July 20, 2024

Review: Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland Resort

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Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is Disneyland's flagship resort with a AAA four-diamond rating. It has the best location of any on-site accommodations, with a direct entrance into California Adventure and Downtown Disney. This

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is Disneyland’s flagship resort with a AAA four-diamond rating. It has the best location of any on-site accommodations, with a direct entrance into California Adventure and Downtown Disney. This review features room photos, pros & cons, and other thoughts on this Anaheim luxury hotel. (Updated May 6, 2023.)

With styling from the 20th Century American Arts & Crafts movement, Grand Californian’s interior design resembles many of the residential styles of Pasadena architects Greene & Greene. Its lobby atrium and other design elements also draw inspiration from iconic U.S. National Park Lodges, including Yosemite National Park’s Ahwahnee Hotel.

In the last several years, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa has had its guest rooms redesigned, along with updates to the lobby, pool areas, and the Veranda Club Level lounge. The GCH Craftsman Bar was opened near the hotel’s central courtyard, and nearby White Water Snacks became the GCH Craftsman Grill. The 6,000 square-foot Tenaya Stone Spa also opened, drawing inspiration from the spirit of nature, indigenous cultures of California and the iconic Craftsman design of the hotel. Finally, the Disney Vacation Club Villas at the Grand Californian will also be updated in 2024 or 2025.

In terms of basic background info, the Grand Californian was built alongside the addition of Disney’s California Adventure, and Disney Vacation Club was later added. As its name implies, the architecture is inspired by the Golden State. The hotel is an artistic exploration of California’s coastlines, graced with Monterey pines and redwood forests, and layered with the memories of the Arroyo craftsmen, the mission pioneers, and the plein air school of painters.

Walt Disney World regulars will also notice a lot of similarities between Wilderness Lodge and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. That’s to be expected, as they are both inspired to varying degrees by U.S. National Park Lodges, and the two Disney hotels were designed by the same architect, Peter Dominick.

At first blush, Grand Californian’s soaring lobby and use of rich, dark woods makes appears very similar to Wilderness Lodge. Upon closer inspection, there are plenty of subtle differences that set them apart.

Once you really start exploring the hotel and looking at everything–the stained glass, the lamps, the fixtures, the clock, and the furniture, it’s clear that the Grand Californian is drawing from different inspirations. I highly recommend spending a late night strolling around the lobby and relaxing next to the fireplace when no one else is around.

This is where California’s Arts & Crafts movement comes into play. Here, the most obvious source of inspiration for the Grand Californian is Pasadena’s Gamble House, which is perhaps most famous for being the Back to the Future house.

We’ve toured Gamble House (see photos of it here–the similarities are uncanny, right down to the front doors) along with other homes in Pasadena’s historic district, and have come to appreciate Craftsman architecture. It’s an elegant yet simple style, with a warm and inviting sensibility.

Recognizable elements of the Craftsman style on display in the Grand Californian include handmade detailing and extensive use of exposed posts and beams to serve purposes both structural and decorative, often in creative ways.

This is evident via rich woods, natural materials, Mission-style lamps, exposed rafters, deeply overhanging eaves, tapering columns, and decorative stone. Much about the Craftsman style reflects the natural landscape, including the brown, green, and beige color choices.

Theming-wise, the result with Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel is something that can feel a bit rustic if you don’t key in on these simple yet ornate details. It’s similar to Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World in terms of the overarching space, but the details make all of the difference at Grand Californian, and the heavy inspiration of famed California architects Greene & Greene makes this a hotel worthy of the flagship distinction.

Grand Californian is arguably one of the coolest hotels in the world. It accomplishes this feat not with an overwhelming degree of opulence or lavishness, but by drawing from some of Southern California’s most interesting residential architecture and paying respectful homage to this in hotel form. (If you appreciate Grand Californian’s style and have some spare time in the area, consider doing our 1-Day Pasadena, California Itinerary.)

One of the best features of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel is its dining options. Disneyland Resort’s best restaurant is Napa Rose, which we absolutely love. There’s also another solid table service restaurant in Storyteller’s Cafe, which has a great character breakfast in addition to a dinner buffet.

If you’re looking for faster or less-expensive options, Hearthstone Lounge is great, and GCH Craftsman Grill is the most underrated counter service restaurant in all of Disneyland Resort. In fact, both of these rank highly on our List of the 23 Best Restaurants at Disneyland Resort,

For being in the middle of Disneyland Resort, Grand Californian has a surprisingly large footprint. The hotel has 3 pools—Fountain, Redwood, and Mariposa–in its central courtyard, one of which features a water slide extending from a redwood tree trunk. The entire Redwood feature pool area is styled to mirror the Redwood Creek Challenge, which it is adjacent to in Disney California Adventure.

