab a glass of sangria from the LA Style food booth located next door and enjoy this 25 minutes of freedom while your kids look adorable on stage.
Another demo, called Family Time (photo above) also enlists the help of young audience members, and kids who like to help out in the kitchen will love learning new dishes to prepare.
Other Important Must-Knows:
Get a Tasting Passport for a Quick Guide to Everything
The Tasting Passport, available at the entrance to the Food & Wine Marketplace, isn’t just good for keeping track of all the plates you’ve tried; the back two pages also list items by the category, including gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and kid-friendly.
If You’re an Annual Passholder, Get the Sip And Savor Pass to Save Money
If you want the best of what the festival has to offer, we recommend purchasing the festival’s “Sip and Savor” pass, a perk available only to annual pass holders. The laniard-style pass costs $45 and gives you a ticket for any eight food items.
Looking for a Place to Sit? Try Sonoma Terrace at the Golden Vine Winery
If you don’t want to walk and eat, head for the newly-redesigned Sonoma Terrace, which has tons of tables and chairs and is right along the parade route.
Want to See Robert Irvine or Guy Fieri Live? Get Tickets Online NOW
While most of the culinary shows are free, the festival has a few big-ticket items that require advance reservations for an additional cost. This includes winemaker dinners and the Celebrity Chef Live! show, which stars Food Network stars Guy Fieri (Mar. 9) and Robert Irvine (Mar. 30). The ticket includes entrance to the show as well as a post-show tasting in which audience members are invited to mingle with the chefs and get a taste of the food. Tickets are $99 and available here.
Go Between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. and Get a Free Chef Hat
All guests who enter the park between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily will get a free paper chef hat. For kids who want to add a personal touch, there are decorating stations near the Junior Chef stage at the Backlot Stage in Hollywood Land. Also: Kids can have their chef hats stamped at each food booth.
What Not To Ride After a Few Cocktails
- Guardians of the Galaxy: This hyperactive (super-fun!) elevator ride is turbulent enough when you’re sober. Unless you’ve got a steel stomach, do it before you drink.
- Goofy’s Sky School: Going up, down and around when you’re tipsy may not be the best idea.
- Silly Symphony Swings: Because spinning around and around is probably not going to end well after a few glasses of wine.
FYI: Paradise Pier is Closed
If you’re hoping to take a ride on the boardwalk-inspired California Screamin’ coaster, we’re here to tell you: You can’t. At least…not yet. The entire Paradise Pier area is closed while Disney revamps it to become “Pixar Pier,” set to open June 23. (The coaster, by the way, will be re-named The Incredicoaster, after Pixar’s The Incredibles.)
Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival
Mar 2. through Apr. 12
Note: Entrance to the Food & Wine Festival is included in the regular Disney California Adventure ticket price.
— Melissa Heckscher
Photos by Melissa Heckscher unless otherwise noted.
*Disneyland provided the author with complimentary tickets and food vouchers for this event.