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.
The tallest building in Disney California Adventure Park houses a classic free-fall ride, but Guardians of the Galaxy–Mission: Breakout is also the home base for a distinct group of characters within Disneyland Resort: superheroes. The new Marvel Comics-themed ride, which debuted in May 2017, deftly combines a shriek-inducing drop with a pop music soundtrack and the cheeky characters of the Guardians of the Galaxy comic-book and movie series.
The 183-foot-high structure in the Hollywood Land section of the park used to be known as the Tower of Terror, which took riders into a haunted, Twilight Zone-themed adventure. But unlike its spooky predecessor, Mission: Breakout has an upbeat, even free-wheeling energy. (Even so, the ride is intense enough that it’s suggested for ages teen and up.)
The ride’s storyline follows Rocket (the mechanically minded raccoon Guardian) as he hatches a plan to liberate his fellow Guardians who have become trapped inside The Fortress, a museum of space creatures and oddities overseen by long-time comic-book villain The Collector.
As the ride begins, look for the various treasures in glass display cases that The Collector has already amassed in his bottom-floor museum—a rotating exhibit of Marvel-themed props and gizmos, like Chitauri blasters from the Guardians of the Galaxy series, or Asgardian weaponry of Thor or Avengers fame. Then, an elevator takes you up the tower, but as Rocket’s plan goes awry—in different ways—you end up in a freefall.
Fully experiencing Mission: Breakout, however, means riding it at least six times, since there are that many unique variations on Rocket’s escape scenarios—and each scenario gets its own catchy soundtrack (the Guardians’ leader, Star-Lord, has a passion for mixtapes). One ride experience might feature Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” and another, The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”
The ride’s debut ushers in California Adventure’s Summer of Heroes, when various Marvel characters—like Captain America and Spider-Man—will start making regular appearances around the park, including daily dramatic arrivals by Black Widow in an armoured Avengers vehicle. Year-round, the emerging Marvel area near Mission: Breakout will also feature “Awesome Dance Off” parties, where you can flaunt your moves and have meet-and-greets with characters like Groot, the lovable talking-tree Guardian.
Walking along the vintage American streetscape of Main Street, U.S.A., withthe towers of Sleeping Beauty Castle rising in the distance—well, you knowyou’re in for something amazing. Stroll along Main Street, U.S.A., thewelcome mat to Disneyland Park, to see Walt Disney’s whimsical brillianceand use of fantasy rooted in reality.Shop names and building designs allude to his own past, or that of otherDisneyland “imagineers.” For example, Hotel Marceline is named after thesmall town in Missouri where Disney spent part of his youth. Period photos ofFort Collins, provided by Disney imagineer Harper Goff, who grew up in theColorado town, helped inspire the design of some buildings.Sleeping Beauty Castle has a more direct inspiration. It’s based on a19th-century Bavarian castle in Neuschwanstein, Germany. (To check out the original, take Soarin’ Around the World, the virtual plane ride in neighbouring California Adventure that lets you zoom over a variety of iconic landmarks around the globe.) Although thedrawbridge to the Disneyland castle actually works, it has only been loweredtwice: when the park opened in 1955 and for the 1983 rededication ofFantasyland, 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 film 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 south-west landscapes of the Cadillac Range.
Of course, what would a trip to Cars Land be without a road trip? So fasten your seatbelt 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 film. 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 AdventurePark, there are plenty of other amazing attractions in this part of theresort. A ride that ranks as one of the resort’s biggest crowd pleasers isSoarin’ Round the World in Grizzly Peak Airfield. Strap yourself intosimulated hang gliders to swoop through the air and get bird’s-eye views oficonic locations around the globe, such as the Great Pyramids of Egypt,Sydney Harbour, and two places that inspired features in the Magic Kingdom:the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps and the “Sleeping Beauty” castle inBavaria.Next up (and preferably when it’s hot out), get the thrill of a whitewaterrafting trip in the Sierra Nevada with a splash-and-douse ride down theGrizzly River Run. Board a giant coaster and take a spin on the enormousMickey’s Fun Wheel Ferris wheel ride at Paradise Pier, built to resemble anoceanfront boardwalk. Ride a clanging streetcar along Buena Vista Street, acarefully recreated homage to a Los Angeles neighbourhood circa 1923, whenyoung Walt Disney first arrived from Missouri. Have fresh-made chocolates orhand-dipped caramel apples at Trolley Treats, or—if you’re a grown-up—aretro Manhattan in the stylish bar at Carthay Circle, also serving classyfare by Chef Andrew Sutton in a swanky setting that feels like a vintageHollywood supper club.After dark, watch World of Color, the enthralling light show staged in themisty fountains at the park’s Paradise Pier.
From glimpses of the future at Tomorrowland to the rustic world of Frontierland, the scenery changes quickly in the Disneyland Resort theme parks. 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 young children can catch a ride on an elephant on the classic Dumbo ride, and pint-sized princesses wait with wild-eyed anticipation to meet Elsa, Ariel, Belle and other classic Disney heroines.
