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 shows, 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, one of the star attractions in Disney California Adventure Park. This colorful 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 and the colourful rocky outcroppings and Southwest landscapes of the Cadillac Range. At the Cozy Cone Motel—the main character meet-and-greet spot—stop for a churro, soft serve ice cream, or the Chili Cone Queso (chili, cheese, and corn chips served in a bread cone).
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. Your six-person car will race side-by-side with your competition, zooming over hills and through turns at high speeds en route to the finish line. Although the ride picks up some speed and features a few dips, the coaster is incredibly smooth. Take advantage of Disneyland’s FASTPASS service for this ride to avoid lines, available in the park or on the Disney MaxPass app.
If you’re entertaining younger kids, take them to Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree for a hoedown-style spin on dancing tractors. Or hop aboard the free-wheelin’ Italian micro-car replicas at Luigi’s Rollickin’
Roadsters and let your car dance on a trackless system across the courtyard.
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. 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.
For classic rides, head to Pixar Pier, which opened in summer 2018 (formerly known as Paradise Pier) and features the Incredicoaster, midway games and a Ferris wheel—all featuring characters from Pixar movies such as The Incredibles, Inside Out, and the Toy Story series. The movie-character theme extends to food, too, from the Señor Buzz Churros and Hangry Dogs to the sit-down Lamplight Lounge, filled with Pixar sketches and memorabilia. Through summer 2018, all of Disneyland Resort is getting into the spirit with Pixar Fest, which features an array of Pixar-inspired entertainment—like the Pixar-character-fueled Paint the Night parade in California Adventure, the Pixar Play Parade in Disneyland Park, and the new nightly fireworks show, Together Forever—A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular, over Disneyland. Also don’t miss, at California Adventure’s Hollywood Land, the Pixar Shorts Film Festival, showcasing the acclaimed short films that precede Pixar’s movies.
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.
Note: World of Color is currently closed and is set to reopen in late 2018.
With fire, water, and lasers, this nightly extravaganza at Pixar 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. Consider the daily Mickey’s Soundsational Parade, which begins along Disneyland Park’s Main Street, and includes a lineup of Disney characters and marching bands playing Disney melodies. 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 Frozen: Live at the Hyperion, a surprisingly good Broadway-style production in California Adventure Park 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.
After sunset, 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.)
Evenings also bring two different pyrotechnic shows: Disney California Adventure Park has World of Color (closed until late 2018), while Disneyland Park has Fantasmic, a “battle between good and evil” featuring classic Disney characters, which plays out in Mickey Mouse’s mind and across the 18-metre-wide mists over Frontierland’s Rivers of America.
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. But understanding how the magic is made can be entertaining too. You can get sneak 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 on cool trivia, the Welcome to Disneyland Tour provides a thorough introduction to both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park—plus there are plenty of anecdotes to make you feel in the know.
In Disneyland Park, the Walk In Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps tour offers an intimate perspective and opportunity to experience attractions significant to Walt’s past, in addition to those that connect with Walt’s very personal vision. Personal VIP tours are also available, and the specialised Star Wars at Disneyland tour offers a Jedi’s-view perspective of the resort’s many attractions related to the saga.
Southern California is known for sunshine and beaches, even in December. But you can experience a winter wonderland when “the happiest place on Earth” transforms into “the merriest place on Earth” for the holidays.
Holidays at the Disneyland Resort is a special time, with magic around every corner. In Disneyland Park, there’s a 18-metre Christmas Tree in Town Square complete with 70,000 lights and 2,000 custom ornaments. Stroll down Main Street, U.S.A. with the smell of candy canes and gingerbread hanging in the air and decorations adorning the buildings.
Classic attractions take on a whole different feeling. Sleeping Beauty Castle sparkles with snow-capped towers, countless lights and a giant wreath. It’s a Small World Holiday dazzles with a spectacular light show and a holiday version of the classic song. And the Haunted Mansion gets a holiday makeover, courtesy of Jack Skellington and friends, for the Haunted Mansion Holiday. Fan favorites like A Christmas Fantasy Parade and Believe...in Holiday Magic make this time of year extra special.
Over in Disney California Adventure Park, a 15-metre tree sits on Buena Vista Street, and the spirit of the season is in full swing with the Festival of Holidays, featuring delicious foods and entertainment from many diverse cultures. At night, World of Colour - Season of Light illuminates Paradise Bay combining classic holiday tunes with favorite moments from iconic Disney films. And of course, Santa and his elves have turned up at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail for some seasonal fun and games.
There are holiday treats throughout the resort as well, from holiday-themed beignets and gingerbread men to decorated candy apples and the always-popular candy canes. Only a limited number of candy canes are made, so be sure to line up at park opening at the Candy Palace in Disneyland and Trolley Treats in California Adventure for a chance at this tasty treat. You can find out more by calling the Disneyland Candy Hotline at (714) 781-0112.
Insider Tip: While the parks’ Christmas trees are first lit for the year in early-to-mid-November, both Disneyland and California Adventure have tree-lighting ceremonies every day during the holidays at 5 p.m. Carolers roam the parks singing holiday favorites while the giant trees come to life.
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.
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 ten 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, “refueling” 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 flavored-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.