Top tips for Visits to Disneyland California and California Adventure

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Fresh from a week in Santa Monica, I felt ready and strong enough for a day at the Happiest Place on Earth, with the Most Excited Girl on Earth.

It’s a good time to visit – the park is celebrating its 60th anniversary and there is a brand new parade and fireworks show to mark the occasion.

We purchased tickets and parking online before our visit, which turned out to be a smart move – you won’t need to queue on arrival, and you simply have your phone scanned at the turnstile.

You can buy tickets for Disneyland or what’s called “Park Hopper” tickets which give you admission to the main park and the adjoining “Disney California Adventure” – a second park with more shows, rides and a California style pier with rides and coasters.

In our experience, it’s worth buying the hopper tickets if you have older kids and don’t mind a bit of frantic to-ing and fro-ing. For families with smaller kids, if you’re visiting for one day, you’ll have more than enough to fill your time just at Disneyland.

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Disneyland California is a fraction of the size of the Florida park – it’s very similar in size and layout to Paris, if you’ve been there – which makes it very do-able as a day trip.

To make the most of your day, you DO need to plan ahead and make the most of Disney’s Fastpass system. Our top tip is the head into the park early and pick up a Fastpass for one of the more popular rides (Indiana Jones, Space Mountain and Star Tours all get very busy) and then hop over to California Adventure to get a second Fastpass there. You can hold one Fastpass for each park at the same time.

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You’ll then have enough time to stand in line for one of the rides with a shorter line, before using your first Fastpass. Even so, expect to spend time in line, in HOT sun – bring hats and water, although most rides have some shady areas in line, and regular water fountains so you can keep hydrated.

Flea is a fan of thrill rides so her favourite rides in Disneyland were Indiana Jones, Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain in Disneyland, and the genuinely thrilling Screamin’ California Coaster in the Adventure Park.

Splash Mountain is a hilarious and inventive twist on a water splash ride, but you will get thoroughly drenched through the whole ride, so save it until the end of the day, if you can. We didn’t make it onto Tower of Terror but having ridden the ride in both Paris and Florida, neither of us fancied the 90 minute queue!

There are plenty of rides for non-thrill-seekers. The Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters are great fun for kids and grown-ups, immersing you in a larger than life video game involving blasting targets in a Toy Story world. A similar idea works just as well at the Midway Mania ride in California Adventure, where you play carnival games against your companion, in a virtual 3D environment.

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When you’re not on a ride (or standing in line for a ride) there’s a lot to keep you entertained at Disneyland – there are countless live performances, from barber shop quartets in Disneyland’s New Orleans area, to a group of Alice in Wonderland characters performing Abba covers in Hollywood Land.

If you’re in California Adventure Park, do head over to the Animation Academy – you can take part in a hands-on session where you’ll learn to draw popular Disney characters – completely brilliant, and Flea loved it.

Disney California feels considerably less commercial than the Florida park – there’s less space, for starters. But there are still plenty of options for shoppers – my favourite purchase won’t keep long, sadly, but is a loaf of bread baked in the shape of Mickey’s head. Best. Toast. Ever.

Another difference I really noticed was in the food on park – yes, there are hot dogs and popcorn, but all of the food stalls we saw also had a wide range of fresh fruit and healthy snacks – you can pick up apples, bananas, peaches – or why not try houmous and veggies or a delicious frozen pineapple sorbet (called the Dole Whip) that’s a healthier alternative to ice cream?

The 60th anniversary parade is genuinely spectacular, and we loved seeing all the characters lit up, with the music and the lights and the 50,000 small girls dressed as princesses…but if you’ve seen it before, then this is the perfect time to get in line for the really popular rides.

The end of the night fireworks are a lovely way to round off a visit – although getting a good spot to watch is something of an art, and the Disney staff are ruthless in keeping people moving if they’re not in a designated viewing area. Our advice? Head for Main Street and bag a spot next to a bin – once the fireworks start, you can pop your small person on top of it for a great view 🙂

The fun doesn’t stop when the fireworks end (they’re at 9pm) – the park is open until midnight during summer and we noticed as a lot of tourists leave, the locals arrive for the evening, changing the vibe considerably – Disneyland is still a lot of fun after dark, and some rides (Splash Mountain) are even more fun in the dark – not to mention the standing in line is easier without the heat of the sun!

