How to Plan a Trip to Disneyland

a close up of a flower garden in front of a building

With just two parks and an array of hotels, most within walking distance, Disneyland is arguably easier to visit than its Florida counterpart and can be an ideal add-on to your Southern California vacation—or a destination unto itself.

Whether you’re just popping in for the day or are planning an extended visit, here’s all the must-have info you need to plan your trip.

All About the Parks

Disneyland Resort is made up of two theme parks, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure.

If you only have one day to visit, spend it at Disneyland Park. This is where you’ll find classic attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, Matterhorn Bobsleds, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (yes, the one about the drunk-driving toad who winds up in hell). Make a point to see Mickey’s Soundsational Parade, which runs twice each afternoon and features Mickey Mouse playing a full drum kit on the lead float.

A huge draw for years to come will be Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a brand new, 14-acre expansion dedicated to the franchise in a galaxy far, far away. Live out all your Star Wars fantasies here by stepping into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon to make a supply run with some assistance from Chewbacca, sipping on blue milk in the marketplace at Black Spire Outpost (it’s a non-dairy blend of rice and coconut milk with pineapple, dragon fruit, and watermelon that can be an acquired taste), or bellying up to the bar at Oga’s Cantina while DJ R-3X spins some intergalactic tunes.

a car parked on the side of a building: Cars Land, in Disney California Adventure

One of California Adventure’s must-do attractions, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout, is a new take on an old favorite. Disneyland re-themed the Tower of Terror to the Marvel film, giving it a fantastic soundtrack (you never know what you’ll hear, but options include Pat Benatar, Elvis Presley, Parliament, and The Jackson 5) and pushing the ride’s mechanics to their limit, so you feel like you’re a yo-yo on a string in the best way possible.

If that sounds a little too intense, take a break with Frozen – Live at the Hyperion, an hour-long musical retelling of that story about the two sisters from Arendelle.

Whatever you do, plan to end your evening at Disney California Adventure with World of Color, a spellbinding show that features nearly 1,200 colorful fountains, projections on screens of mist, pyrotechnics, and, of course, classic Disney songs and characters.

Because Disneyland’s attendance base is largely Southern California locals, crowds are often lower when Annual Passholders are blocked from entry, which includes many weekends and large portions of the summer months. Compare your travel dates to Disneyland’s calendar for the Southern California Select and Deluxe pass options before booking.

Disneyland’s two parks are connected by an esplanade that also links with Downtown Disney, a shopping and dining complex that includes the kind of diversions you don’t expect to see at a theme park. Highlights here include Ballast Point, Disneyland’s first onsite brewery, and Salt & Straw, for their unique seasonal flavors of small-batch ice cream like buttermilk pancakes or mushroom muddy buddies. From Downtown Disney, hop aboard the Disneyland Monorail (a valid park ticket is required) for a different sort of park tour and easy access to Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, where you’ll find Space Mountain.

World of Color features some 1,200 fountains, plus pyrotechnics and music

Prices for single-day tickets vary depending on the time of year and day of the week for your visit, and range from $104 to $149 for adults and $98 to $141 for children ages three to nine. The lowest prices are found on weekdays in January, February, and May, while the summer months and spring break in mid-April are the priciest. Multi-day tickets are cheaper the longer you stay, down to $68 per day on a five-day visit, which can be used over 13 days.

If this is your first visit and you only have one day, stick to Disneyland Park for the classic experience. The park has roughly double the number of attractions compared to Disney California Adventure, so there’s plenty to fill your day. For multi-day trips, opt for park hopper tickets, which add an extra $55 to your total cost. Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure are so close together—it’s just about 100 steps from gate to gate—that it’s easy to cover a lot of ground. If you move quick, you can even catch both park’s nighttime spectaculars in one evening.

Splurge $15 per day to add Disneyland’s MaxPass service, which offers digital booking of many of the most popular rides and attractions in the parks. Disneyland still has a free paper-based FastPass system, but MaxPass saves you from hustling across the park and keeping track of paper tickets. MaxPass also includes PhotoPass downloads from in-park photographers and onboard ride photos—the kind you usually have to shell out extra to get. Tip: When you see your photo displayed at an attraction’s exit, snap a quick photo with your smartphone to capture the 8-character code on top of the image. You’ll need to enter it in the Disneyland app to link the photo to your account.

