As a native Californian, I’m no stranger to Disneyland. In fact, it’s the place that I’ve celebrated many birthdays, graduations and of course, each year of our dating anniversary (ten consecutive years!). And with each visit, I pick up a few new tricks that come in handy for future visits. I’ve actually never shared any of these on the blog but since it’s been a highly requested question as of late, I thought I’d share today 🙂 All of these tips are from my personal experience. Below, I share my exact planning process, my must-do’s (rides, attractions, food, etc) along with my best Disneyland tips.
When To Go
In regards to our dating anniversary, we always go on whatever day it falls on because my husband loves to celebrate on the actual date 🙂 For any other visit, however, I prefer Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Our anniversary is during the second week of November and we have never had an issues with extreme crowding during that time. Most months are usually okay crowd-wise if you go during the week, but summer can be a bit crazy…and by crazy, I mean extremely crowded, hot and humid.
I will also say that May is very crowded as well, no matter when you go. At the beginning, we used to celebrate our wedding anniversary (which is mid-May) at Disney as well but after a few years, we couldn’t handle it anymore. This is because May is a popular time for students. The park is flooded with schools that are taking their end-of-the-year trips, grad nights for various age groups, competitions for bands, choirs, cheerleading and dance along with religious groups, Boy/Girl Scout troops and the like. If you are going during this time, I highly recommend checking out the Disneyland site to see what types of events will be held in the park on your preferred dates.
Also keep in mind that peak days days cost more than other dates to go – these typically include Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays along with other busy times of the year.
Dates to Avoid
Most holidays, especially Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years (for obvious reasons). With that being said, I highly recommend checking out Disney earlier during the Christmas season as it’s decorated so beautifully!
Time of Day
I highly recommend getting to the park as early as possible! Both Disneyland and California Adventure open at 8am, I believe but this might vary throughout the year so be sure to check the website. And when I say early, I mean early. I would set aside 45 minutes to park, go through security and make your way to the park along with buying tickets if you haven’t already. Being there early means that you can take advantage of smaller wait times, get access to fast passes for the best rides before they sell out (because they do) and ample photos opportunities without hoards of people present (in front of the famed Sleeping Beauty Castle, the Mickey Wheel or any of the other popular photo spots). In my experience, it tends to get more crowded in the afternoons and evenings. I feel like this is usually when locals or annual passport holders come to enjoy the park.
What to Wear/Bring
My biggest advice would be to dress in layers if you are staying all day and won’t be leaving the park(s). It’s usually warm during the day and cooler at night. For summer, I recommend a shorts and loose tee combo or a flowy sundress with a light layer such a cardigan or pullover. For spring and fall, I recommend jeans with a short sleeve or lighter long sleeve and thick cardigan and light jacket/coat (my fluffy white one is perfect!). For winter, I recommend jeans with a long sleeve and a thicker layer such as a coat.
I also HIGHLY recommend wearing sneakers of some sort, especially if you are visiting both parks. You will be running around everywhere and everything is spread out. Flats are doable, but I always ended up with sore feet. I switched to my Nike’s (I’m obsessed with these!) and it made the biggest difference! I personally like to bring backpack instead of a handbag just because it’s easier to lug everything around. This pretty blush one is from Grafea and it’s gorgeous and functional! Here are a few things I stash in my bag:
- Water Bottles (I bring as many as I can fit – usually 2-3)
- Mini SPF
- Lipstick or Lip Gloss (I usually prefer a stain for minimal application)
- Compact Mirror (for touch ups)
- Cards, Cash and ID (most places accept card, but you never know 😉 )
- Phone and Portable Charger (MUST HAVE if you are constantly posting photos/stories like me haha!)
- Mickey Ears (also a must-have lol! – I am obsessed with my rose gold ones because not only are they gorgeous but they go with everything. I got them a few years ago right when they launched!)
- Mini Deodorant (because I like to stay fresh in the humidity ha!)
