Yester California Adventure at Yesterland

Avalon Cove

by Wolfgang Puck

and The Cove Bar
Avalon Cove at Disney's California Adventure, 2001

Photo by Kevin Yee, 2001

Would you like a fancy meal from a world-renowned chef while at Yester California Adventure? Did you bring a credit card?

Avalon Cove at Disney's California Adventure, 2001

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2001

Paradise Pier portal

The Avalon Cove restaurant is at the entrance to the park’s Paradise Pier section. Although Paradise Pier is supposed to conjure up images of long-gone California seaside amusement parks such as Ocean Park Pier in Venice and The Pike in Long Beach, those parks never offered such a fine dining experience.

Avalon Cove at Disney's California Adventure, 2001

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2001

Entrance under a tower that looks like raspberry swirl ice cream

This is not an ordinary theme park restaurant. Avalon Cove is operated by Wolfgang Puck, chef to Hollywood’s rich and famous celebrities—and quite a celebrity himself. Puck—creator of Ma Maison in West Hollywood, Spago in West Hollywood, Spago in Beverly Hills, Chinois on Main in Santa Monica, and Granita in Malibu—is credited with defining and popularizing California cuisine and Asian fusion cuisine, and for inventing gourmet pizza.

Sure, Wolfgang Puck lends his name to airport eateries and frozen pizza. However, Avalon Cove is a real, one-of-a-kind restaurant for those who appreciate creatively prepared, beautifully presented meals made from the finest, freshest California ingredients.

Avalon Cove at Disney's California Adventure, 2001

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2001

Dining on the lower level; bar on the upper level

Here’s how the official park website describes this place:

Nothing says California cuisine like Avalon Cove by Wolfgang Puck, where you can feast on a magnificent selection of fresh fish, steak and other gourmet specialties, while overlooking Paradise Bay, the pier and the rocky coastline. The Cove Bar, located on the restaurant’s upper level, features spirits and ale, and a fresh sushi bar.

At the 350-seat Avalon Cove restaurant, choose between indoor and outdoor seating.

Avalon Cove at Disney's California Adventure, 2001

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2001

Outside dining with a spectacular view of Paradise Pier

The restaurant’s private pier extends into Paradise Bay. There’s usually a pleasant breeze. A canvas canopy protects you from direct sun.

Avalon Cove at Disney's California Adventure, 2001

Photo by Kevin Yee, 2001

Inside dining with a spectacular Italian glass mural

The interior features a fanciful undersea decor, with hand-made lighting fixtures and a costly Italian glass mural.

How about a leisurely four-course meal with fine wine? Perhaps a different wine with each course? This theme park isn’t “dry” like that other theme park across the Esplanade.

Let’s look at the dinner menu...

Crispy Calamari  with cilantro mint aioli and spicy marinara  10.00
Iced Oysters on the Half Shell  with cocktail sauce and citrus mignonette  Market Price
Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail  with avocado, watercress and cocktail sauce  15.00
Wolfgang’s Iced Seafood Sampler for Two  oysters, shrimp, crab  19.00
with half lobster  Market Price
Tuna Sashimi Appetizer  with spicy tartare, ginger, chives, avocado, and ponzu  12.00
Grilled Beef Satay  cilantro mint aioli and spicy Thai cold noodles with crushed peanuts  9.00
Spicy Tuna Roll  chopped fresh tuna, chili sauce, green onion, avocado and sesame seeds  8.00
California Roll  crab, avocado, cucumber and sesame seeds  8.00
Soups and Salads
Garden Tomato Gazpacho  with cucumber raiita, basil oil and parmesan crostini  4.00
Avalon White Clam Chowder  applewood smoked bacon and fingerling potatoes  5.00
Caesar Salad  with curly romaine, parmesan crostini and freshly grated Parmesan  7.00
Baby Spinach Salad  bosc pears, blue cheese, spiced candied pecans  8.00
Cobb Salad  with romaine, watercress, tomatoes, eggs, green beans, smoked bacon, blue cheese
with chilled shrimp
  16.00         with crab meat  18.00
Four Cheese Raviolis  with tomatoes, basil and freshly grated Parmesan  14.00
Spaghettini Shrimp Pomodoro  tomatoes, garlic, basil and extra virgin olive oil  16.00
Linguine with Clams  with butter, oregano, garlic, and white wine  16.00
Penne with Chicken  asparagus, blanched garlic, oven-dried tomatoes and pine nuts  15.00
Main Courses
Grilled Salmon  with ginger tomato fondue and baby vegetables  18.00
Seared Big Eye Tuna  with “Hong Kong Style” stir-fried vegetables  24.00
Grilled Mahi Mahi Teriyaki Style  on wasabi potato puree  19.00
Maine Lobster  steamed or grilled with bearnaise sauce  Market Price
Grilled Beef Tenderloin and Half Steamed Lobster
garlic mashed potatoes and drawn butter  Market Price
Veal Picatta  with sizzling lemon caper butter and garlic potato puree  23.00
Grilled New York Steak Bearnaise  potato puree and steamed asparagus  25.00
Grilled Chicken  with double blanched garlic and French fries  16.00
 18% service will be added to parties of eight or more 

