Opened July 17, 1955, the castle is the oldest of all Disney castles. Though it reaches a height of only 77 feet (23 m), it was designed to appear taller through a process known as forced perspective; design elements are larger at the foundation and smaller at the turrets. The castle initially featured an empty upper level that was never intended to house an attraction, but Walt Disney was not satisfied with what he viewed as wasted space, and challenged his Imagineers to find some use for the space.
Beginning April 29, 1957, visitors were able to walk through the castle and view several dioramas depicting the story of Sleeping Beauty. The original dioramas were designed in the style of Eyvind Earle, production designer for Disney's 1959 film Sleeping Beauty, and were then redone in 1977 to resemble the window displays on . The walkthrough was closed for unspecified reasons in October 2001; popular belief claims the September 11h attacks and the potential danger that ensued played a major factor in the closing.
On July 17, 2008, Disney announced that the Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough would reopen in the style of the original Earle dioramas, enhanced with new technology not available in 1957. The walkthrough reopened on November 27, 2008 at 5:00 PM, drawing long lines going as far back as the Hub. Unlike previous incarnations, visitors who are unable to climb stairs or navigate the passageways of the Castle can still experience the walkthrough "virtually" in a special room on the Castle's ground floor. This room is lavishly themed, and presents the closed-captioned CGI walkthrough recreation on a high-definition TV. This same virtual recreation is included on the Sleeping Beauty 50th Anniversary Platinum Edition DVD.
The Disney family coat of arms hangs above the archway to the castle is composed of three lions passant in pale.
It is known that the coat of arms was not originally on the castle but was placed there sometime between June 1965 and July 1965.
At the rear of the castle, shaded by the archways and driven into the ground is a gold spike marking the geographical center of Disneyland as of the addition of Mickey's Toontown in 1993. Previous Disneyland centers were the directional star on the ground in front of the castle which was added with the expansion of Fantasyland and ensuing addition of "It's a Small World" in 1966. But the original geographical center of the park was at the hub which now hosts the "Partners" statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse.
In celebration of Disneyland's 50th anniversary, the castle was repainted and five turrets were decorated with stylized crowns, each representing a decade in the park's history:
- The creation of Disneyland is represented by a pair of famous "Ears" peeking up over the horizon to see the wonders to come.
- "A World on the Move", otherwise known as the "New Tomorrowland" of 1967, is represented by rocket ships and accented by opalescent planets.
- The Blue Fairy represents the debut of the Main Street Electrical Parade.
- The Indiana Jones Adventure is represented by the evil Eye of Mara, guarded by snakes.
- The 50th Anniversary of Disneyland is represented by fireworks and Tinker Bell.