Disneyland California Top Tips

  • Do the busy rides earlier in the day if you can. We arrived at 9am and the car park we were in was less than a quarter full.
  • You can only have one Fastpass at a time – per park. So you can hold a Fastpass for both Disneyland and California Adventure, meaning you get to go on more rides, more quickly.
  • Get a coffee fix at Starbucks, on the right hand side of Main St as you enter the park. Need a beer? There’s no alcohol at Disneyland, but you can find it all over in California Adventure.
  • Plan to stand in line during hot days – ensure you have plenty of water, in refillable bottles, and don’t forget hats and sunscreen.
  • A fully charged phone with a back-up power block loaded with a game you can play as a group (we recommend Heads Up) will make that time in line go a LOT faster.
  • The parks are open until midnight in summer but don’t expect kids to keep up the pace all day – once it hit 3pm, we saw kids wiped out asleep EVERYWHERE – it’s hot, it’s tiring and it’s a lot to ask of kids to keep up. You can leave the park (and the parking lot) for a break during the day and come back without needing to pay for admission or parking again.
  • Hungry? The hand-dipped corn dogs on Main St are rightly famous, and can be found in Frontierland at the Stage Door Café. Head to the  Tiki cafe in Frontierland for Dole Whip, and the best churros are to be found in California Adventure (along with the beer).
  • If you’ve got Cars fans in the family, make sure to go to California Adventure around lunchtime, and pick up Fastpass tickets with an evening return time for Radiator Springs Racers – this is a fabulous ride at any time of day, but at night it’s properly got the WOW factor. You won’t regret waiting!

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.

10 Comments

  1. 21st August 2015 / 5:40 pm

    We were at Disneyland and California Adventure in May. The parks were operating much shorter opening hours (and parades and fireworks at the weekends only), but we managed to cover everything we wanted to do in two days. Having only been to Disney World prior to this, I quite liked the smaller feel of Disneyland. I loved Cars and Toy Story Midway Mania at DCA. Cars Land looks great, but they could do with a couple more big draw rides to ease the congestion of radiator springs racers.
    Chloe (Sorry About The Mess) recently posted..The Science Museum with Young Children | Summer Holiday FunMy Profile

    • 21st August 2015 / 7:30 pm

      Yes, the hours are a lot longer in summer – although I’m not sure how many younger kids could take the pace from 8am to midnight! You’re right, Cars and Toy Story are both fab, glad you guys had a good time 🙂

    • 1st September 2015 / 10:04 am

      I’m 40 and I love Mickey bread.

  2. 23rd August 2015 / 10:17 am

    Great tips and good to know that there are also healthy food options available since those are often difficult for us to find at most places. I loved going to Disneyland growing up and cannot wait to bring my toddler son there! He’s a Cars fan and would love the Radiator Springs ride. I’m from San Diego and have been enjoying following your California road trip!
    Cindy recently posted..A Day Out at ZSL Whipsnade ZooMy Profile

    • 1st September 2015 / 10:04 am

      Thanks Cindy, we loved the Cars area, it’s especially beautiful at night.

  3. 24th August 2015 / 6:37 pm

    Some very useful tips, as expected by you anyway 😉 We have not been to any Disney World yet, and to be honest we have a big dilemma as the age gap between Isabelle and Olivia is almost 5 years… Hubby has been told by a few people who have visited Paris and Florida not to bother with Paris as expensive and not that much to do…. Your trip spuds great though!
    Mirka Moore @Fitness4Mamas @Kahanka recently posted..Make Getting Ready for School a BreezeMy Profile

    • 1st September 2015 / 10:03 am

      Oh, I disagree on Paris – I found it great, and the slightly smaller size makes it do-able in a weekend whereas Florida can be overwhelming and the heat in summer would be exhausting for younger children, I think.

  4. 11th September 2015 / 9:35 pm

    I love Disneyland I have been to Florida and Paris but never California, it sounds great and tons of fun. My daughter loves space mountain too and would spend most of the day on that ride if I let her. Wow mickey mouse shaped bread sounds amazing , I probably would have brought some myself x
    Lindsay @ Newcastle Family Life recently posted..Slimming World : Week 19My Profile

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