Deciding Where to Stay

Disneyland has three onsite resort hotels,

, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel—that offer guests entry to the theme parks an hour before the public each day. The Grand Californian even has its own entrance to Disney California Adventure that allows guests to bypass potentially long lines at the security checkpoint and turnstiles. (We recommend using this backdoor to the park to fulfill your late-night Dole Whip cravings and be back in bed, treat in hand, in 20 minutes flat.)

All three onsite hotels are located within a few minutes’ walk to the park gates, making it easy to pop back over for nap time or to grab a sweatshirt for chilly SoCal evenings. You pay for that convenience—rates start at $339 at Paradise Pier and $586 at the Grand Californian—so keep an eye on this page for seasonal specials.

There’s also a wide range of hotels just across the street, many within easy walking distance of the park gate or along the Anaheim Resort Transportation bus line. If the benefit of early entry is important for you to maximize your park time or you’re planning a Disneyland trip for a special occasion, onsite is the way to go. But with many offsite hotels often at least $100 less per night than Disneyland’s most affordable room, you’ll find significant savings by broadening your search. More options are on the way: Westin plans to open a hotel connected to the Anaheim Convention Center in summer 2020.

Pixar Pier, in Disney California Adventure

There’s no shortage of choices when it comes to dining, whether you’re looking for a high-end meal or a snack to eat while dashing to your next ride.

Napa Rose at Disney’s Grand Californian features an impressive wine program with a 17,000-bottle cellar and more than 1,000 labels. The menu changes seasonally and offers entrees like braised lamb or smoked pork chops with a cherry orange sauce, all with expertly selected wine pairings.

Lamplight Lounge at Disney California Adventure wins points not just for its waterfront location, fan-favorite lobster nachos, or sugar-dusted miniature donuts that come with a pair of raspberry and chocolate dipping sauces. The theming and decor is on point and gives a glimpse into the animation process for a number of Pixar’s films.

If you’re more in the mood for fried pickles and ranch (no disrespect), head to Carnation Cafe on Main Street, U.S.A. in Disneyland Park, where the menu also features Walt’s favorite chili and meatloaf.

When it’s snack time, you can’t go wrong with a Dole Whip—our current favorites are the pineapple-raspberry swirl at The Tropical Hideaway or the Pixar Pier Frosty Parfait at Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats, which layers lemon soft serve with blue raspberry slush. Disneyland is constantly rolling out a parade of new churro flavors. Try the Caliente Churro from Senor Buzz Churros on Pixar Pier for a zippier take on cinnamon sugar.

Take advantage of the mobile ordering feature in the Disneyland app to pre-order your meals and avoid standing in line. Select your arrival window in advance for popular locations like Ronto’s Roaster in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, where we recommend trying the Ronto Wrap, a grilled sausage with sliced roasted pork, slaw, and a creamy peppercorn sauce.

Alcohol is not served at Disneyland Park, with the exception of Oga’s Cantina in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Club 33, a members-only restaurant and lounge. Those wanting to enjoy an adult beverage more freely in the parks will have to cross the esplanade to Disney California Adventure.

Special Events to Consider

Disneyland has a number of annual events to fill the calendar. The Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival runs for about two months each spring and features cooking demos, wine tastings, and more than a dozen booths featuring appetizer-sized portions of California-inspired cuisine, as well as cocktails, beer, and wine.

Lunar New Year brings a big celebration to Disney California Adventure with a special parade and Asian-inspired food and drink, like mandarin orange green tea tarts (Mickey-shaped, of course) and a winter plum blossom gin mule. But our favorite feature is the wishing wall that invites visitors to leave a message of hope, health, and happiness for the coming year.

For the first time in 2019, Disneyland is moving its Halloween celebration to Disney California Adventure. Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party is a special ticketed event (meaning the park will close early to other guests) on select nights in September and October.

The holiday season brings a number of special events and attractions to both parks. Our favorite is Haunted Mansion Holiday, which brings a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay to the Haunted Mansion that completely transforms the classic attraction. It’s a Small World also gets a special treatment with a medley of holiday tunes. Whatever you do, don’t miss the Christmas Fantasy Parade, with its classic toy soldiers marching down Main Street, U.S.A. Unlike at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, the holiday parade and fireworks are included in regular park admission. Now that’s really magical.

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