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.
The undisputed granddaddy of theme parks, Disneyland Resort has been leading the way since 1955, inviting visitors to spend the day in the ultimate realm of make-believe. And it’s easier today than it’s ever been to maximize your days in the Magic Kingdom by avoiding lines with the FASTPASS queueing system, which is even better when paired with MaxPass, which enables you to do it all on your mobile device.
Consisting of the original Disneyland Park and the adjacent Disney California Adventure Park, the sprawling Disneyland Resort is divided up into themed “lands” with related rides, shows, and attractions. Rising beyond Main Street, Sleeping Beauty Castle is the unmistakable beacon at the heart of the theme park. With its turquoise-tiled towers, golden turrets, and working drawbridge, it looks every inch the grand castle.
Long-time favorite attractions include vintage thrillers like the Mad Tea Party whirling teacups and the Matterhorn Bobsleds 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. Fans of one particular galaxy far, far away will be transported by the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land, where they can step into the world of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker to live out their own Star Wars storyline, flying the Millennium Falcon and exploring a distant outpost.
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 disoriented). Once you get in, reduce wait time in lines at attractions by using the resort’s FASTPASS 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 lines, buy your tickets, browse maps, and even order food and locate Disney characters. You’ll also need the app if you opt for the premium MaxPass system.
Whether you're a first-timer or veteran, you can enhance your experience with one of Disney's special tours. 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.
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 select mornings.
When entertainment mogul Walt Disney opened his Anaheim amusement park in 1955, the whimsical rides and attractions were meant to re-create fairy-tale magic. Since then, Disneyland Resort has grown to two theme parks, three hotels, and the Downtown Disney District. But it also offers countless forms of entertainment, thrills, and great dining. Here are five ways to experience it—appealing to all ages and different definitions of magic.
Stay at Disney’s Grand Californian
Booking a stay at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel offers two kinds of treats: First, the woodsy, Arts and Crafts-style interior is incredibly soothing after a fun-filled theme park day. The hotel also offers easy access to both parks and Downtown Disney, and even has its own entrance gate to Disney California Adventure Park. Stay here and you can also take advantage of Extra Magic Hours, which grants hotel guests early entrance to the parks. Whether you stay overnight or not, take some time to relax in the lobby, or have dinner at the Napa Rose restaurant, which artfully channels California wine country cuisine.
Explore Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
Disneyland Park’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge transports you to an alternate universe—namely, Black Spire Outpost, on the Outer Rim planet of Batuu. You’ll see strolling cast members, who belong to either the Resistance or the First Order, but you may be most drawn to the otherworldly porgs and tauntauns available in The Creature Stall, or the robotic buddies you can create at the Droid Depot (to be a true Jedi, get your own lightsaber at Savi's Workshop). Make your way to the area’s debut ride, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, which lets you take on the duties of a pilot, gunner, or flight engineer aboard Han Solo’s famous ship.
Enjoy the time machine of classic rides
Most Disney fans would agree that Fantasyland, tucked behind Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, is the original heart of Disneyland Park, with its 1950s-era rides such as Dumbo the Flying Elephant or the spinning cups of the Mad Tea Party. Don’t miss the relatively newer classics in other parts of the park, too, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, which opened in 1967 (the last ride that Walt Disney himself oversaw) and Splash Mountain, which debuted in 1989. Fun fact: In the course of a full day, the song “It’s a Small World” plays about 1,200 times.
Let it go at Frozen: Live at the Hyperion
See a classic Disney story in a whole new way at California Adventure’s Hyperion Theater. This Broadway-level production of Frozen has become a hit for its rotating sets, ice-shooting special effects, and serious song-belting by Elsa and her supporting cast. While you can line up to see one of the daily performances, you can also lock in your seat using the Disneyland Mobile App, or booking the Frozen dining package which includes both a reserved seat and a three-course meal at Carthay Circle Restaurant, the fine-dining spot modeled after the movie theater that debuted Snow White.
