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Ten Hidden Gems in Disneyland Park

by Samantha Davis-Friedman

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 Disneyland - Walt's Apartment
Photos courtesy of Disneyland Resort

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.

Walt’s Apartment

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.

Hidden Gems at Disneyland - Walt's Apartment
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

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.

Walt Disney's apartment above the firehouse at Disneyland

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. 

Disneyland Hidden Gems - Griffith Park Bench
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

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.

Historic Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round POV in Los Angeles

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 at Disneyland - New Orleans Square train station

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.

Lilly Belle at The Walt Disney Family Museum
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

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.

Hidden Gems in Disneyland - Lilly Belle

Fun Fact: There are Disney family photos on display inside the Lilly Belle.

A look back at The Lilly Belle | Disneyland Resort

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.

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

Because of that, it’s no surprise that Walt would include the “Snow White and Her Adventures” attraction when he opened Disneyland Park (it’s one of the remaining 13 opening day attractions). Although the ride has changed over the years –  to “Snow White’s Scary Adventures” in 1994 and “Snow White’s Enchanted Wish” in 2021 – one hidden (and somewhat scary) gem remains.

Disneyland Hidden Gems -
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

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 Enchanted Wish Full Queue And Ride POV Experience

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).

Hidden Gems at Disneyland - Snow White's Grotto
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

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.

Original grotto statues of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

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 Making of Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough | Disneyland Resort

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.”

Disneyland Hidden Gems - Golden Spike
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

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.

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4 comments

Rory Osborne February 7, 2022 - 1:54 pm

The code at the Frontierland/New Orleans rail station is not in Morse Code; it’s actually an old code used by railroads back in the day that has a similarity to Morse Code.

The story about an anonymous donation of the Snow White and Dwarfs statues is not in fact the case. It was apparently a story that was passed along when it was discovered that the original order was mishandled from the manufacturer.

Thanks for all of your work and what you do. It’s greatly enjoyed…

Reply
Samantha Davis-Friedman February 7, 2022 - 2:54 pm

Thanks for clarifying the history of the Snow White and Seven Dwarfs statues! I’ve updated the story. 🙂

Reply
Vinnie February 8, 2022 - 11:43 am

A wonderful article Samantha
I truly enjoyed reading about all of these hidden gems at Disneyland
I would love to see a similar article about the hidden gems at Disney World and it’s four theme parks
Thanks again for a great read

Reply
Sum Fran March 8, 2022 - 7:18 pm

There’s a tiny house/hut at the base of a tree in Adventureland that has also been there since opening day I believe. There’s a story that goes along with it but I forgot it

Reply

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