There is plenty to discover beyond the borders of the happiest place on Earth—including an eclectic mix of shopping spots, sports teams, tours and music venues. Here are four great options, all within a quick drive of Disneyland Resort.
Explore Downtown Anaheim. With buzzing new shops and restaurants, face-lifts for historic buildings and a lively new park, the city centre has had an inviting boost. Anaheim Packing District, a former centre of the region’s once booming citrus industry, has been reborn as an of-the-moment social hub. Hang out in the oh-so-cool Anaheim Packing House, a multi-storey food lover’s paradise with artisanal foods, craft cocktail bars and live music. Nearby is the historic Center Street Promenade, a local gem where you can find handmade crafts, chef-run restaurants and innovative local vendors.
Watch sports—or play them. Anaheim is the home turf of three professional sports teams. Orange County baseball fans watch their boys of summer, the Los Angeles Angels, at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Want a closer look or going to miss a game? Take a 75-minute tour of the stadium; this includes a trip down to the playing field, a visit to the dug-out, a walk through the visitor’s clubhouse, and exclusive peeks inside the luxurious Gene Autry and Dugout Suites, the broadcast booth and the press conference room. The Stanley Cup–winning Anaheim Ducks whack the puck in the soaring Honda Center, but your little ducks can take to the ice at the city’s Anaheim Rink; public skating times are offered throughout the year. Another team calls the Honda Center home: the new LA Kiss, the Arena Football League team owned by members of Kiss (yes, the band) holds indoor games here after the ice hockey season has ended.
Tune in to live music. Whether you want to rock out to big names like the Foo Fighters and Katy Perry or prefer smaller clubs with an indie music vibe, Anaheim has venues to suit your mood and style. The splashiest acts tend to perform at the Honda Center, which doubles as a 19,000-seat performance space. Next door is the City National Grove of Anaheim, offering a more intimate experience for as little as 50 or up to 5,000 concert-goers. Check the calendar for family-friendly shows, such as Alvin & The Chipmunks Live on Stage. Want to follow some up-and-comers? Check out Observatory OC, which plays host to new names in indie, hip-hop, rock and pop. There are shows on almost every night, so you’ll probably find something to pique your interest.
Dig deeper into the Disney story. The Anaheim Tour Company’s Walt Tour departs from Anaheim and devotes a full day to about a dozen landmarks, mostly in Los Angeles County, that played a part in the life and career (and even the final resting place) of Walter Elias Disney. Stops include his various studios, from his Uncle Robert’s Barn in Garden Grove to the Los Feliz shopfront originally called 'Disney Brothers Studio' and the Walt Disney Studios headquarters in Burbank. You’ll even eat lunch at Walt’s favourite restaurant, the Scottish-themed Tam O’Shanter on Los Feliz Boulevard that dates to 1922. This intimate tour, limited to just seven participants (aged 12 and up), certainly appeals to Disney superfans and history buffs, but it also features timeless LA sights—including the Hollywood Walk of Fame (where Walt has more than one star) and the Walt Disney Concert Hall—through a unique lens.
The undisputed granddaddy of theme parks, Disneyland Resort has been leading the way since 1955, inviting visitors to spend the day in the ultimate land of make-believe. This beloved Anaheim institution serves up vintage rides like the Matterhorn Bobsleds and the Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party teacup ride, as well as experiences featuring new innovations, like the incredible special effects, freefall thrills and multiple storylines of the Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: BREAKOUT! adventure, or mystical mouse antics in Mickey and the Magical Map. The sprawling resort, which consists of the original Disneyland Park and the adjacent Disney California Adventure Park, is divided up into themed 'lands' with related rides, shows and attractions.
Keep your map, whether in your pocket or on your phone, 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 disorientated). Once you get in, reduce the time you spend queuing at attractions by using the resort’s Fast Pass system, which allows you to use your ticket at a dedicated time later in the day. Download the free Disneyland Mobile app to know where to head next for the shortest queues, buy your tickets, browse maps and even locate Disney characters.
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 decor and character breakfasts—and which also offer guests Extra Magic Hours, a one-hour head-start admission to the theme park rides on selected mornings.
Plenty of people come to Disneyland Resort just for the classic rides, the Main Street parades and to snap selfies in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Serious fans though, know to centre 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, such as the hand-pulled candy canes, available in limited quantities during the Christmas season, here are 10 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 will include 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 icing sugar. (Note: The lime-and-mint beverages in question are non-alcoholic.) With the return of the Fantasmic evening pyrotechnics show in Frontierland, the Mint Julep Bar now also serves 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 and has been called 'a work of art' and even has a podcast named after it, and is now offered at other Disney parks, as well as at a few other selected locations. The original though, is available 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 only contains 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 a ride. The classic Matterhorn rollercoaster is even within view of the macaroons’ Main Street home, the Mary Poppins-themed Jolly Holiday Bakery Café (look for the tell-tale weather vane on top).
