Thousands of guests visit the Happiest Place on Earth every day, and while it’s impossible not to notice Sleeping Beauty Castle, the Matterhorn, or Thunder Mountain, there are hidden gems in Disneyland that even park regulars might not know about.
Hidden Gems in “Walt’s Park”
Disneyland Park is often called “Walt’s Park” because it’s the only Disney theme park in the world where Walt Disney actually walked – and it’s one of the things Disneyland fans love most. But Walt didn’t just walk through the park; he also occasionally slept in a small apartment above the fire station on Main Street U.S.A.
Whenever guests or cast members saw the lights on, they knew Walt was home, so to this day, a lamp in the window of Walt’s Apartment (replaced at the holidays by a small Christmas tree) is always lit to represent that Walt is always “home” at Disneyland.
Few lucky people have been able to step inside (the 4-day Adventures by Disney Disneyland Resort and Southern California Escape itinerary includes a visit). Even so, every single park guest who passes through Town Square can see the lamp from below.
Griffith Park Bench
Parkgoers can find another nostalgic tribute to Walt at Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Just inside the entrance to the attraction is a green wooden park bench from the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round, one of three that remain. Walt sat on these benches when he took his daughters to ride the carousel and dreamed of a place where parents and children could enjoy time together – and from that simple idea, he created Disneyland.
According to Julio Gosdinski, the co-owner of the Merry-Go-Round who passed away in 2020, one morning, his team arrived to work and saw cement benches had replaced the green wooden ones, so they quickly salvaged as many as they could, which was only three: One is at the Merry-Go-Round, one is at Disneyland, and the third is at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, Calif.
Opening Day Speech
On Disneyland’s opening day – July 17, 1955 – Walt Disney gave his famous dedication speech from Town Square that began, “To all who come to this happy place, welcome.” Today, everyone who visits the Happiest Place on Earth can read Walt’s speech inscribed on a plaque at the base of the Town Square flagpole.
Fun Fact: Part of Walt’s speech can also be heard being tapped out in Morse Code at the New Orleans Square station of the Disneyland Railroad. Decoded, the minute-long message says: “To all who come to this happy place, welcome. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.”
Hidden Gems in Disneyland that Honor Lillian Disney
Walt Disney met Lillian when she was working at the Disney Studio in the “ink and paint” department, and they married in 1925.
The Lilly Belle
Walt’s love of trains is well-known, and to honor his wife, he named the engine of the model train that circled his Los Angeles backyard – known as the Carolwood Pacific Railroad – the Lilly Belle. The original Lilly Belle is on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum.
However, many park guests don’t know that the Disneyland Railroad has its own Lilly Belle, a bright red Victorian-era parlor caboose with mahogany paneling and plush red velvet curtains and upholstery.
Often used to transport VIPs on the Railroad’s Grand Circle Tour, regular Disneyland guests can sometimes also score a ride on the Lilly Belle if it’s running that day by asking the conductor.
Fun Fact: There are Disney family photos on display inside the Lilly Belle.
The Petrified Tree
Another hidden gem is actually a gift to Disneyland from Lillian – or, more accurately, a re-gift.
During the park’s “A Walk in Walt’s Footsteps Tour,” I learned that Walt wanted to buy a present for his wife while visiting Colorado’s Pike Forest Fossil Beds in 1956. He purchased a massive petrified tree for Lillian, which she presented to Disneyland Park the following year, reportedly joking that the 5-ton tree was “too large for the mantle” at home.
Today, the petrified tree stands along the Rivers of America in Frontierland, and even though this is one of the most visible hidden gems in Disneyland, most guests pass by without realizing its connection to Walt and his wife.
The Halloween Tree
Close to the petrified tree (though not related to Lillian) is the Halloween Tree in Frontierland.
This oak tree looks quite ordinary during most of the year, but at Halloween Time, it’s decorated with orange lights and jack-o-lanterns to commemorate its Halloween 2007 dedication to Ray Bradbury, the writer of the 1972 fantasy novel, “The Halloween Tree.” As an English major (and Bradbury fan), I never miss the chance to visit this Halloween gem.
Princess-related Hidden Gems in Disneyland
Snow White is considered to be the original Disney Princess since “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) was not only the first full-length animated feature film but the first Disney feature film.
The Evil Queen
Guests who look up as they approach the ride will catch a glimpse of the Evil Queen glaring from the large window above the entrance onto Fantasyland below.
Snow White’s Grotto
In addition to her attraction – the only princess-themed ride in the park until Princess Tiana’s new attraction debuts – Snow White can also be seen (and heard) in her grotto on the hills at the right side of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Here, guests can see statues of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, listen to the princess singing “I’m Wishing” (recorded by Adriana Caselotti, the original voice of Snow White in the 1937 film), and toss a coin in a wishing well (the proceeds of which go to local children’s charities).
When the statues arrived at Disneyland, Snow White and the dwarves were all the same size (which is obviously not the case in the movie), so Imagineer and Disney Legend John Hench employed the common Disneyland practice of forced perspective. By placing Snow White at the top of the waterfall with the dwarfs closer to ground level, Hench’s optical “trick” makes Snow White appear further away and therefore disguises that she’s not actually taller than the dwarfs.
The statues in the park are replicas, but the originals are kept at Walt Disney Imagineering.
Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough
Most people know that the namesake of the park’s castle is Sleeping Beauty, and while Disneyland guests routinely travel through the castle gates between Fantasyland and the hub, many don’t realize there’s a Sleeping Beauty attraction inside.
Those “in the know” can enter the castle through a door by the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and follow the story of Princess Aurora through the castle’s corridors. The walkthrough features a series of dioramas inspired by the film’s original Eyvind Earle artwork with 3D displays, sound, and special effects, including the climactic scene when Maleficent transforms into a fire-breathing dragon. One word of caution: There are a lot of stairs involved.
The Golden Spike
One last castle-related gem is the Disneyland Golden Spike – not to be confused with the Golden Horseshoe Saloon (where incidentally, Walt kept a private box—now public—upstairs to the right of the stage).
Located just inside the Fantasyland entrance to the castle, there are rumors that the Golden Spike marks the park’s geographical center, but that’s not actually true. Instead, according to the Walt Disney Archives, “the marker in question is one used to help maintain central surveying sightlines from Main Street, U.S.A. to the castle.”
Because Imagineers use this marker to create a straight line from the castle to Main Street, U.S.A., there’s a second (less famous) golden spike in front of the Main Street, U.S.A. City Hall, where the trolley tracks split.
These are just a few of the hidden gems in Disneyland. There are many more magical things to see at the Happiest Place on Earth; some are just a little harder to spot than others.
What’s your favorite “Hidden Gem” in Disneyland? Let us know in the comments.