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 Colour, 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.
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 60-foot 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 favourites like A Christmas Fantasy Parade and Believe...in Holiday Magic make this time of year extra special.
Over in Disney California Adventure Park, a 50-foot 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 favourite 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 favourites while the giant trees come to life.
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.
From glimpses of the future at 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 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. 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 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.
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 favorite 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’ 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 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 neighborhood 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.
Note: World of Color is currently closed and is set to reopen in late 2018.
With fire, water, and lasers, the nightly extravaganza of World at Colour, 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 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. Take the Main Street Electrical Parade, which has returned after a 20-year absence for a six-month run, featuring classic characters like Pinocchio, Snow White, and all seven dwarves.
At Disney California Adventure Park, meanwhile, the Pixar Play Parade features favorites 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. Favorites 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.
For another post-sunset spectacle, keep an eye out for the fireworks that illuminate the sky above Sleeping Beauty Castle. Starring some of your favorite 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 60-foot-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 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 favorites 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 such as Fossil or Build-a-Bear workshop.
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 specialized Star Wars at Disneyland tour offers a Jedi’s-view perspective of the resort’s many attractions related to the saga. the specialized Cultivating the Magic tour sheds light on Disneyland’s extensive gardens.
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. 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 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 Majestic Yosemite Hotel in Yosemite Valley. The central great room, with cushy oversize Craftsman-style chairs, a soaring stone fireplace, and live piano music, is a fantastic place 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 also offers whimsically themed accommodations, like 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 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 vacationing on the shore. Most popular spot? Check out the complex of rooftop pools and waterslides and we’ll let you guess.
Flying elephants, giant teacups…there’s no debating that after for more than 60 years, this magical world of make-believe is still the happiest place on earth. Fantasyland, with all the low-thrill classics—including Peter Pan’s Flight and It’s a Small World—is the go-to for the 5-or-younger set, but lines get the longest there, too, so tackle it first thing. Staying at a Disneyland hotel means you can beat the lines by entering the park an hour before it opens to the public.
When ride hopping becomes too much, skip over to Toontown to blow off 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 wait times and the locations of their favorite characters, FastPass machines, and, most important, restrooms. There’s also a well-stocked baby care center with private areas for nursing moms, microwaves for warming food, and little potties for toilet-trainers.
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 from Disneyland Resort.
Explore Downtown Anaheim. With buzzing new shops and eateries, face-lifts for historic buildings, and a lively new park, the city’s central core has gotten an inviting boost. Anaheim Packing District, a former center 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 multistory 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-driven eateries, and innovative local vendors.
Watch sports—or play them. Anaheim is home turf for three pro 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 can’t catch a game? Take a 75-minute public tour of the stadium; it includes a trip down to the playing field, a visit to the dugout, 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 skate times are offered throughout the year. Another team calls Honda Center home: The new LA Kiss, the Arena Football League team owned by members of Kiss (yes, the band) has indoor games here after hockey season wraps.
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 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 concertgoers. Check the calendar for family-friendly shows, like Alvin & The Chipmunks Live on Stage. Want to follow almost famous acts? Check out Observatory OC, playing host to new names in indie, hip-hop, rock, and pop. Shows run almost every night, so you’ll likely find something to pique your interest.
Dig deeper into the Disney story. The Anaheim Tour Company’s Walt Tour departs from Anaheim but devotes a full day to about a dozen landmarks, most 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 storefront 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 (ages 12 and up), certainly appeals to Disney superfans and history buffs, but it also features timeless L.A. sights—like the Hollywood Walk of Fame (where Walt has more than one star) and Walt Disney Concert Hall—through a unique lens.
With its theme-park tributes to Disney movies like Cars and Toy Story, it’s easy to assume that California Adventure takes all of its inspiration from Hollywood. But the theme park next to Disneyland also offers a few shout-outs to Golden State history and culture.
Cars Land, after all—home of the free-wheeling Radiator Springs ride—embraces its Route 66 connections, with its rugged Southwestern terrain and road trip spots (like the Cozy Cone Motel eatery), while the park’s Carthay Circle Restaurant is a replica of the 1920s L.A. movie theater. And this is the prime area of Disneyland Resort where you can enjoy a glass of California wine (like the sommelier-guided tastings at Mendocino Terrace).
For a Golden State-themed thrill, ride the Grizzly River Run, which re-creates a rafting trip in the High Sierra. Or stay the night at the Grand Californian Hotel, where you can bask in the woodsy, Arts-&-Crafts-style architecture that pays homage to the famous Greene & Greene-designed homes of Pasadena. Staying here also grants your family access to the hotel’s private entrance to the park, which makes it that much easier to make use of those early, Extra Magic Hours at the park for hotel guests.
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