- Mini Hairbrush and Hair Ties (my hair becomes a tangled mess on the rides)
- Hand Sanitizer
- Small Snacks (granola bars, etc)
What To Do
Check the Disneyland site before you depart for up to date info on potential ride/attraction closures. If you are able to, I highly recommend buying tickets online ahead of time as well so you can skip the line and go straight to the entrance.
Plan Out Your Day
You can find info about various rides, attractions, etc on the website so make a note of things that you absolutely must do and see! This is especially important if you are visiting bth park on the same day.
Download the Disneyland App
This is my savior! You can find all kinds of info on here about the park and keep everything together for your account (tickets, passes, etc) but I mainly use it to check out wait times for various rides. When I’m standing in line for one ride, I’m already scouring the map to see which nearby rides on my list have the least amount of wait time.
Utilize Fast Passes
Fast passes don’t cost anything. They are just another fun perk that makes your experience that much more enjoyable. I highly recommend getting fast passes for the most popular rides (more on that below). You can get multiple fast passes a day, but you have to wait a couple of hours from the time you receive your initial fast pass. For example, if I get a fast pass at noon, I won’t be able to get another until the time specified on the pass (let’s say 2pm).
Must-See Rides and Attractions
(FP* indicates recommendation for Fast Pass as it’s a popular ride/attraction with a seal of * to *** with *** meaning most popular)
Downtown Disney Store – This is a HUGE store full of every single piece of Disney merchandise you can imagine. Come here to have your pick of a million different style Mickey ears and to shop for clothing, home goods and other souvenirs. We always end up getting a Christmas ornament 🙂
FP*** Space Mountain (Tomorrowland) – The coolest rollercoaster you will ever experience as it seems like you are flying through a galaxy! For some reason, my husband will actually ride this one because it’s indoors (I know lol).
Pirates of the Caribbean (New Orleans Square) – Such a fun and cheeky ride as you experience first hand what its like to be a pirate 😉 There is no Fast Pass available for this one but the lines tends to move fairly quickly.
FP* Haunted Mansion (New Orleans Square) – We always enjoy this ride, especially during the holidays. From Halloween to Christmas, it’s themed as The Nightmare Before Christmas which is just so much fun!
FP*** Indiana Jones (Adventureland) – A very fun and popular ride, although very shaky so I wouldn’t riding if you have any type of back/neck problem or the like. This one also always seems to be shut down when we attend so I recommend checking the site to see if it’s open. If so, be sure to grab a fast pass because the line for this one can get pretty long!
FP** Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Frontierland) – So much smoother since they redid the track! It’s a fun themed rollercoaster that showcases especially gorgeous scenery around sunset.
FP*** Splash Mountain – This is definitely more popular during the summer and the line can get longgggg. We don’t usually have time to ride it but it is a lot of fun!
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle – Most people don’t realize this but you can actually walk through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle! It’s really cute and perfect for the little ones 🙂
Fireworks – The fireworks show usually starts around 9:30pm and I ALWAYS make my husband stay for it because I don’t believe there’s anything more magical than fireworks.
FP*** Radiator Springs Racers (Cars Land) – one of my favorite rides and apparently, everyone elses too! The wait time is usually fairly long (I’ve seen it up to three hours!) so I highly recommend getting a Fast Pass for this one. They usually sell out within a few hours so this is the very first thing my husband and I do when we get to the park. We usually end up riding it at sunset too which is just so beautiful!
FP** Guardians of the Galaxy (Hollywood Land) – Another fave! This is definitely more for thrill seekers as it’s a free fall ride, but it’s actually really enjoyable too!
Sorcerer’s Workshop/ Animation Academy/ Turtle Talk (Hollywood Land) – I always love popping in here for a quick art lesson, a few laughs with Crush and a hands on experience in the Beauty and the Beast Library.
Frozen – Live (Hollywood Land) – If you love Frozen and you love musicals, this is for you! Its a feature length live performance of one of Disney’s most famed movies.
FP*** Soarin’ Around the World (Grizzly Peak) – This used to be Soarin’ Over California, but that have since changed the locations from local to international. One of the most awe-inspiring and relaxing rides you’ll ever take!
