As a word of disclaimer just at the start: The ideas contained herein pretty much have zero chance of ever happening at DCA as it currently exists. Basically, this is my kind of fantasy world concept of what the park could have been via introducing attractions that stuck to the California theme, or at least their California based settings, instead of just shoehorning in cartoon characters when things started to go south. Think of this perhaps as happening around the time they added Bug's Land and Tower of Terror, if you will.
No Carsland. No Little Mermaid. This will not be a blow by blow count of every area of the park, but will detail some select attractions and areas that could have been that would have made DCA both it's own animal and high quality, and adhered to the California theme, in my opinion. Likely a switchover to a period Hollywood entryway would be included, as they are doing now with the park, and is a genuinely good idea that fits in with history of making the Disney park entrance a kind of familiar "retro" town setting.
From there, a lot would change. Read along and let's see what....
Much of the backlot would remain the same, with an updated and refreshed Great Movie Ride replacing The Muppets and Monsters Inc. It would be newly pitched in a way to be about the film-making industry at the start, with artifacts and features about motion picture history and the founding of the studios in Hollywood. From there, the ride would progress as it's Florida counterpart does, taking guests through well-known newer and classic films with a live guide.
Next door, Bugsland and the farm section would no longer be present. In their place would be a section dedicated to Spanish California and the Missions. It would feature an "outdoor" restaurant a la the Blue Bayou, a Zorro themed stunt show, roving musicians and performers, a museum, and several distinct little shops in a market district. The headline attraction here would be the Black Whip, a combination dark ride/roller coaster themed to Zorro and his adventures.
The area around Grizzly Peak, apart from being re-themed entirely to a early state park and adding wooded scenery somewhat to Condor Flats, would remain largely the same. In the current Brother Bear/Challenge trail area, things would change however. There would still be paths to explore, rope swings, and all such things. However a new structure would be built, a simple, fairly roomy log cabin with a sign out front identifying it as the Redwood Creek Legends and Myths Center. (thanks to user Alpoe001 for that idea, my original name was lame heh).
It's purpose would be to emulate the kind of quirky California roadside attractions and serve as a center for info on purported-cryptzoological animals native to the state, such as Bigfoot, Tessie (Lake Tahoe's sea serpent), and the Thunderbirds of Native American lore for a few examples.
Inside, it would be slightly similar in terms of level of exhibits, to a cross between the decor of the Hester and Chester store in Animal Kingdom, and the Yeti museum area of the Everest queue. Drawings and specifically commissioned/fake sculptures and artifacts of the creatures, explanatory boards and text pieces, video clips, along with purported real evidence, like the Patterson-Gimlin bigfoot stills/video and genuine cultural representations of the animals. It would kind of be a mish-mash between "scientific" style presentation, replica skulls, information, and weird folk art carvings and plain silly nonsense.
A couple Cast Members could work it, and have specific "characters" or roles...a skeptic, for example, or a enthusiast/believer, to interact with guests and tell them about the evidence and history of the "monsters" of California. Add in a couple specific, goofy merchandise pieces...a silk-screened, slightly cheesy looking t-shirt, a snowglobe, postcards, all marketed as if it was a real off-beat roadside attraction. Out back, on one of the small paths around the area, lucky guests might glimpse an AA of the most famous California cryptid resident, Bigfoot, appearing out of the trees for a few seconds only to turn around and vanish once more. This would be a very subtle effect and on a decently long delay: once every 5-7 minutes. If looking at the spot directly or passing by, it would be obvious, but no big fanfare or special show: just an detail befitting the notoriously reclusive creature.
I would propose a total re-conception of the whole Pier/lagoon area, to be one cohesive environment dedicated to the San Francisco bay area.
To be removed permanently would be the Little Mermaid proposed/under construction building and Toy Story Midway Mania. Staying basically as they are now/will be would be the Jellyfish Jump, the swings, the Zephyr, the carousel, and the "midway games". The current plans for the Wild Mouse coaster could stay, as well as the new restaurants. California Screamin' would be renamed the Big Dipper, in tribute to the coasters at the defunct Playland at The Beach in San Francisco, and the current Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's coaster.
The main Bay Area street would remain much the same, but be a intro to the new areas. To the right upon turning would be the same Palace of Fine Arts dome structure from Golden Dreams, now serving as an entryway to a building much like the one proposed for the Little Mermaid exterior, a "World's Fair" type atrium building. Inside, however, would be a combination theater experience/ride through about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Guests would view a brief film, 5 minutes or so in duration, about the quake, before being led by cast members in period theater usher costumes to ride vehicles. The backstory would be a local inventor, perhaps the Gustav Tinkerschidmt of recent hinted Paradise Pier backstory, would be conducting experiments to study the earthquake in hopes of predicting future ones. Guests would board "time travel" prototype cars (motion simulator vehicles like Indy and Dinosaur) and go on a trip to the day of the great quake, 1906, and travel through vintage San Francisco, first on a slower paced tour, then rumbling through Chinatown, the financial district, and the underground of the city when the quake hits, only to be brought back to present day at the last second, as the railway station they are in is about to collapse.