This courtyard complex of pools doesn’t have the same wow-factor for kids as the E-Ticket pool at Disneyland, but the atmosphere is arguably more enjoyable and serene. Helping with this is the adjacent GCH Craftsman Bar, which is incredibly convenient to the pool for grabbing drinks or a midday bite to eat. It also offers up live music on certain days and evenings, which amps up the atmosphere.

The whole design of the area is excellent, with tree-laden grounds, stone walls, rocky boulders, stained glass lamps, critter fountains and more all adding to a sense of serenity. So long as it’s not peak season or incredibly hot, we’ve always managed to find a sense of seclusion and calm away from the Redwood Pool at the Grand Californian.

The greatest amenity of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel is undoubtedly its proximity to Disneyland and entrance directly into Grizzly Peak at Disney California Adventure. This entrance makes it the closest hotel to any Disney theme park in the United States.

It’s also an incredibly short walk to Disneyland (either through Disney California Adventure or Downtown Disney). This is a huge benefit, especially when coupled with morning Extra Magic Hours, which are great for fast access to Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land!

Now let’s take a look at the guest rooms…

Unlike Wilderness Lodge, which carries the rustic theming into the guest rooms, the Grand Californian rooms feel more luxurious, with rooms befitting a flagship resort at this price point.

This vibe comes through in everything from the drapes and headboard to the bathrobes in every guest room closet. The finishing touches of the rooms are very nice.

Most importantly, the beds are incredibly comfortable with great bedding and excellent pillows.

Most of these rooms also feature excellent views to either Disney Californian Adventure (with a World of Color view!), Downtown Disney/Disneyland, or a courtyard or pool.

As noted above, we have more photos (and video!) that showcase the details of the guest rooms in our Photos & Videos: New Rooms at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa post.

The other amenities are Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel put it over the top. It has a fitness center, convention space, multiple pools, a great location, free tours and children’s activities, and–most importantly–excellent restaurants. These all greatly enhance the guest experience on a laid back “resort style” vacation. The most important amenity on that list is the excellent restaurants, and you don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy these restaurants.

Beyond that, the location of the Grand Californian is its biggest selling point, and far superior to any other hotels at Disneyland Resort. It’s nice to be able to take a quick nap and be back inside Disney California Adventure 10 minutes after waking up. We also love doing Grizzly River Run and then running up to the room for a change of clothes after inevitably getting soaked.

Once you do the private entrance of GCH, it’s difficult to go back to other hotels in the area. It may seem like a slight difference, but it opens up a world of possibilities. You can use your room as a locker, grabbing snacks, drinks, or coats when the sun goes down. You can stay Veranda Club Level and breeze up to the lounge whenever you’re hungry, never needing to bother with Mobile Order or table service meals in the parks. Once you’ve experienced it, Grand Californian’s location is a game-changer that almost feels like a “cheat code” for doing Disneyland more efficiently.

With that said, the Grand Californian’s location is by no means essential. It’s one of those things that you don’t know what you’re missing until you experience it, and will likely be perfectly satisfied with the alternatives. Many of the Harbor Boulevard hotels are only 10-20 minutes away from the Esplanade between Disneyland and DCA.

As you may know, we are big proponents of staying off-site at Disneyland Resort. (See Where to Stay: Offsite vs. Onsite Hotels at Disneyland.) However, that’s mostly due to the cost differential between the on-site and off-site hotels, and the fact that so many off-site options are within walking distance of the parks.

Beyond what’s covered here, another big perk is Early Entry at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, which gives you access to Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Avengers Campus, Pixar Pier, and other areas of the parks before public park opening time. This can be huge for knocking out popular rides with minimal waits.

The other big consideration is price. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel is typically the most expensive hotel at Disneyland Resort. Its rates start at $586 per night, and escalate from there. During busier times of the year, basic rooms can exceed $800. With discounts for Disneyland Resort hotels now being rare, it’s tough to book the Grand Californian for less than $500/night, even during the off-season.

Without question, that’s a lot of money. However, if you’re going to splurge on a hotel at Disneyland Resort, Grand Californian should be it. From a thematic perspective, it’s unquestionably the best. In terms of design and amenities, it easily exceeds numerous resorts in Southern California’s beach cities, many of which charge comparable (or higher) rates.

The biggest difference between Grand Californian and those hotels is, obviously, the location. Your room at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel or Montage in Laguna Beach might have a view overlooking the ocean. Your room at Grand Californian might have a room overlooking Disney California Adventure. Different people will value those views and locations differently.