FP* Grizzly River Run (Grizzly Peak) – perfect for the summertime humidity …although many of others think the same so the line might be a bit long (in that case, get a Fast Pass if you it’s a must do!) 😉 I think this one is so much fun, but my husband never wants to ride it because he doesn’t want to get wet haha!
FP* Incredicoaster (Pixar Pier) – One of my faves because I’m a self-proclaimed roller coaster enthusiast. This is one of the smoothest roller coasters out there so no worries about being sore afterwards. My husband doesn’t like outdoor rollercoasters (more on that later) so I usually ride this alone and bypass the regular line by being a single rider.
FP*** Toy Story Midway Mania (Pixar Pier) – We usually ride this first just because the line gets soooooo long. It’s a popular ride for good reason as you get to challenge your partner in a competitive match of 3D games.
*Pro Tip: Check the map/schedule for parade and event showtimes. Avoid those areas if possible! It gets very congested and can make it difficult to get from part of the park to the other.
Where to Eat
Blue Bayou – This is the restaurant location inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The atmosphere is dark and romantic with candle lit tables and hanging overhead string lights. The food is amazing as well, but quite pricey compared to other places in the park. I also recommend getting reservations a few weeks in advance as spots can fill up fast. You can’t usually pick where you sit but if you are able to request, definitely pick a table by the water 😉
Gibson Girl Parlor – the most adorable ice cream parlor ever located on Main Street, U.S.A! And the ice cream is pretty delicious too 😉
Dole Whip/Dole Whip Float – located right near the Tiki Room towards Adventureland. The line is always long but it’s worth it!!
Refreshment Corner – amazing corn dogs and even more amazing pretzels! We get a jalepeno cream cheese pretzel (with nacho cheese) during each visit. It’s non-negotiable haha! Located on Main Street, U.S.A.
Candy Palace – right next to Refreshment Corner, this little shop boasts sweets from floor to ceiling along with yummy baked goods such as cupcakes, cookies, macarons, and fudge.
Jolly Holliday Bakery Cafe – another non-negotiable. We usually go here in the evenings for the yummiest grilled cheese and tomato soup and a little bit of firework watching 😉 Located right next to Refreshment Corner on Main Street, U.S.A.
Churros – you can get these at either park and they are probably one of the most popular snacks. My hubby loves them!!
Award Weiners – located in the heart of Hollywood Land. This shop has a variety of different types of street-style hot dogs that are plain delicious!
Schmoozies – an adorable smoothie place located in Hollywood Land. Perfect for a light bite!
Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats – a cute little place as you enter Pixar Pier that has the best soft serve ice cream!
Baked Mac n Cheese – okay so I don’t know if this is a seasonal/holiday thing, but this was seriously the most decadent mac n cheese ever! I’m still dreaming about it and currently trying to find a recipe to recreate it haha! It was in a food truck behind the Grizzly River Rapids ride.
La Brea Bakery Cafe – I tend to eat a lot of sandwiches and salads when I travel and this restaurant has some really yummy choices! Definitely at the top of my list for Downtown Disney eateries (since my fave, House of Blues, is no longer here)
Jamba Juice – I’m also a smoothie lover and love to grab one of these when I need a quick bite but I’m not too hungry. When I’m traveling, I tend to go to places that I don’t have at home but there’s also something comforting about visiting a place that you frequent a lot
RIP – there were quite a few other options that I loved at Downtown Disney such as House of Blues, Rainforest Cafe and ESPN Zone, but those have since closed and will be making way for other things. They have also recently opened a few new eateries along with a bowling alley, but I haven’t had a chance to visit yet. Next time 😉
**Please note that these are only places that I’ve eaten at personally. There are SO many different places to eat and I actually recommend the smaller places within the parks (small shops, food carts, etc) over the larger restaurants.
I know this was a VERY loaded post but I hope that this post helps those of you that are planning a future visit! Be sure to save or Pin to refer to later on and share if you loved it! <3 For more travel posts, check this out!
Have you been to Disneyland? What tips would you add?
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