It’s the kind of menu that causes diners to ask “What’s cucumber raiita?” and “What’s citrus mignonette?” But that’s okay. Go ahead and ask. Try the tuna sashimi appetizer and mahi mahi with wasabi potato puree. Or play it safe with a shrimp cocktail and a steak.

clam chowder at Avalon Cove, Disney's California Adventure, 2001

Photo by Kevin Yee, 2001

Avalon White Clam Chowder with applewood smoked bacon and fingerling potatoes, $5.00.

It’s not cheap, but it’s not out-of-line for what you get. And, if you think about it, the superb Avalon White Clam Chowder for five dollars may actually be a better value than a five-dollar corn dog elsewhere at Paradise Pier.

Sun Wheel at Disney's California Adventure, 2001

Photo by Kevin Yee, 2001

Sun Wheel on Paradise Pier

The view from outdoor tables is spectacular, especially at night.

It’s easy to get a table at Avalon Cove. You don’t need a reservation, which is unusual for a restaurant of this caliber. Maybe there aren’t enough people around here who want to spend $43 for park admission and then another $100 or so for dinner, wine, tax, and tip.

Avalon Cove at Disney's California Adventure, 2001

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2001

The Cove Bar above the dining level

If you’re not up for a big dinner, consider having a drink and some of Wolfgang Puck’s bar food at The Cove Bar, the full bar upstairs.

Avalon Cove at Disney's California Adventure, 2001

Photo by Kevin Yee, 2001

The Cove Bar

Avalon Cove at Disney's California Adventure, 2001

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

The Cove Bar at night

At night, The Cove Bar is spectacular. There are plenty of seats, and most of them are empty.

So where are all the people?

Avalon Cove by Wolfgang Puck opened along with the rest of Disney’s California Adventure in February 2001. But it didn’t last long. At the beginning of October of the same year, Wolfgang Puck gave up on his ambitious, upscale seafood eatery.

Avalon Cove construction at Disney's California Adventure, 2000

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2000

Under construction in 2000, with the Timon parking lot nearby

Avalon Cove must have seemed like a good idea before it opened. How could Avalon Cove miss? The big crowds who would fill Disney’s California Adventure would jump at the chance to dine at an excellent restaurant from the legendary Wolfgang Puck.

The business model of fine dining within a theme park worked well in Florida. Most table-service restaurants at Epcot were full every night. In fact, the restaurants were among the biggest attractions at Epcot. Guests bought admission tickets for Epcot just so that they could dine there, and they ran up big lunch and dinner checks enjoying multi-course meals and fine wines. Some Epcot restaurants were Disney operations, while others were run by outside restaurateurs.

Avalon Cove at Disney's California Adventure, 2001

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2001

A jewel at night

The problem was not Avalon Cove itself. It was in the wrong place. The big crowds never materialized at Disney’s California Adventure.