The other main difference is service. Disney Cast Members are great, offering a level of warmth and personality not present at many other hotels–not even more expensive ones. That’s really where the Grand Californian differs and outperforms even its luxury counterparts around Southern California and beyond.

Where it falls short is in terms of attentiveness and attention to detail. For example, during one recent stay at the Grand Californian, there was a 30-minute long line to check into the hotel. On another occasion, the wait for valet was almost that long. Lines at bag check while awaiting Early Entry were similarly lengthy. It wasn’t just long lines. If you arrived at the $600+ night hotel without theme park reservations, there was nothing that the front desk could do. Same story if you didn’t have dining reservations.

It’s difficult to articulate, but much of the service at the Grand Californian–and offered by Disney in general–is superficial. This is absolutely fantastic if you’re visiting during a slower season and don’t need any assistance. Cast Members are great at small talk, are usually very personable, and can make kids in particular feel special. However, they often aren’t empowered to offer meaningful assistance, and the ratio of guests to Cast Members certainly seems much higher than at true luxury hotels.

Generally speaking, the caliber of service at the Grand Californian is not on par with the Montage, Ritz Carlton, or any number of other luxury hotels in Southern California.If you’re after attentive service, Grand Californian is probably not the best option for you–unless you’re willing to splurge even more on the Veranda Club Level.

Speaking of which, the Veranda Club is the hotel’s concierge lounge, and it is absolutely top-notch. If you’re looking for the ultimate intersection of pampered luxuriousness and Disney high-end themed hotels, this is it. Of course, staying Veranda Club Level comes at a very high cost. If you’re interested in a comprehensive look at several days’ worth of what we ate here, see our Review: Veranda Club Level at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel.

It’s totally a personal decision, but when all of this is considered, we love the Grand Californian as an occasional splurge. There’s a lot to be said for the luxury of the Grand Californian, having a private entrance into Disney California Adventure, a beautiful lobby with Disney songs playing on the piano, exceptional Disney restaurants, and a view of World of Color from your hotel. (Okay, now I wish I were there right now!)

If I were going to stay at another Disneyland Resort hotel instead of the Grand Californian, I’d probably choose Disneyland Hotel. The atmosphere is great, its pool is amazing, and proximity to Trader Sam’s is a big plus. It’s also usually cheaper than the Grand Californian.

We’ve stayed in both and I have a tough time saying which I prefer–it probably would come down to price and which has better discounts and specific circumstances of the trip. Both are excellent, excellent hotels. (See Disneyland Hotel vs. Grand Californian for a comprehensive comparison.) By contrast, I would not stay at Paradise Pier Hotel again, especially while it’s under construction to be converted into Pixar Place Hotel.

Ultimately, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is the perfect place to stay for those who want to be as close to the parks as possible and really enjoy the Arts & Crafts meets National Parks Lodge theming. It offers a surprising amount of luxury and meticulous attention to detail, and you could spend all day wandering its halls, seeing new and beautiful design elements.

If the cost doesn’t matter or you’re looking for a memorable splurge, the Grand Californian is tough to beat. However, if you’re traveling on a budget and will be spending all day in the parks, we feel that a stay at the Grand Californian is a poor use of your funds. Instead, stay elsewhere and put that money towards a few nice meals and Genie+ or Lightning Lane access and stay at a hotel on Harbor. It won’t be as close as the GCH, but it’ll be a lot cheaper!

Still not sure which hotel at Disneyland Resort is right for you? Get professional help for free from an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner (Disney’s term for a travel agent). They receive commission from Disney, so most authorized planners will not charge you for booking the vacation package and planning services. The fee-free Authorized Disney Vacation Planner that we recommend is Be Our Guest Vacations. Their services don’t cost extra, they’ll help choose the right resort for you, book your vacation, help you with dining reservations and itineraries, and apply the best discounts to your reservation.

Planning a Southern California vacation? For park admission deals, read Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets. Learn about on-site and off-site hotels in our Anaheim Hotel Reviews & Rankings. For where to eat, check out our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews. For unique ideas of things that’ll improve your trip, check out What to Pack for Disney. For comprehensive advice, consult our Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide. Finally, for guides beyond Disney, check out our Southern California Itineraries for day trips to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and many other SoCal cities!

Your Thoughts

What do you think of Disneyland Resort’s flagship resort? Are you a fan of the Grand Californian, or do you prefer Disneyland Hotel? Do you think GCH is a brilliant work of art in the spirit of Gamble House or the Ahwahnee, or do you view it as an overpriced take on Wilderness Lodge? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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