Skip to content

9 real-life destinations that inspired Disneyland

Sept. 28, 2022
8 min read
Walt Disney standing in front of map of Disneyland
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Walt Disney loved to travel just as much as he loved making movies and building theme parks. His travels took him all over the world, from the snow-covered Swiss Alps to the elegant coastline of the French Riviera.

During his time on the road, in the air and at sea, Walt drew inspiration for what would become one of the world's most well-known theme parks, Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The park opened its gates in 1955 and went on to inspire the creation of five additional Disney resorts in Orlando, Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Here are nine of the real-life destinations Walt visited while planning and designing Disneyland that you can still visit today.

New Orleans

Royal Street in New Orleans. STEVENS FREMONT/GETTY IMAGES

Walt and his wife Lillian made frequent visits to New Orleans as far back as the 1940s, shopping for treasures at the city's antique and curio shops. He was so taken by the Crescent City that he created an entire area at Disneyland designed to replicate the architecture and lively atmosphere of the French Quarter.

Eudora's Chic Boutique Featuring Tiana's Gourmet Secrets in New Orleans Square at Disneyland. DISNEY

The mayor of New Orleans was on hand at the dedication of Disneyland's New Orleans Square in 1966 and annointed Walt an honorary citizen of New Orleans.

Related: The first-timer’s guide to New Orleans: Everything you need to eat, see and do

Today, New Orleans Square is where you'll find the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean attractions — and, come 2024, the all-new Tiana's Bayou Adventure ride.

Neuschwanstein castle

View of Neuschwanstein Castle. DEA/M.SANTINI/DE AGOSTINI/GETTY IMAGES

While it was not the only inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle, which marks the entrance to Fantasyland at Disneyland, Neuschwanstein castle in the German Alps was heavily influential in its design.

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park. CHRISTIAN THOMPSON/DISNEYLAND RESORT

Walt visited Neuschwanstein during a family trip to Europe in 1952 and was undoubtedly taken by the castle's Romanesque design. Though the original is more austere in nature than the whimsical pink-and-blue theme park version, both are among the most popular tourist destinations in their respective countries.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Related: 7 perfect destinations in Europe to celebrate fall's arrival

During his tour-de-Europe, Walt also would have passed through Germany's Black Forest region, likely gaining inspiration for the Bavarian village vibes of attractions like Peter Pan's Flight, Snow White's Enchanted Wish and Pinnochio's Daring Journey in Fantasyland.

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens merry-go-round. TIVOLI GARDENS

In June of 1951, Walt and his family sailed to Europe on the Queen Mary for a nearly two-month trip that included visits to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Rome and Genoa. While in Copenhagen, Walt visited Tivoli Gardens, one of the world's oldest amusement parks.

Related: The best family-friendly activities in Vienna

Walt was quoted as saying, "It was spotless and brightly colored and priced within the reach of everyone … The gaiety of the music, the excellence of the food and drink, the warm courtesy of the employees — everything combined for a pleasurable experience," according to the Walt Disney Family Museum.

The park's cleanliness and family-friendly atmosphere left a strong enough impression on Walt that he incorporated similar elements into his own park when Disneyland opened four years later.

Castillo de San Felipe del Morro

Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. DISCOVER PUERTO RICO

While searching for inspiration for Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean ride in New Orleans Square, Walt flew in his very own Gulfstream jet to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Related: San Juan for the day: What to do while your cruise is in port

His in-person look at Old San Juan and Castillo de San Felipe Del Morro helped to shape the final design of the ride, which Walt originally planned to be a walk-through attraction. Sadly, Walt never saw the final product, as he died in December 1966, only a few months before the ride opened in March 1967.

Children’s Fairyland

Entrance of Oakland's Fairyland amusement park. VISIT OAKLAND

Children's Fairyland is a storybook-themed amusement park in Oakland, California, that has been in operation since 1950, five full years before Disneyland opened. Walt may have visited the park more than once, but there is at least one documented visit in May of 1954, when Disneyland was under development.

