Today in Disney History, 2001: Opening of Downtown Disney at Disneyland Resort

by | Jan 12, 2022 | Disney History, Disneyland Parks, Downtown Disney

Go back in time with us as we remember the opening of Downtown Disney at Disneyland Resort.

Disneyland may have preceded Walt Disney World, but it was WDW that first boasted a shopping village (Disney Springs, though it’s borne many other names). Finally, in 2001, Disneyland opened its own Downtown Disney District. What stores and restaurants were there on opening day, and what does this shop-till-you-drop spot look like now?

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Downtown Disney Comes to Disneyland

Winter 2001 was quite the busy time for the Disneyland Resort. Kicking the New Year off, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel opened at the Disneyland Resort on January 2, 2001.The Downtown Disney District opened shortly after on January 12, 2001, and the following month, on February 8, 2001, the resort opened its second theme park: Disney California Adventure

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Here’s where Downtown Disney District is located. Map courtesy of Disney

Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort was inspired by its predecessor at the Walt Disney World Resort. Its Florida counterpart went by a number of names during its history, starting out as the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village in the 1970s, and later being rebranded as the Walt Disney World Village and Disney Village Marketplace through the late ’70s, ’80s, and into the ’90s. 

In 1997, the Disney Village Marketplace was rebranded again as Downtown Disney, and a distinct effort was made to use the area as an all encompassing shopping, dining, and entertainment district for guests visiting Disney World. The concept would especially be appealing for adults looking for nightlife and for guests looking for something to do at the resort without having to use a day on their park ticket. 

Following the success of Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World, Imagineers decided to replicate a similar concept (however without the nightclubs that made up Pleasure Island) at Disneyland Resort.

Building Without the Blessing of Size

While announcing his plans for Walt Disney World, Walt Disney has often been quoted as saying that the major motivation for purchasing the land in Florida had been its “blessing of size,” something Walt Disney Imagineers did not have much of at all while constructing and adding on to the Disneyland Resort.

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Downtown Disney does not have the same “blessing of size” as Disney Springs at Walt Disney World. Photo by Ashlee Tan

Without the room to expand upon the area around Disneyland Park as it was already developed well before the late ’90s, Imagineers altered guest parking structures to make room not only for Downtown Disney but also for Disney California Adventure and Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa

To do this, Disney closed the Disneyland parking lot, and guests were directed to a number of satellite parking locations in the area during the construction of both Downtown Disney and a new parking structure. 

On July 24, 2000, the new Mickey & Friends parking structure opened, offering a 10,000+ car capacity for guests visiting the Disneyland Resort and freeing up the space occupied by the old parking lots for the construction of Downtown Disney.

As we’ve hinted at, the addition of Downtown Disney to the Disneyland Resort was not a simple standalone project but rather a monumental piece of one of the resort’s major expansions. Upon the opening of Downtown Disney in 2001, the shopping area would be accessible by car, but also on foot from other areas of the Disneyland Resort.

Downtown Disney’s Original Shops & Restaurants

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The LEGO Store has been around since the opening of Downtown Disney at Disneyland. Photo by Ashlee Tan

Like the rest of the Disneyland Resort, Downtown Disney has changed a lot over the years. Some shops, like the LEGO Store and the World of Disney Store, can be found on both coasts and have been open in both Orlando and Anaheim for a number of years due to their popularity among guests.

World of Disney is another Downtown Disney staple. Photo by Jaysen White

While not theme parks in themselves, Downtown Disney in Anaheim and Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) in Orlando do have some Disney-inspired eateries and shops. At the Disneyland Resort, guests have been able to get a small taste of Walt’s hometown with Marceline’s Confectionery.

La Brea Bakery, Naples Ristorante, and Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen are just a few of the other locations that have been open at Downtown Disney since 2001. If you have dined at Via Napoli in EPCOT, you may be interested in stopping at Naples Ristorante while at the Disneyland Resort. It has a similar menu and is managed by the same company!

Disney-Original Shops

What’s Downtown Disney without some Disney-inspired shopping? World of Disney is not the only place to get your Disney fix in Downtown Disney. Disney’s Pin Traders is the ultimate destination for fans to shop for favorite Disney pins for trading, as well as limited-edition pieces and other collectible souvenirs.

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Some of the unique wares at Disney Home. Photo courtesy of Disney

The Disney Dress Shop is also a wonderful option for picking up vintage inspired dresses, accessories, and more, all inspired by classic Disney characters, films, and attractions. Disney Home is a one-stop destination for decorating your home with all things Disney. The shop offers everything from plates to kitchen gadgets, ornaments and more.

Downtown Disney Today

In 2017, the Disneyland Resort announced a massive overhaul of Downtown Disney in a construction project that would have involved a fourth hotel. While some businesses at Downtown Disney closed in preparation for the project, it ultimately fell through, and thus far the fourth hotel has never been built. 

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A small Tinker Bell lantern detail at Downtown Disney District at Disneyland Resort. Photo by Jaysen White

While some notable locations like AMC Theatres and the Rainforest Cafe closed in preparation for the project, there are plenty of reasons to visit Downtown Disney today. The area has become quite the foodie destination with classic eats and craft brews at Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes and delicious homemade ice cream at Salt & Straw

New shops are always opening at Downtown Disney, too, especially for Disney fans. The Star Wars Trading Post is an incredible destination for fans of Star Wars, with items including clothing and accessories, toys, books, and more. And the WonderGround Gallery is a fun stop to pick up artwork, some of it with some unique Disney inspirations. 

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A relatively new photo op at Downtown Disney. Photo courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

And guests staying at Disneyland Resort hotels can even walk to Downtown Disney from their resorts, making the district a fun place to shop and dine on days “off” from the theme parks or a nice spot to grab a late dinner after the parks close.

What have been your favorite memories in the 20+ years since the opening of Downtown Disney at Disneyland Resort? Share with us on our Facebook page!

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Written by Brittany DiCologero

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Brittany DiCologero is a freelance writer specializing in Walt Disney World history, along with various travel, and lifestyle topics based in New England. She is the author of “Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Realities of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort,” and “Brittany Earns Her Ears”. When she is not writing, you can find her exploring local museums and historic sites, and binging documentaries on Disney+.
Brittany DiCologero

Written by Brittany DiCologero

Brittany DiCologero is a freelance writer specializing in Walt Disney World history, along with various travel, and lifestyle topics based in New England. She is the author of “Red, White, and Disney: The Myths and Realities of American History at the Walt Disney World Resort,” and “Brittany Earns Her Ears”. When she is not writing, you can find her exploring local museums and historic sites, and binging documentaries on Disney+.

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