Play at Pixar Pier
Fans of Pixar films—such as the Toy Story series, The Incredibles, and Inside Out—will love the Pixar Pier section of Disney California Adventure Park. The boardwalk-style area (formerly known as Paradise Pier) blends movie magic into rides and attractions such as Incredicoaster, the Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind, and the Pixar Pal-A-Round Ferris wheel. The Pixar theme extends to food, too, from the Señor Buzz Churros and Jack-Jack Cookie Num Nums to the sit-down Lamplight Lounge, filled with Pixar sketches and memorabilia. Stop in at Knick’s Knacks for movie themed T-shirts and toys, copies of Pixar concept art, or custom portraits made by the on-site character sketch artist.
In keeping with Disneyland’s forte for imbuing every square inch of park with rich detail, Galaxy’s Edge has left no otherworldly stone unturned. It’s meant to be set in Black Spire Outpost, a village on the Outer Rim planet of Batuu, and is comprised of two main attraction-rides along with shops, eateries, and a spiky terrain of geological formations.
One of the rides, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, lets you perform the duties of a pilot, gunner, or a flight engineer aboard Han Solo's famous ship. Check out the “chess room” inside, which will remind you of a famous scene from the original Star Wars movie. The second ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance places you in a battle between the First Order and the Resistance, inside a full-size starship, and is reported to last nearly 20 minutes.
While the members of the Resistance and the First Order may not agree on much, they all get hungry. Go to the Docking Bay 7 Food and Cargo for Smoked Kaadu Ribs or Fried Endorian Tip-Yip, or get a colorful milk mustache at the Milk Stand in Black Spire Outpost. (Luke Skywalker drank blue milk in Episode IV—A New Hope, then green in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.) Or, sample the savory meats at Ronto Roasters, all spit-roasted over a former Podracer engine. Oga’s Cantina will offer “otherworldly” elixirs for kids and stronger libations for adults—it's the first Disneyland Park attraction to sell alcohol. Cocktails include the bourbon-fueled Jet Juice and a vodka-powered Jedi Mind Trick.
To take the spirit of Galaxy’s Edge ambience home, peruse Black Spire Outfitters for cosplay-ready fashions, The Creature Stall for stuffed-toy porgs and tauntauns, and the Toydarian Toymaker for artisan-style wood toys and musical instruments. Build your own robotic personal assistant at the Droid Depot, or create your own lightsaber at Savi's Workshop. Don’t miss browsing the artifacts, holocrons, and kyber crystals at Dok-Ondar's Den of Antiquities, overseen by Ithorian proprietor Dok (from Solo: A Star Wars Story), who sits at his desk and barks orders at assistants.
You can explore Galaxy’s Edge on another level, too, by using the Play Disney Parks mobile app, which features a variety of games and other interactive ways to enjoy this area, such as reading droids’ memories or “scanning” the interiors of cargo crates scattered around the grounds. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for strolling characters like Rey, Finn, BB-8, and Chewbacca, and listen, too: all of Galaxy’s Edge is infused with new original theme music composed by John Williams, the Academy Award winner who penned the iconic Star Wars melodies.
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 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 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.
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. (To check out the original, take Soarin’ Around the World, the virtual plane ride in neighboring 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 rededication of Fantasyland, which is entered by passing through the castle 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 honoring 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 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 longtime 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.”
To keep the groove going, check out the “Awesome Dance Off” parties staged near the ride, where you can flaunt your moves and have meet-and-greets with characters like Groot, the lovable talking-tree Guardian.
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, 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 colorful 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 favorite 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’ 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. 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.
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.
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 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 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. 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.
Open-air cafés, street musicians, sparkling boutiques, 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 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.
For sweet-tooths, there’s a branch of upscale 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 flavors like 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 load up on gifts at the World of Disney® shop, or browse big-name stores such as The LEGO® Store or Sephora. Disney fans with girly style will appreciate the vintage-inspired apparel and accessories at The Disney Dress Shop, and if your home is lacking some magic, stop by 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 favorite 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 no need to stress out over parking—it’s free for up to five hours with validation from participating locations.
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. 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.
After sunset, 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.
With fire, water, and lasers, the nightly extravaganza of World of Color, 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 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 harbor 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 color and flash in unison with the show and all the other ears throughout the show.
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 Ahwahnee 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, costumed characters making the rounds—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 spot 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 you've had your fill of ride-hopping, 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.