Nearby would be an entrance building in the Victorian pavillion style of the coming Little Mermaid dark ride, somewhere between there and the current Mulholland Madness/Sky School ride, but this time with a mural or glass representations of sea creatures woven into the front. This would house the Paradise Bay Aquarium. Once inside this small building, guests would actually take a themed elevator under the pier to the main bulk of the aquarium. Up top, the decor would be simple, maybe some exhibits about the history of fishing in California, or legends of the seas. Down below, however, would be more immsersively themed.
Guests would find subtle lighting playing on the floors and walls as if they were themselves underwater, with an occasional wooden "pier support" beam here and there to reinforce the notion. There could be a "Nemo and Friends" section with more traditional square or round aquariums featuring blue tang, clownfish and anenomes, and etc, representing the animal species from the films. A rock-like wall could host moray eels in a tank, the inside continuing the rock backdrop sunken in further with holes. In what I think might be the most exciting feature for this area would be glass tanks that through prior planning and a bit of subtle trickery, could appear to be flush with the wall and continue out directly into the bay beyond, which guests see from above while walking around the pier. A use of lighting tricks, glass at angles, and "hidden" utilitarian floors and ceilings (out of the sight range of guests) and such could hide the edges of the actual tank, and these could contain larger fish such as cod or tuna or sharks.
Smaller displays in more traditional tanks would be included for things like crabs and shrimp, sand dollars, sea horses, and the like. The second part of the attraction is what I find really exciting, theoretically.
Guests would slowly walk into a entrance structured to look like an undersea cave, the lights growing more dim. Here would be tanks with actual bioluminescent living animals, small fish and shrimp and such, and jellyfish, traditional aquarium display species. However, mixed in here and there would be tanks that held pure projection or combination AA/projection species that can't be displayed at surface level: angler fish, hatchet fish, and other odd denizens of the ocean that only live in the immense pressure of the ocean floor. These additions would be used sparingly, and would help blur the line for guests between the fantastic and the real, aided by also featuring real specimens of animals like the cuttlefish and nautilus, or bioluminescent animals. I think this could truly be a subtle and clever way to display things people will otherwise never see up close.
The final area of the aquarium, a large tank not connected to the main bay, would feature larger fish such as rays, members of the shark family, and the like. However, this would be tinged with an element of the fantastic as well: in a tribute to the old Pacific Ocean Park, which featured a very similar diorama using live fish in front as well, in the way back (actually not underwater at all, behind a murky scrim and lit dramatically) would be visible Triton, king of the ocean, seated at his throne with a sea serpent or giant squid tethered at his side. These would be scaled-down AA figures, moving slightly and appearing massive but far distant to guests. After viewing this final tank/scene, guests would go back to the surface in 'clear' elevators, allowing them one last look at the undersea realm. This, I feel would tie in well to fantasy elements Disney is known for while still being something found at the seaside amusement parks characteristic of California. If done well, and subtly, it could truly be something special.
The pier itself would receive new cosmetic elements and signage, making it more in line with the classic California beachside amusement parks. Actual sandy beaches would be set along the water's edge, with little scenes of beach chairs, vintage coolers, etc, circa 1910-1920, perhaps even a few small boats placed in strategic locations, tied up at the new pier support system, thick wooden poles like one sees at Monterey Bay or Santa Cruz, or other such locations. The new title of the area would be "Paradise Bay Dreamland", and be more firmly set as if Disney itself had owned a vintage seaside amusement park, rather than a modern interpretation. Continuing on from the example of the recent hot dog stand opposite Midway Mania, appropriate thematic details would be added to must structures, and modern type references removed.
In the former Midway Mania location would sit the new Laff in The Dark/Midway Spookhouse attraction. Typically, the old-style spookhouses had facades of this sort or http://ctacke.tripod.com/laffri.jpg. This would be again a tribute to the classic beachside amusement parks, which often had a spookhouse dark ride attraction. It would feature no Disney film characters, but instead the sets and character AA's would be in the style of the classic Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony illustrations.
Scenes would include those typical of the vintage spookhouses, such as a witch's castle, a haunted forest, a mad doctor's lab, etc etc, with a more comedic angle than being truly scary, while still having some slightly morbid site gags and pop outs rendered in a cartoony style. In this manner, as opposed to the very flimsy themed Toy Story dark ride, the pier would receive an attraction that actually relates to the classic seaside amusement parks of old.
This would go a long way, I think, to making this area of the park more thematically appropriate, as well as getting new attractions that have things actually to do with California's history.
Out in the extension of the park currently being developed as Carsland, the simplest and perhaps most appropriate thing to do would be drop the name and the entire area being themed to the one film. Keep Radiator Springs Racers as the E-ticket, certainly, and have it at the back of the land, but the larger area should simply be termed Route 66 and feature a drive-through type 50's restaurant with an indoor section like the Disney Studios Sci-Fi restaurant. Add some classic bits of roadside weirdness, replicas of the Cabazon dinosaurs perhaps, a museum about car culture and how it affected California done in a fun Disney manner with a few characters via video presentation, and themed structures from the desert and you'd have a area related to California that still could feature the Cars-based ride without it totally overwhelming the park's larger theme.
This is indeed ambitious, and like I said...will never really happen. That path is closed and won't be open again. From here on out, I expect more cartoon characters. It will still be a fun park..but consider what could be done to make it true to California. Just think of my ideas as a "what if"/alternate reality version....the way I'd like to see DCA develop. Thank you for reading all of this chatter heh, and look forward to your thoughts!