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You can still visit the California amusement park that inspired Disneyland — here's what it's like today

Aug. 28, 2022
5 min read
Children's Fairyland
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A little-known but much-beloved amusement park in Oakland, California, pint-size Children's Fairyland may have provided Walt Disney with some key inspiration for his Disneyland theme park.

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

Walt Disney's visit to Children's Fairyland in 1954, and perhaps a few other times, likely gave him a couple of ideas for the mood, features and operations for his Disneyland project in development 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 whether Disney borrowed some of its ideas. You may declare, as Disney did, that Children's Fairyland remains a "swell" place to visit for adults and their kids.

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Disney drew inspiration from Children's Fairyland

Entrance of Children's Fairyland amusement park. VISIT OAKLAND

The 10-acre Children's Fairyland property by the shores of downtown Oakland's Lake Merritt was the brainchild of local businessman, Arthur Navlet.

It opened after the Oakland parks program raised $50,000 for Navlet's proposal to create "a storybook theme park, featuring fairy-tale sets, farm animals and live entertainment," 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 storybook dioramas.

Walt Disney visited Children's Fairyland in May of 1954 when Disneyland was still under development. "With his own enterprise in mind, he studied design, cost of operations and technical aspects" of the park, according to an Oakland Tribune news story from the time.

"The man who has delighted millions with the charm he has built into motion picture cartoons was in turn delighted with Oakland's Children's Fairyland. Walt Disney, readying to build his own Disneyland in the Southland, visited Oakland to see firsthand the playland operation which has given this city one of its great tourist attractions," read 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 while at the park include The Alice in Wonderland Tunnel (which was created a year before the release of the Disney animated film) 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 Children's Fairyland's then-director Dorothy Manes to become Disneyland's youth director. He also recruited the park's chief puppeteer to work for him.

The concept of Disneyland was created prior to Disney's visit to Children's Fairyland. However, it's clear he gained some inspiration from 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'd build at his Anaheim, California, park.

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

What it's like to visit Children's Fairyland today

The Jolly Trolly at Children's Fairyland. VISIT OAKLAND

Even after seven decades of operations, Children's Fairyland remains popular with local Bay Area families and visitors. The park runs summer camps, theater programs, sleepover events and even adults-only parties.

Beyond its various events, the park continues to be a haven for younger kids. While nobody will mistake Anansi's Magic Web (Children's Fairyland's miniature Ferris wheel) for Space Mountain or its small petting zoo for Disney's Jungle Cruise, its array of kid-appropriate rides and animals make it an ideal place to bring little ones.

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 in Old West Junction, clamber through the Fairy Music Farm Tunnel and zip down the park's sizable Dragon Slide. The puppet programs of yesteryear are still present, too, so adults and kids alike can continue to see fairy tales come to life at Children's Fairyland's intimate outdoor theater.

The old-school charm of the park's offerings provides a pleasant break from the high-tech attractions of Disneyland, giving kids the opportunity to embrace their youth and act on their imaginations in a simple way. Plus, the entrance fee of $15 per person is much lower than what you'll pay in Anaheim, making the park a budget-friendly way to pass the time.

You may not see Mickey and Minnie while at Children's Fairyland, but all the park's vivid sets, play spaces and critters are bound to spark some creativity in your kids. Perhaps they'll even gain some inspiration of their own and one day outdo Disney's fantastical concept.

Related: 11 regional theme parks that are closer to home but just as fun as the big names

Featured image by BILL FINK/THE POINTS GUY
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.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Fee

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    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.

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases