"It may be more than the kids can bear," cautioned the introduction to LIFE's August 15, 1955, photo essay on the grand opening of Disneyland earlier that summer. "Sprawled over 160 acres at Anaheim, California, 23 miles southeast of Los Angeles, it is easily the most lavish amusement park on earth… Uncle Walt packs his new park with the stuff children"s dreams are made on."
Walt Disney began contemplating a place where parents and children could have fun together as early as the 1930s, but his long-held vision didn"t take shape until 1953, when he and his team selected an old orange grove outside Los Angeles and began construction the following summer. Just one year after that, Disney held an invite-only "International Press Preview" day on Sunday, July 17, 1955. The high-profile opening-day event was broadcast on ABC and featured appearances by big celebrities of the day, including Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings, and Ronald Reagan.
For the park's public opening the next day, patrons began lining up at 2 a.m. for their chance to whirl around in giant tea cups and visit Sleeping Beauty"s castle. By mid-day, LIFE reports, some 20,000 paying customers were "milling about the 'lands.'"
More than six decades later, the happiest place on Earth continues to attract young and old — nearly 20 million each year — with its promise of good clean family fun. It"s reach is now global with parks in Paris and Hong Kong, among other places. But it all started on a scorching hot Sunday back in 1955. Take a look back at LIFE's beautiful color photos from opening day. (Pictured: Visitors streaming through Sleeping Beauty's castle.)
Loomis DeanTHE SPINSFew rides are as iconically Disney as the twirling tea cups — dubbed the "Mad Hatter's Tea Party" back in 1955. In fact, every Disney amusement park currently in operation includes some version of the ride inspired by "Alice in Wonderland." Wheeeeee!
Loomis DeanTHE MUNCHIESVisitors snack on treats from a popcorn stand. Even from day one, a trip to Disneyland meant cracking open the ol' pocketbook. "Disney had expected that $2 would see a child through enough of his $17 million wonderland, but mothers said twice that was needed to keep any enterprising small boy pacified," LIFE reported.
Loomis DeanWALKING INTO THE FUTUREA family traipses through the "Space Port" area of Tomorrowland — one of the several themed areas of the park — that was designed to depict life in the far-off year of 1986.Loomis DeanMERRILY ON OUR WAYTwo boys tour the English countryside on "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride," based on the animated movie "Wind in the Willows." The ride is still in operation today and was revamped in 1983 to include the facade of Toad Hall.
Loomis DeanFLY ME TO THE MOONOnce the tallest point in the park, the TWA Moonliner stood sentinel in Tomorrowland next to the "Flight to the Moon" attraction until 1967. The rocket, designed by a Disney Imagineer in partnership with a German rocket scientist, was also a bit of early product placement within the park — it was branded for the airline owned by Howard Hughes.Loomis DeanOPEN WIDEThe "Jungle Cruise," which started as a sober, educational experience in 1955, has since evolved into a more light-hearted romp. LIFE's original caption spoiled a bit of the ride's mystique: "Hungry hippopotamus surfaces and snaps open his hydraulically controlled jaws. Passing boat triggered a release which brought him into sight."Loomis DeanSTILL TRUCKINGThe car designs have changed a bit since 1955, but guests still zoom around this racing track at the park's automobile-themed "Autopia." It's Tomorrowland's last remaining original attraction.
Loomis DeanHAPPY HOURStill in business, the Golden Horseshoe was a favorite watering hole of Walt Disney himself, who kept a private box near the stage to enjoy revues. LIFE's original assessment of the saloon was a bit tart: "The Golden Horseshoe is operated by a soft drink concessionaire, who sells only sandwiches and his own beverages. To entertain young tosspots, Disney has provided a 45-minute frontier saloon show with cancan dancers, Irish ballad singers, and a hostess named Slue Foot Sue."Loomis DeanBEASTS OF BURDENBefore "Westworld" there was "Frontierland," the Old West-themed area of the park. This now-defunct amusement allowed visitors to tour the "Painted Desert" on the back of a pack mule.Loomis DeanALL ABOARD!"Circus Train is [an] exact replica of Casey Jr. used in Disney's movie 'Dumbo,'" read the original LIFE caption. "Beneath it, in [a] Disney-dredged waterway, passes a boatload of canal riders."
Loomis DeanIT'S A NOT-SO-SMALL WORLDSince its launch in 1955, the park has expanded into a sprawling resort complex, including multiple hotels and a second park, Disney California Adventure, which opened in 2001. But at its core, Disneyland remains "the stuff children's dreams are made on."