Disney fans of all ages will find plenty of timeless cultural references: The classic rides here include tips of the hat to Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, and even The Wind in the Willows (Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, one of the park’s original rides, was loosely based on the children’s classic).
Make sure your youngsters are lightsaber ready for any adventures by signing them up for the 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 of World of Color 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 into the night sky. To commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Disneyland Resort, an all-new, special edition of “World of Colour” 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. Takethe Main Street Electrical Parade, which has returned after a 20-year absencefor a six-month run, featuring classic characters like Pinocchio, Snow White,and all seven dwarves.At Disney California Adventure Park, meanwhile, the Pixar Play Paradefeatures favourites from Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and A Bug’s Life in aprocession with acrobats and puppeteers. Other parades light up the calendar,especially during the seasonal holidays. Visitors often line up for prime viewing inadvance; keep your park guide handy to make sure you’re at the right spotwhen parades begin.If it’s time for a break from the inevitable walking around the resort,kick back with a live show. Favourites include Frozen: Live at the Hyperion, asurprisingly good Broadway-style production in California Adventure Parkstaged in the Hyperion Theatre, in California Adventure Park. Outside onBuena Vista Street, see a hyper-athletic song-and-dance routine by the RedCar Trolley News Boys, or get your bee-bop on with the Five and Dime jazzensemble.For another post-sunset spectacle, keep an eye out for the fireworks thatilluminate the sky above Sleeping Beauty Castle. Starring some of yourfavourite Disney characters and set to classic Disney tunes, it’s definitelya show you don’t want to miss. And with different shows throughout theyear—from the patriotic Fourth of July show to the hauntingly fun HalloweenScreams—you’re in for a spectacular treat year-round. (Fireworks areseasonal and subject to change without notice.)
Open-air cafes, street musicians, sparkling boutiques, and soaring temples to everything Disney this tempting pedestrian zone in Anaheim aims to be as must-see as the resort's two theme parks. 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. Save room for a stop at the branch of Sprinkles, the creative cupcake bakery credited with launching the cupcake craze. There’s also plenty of live entertainment: 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 Fossil or Build-a-Bear workshop. Frozen fans will love Anna & Elsa’s Boutique, where kids aged 3 to 15 can get makeovers (with hair, nails, and tiaras) to look like one of the movie’s heroines, or even a “snow-frosted” hairdo in the spirit of the movie’s happy-go-lucky snowman Olaf (just be sure to book your spot ahead of time). 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 specialisedStar Wars at Disneyland tour offers a Jedi’s-view perspective of theresort’s many attractions related to the saga.
Southern California is better known for beach weather in December than its white Christmases. But Disneyland Resort turns into a winter wonderland during the festive season.
Classic attractions take on a whole different feeling, including Sleeping Beauty Castle, where snow caps its tower and countless lights sparkle like icicles. It’s A Small World features a spectacular light show and a Christmas song medley, and parade characters don plenty of red and white. Even the parks’ culinary options get a holiday makeover, from the traditional tamales at the Rancho del Zocalo restaurant in Frontierland to the yule log cakes at the Plaza Inn on Main Street, U.S.A.
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).
Your trip begins in California’s largest city. LA has non-stop 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...
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For a break from walking, board the iconic Disneyland Monorail. Futuristic when it made its début in 1959, the ride still feels surprisingly modern. Offering great views from an elevated rail, the Monorail covers a 2½-mile loop in 13 minutes. But it's not theonly way to get around at Disneyland Resort.
For a very different train experience, the steam-powered Disneyland Railroad circles the park in 18 minutes, with stops at destinations such 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 trams, 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 onsitehotels. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa aims to replicate thesoaring wood-and-stone styling of The Majestic Yosemite Hotel in YosemiteValley. The central great room, with cushy oversize Craftsman-style chairs, asoaring stone fireplace, and live piano music, is a fantastic place to relaxafter a long day in the park. (Non-guests are welcome to dine and enjoy thelounges, too.) The guests-only pool feels like an exclusive party, withpoolside drinks and plenty of lounge chairs and fluffy towels, and enoughroom for kids and grownups to enjoy themselves. By appointment, thefull-service spa is open to all (appointments required).For a sleek, retro-modern getaway, book a stay at the nearby DisneylandHotel, which also offers whimsically themed accommodations, like the MickeyMouse Penthouse or the sumptuous Fairy Tale Suites. The Monorail Pool, withtwo towering watersides, is wildly popular; for a quieter retreat, relax in aplush 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. Mostpopular spot? Check out the complex of rooftop pools and waterslides andwe’ll let you guess.
Plenty of people come to Disneyland Resort just for the classic rides, the Main Street parades, or to snap selfies in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Serious fans, though, know to pace their activities around one vital feature: snack time. Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park have both launched a variety of only-in-Disneyland culinary experiences, many of which have developed their own cult followings. While some legendary Disneyland snacks are seasonal—like the hand-pulled candy canes, available in limited amounts during the holiday season—here are eight snacks that you can enjoy year-round.
