Southern California is better known for beach weather in December than its white Christmases. But Disneyland Resort turns into a winter wonderland during the annual Season to Sparkle. Classic attractions take on a whole different feeling, including Sleeping Beauty Castle, where snow caps its tower and 80,000 lights sparkle like icicles. It’s A Small World features a spectacular light show and a holiday song medley, and parade characters don plenty of red and white.
The resort gets tricked up for Halloween, too, as Main Street, U.S.A. is transformed into a Pumpkin Festival with scores of hand-carved Jack O’ Lanterns. Prepare to get spooked at the Haunted Mansion, draped in black for the ghostly-ghastly holiday. Frontierland has a cultural spin, displaying traditional skeletons to commemorate Mexico’s annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). After dark, let the little ones come in costume (you can too) to join special dance parties and photo ops with classic Disney villains, and of course enjoy treats, during Mickey’s Halloween Party (offered on select evenings in September and October).
The undisputed granddaddy of theme parks has been leading the way since 1955, inviting visitors to spend the day in the ultimate land of make-believe, Disneyland Resort. This beloved Anaheim institution serves up vintage icons like the Matterhorn Bobsleds as well as new innovations, like laser lights and soaring fountains in the nightly show World of Color, or mystical mouse antics in Mickey and the Magical Map. The resort, which consists of the original Disneyland Park and the adjacent Disney California Adventure Park, has themed “lands” with related rides, shows, and attractions.
Keep your free map handy to make sure you’re heading where you want to go (with all the different “lands” and activities it’s easy to get a bit disoriented). Once you get in, reduce wait time in lines by using the resort’s Fast Pass system (use your ticket to book a dedicated time later in the day). And download the free Disneyland Wait Time app to know where to head next for shortest lines.
To make the most of your time here, stay at one of the resort’s three on-site hotels, which extend the Disney ambience through themed décor and character breakfasts—and which also offer guests Extra Magic Hours, a one-hour head start to the theme park rides on select mornings.
Walking along the vintage American streetscape of Main Street, U.S.A., with the towers of Sleeping Beauty Castle rising in the distance—well, you know you’re in for something amazing.
Stroll along Main Street, U.S.A., the welcome mat to Disneyland Park, to see Walt Disney’s whimsical brilliance and use of fantasy rooted in reality. Shop names and building designs allude to his own past, or that of other Disneyland “imagineers.” For example, Hotel Marceline is named after the small town in Missouri where Disney spent part of his youth. Period photos of Fort Collins, provided by Disney imagineer Harper Goff, who grew up in the Colorado town, helped inspire the design of some buildings.Sleeping Beauty Castle has a more direct inspiration. It’s based on a 19th-century Bavarian castle in Neuschwanstein, Germany. Although the drawbridge to the Disneyland castle actually works, it has only been lowered twice: when the park opened in 1955 and for the 1983 rededication of Fantasyland, which is entered by passing through the castle archway.
Rev up for retro fun in at Cars Land, the star attraction in Disney California Adventure Park. This colourful high-octane “land” recreates the world of Radiator Springs from the Cars animated movie series. The tongue-in-cheek nod to Route 66 icons include comfort foods at Flo’s V8 Café, the Cozy Cone Motel, and the colourful rocky outcroppings and Southwest landscapes of the Cadillac Range.
Of course, what would a trip to Cars Land be without a road trip? So buckle up for the ride of your life on the Radiator Springs Racers, where you’ll come grill-to-grill with Lightning McQueen, Doc Hudson, and other favourite characters from the movie. And at Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, take a hoedown-style spin on dancing tractors.
While Cars Land grabs much of the spotlight in Disney California Adventure Park, there are plenty of other amazing attractions in this part of the resort. A ride that ranks as one of the resort’s biggest crowd pleasers is Soarin’ Over California in Grizzly Peak Airfield. Strap yourself into simulated hang gliders to swoop through the air and get bird’s-eye views of ships sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, waterfalls tumbling at Yosemite National Park, golfers taking swings at PGA West near Palm Springs, and other California classics. You even get a spritz of orange scent as you “fly” over deep green orange groves.
