You Can Still Visit The California Amusement Park That Inspired Disneyland – Here’s What It Looks Like Today

A little-known but much-loved amusement park in Oakland, California, the small-sized Children’s Fairyland may have provided Walt Disney with key inspiration for his Disneyland theme park.

The small theme park opened five years before Disneyland in 1950. It features a collection of fairy tale-inspired rides, exhibits and shows that feel Disney-esque in their style and stories, but in a setting much smaller.

Walt Disney’s visit to Children’s Fairyland in 1954, and possibly a few other times, probably gave him some insight into the mood, features, and operations of his developing Disneyland project at the time.

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Today, you can still visit the quaint park to enjoy its retro charms and decades-old rides and judge for yourself if Disney has borrowed some of its ideas. You can declare, as Disney did, that Children’s Fairyland remains a “swell” place for adults and their children to visit.

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Disney was inspired by Children’s Fairyland

Entrance to the Children’s Fairyland amusement park. VISIT OAKLAND

The 10-acre Children’s Fairyland property, located on the shores of downtown Oakland’s Lake Merritt, was designed by local businessman Arthur Navlet.

It opened after the Oakland Parks Program raised $50,000 for Navlet’s proposal to create “a fairytale theme park, complete with fairytale settings, farm animals and entertainment live,” according to the park’s website.

The theme park offered visitors a fun escape from everyday life through interactions with costumed characters, rides, and various storytelling dioramas.

Walt Disney visited Children’s Fairyland in May 1954 while Disneyland was still in development. “With his own business in mind, he studied the design, cost of operations, and technical aspects” of the park, according to an Oakland Tribune article from the time.

“The man who delighted millions with the charm he created in cartoons was in turn delighted with Oakland’s Children’s Fairyland. Walt Disney, preparing to build his own Disneyland in Southland, s traveled to Oakland to see first-hand Operation Playland that has given this city one of its great tourist attractions,” reads the Oakland Tribune story.

During his visit, Disney rode the park’s Jolly Trolly, a colorful miniature train launched in 1954 and still open for rides in 2022. Other areas he likely saw at the park include Alice’s Tunnel at the Wonderland (which premiered a year before the Disney animated film was released) and the Peter Pan-themed Jolly Roger pirate ship.

After spending the day in the park, Disney was hooked. So much so that he hired Dorothy Manes, then director of Children’s Fairyland, to become Disneyland’s youth director. He also recruited the park’s head puppeteer to work for him.

The concept of Disneyland was created before Disney’s visit to Children’s Fairyland. However, it’s clear he was inspired by what he saw in Oakland. His experience at the park, combined with Dorothy Mane’s nearly two-decade tenure at Disneyland, helped pave the way for the magical world he would build at his park in Anaheim, California.

Related: Disneyland vs. Disney World: Which is the Best Park to Visit?

What is it like to visit Children’s Fairyland today

The Jolly Trolly at Children’s Fairyland. VISIT OAKLAND

Even after seven decades of operation, Children’s Fairyland remains popular with families and local visitors to the Bay Area. The park hosts summer camps, theater programs, sleepovers, and even adult-only parties.

Beyond its various events, the park continues to be a haven for young children. While no one will confuse Anansi’s Magic Web (Children’s Fairyland’s Miniature Ferris Wheel) with Space Mountain or its Little Petting Zoo with Disney’s Jungle Cruise, its array of kid-friendly rides and animals make it a great place to bring kids. toddlers.

In addition to the Alice in Wonderland Tunnel and the Jolly Roger Pirate Ship, which remain at the park today, kids can play like cowboys at Old West Junction, climb the Fairy Music Farm Tunnel and slide down the Grand Dragon Slide. of the park. The puppet programs of yesteryear are still present, so adults and children alike can continue to see fairy tales come to life at Children’s Fairyland’s intimate outdoor theater.

The old-school charm the park offers provides a nice break from the high-tech attractions of Disneyland, giving kids the chance to embrace their youth and act on their imaginations in an easy way. Plus, the $15 per person admission fee is far less than what you’ll pay in Anaheim, making the park an economical way to pass the time.

You might not see Mickey and Minnie at Children’s Fairyland, but all of the park’s scenery, play spaces, and living creatures are sure to spark your kids’ creativity. Maybe they’ll even earn their inspiration and one day surpass Disney’s fantasy concept.

Related: 11 Regional Theme Parks Closer To You But Just As Fun As The Big Names

Harold B. McConnell