Yester California Adventure at Yesterland

Original Billboards

of Paradise Pier

Coke, Games, Photo Ops,
and an Invasion of Burgers
Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2002

Billboard row

It’s 2001. You’re walking around the lagoon at Paradise Pier to experience “the ultimate beachfront amusement zone, filled with thrilling attractions and vibrant graphics associated with the heyday of the great seaside amusement park piers.” (That’s how The Walt Disney Company’s 2000 annual report described it.)


When was “the heyday of the great seaside amusement park piers” anyway? Perhaps we can figure that out from the “vibrant graphics” on the four custom billboards in this corner of Yester Paradise Pier.

Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

“Just another (Refreshing) day in PARADISE!” — Coca Cola

The first billboard features Coca Cola. A kid is drinking Coke from a glass bottle. In the background, the Mickey head shape on California Screamin’ and the stylized California Sun of the Sun Wheel fill much of the bright blue sky.

But what decade is it? Perhaps the 1950s? Coca Cola ads prior to the 1960s used painted illustrations; then Coca Cola switched to photographs. The returnable glass bottles also suggest that it’s many decades ago, long before plastic bottles and aluminum cans took over. But the font on the billboard is from the 1970s. And the kids are dressed in beach apparel from the 1990s—just look at the sneakers, swimwear styles, and the fabrics. In other words, it’s impossible to pin this billboard to a particular decade.

Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Paradise Pier’s Games of the Boardwalk

The second billboard promotes the Games of the Boardwalk, just a short walk away past Boardwalk Betsy’s World Famous Strips, Dips ’n’ Chips and Malibu-Ritos.

The cartoon people on the billboard are reminiscent of drawings from the 1930s and 1940s, such as the mascot from the game Monopoly (1935). The style of the large “Games” in the center seems to harken back to the 1920s and 1930s. The scrolls represent an even earlier period. The color palette and the use of gradients in the ovals suggests the 1990s. Again, it’s a billboard that’s all over the 20th century. But at least the drawings are kind of fun.

Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

“Picture Yourself in Paradise!”

The third billboard isn’t really a billboard. It’s a set of two photo opportunities. The left one lets someone pose behind a cutout representation of a Golden Zephyr rocket. Once again the iconic Mickey head shape and Sun Wheel are in the background. The right one simulates the top of the California Screamin’ loop. When you get your prints back from the drugstore, put that picture in your photo album upside down so that the Orange Stinger and Mickey head loop are right-side up. Clever, eh?

There’s just one problem. The square backgrounds would be perfect if film frames were square. But it’s 2001. Most people these days capture rectangular images—whether with a common 35mm film camera or with one of those new-fangled digital cameras that people are now buying. Perhaps you can dust off your old Kodak Instamatic camera from the 1960s; it produces square images using “126” film cartridges.

Once again, it’s hard to tie the billboard to a particular decade. More than any other period, the artwork has the look of the 1990s.

Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2007

“It’s a Meteor Meatier Shower!” — Burger Invasion

The final billboard advertises Burger Invasion, the McDonald’s-sponsored quick-service eatery that looks like a cross between a hamburger and an alien spaceship. Don’t miss the pun on the sign. The California Adventure park of 2001 is known for many puns.

Because the billboard uses comic book art, we could associate this billboard with the 1940s, which many consider to be the middle of the Golden Age of Comic Books. Or maybe it’s meant to look like a movie poster illustration. Then again, the art is also somewhat reminiscent of the Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters murals in Disneyland.

Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Paradise Pier magic of 2001

We have failed to identify the heyday on California amusement piers from these billboards. But, in a way, the billboards of 2001 are a perfect metaphor for Paradise Pier in 2001. Just as the billboards lack a cohesive story and sense of time and place, so does Paradise Pier.


When Disney’s California Adventure opened in February 2001, the park had four custom billboards in a row. The row is still there, but the billboards have all changed over the years—some more than once.

Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2009

Billboards in 2009

The first original billboard to go away was the photo opportunity spot. In August 2002, a custom billboard for Coppertone Suncare Products replaced it.

Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2008

Tan, Don’t Burn. Get a Sun Wheel Tan.

The new billboard was based on the classic Coppertone advertising image of a little girl’s embarrassment when her dog exposes her untanned skin by pulling down part of her swimsuit. Only in the Disney version, the dog revealed nothing—not even a distinct tan line. The Disney version of the suit was apparently made from very stretchy material.

The next billboard to disappear was Games of the Boardwalk. In January 2005, Disney and Georgia-Pacific announced a 10-year strategic alliance. Among various promotional tie-ins, Brawny paper towels would sponsor the new Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show at the Studios park in Florida. Quilted Northern toilet paper signs the showed up on walls in U.S. Disney parks.

Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2007

Brawny Man, California Adventure Edition

The new billboard showed a brawny man using Brawny paper towels to polish a gleaming convertible from around 1949—garnering admiration from beautiful women and a guy in a white tee-shirt. The same billboard also appeared atop Mickey’s of Hollywood at the Studios park. Never mind that the car was too new for the period of either Paradise Pier or Hollywood Blvd. At least this billboard projected a sense of place and time, even if it was the wrong time.

Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

“Between Sea and Sky” — Paradise Pier

After a different strategic alliance ended—the one between Disney and McDonald’s—another billboard changed. The former Burger Invasion billboard became a beach scene with Paradise Pier in the background—without the Sun Wheel or the Mickey head on the roller coaster. It was December 2008, and it was the first billboard to roll back time to the early 20th century.

Finally, a billboard and Paradise Pier itself were getting a consistent place in time. What had been a mishmash of 20th century styles with no clear time period began a transformation. It began with the opening of Toy Story Midway a half year earlier and continued with other enhancements to Paradise Pier over the following years. And it’s still not complete.

Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Billboard row in 2013

In May 2012, the newest billboard on billboard row became the oldest. The original Coca Cola billboard, the Brawny billboard, and the Coppertone billboard were all replaced. Now all four billboards would have a consistent style and place in time.

Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

“Delicious and Refreshing” —Coca Cola

Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

“Live Music, Garden Dining, By the Bay” — Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta and Paradise Garden Grill

Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

“Soar at the Shore!”

Billboards of Paradise Pier at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Paradise Pier magic of 2013

The other change is that the rockwork of Cars Land now serves as a backdrop for the billboards. It works surprisingly well. Instead of being a visual intrusion, the rugged rock structures suggest the cliffs along many Southern California beaches.


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Updated January 10, 2014.