The New Orleans Square area of Disneyland offers two options for the Crescent City-inspired, mouse-shaped pastries. If you want to sit down for your snack, go to Cafe Orleans, where your order includes vanilla crème anglaise and fruit-coulis dipping sauces. Fans also rave about the non-mouse-shaped beignets in Downtown Disney at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen.
For more portable versions, go to the Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square, where an order of three comes in a paper bag and is dusted with plenty of powdered sugar. (Note: Those lime-and-mint beverages in question are non-alcoholic.) With the return of the Fantasmic evening pyrotechnics show in Frontierland, the Mint Julep Bar is now also serving purple-sprinkles-covered Blackberry Beignets.
This non-dairy frozen treat debuted at Disneyland in 1976, created exclusively for Adventureland by the folks at Dole Pineapple. It has developed a passionate cult following—it has been called “a work of art” and has a podcast named after it—and is now offered at other Disney parks, as well as a few other scattered locations. The original, though, is at the Tiki Juice Bar stand outside the Enchanted Tiki Room. Order yours as a soft-serve, a float with pineapple juice, or be a rebel and ask for the lone pineapple spear. A pleasant surprise: the classic Dole Whip soft serve has only about 100 calories.
These mountain-shaped coconut treats—covered with white-chocolate icing and sugary “snow”—are a rarity among Disney-themed goodies in that they’re based not on a character, but an actual ride. The classic Matterhorn coaster is even within view of the macaroons’ Main Street home, the Mary Poppins-themed Jolly Holiday Bakery Café (look for the telltale weather vane on top).
For anyone who gets confused about the difference between chewy macaroons and the airy sandwich-cookie macaron, try one of the bakery’s Raspberry Rose Mickey Macarons to settle the matter for good. A bonus: The Jolly Holiday has been applauded for having the best coffee in the parks.
Premium Mickey Ice-Cream Bars
The much-beloved Mickey bars, found at kiosks around the two parks, are like the little black dresses of frozen treats: Mickey-shaped vanilla ice cream dipped in Nestlé chocolate. To broaden your horizons, try the Premium Ice Cream Sandwich version, whose wafers get raves for having a little more crispiness than typical ice-cream sandwiches, and whose ice-cream center is comprised of cookies ‘n’ cream.
Little Red Wagon Corn Dogs
While corn dogs may seem like basic fare at theme parks, Disney superfans and foodies alike swear by the Disneyland version, found at an old-school-style food truck, the Little Red Wagon, near the Plaza Inn on Main Street. The secret: These chicken-and-beef dogs are hand-dipped in a house batter, helping them achieve that crunchy-on-the-outside, sweet-on-the-inside perfection. You can also get the same dogs at the Stagedoor Café, in Frontierland, and Award Wieners in California Adventure's Hollywood Land.
The jumbo drumsticks offered at hot-food carts around the two parks—like Edelweiss Snacks in Fantasyland and the hot-foods cart in Hollywood Land—have inspired so much awe that an urban legend once floated around that they actually came from ostriches (they don’t). Granted, the hickory-smoked legs look large, even for a turkey (they come from male Toms) and the salt curing gives them an almost ham-like flavor. To be sure, they are a commitment: Each one weighs 1.5 pounds.
There are more than a dozen churro carts dotting the parks—from outside The Haunted Mansion in Disneyland to A Bug’s Land in California Adventure—and the fried-dough treats have even inspired their own souvenir shirts over the years. Keep an eye out for limited-release variations, like golden-sugar-dusted churros in honor of Pirates of the Caribbean, or the Jedi-worthy, red- and blue-sugared “light-saber” churros in Tomorrowland.
They’re almost too pretty to eat. Disneyland Resort’s caramel apples offer a canvas for edible artistry, like the Mickey and Minnie apples at Trolley Treats in California Adventure, Winnie the Pooh apples in Disneyland’s Pooh Corner, or the Gourmet Apple of the Month (like a dark chocolate raspberry apple) at the Candy Palace & Candy Kitchen on Main Street (watch staffers making the apples through the confectionary’s window).
In its cultural and culinary rendering of the Golden State, Disney California Adventure Park has embraced one key representative of San Francisco: Ghirardelli Chocolate. The Disney branch of the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop, located in the Pacific Wharf section, offers up scoops and chocolate-doused sundaes, as well as the clearly-meant-for-sharing Earthquake, with eight scoops of ice cream, eight toppings, bananas, whipped cream, and more. Don’t miss the mural of San Francisco in the shop, which reacts to your order: Buildings shake when you order an Earthquake, and a prospector pans for gold if you get the hot-fudge-and-peanut-butter Gold Rush.
In the Cars Land area of California Adventure, “refuelling” takes on new meaning at the Cozy Cone Motel, a snack stand with five different cone-based treat options, from the chili-filled Chili Cone Queso to the flavoured-popcorn Pop Cones. Reviewers have especially loved the stand’s Chicken Verde Cone and the Red’s Apple Freeze, a slushy made with apple juice, passion fruit, toasted marshmallow syrup, and mango foam.