For anyone who gets confused about the difference between chewy macaroons and the airy sandwich-biscuit 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 rave reviews for having a little more crispiness than typical ice-cream sandwiches, and whose ice-cream centre is cookies ‘n’ cream flavoured.
Little Red Wagon Corn Dogs
While corn dogs may seem like basic fare for a theme park, 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, soft-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 stands around the two parks, such as 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 males) and the salt curing gives them an almost ham-like flavour. They are certainly 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-edition variations, such as golden sugar-dusted churros in honour of Pirates of the Caribbean, or the Jedi-worthy, red and blue-sugared 'light-sabre' churros in Tomorrowland.
They’re almost too pretty to eat. Disneyland Resort’s toffee 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 staff making the apples through the confectioner'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 chilli-filled Chili Cone Queso to the flavoured-popcorn Pop Cones. Reviewers especially love the stand’s Chicken Verde Cone and Red’s Apple Freeze, a slushy made with apple juice, passion fruit, toasted marshmallow syrup and mango foam.
Walking along the vintage American streetscape of Main Street, USA, with the towers of Sleeping Beauty Castle rising in the distance—well, you know you’re in for something amazing. Take a stroll along Main Street, USA, the welcome mat of 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 to those 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. (To see 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 the drawbridge to the Disneyland castle actually works, it has only been lowered twice: when the park opened in 1955 and for the 1983 re-dedication of Fantasyland, which is entered by passing through the castle's archway.
Disneyland Resort turns into a Halloween wonderland throughout October. Halloween events—some scary, some not—include holiday decorations at both theme parks, a ghoulish version of Disneyland Park’s Space Mountain, and a nightmarish makeover at the Haunted Mansion. In Tomorrowland, freaky ghouls amp up the scream factor at Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy. And of course, there’s the iconic Haunted Mansion, that gets decked out as Halloween Town, hosted by Jack Skellington from Tim Burton’s classic film, A Nightmare Before Christmas.
Disney California Adventure Park has gotten its own Halloween makeover, too: Guardians of the Galaxy takes on a Monsters After Dark theme, while Cars Land’s “Haul-O-Ween” zone features costumed characters and the morphing of Radiator Springs into Radiator Screams. For some seasonal music, go by Mater’s Junkyard, rendered into Mater’s Graveyard JamBOOree.
Disneyland Resort offers spook-free options too, including a massive hand-carved Pumpkin Festival on Main Street U.S.A. Check out the strolling characters in their Halloween garb (including a fair share of Disney villains), and see a traditional skeleton display honouring Dia de los Muertos in Frontierland.
Insider tip: Consider splurging with tickets to Mickey’s Halloween Party. Or join a Happiest Haunts Tour, where a “ghost host” scares up special pranks and adventures as you tour the parks; offered throughout the Halloween season.
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 Marvel Comics-themed ride deftly combines a shriek-inducing drop with a pop music soundtrack and the cheeky characters of the Guardians of the Galaxy comic-book and film 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 vibe. (Even so, the ride is intense enough that it’s only recommended for teenagers and older.)
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-standing comic-book villain The Collector.
As the ride begins, look out for the various treasures in the glass display cases that The Collector has already amassed in his bottom-floor museum, a rotating exhibition of Marvel-themed props and gizmos, including Chitauri blasters from the Guardians of the Galaxy series, and Asgardian weaponry of Thor or Avengers fame. Then, a lift takes you up the tower, but as Rocket’s plan goes awry—in various ways—you end up in free-fall.
Fully experiencing Mission: Breakout, however, means going on 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 mix-tapes). One experience might feature Pat Benatar’s 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot', and another, The Jackson 5’s 'I Want You Back'.
To keep the groove going, check out the 'Awesome Dance Off' parties staged near the ride, where you can flaunt your moves and meet and greet characters including Groot, the loveable talking-tree Guardian.
From glimpses of the future in Tomorrowland to the rustic world of Frontierland, the scenery changes quickly at the Disneyland Resort theme parks. Take a swashbuckling cruise (and look for Johnny Depp as the devilish Captain Jack Sparrow) on the raucous Pirates of the Caribbean ride, then step outside into the smell of fresh doughnuts in New Orleans Square. It is a quick walk to Fantasyland, where young ones 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 nods 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 light-sabre 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.
Rev up for retro fun in Cars Land, one of the star attractions 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 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 a Chili Cone Queso (chili, cheese and tortilla 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 popular characters from the film. 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 rollercoaster is incredibly smooth. Take advantage of Disneyland’s FASTPASS service for this ride to avoid the queues, 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 barn-dance-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 across the courtyard on a trackless system.