The restaurants at EPCOT Center (now Epcot) were instantly successful with Orlando locals and out-of-town guests when the park opened in 1982. For one thing, there weren’t too many other choices in the area at the time. But Southern Californians and out-of-town Disneyland guests in 2001 had no shortage of other choices. And while EPCOT Center opened with a full roster of compelling attractions, the decision makers for Disney’s California Adventure were unsuccessful in producing a park that would pull in crowds.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times on October 2, 2001, “California Adventure was expected to attract about 7 million visitors annually, or 19,000 a day. But in the week before the terrorist attack, the park had been drawing an average of about 4,500 per day, according to a Disney official who asked not to be identified.”

After September 11, the already abysmal numbers dropped even further.

Wolfgang Puck and Disney agreed to part company. Per the same Los Angeles Times article, “Disney spokesman Ray Gomez said Wolfgang Puck Food Co.’s upscale seafood eatery, Avalon Cove, was shutting down Monday because it had not met the expectations of either Disney or Puck. It is the first defection of a tenant since the park opened in February.” Further in the article, “A Wolfgang Puck spokesman declined to comment about Avalon Cove’s closure, except to say that it was a mutual decision.”

Avalon Cove at Disney's California Adventure, 2001

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Disney’s modified sign

Avalon Cove reopened a few months later as a Disney-operated character-dining restaurant for families.

Avalon Cove at Disney's California Adventure, 2001

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2001

Ariel out of the water

Avalon Cove wasn’t the only failed high-end restaurant at Disney’s California Adventure. At the same time that Wolfgang Puck closed his Avalon Cove, Robert Mondavi Corp. ended its operation of the Golden Vine Winery restaurant. The change wasn’t as visible because Mondavi stayed on as a sponsor after Disney took over.

Ariel’s Grotto at Disney’s California Adventure, 2006

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2006

Strollers parked for princess dining at Ariel’s Grotto

Ariel's Grotto at Disney's California Adventure, 2003

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2003

Ariel’s Grotto sign

A year later, the Avalon Cove name disappeared from the main sign.

At “Ariel’s Grotto - Disney Princess Celebration,” mermaid Ariel was joined by other Disney princesses, including Belle, Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora. The menu offered comfort food dishes such as Chicken & Biscuit Pot Pie and Maliboomer Meatloaf. There was still some seafood—Paradise Bay Fish & Chips, Surf’n’Salmon B.L.T. and Bayside Shrimp Cobb Salad—but nobody mistook Ariel’s Grotto for a fine seafood restaurant. The draw became character interaction, not cuisine for foodies.

Avalon Cove at Disney's California Adventure, 2002

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2002

Avalon Cove in its original colors (2002)

Ariel’s Grotto at Disney's California Adventure, 2006

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2006

Ariel’s Grotto with with red roof (2006)

Wolfgang Puck’s failed restaurant is only a memory, but the building itself hasn’t changed much. As the two pictures above show, the building is now white with a red roof. Ariel’s Grotto still takes advantage of the expensively outfitted interior of Avalon Cove.

When World of Color opened in 2010, Ariel’s Grotto switched to character meals at breakfast and lunch only. At dinner, Ariel’s Grotto offered a prix fixe package which included access to a preferred viewing area for World of Color. And that’s still how it is today.

Fine dining returned to Disney California Adventure in June 2012 with the opening of the Carthay Circle Restaurant.

The Cove Bar is still called The Cove Bar. It makes sense that it wasn’t renamed “Teenage Princess Ariel’s Full-Service Bar.” The Cove Bar still offers spectacular views, but, alas, the bar food is no longer from the kitchen of Wolfgang Puck.

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Soap Opera Bistro
Treasures in Paradise

Thank you to the Photographers!

Allen Huffman has provided hundreds of photos to Yesterland from his website.

Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore took thousands of photos of DCA under construction and during its early years for his now-defunct website, DCA Central.

Kevin Yee is an author, blogger, and longtime MiceAge/MiceChat columnist.

© 2014-2018 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks

Updated May 11, 2018.