Next up (and preferably when it’s hot out), get the thrill of a whitewater rafting trip in the Sierra Nevada with a splash-and-douse ride down the Grizzly River Run. Board a giant coaster and take a spin on the enormous Mickey’s Fun Wheel Ferris wheel ride at Paradise Pier, built to resemble an oceanfront boardwalk. Ride a clanging *streetcar along Buena Vista Street, a carefully recreated homage to a Los Angeles neighbourhood circa 1923, when young Walt Disney first arrived from Missouri. Have fresh-made chocolates or hand-dipped caramel apples at Trolley Treats, or—if you’re a grown-up—a retro Manhattan in the stylish bar at Carthay Circle, also serving classy fare by Chef Andrew Sutton in a swanky setting that feels like a vintage Hollywood supper club.
After dark, watch World of Color light up, or pump it up at the nightly dance jam at the Mad T Party, inspired by Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland film.
From glimpses of the future at Tomorrowland to the rustic world of Frontierland, the scenery changes quickly in the Magic Kingdom. Take a swashbuckling cruise (and look for Johnny Depp as a devilish Captain Jack Sparrow) on the raucous Pirates of the Caribbean ride, then step outside to smell of fresh beignets at New Orleans Square. It’s a quick walk to Fantasyland, where little ones can catch a ride on an elephant on the classic Dumbo ride, and pint-size princesses wait with wild-eyed anticipation to meet Elsa, Ariel, Belle, and other classic Disney heroines. Make sure your youngsters are light-saber ready for any adventures by signing them up for Jedi Training Academy. Travel into the deep and see Dory and the gang on the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage , or zap your opponents with lasers in Toy Story-inspired Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. For more galactic explorations, blast off on Space Mountain.
With fire, water, and lasers, this nightly extravaganza at Paradise Pier in Disney California Adventure is a definite dazzler. Disney characters materialize on an immense “screen,” created by projecting film clips on the misty spray generated by 1,200 fountains shooting 200 feet/61 metres into the night sky. To commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Disneyland Resort, an all-new, special edition of “World of Color” illuminates the night in a glittering, contemporary celebration of the colorful world of Walt Disney, whose pioneering vision brought to life Disneyland, Mickey Mouse and a treasury of films and characters. Note: If you sit close to the harbour you might get soaked; ask Disney personnel where to sit if you want to be out of the spray zone.
To really feel like you’re part of the production, splurge on Glow with the Show Ear Hats. These high-tech Mickey Mouse ears have computer chips that make the ears change colour and flash in unison with the show and all the other ears throughout the show.
Everyone loves a parade, and Mickey Mouse seems pretty fond of them too. When the lights go down in Disneyland, the Diamond Celebration illuminates the park with a brilliant, new parade. The luminescent parade creates a river of color flowing down Main Street, U.S.A., with an array of Disney characters and more than 1.5 million brilliant LED lights that flash and glow as Mickey Mouse uses his vivid imagination to “Paint the Night.” With dazzling special effects, unforgettable music, energetic performances, fun surprises and spectacular floats, “Paint the Night” is more vibrant than any parade in 60 years at the Disneyland Resort. Even the choreography glows, as parade performers light up with their props and costumes. At Disney California Adventure Park, the Pixar Play Parade features favourites from Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and A Bug’s Life in a procession with acrobats and puppeteers. Other parades light up the calendar, especially during the holidays. Visitors often line up for prime viewing in advance; keep your park guide handy to make sure you’re at the right spot when parades begin.
If it’s time for a break from the inevitable walking around the resort, kick back with a live show. Favourites include Disney’s Aladdin—A Musical Spectacular, a surprisingly good Broadway-style production staged in the Hyperion Theater, in California Adventure Park. Outside on Buena Vista Street, see a hyper-athletic song-and-dance routine by the Red Car Trolley News Boys, or get your bee-bop on with the Five and Dime jazz ensemble.
For another post-sunset spectacle, keep an eye out for the fireworks that illuminate the sky above Sleeping Beauty Castle. Starring some of your favourite Disney characters and set to classic Disney tunes, it’s definitely a show you don’t want to miss. And with different shows throughout the year – from the patriotic Fourth of July show to the hauntingly fun Halloween Screams – you’re in for a spectacular treat year-round. (Fireworks are seasonal and subject to change without notice.)
