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Southland's Best Theme Park Hotel: Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

It's grand in stature, has elegant ease, offers a prime pool scene, has an exotic Bali spa and hosts rich dining. It's the antithesis of everything you might expect of a hotel inside a theme park. It's the Nemo to Dory, Woody to Buzz, Minnie to Mickey—the yin to the yang in an often ADD world of whirling, animated neon attractions.

The Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is massive in size (1,100 rooms), but has quiet, comfortable bungalow confidence, with charm and an earthy palette of browns, greens and secret Aztec-red accents. Somehow the architects and imagineers crafted an intimate, subdued retreat to accommodate the enormous number of guests who visit the Disneyland Resort.


A stay at the Grand Californian can mean many wonderful things: cocktail-sipping something fresh and fruity by the pool while the kids play on the can't-get-enough Redwood waterslide. Or you may find yourself in a coconut oil Frangipani cocoon while getting a massage treatment at the Mandara Spa. Or perhaps you'll be dining at the Napa Rose restaurant enjoying a chef's 4-course menu of seasonal cuisine.

For a daily itinerary, we recommend a Character Breakfast at Storyteller Café, then a walk to California Adventure, some pool play midday, a spa before dinner, and total park at night. Sleep, and repeat as you desire. Needless to say, a getaway at The Grand Californian Hotel & Spa makes for a whole different, sublime way to do Disney. The team really did the hotel right with the upscale, relaxing nature of the hotel and world-class amenities.

The hotel was concepted when the California Adventure park first came into existence. Some imaginative Disney brainstormer had the idea to create a new hotel inside the park to accommodate all the additional visitors. A Disney hotel inside a park had never existed before. To reflect the uniqueness of California and the popular liking of the comfortable, beloved American Craftsman style, the hotel theme was decided.


The Craftsman bungalow philosophy (fyi, a revolt to the Industrial Revolution) is everywhere you look in the hotel. At the registration desk, you'll see original tile work of Grizzly Bears done by an artisan Berkeley couple, who were among the finalists of the competing artisans selected. There were no molds used in any of the tiles, everything is authentic. Unique forest tapestry of wool and silk (with secret Mickeys) hangs on the walls. And 2,000-pound Craftsman chandeliers hang in the lobby space. The details are big and small, but subtly everywhere—with Disney going to elaborate levels to get the American Craftsman style true to its roots.

(credit: Debbie Lavdas)

Staying at the hotel, offers a special VIP-like entrance to Disney California Adventure Park. A short stroll back to your room—should you have forgotten something or you need a rest—is a breeze. And at park closing, you'll be loving life with no tired kids who you have to carry back to the car; instead you may all have hot chocolate by the rustic Grand Californian fireplace and quickly turn in for the night.

The kids love being right in the heart of it all with rollercoaster-ride views. While parents are treated to a AAA Four Diamond Award escape. It's such a treat, such a luxury and such an enjoyable stay.


Parting words: don't skip the spa. Really. The Mandara Spa offers a host of exotic treatments, and it really is surreal to be in a zen-like state inside Disneyland Resort—nearly asleep on a massage table, with dim lit candles, coconut oil, in a Bali-like sanctuary, all while knowing the meanderings of thousands just outside. You'll subconsciously be thinking, "Kids, what kids? Crowds, what crowds?"

Often the pace of theme parks can be accelerated, so an upscale, divine stay at a hotel inside the park is magic.

Debbie Lavdas is a Southern California writer. She writes features, cover stories and columns at Bask Magazine, Laguna Beach Magazine, OC Family Magazine and more. Keep up with her on Twitter @deblavdas and at

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