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’ Round the World in Grizzly Peak Airfield. Strap yourself into simulated hang gliders to swoop through the air and get bird’s-eye views of iconic 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 in Bavaria.
Next up (and preferably when it’s hot), experience the thrill of a white-water rafting trip in the Sierra Nevada with a splashy ride down the Grizzly River Run. Take 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 freshly made chocolates or hand-dipped toffee 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 film-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. Throughout the summer of 2018, all of Disneyland Resort is getting into the spirit with Pixar Fest, which features an array of Pixar-inspired entertainment—such as the Pixar-character-fuelled 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 films.
Open-air cafés, street musicians, sparkling shops and soaring temples to everything Disney—this tempting pedestrian zone in Anaheim is 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 such as 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 take it up a notch with contemporary Mediterranean cuisine at Catal, created by Los Angeles-area chef-restaurateur Joachim Splichal.
For those with a sweet tooth, there’s a branch of upmarket cupcake purveyors Sprinkles—the creative cupcake bakery credited with launching the cupcake craze—that’s not to be missed. And save room for a few scoops of artisanal goodness from Salt & Straw, an innovative family-run ice cream shop that offers hand-made, small-batch seasonal flavours such as Mummy’s Pumpkin Spiked Potion and Sightglass Coffee Cashew Praline.
There’s also plenty of live entertainment, activities and shopping: New Orleans–inspired music is the main course at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen®. Take the family bowling at the rock 'n roll-themed Splitsville Luxury Lanes after dining indoors or al fresco at the on-site restaurant Splitsville Dining Room. And stock up on gifts at the World of Disney® shop, or browse big-name stores such as The LEGO® Store or Sephora. Girly Disney fans will appreciate the vintage-inspired clothes and accessories at The Disney Dress Shop, and if your home is lacking some magic, call in at the Disney Home store to find the perfect themed kitchenware and decor.
Star Wars fans will love Star Wars™: Secrets of the Empire by ILMxLAB and The Void, a total-immersion virtual reality experience with state-of-the-art 3-D imagery and sound. Teams of four, in VR disguise, can engage with their favourite Star Wars characters, as well as with one another.
Insider tip: you don’t have to have a ticket to Disneyland to visit Downtown Disney (admission is free). Plus there's no need to worry about parking—it’s 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 hear some amusing 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 specialized Star Wars at Disneyland tour offers a Jedi’s-view perspective of the resort’s many attractions related to the saga. The subject-specific Cultivating the Magic tour sheds light on Disneyland’s extensive gardens.
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 the only way to get around 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 after Ward Kimball, a legendary studio animator and, like Walt Disney, a train enthusiast.
In the Magic Kingdom, you can also travel along Main Street, USA between Sleeping Beauty Castle and Town Square on old-fashioned streetcars, buses and fire engines, pulled by handsome heavy 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 further by staying at one of the resort’s on-site hotels. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa aims to replicate the soaring wood-and-stone styling of The Majestic Yosemite Hotel in Yosemite Valley. The central great room, with cushy, oversized Arts-and-Crafts-style chairs, a soaring stone fireplace and live piano music, is a fantastic place to relax after a long day in the park. (Non-residents 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 children and grown-ups to enjoy themselves. 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 also offers whimsically themed accommodations, such as the Mickey Mouse Penthouse or the sumptuous Fairy Tale Suites. The Monorail Pool, with two towering watersides, is wildly popular; for a quieter retreat, relax in a plush lounger at the adjacent E-Ticket or D-Ticket pools.
Paradise Pier Hotel captures the spirit of an old-fashioned beach boardwalk, with rooms done up to look like you’re vacationing on the coast. Most popular spot? Check out the complex of rooftop pools and waterslides and we’ll let you guess.
Flying elephants, giant teacups, costumed characters making the rounds—for more than 60 years, this magical world of make-believe has been the happiest place on earth. Fantasyland, with all its low-thrill classics—including Peter Pan’s Flight and It’s a Small World—is the go-to spot for children aged 5 or younger, but queues are the longest here, too, so tackle it first thing. Staying at a Disneyland hotel means you can beat the queues by entering the park an hour before it opens to the public.
When you've had your fill of ride-hopping, skip over to Toontown to blow off some steam. Kids will have a blast touring Mickey and Minnie’s homes, where anything goes—from climbing on Mickey’s furniture to snooping in Minnie’s fridge. (Spoiler: it’s stocked with cheese.)
You can always count on this Anaheim park to make it easy on parents. With the Disneyland App, you’ll have access to waiting times and the locations of their favourite characters, FastPass machines and, most importantly, toilets. There’s also a well-stocked baby care centre with private areas for breast-feeding, microwaves for warming food and potties for those who are toilet training.