Related: Oakland road trip: 5 great day or weekend destinations to visit

Walt likely saw attractions themed to Alice and Wonderland and Peter Pan, both of which now have their own versions at Disneyland. He was so impressed with the park that he hired the Children's Fairyland's director and chief puppeteer onto the staff at Disneyland.

Founder's Park

Tarzan's Treehouse in Adventureland. DISNEY

Founder's Park in Anaheim, California, is located only two miles from Disneyland. At the park, a large Moreton Bay fig tree has been providing shade to the area for more than 100 years. It is also widely believed that the tree provided a bit of inspiration for Disneyland's Swiss Family Treehouse (now the Tarzan Treehouse).

There isn't much evidence to prove that the tree fully inspired Walt to build the Swiss Family Treehouse, but there is documentation that staff members who worked on the attraction, and possibly Walt himself, photographed the tree and took recently-trimmed branches to shape details of the Disneyland tree, according to Orange County historian Chris Jepsen in a story for Yesterland.

Griffith Park

King Arthur Carrousel at Disneyland. CHRISTIAN THOMPSON/DISNEYLAND RESORT

Griffith Park in Los Angeles was possibly more influential in the creation of Disneyland than any other destination on this list. Griffith Park is credited as being the spot where Walt dreamt up the idea for Disneyland.

As the story is often told, Walt used to take his daughter to Griffith Park on the weekends for "Daddy's day." While they were going round and round on the merry-go-round and he was eating peanuts on a park bench, he "felt there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together," according to the Disney Parks Blog.

Today at Disneyland, you can view one of the original carousel horses from the Griffith Park merry-go-round and the famed park bench where the idea for Disneyland was born; both are located in the lobby of the Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln attraction.

Marceline, Missouri

Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland. CHRISTIAN THOMPSON/DISNEYLAND RESORT

Walt moved to Marceline, Missouri, in 1906 at the age of 4, and lived there until 1910, when his family moved to Kansas City, Missouri.

Walt considered Marceline to be his hometown and often spoke of his happy childhood memories there. The look of Main Street, U.S.A., however, is not meant to reflect any particular town. Rather, its design reflects an idyllic turn-of-the-century Main Street where everyone feels at home.

Related: Disneyland vs. Disney World: Which is the better park to visit?

While Marceline's Main Street doesn't look much like Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A., the town did play a significant role in Walt's life during his formative childhood years and the feeling of magic and nostalgia he wanted to evoke at his theme park.

The Matterhorn

ZACH HONIG/THE POINTS GUY

Walt's first visit to the Matterhorn in the town of Zermatt, Switzerland, came in 1952 during a family vacation to Europe. He fell so in love with the scenery that he returned the following summer and filmed the 1959 movie "Third Man on the Mountain" there a few years later.

Related: How I maxed out Disneyland's Genie+ and rode 26 attractions in a single day

While visiting the filming location in 1958, Walt's fascination with the Matterhorn inspired him to build an attraction based on it: the Matterhorn Bobsleds roller coaster at Disneyland.

Related: 5 winter wonderland escapes in Switzerland to visit now

The coaster version is exactly 100 times shorter than the 14,700-foot-tall mountain peak.

Bottom line

Walt's influence can be seen at every Disney park around the world, but Disneyland is the only park Walt lived to see through to fruition. Because it's the only park where you can "walk in Walt's footsteps," it holds a special place in the hearts of Disney fans.

Just as special, though, is visiting any of these inspirational destinations around the globe that shaped Walt's plans for his original park.

Featured image by DISNEYLAND RESORT
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

TPG Exclusive Offer
TPG Exclusive Offer
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 5X points
5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.

Intro offer

Earn 150,000 points120,000 points
The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$695

Recommended Credit

670-850
Good, Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
Apply for The Business Platinum Card® from American Express
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
TPG Exclusive Offer
TPG Exclusive Offer
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 150,000 points
    120,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.