Open-air cafes, street musicians, sparkling boutiques, and soaring temples to everything Disney—this tempting pedestrian zone aims to be as must-see as the resort. If you’re hungry when you get here, you won’t be for long: find creative and delicious dishes at born-in-California favourites like La Brea Bakery Café (the outdoor seating under leafy trees is particularly nice). Feel like you’re relaxing on an Italian piazza at Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria. Or bump it up a notch with contemporary Mediterranean cuisine at Catal, created by Los Angeles area chef-restaurateur Joachim Splichal.
There’s also plenty of live music. Leading reggae, Latin, and rock artists play nightly at the House of Blues Stage, while New Orleans-inspired music is the main course at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen. Load up on gifts at the World of Disney shop, or browse big-name stores such as Quiksilver.
Insider tip: You don’t have to have a ticket to Disneyland to visit Downtown Disney (admission is free). Plus parking is free for up to five hours with validation from participating locations.
Disneyland Resort is undeniably magical—and that’s part of its charm. Butunderstanding how the magic is made can be entertaining too. You can getsneak peeks and learn some fun anecdotes on the resort’s cool tours.
Perfect for first timers or for veteran Disneyland-ers who want to bone up oncool trivia, the Welcome to Disneyland Tour provides a thorough introductionto both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park—plus there areplenty of anecdotes to make you feel in the know.
In Disneyland Park, the Walk In Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps tour offers anintimate perspective and opportunity to experience attractions significantto Walt’s past, in addition to those that connect with Walt’s verypersonal vision. Personal VIP tours are also available, and the specializedStar Wars at Disneyland tour offers a Jedi’s-view perspective of theresort’s many attractions related to the saga.
Your trip begins in California’s largest city. L.A. has nonstop action and things to do, but it can be a challenge to navigate, so planning your trip in advance is a big plus. Start in the coastal city of Santa Monica, with a wide, uncrowded beach, a signature pier topped by carnival rides and...
Famous for their giant sequoias, soaring mountains, deep canyons, and roaring rivers, this tandem set of parks have plenty to see, even though they are less well known than Yosemite, roughly 75 miles/120 kilometres north. Within the borders of Sequoia & Kings Canyon are Mount Whitney, the...
For a break from walking, board the iconic Disneyland Monorail. Futuristic when it debuted in 1959, the ride still feels surprisingly modern. Offering great views from an elevated rail, the Monorail covers a 2½-mile/4-km loop in 13 minutes.
For a very different train experience, the steam-powered Disneyland Railroad circles the park in 18 minutes, with stops at such destinations as Tomorrowland and Mickey’s Toontown. One of the five vintage narrow-gauge trains is named for Ward Kimball, a legendary studio animator and fellow train buff of Walt Disney.
In the Magic Kingdom, you can also ride down Main Street, U.S.A. between Sleeping Beauty Castle and Town Square on old-fashioned streetcars, jitneys, and fire engines, pulled by handsome draft horses. At Disney California Adventure Park, all-electric Red Car Trolleys, like the ones that used to operate in Southern California, travel to four stops along Buena Vista Street.
Stretch the fantasies even longer by staying at one of the resort’s onsite hotels. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa aims to replicate the soaring wood-and-stone styling of The Ahwahnee in Yosemite Valley. The central great room, with cushy oversize Craftsman-style chairs and a soaring stone fireplace, and live piano music, is a fantastic lace to relax after a long day in the park. (Non-guests are welcome to dine and enjoy the lounges, too.) The guests-only pool feels like an exclusive party, with poolside drinks and plenty of lounge chairs and fluffy towels, and enough room for kids and grownups to enjoy themselves. By appointment, the full-service spa is open to all (appointments required).
For a sleek, retro-modern getaway, book a stay at the nearby Disneyland Hotel, which inevitably gets kids smiling with whimsically themed suites, including clever touches like light-up Sleeping Beauty Castle headboards. The Monorail Pool, with two towering watersides, is wildly popular; for a quieter retreat, relax in a plush chaise at the adjacent E-Ticket or D-Ticket pools.
Paradise Pier Hotel captures the spirit of an old-fashioned beach boardwalk, with rooms tricked up to look like you’re holidaying on the shore. Most popular spot? Check out the complex of rooftop pools and waterslides and we’ll let you guess.