Cheers Sippin Gypsy Travelers! This post comes to you while enjoying my Sippin Gypsy Jalapeno Margarita inspired by my favorite margarita made at EPCOT at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando FL while reading this guest post by friend Maggie of From Toddler to Traveler who is an expert on Disneyland California! Check out what she suggests:
Visiting Disneyland California Resort in Anaheim
For many, a trip to Disneyland is a once in a lifetime experience (or a celebration of a Super Bowl victory). In some ways, it’s a little easier to plan a Disneyland California trip than one to Walt Disney World, simply because you only have two parks to pick, and they are directly across a plaza from one another. If you’re interested in how to maximize your family vacation to Disneyland, here are some great tips, tricks and hacks.
How to Get To Disneyland California
Most people here would fly into LAX, Los Angeles International Airport. From here, you can rent a car (recommended if you are going elsewhere in the Los Angeles area besides Disneyland), or ride the Disneyland Resort Express. Reservations are not required, but it does cost $30 per adult one way/ $48 round trip. One child under 11 is free, additional children are $14 one way/$28 round trip. The ride from LAX takes about an hour. Super Shuttle also operates shared ride van services to and from Disneyland area hotels. If you are flying into another Los Angeles county airport such as John Wayne in Burbank or Long Beach Airport, you may be better off renting a car or hiring a car service or limo. Super Shuttle does operate from both airports, it will cost you $36 from Long Beach and $66 one way from Burbank. If you prefer not to travel with car seats, I recommend the Disneyland Resort Express over the shared ride services. If you are planning to visit other places in Los Angeles, I definitely recommend renting a car.
Where to Stay: On Site
Long story short, Disneyland only has three onsite hotels. They are starting construction in July 2018 on a new four diamond resort which is slated to open in 2021.
1. Disney’s Grand Californian Resort and Spa.
The most luxurious (and expensive—rooms start at $420/night) of the three options. Recently refurbished just prior to Christmas 2017, the Craftsman-themed elegance inspires you to relax. A few highlights:
a. The Art of the Craft Tour. A (free!) tour that describes the history of the Craftsman movement and its influence on the hotel.
b. Excellent restaurants
c. Very close to the theme parks and the entrance to the monorail
d. The lobby. Relax in a rocking chair in front of a roaring fireplace or settle into a thick leather armchair with a glass of wine to rest your tired feet.
e. Special entrance directly to Disney California Adventure.
2.The Disneyland Hotel.
For a taste of Disneyland past and present, experience the real Disney magic at this hotel (FYI—the Sleeping Beauty Castle headboards light up). Rooms start at $360/night. A few highlights:
a. Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar (rum and Dole whip)
b. The swimming pools and 2 monorail-themed water slides.
3. Paradise Pier Hotel.
A boardwalk/surf theme hotel, closer to California Adventure. Rooms start at $269/night. A few highlights.
a. On certain nights, you can view the fireworks from the third floor pool deck.
b. Certain rooms offer views of the nighttime spectaculars at California Adventure
c. Rooftop pool with a water slide
4. Benefits of staying onsite vs. off
a. You can go on a free fitness walk around California Adventure before it opens to the public. It begins quite early at 630 AM and is only for registered hotel guests.
b. Registered hotel guests can enter one of the parks an hour early every day for an Extra Magic Hour. Remember to bring your room key and it’s actually faster to enter through the special lines at the Main Gate vs the monorail or the Grand Californian entrance.
c. Every night they play a Disney movie for free to registered hotel guests. Bring popcorn. The hotel where the movie plays rotates daily.
d. Surprise character encounters
e. Send purchases directly to your hotel with Package Express.
Off-site/Good Neighbor Hotels
Due to the original design of Disneyland, most of the hotels are actually not on Disney property but within close walking or shuttle distance. For a list of reviews of the various Good Neighbor hotels, please check out the Disney Tourist Blog.
Airbnbs are also quite popular in Anaheim and Orange County, but you may have to drive (and park, which can add up quickly).
Where to Eat
Character Dining Experiences
(all are currently breakfast only except as noted)
1. Plaza Inn
Inside Disneyland so you need a valid park ticket. Make reservations as early as possible as this does sell out quickly.
2. Storyteller’s Café
Inside the Grand Californian: a wilderness-theme character meal featuring Chip and Dale, Brother Bear, etc. Does also have a weekend character brunch (with mimosas).
3. Goofy’s Kitchen
Located at the Disneyland Hotel: probably my favorite of the character breakfasts. Offers an extensive buffet, a chance for a private photo with Chef Goofy, and has an excellent array of recognizable characters.
4. Surf’s Up at Paradise Pier
The only character breakfast where you are guaranteed to meet Mickey. A decent buffet and lots of fun dance parties with the characters.
If You Want Something Classy
1. Napa Rose
Inside the Grand Californian. California-theme dining at its best. Have a glass of wine in the lounge, then maybe a little more at dinner. They do have a kids menu, but you can also hire a babysitter for the night. Dinner only, no theme park admission required.
In downtown Disney. Has a great view of downtown Disney from the windows, and delicious food (try one of the paellas and the Spanish tortilla frites). Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. No theme park admission required.
3. Carthay Circle restaurant
Offers dining packages for the California Adventure evening light shows and Frozen. Fine dining in an iconic theater where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered. Lunch and dinner, theme park admission required.
If You Want Breakfast
1. Carnation Café:
Just off Main Street in Disneyland, your traditional breakfast cuisine. Theme park admission required.
2. La Brea Bakery:
owntown Disney, just before you reach the parks. Great breakfast options, even have good breakfast options to go. No theme park admission required.
3. Uva Bar:
Downtown Disney, attached to Catal. Dine al fresco, maybe enjoy a cocktail before heading to the parks (just hydrate well after a mimosa). No theme park admission required.
4. Flo’s V8 Café:
Cars Land at Disney California Adventure. Traditional American breakfast food. Good to stop by here to start breakfast while someone else goes to pick up your Fast Passes for Radiator Springs Racers. Theme park admission required.
Quick Service Restaurants
1. Pacific Wharf Café:
California Adventure. Yummy quick meals served on sourdough from Boudin bakery in San Francisco. Theme park admission required.
2. Bengal Barbecue:
Adventureland at Disneyland. Healthier options including grilled skewers, spring rolls, hummus trios, vegetables. Theme park admission required.
3. French Market Restaurant:
New Orleans Square at Disneyland. Great sandwiches,pleasant views, a little shade. Theme park admission required.
4. Red Rose Taverne:
Fantasyland at Disneyland. Great food, but really try the Instagrammable desserts. A little shade, offers breakfast, too. Theme park admission required.
Where to Enjoy an Adult Beverage
FYI, Disneyland is dry, none of the restaurants there serve alcohol. Downtown Disney, the hotels, and California Adventure all offer alcohol to guests 21 and over (make sure you bring your ID).
Best Spots at California Adventure
1. Carthay Circle Lounge:
great food and cocktails. On Buena Vista Street.
2. Sonoma Terrace:
beer, wine, vibe is similar to being on a vineyard patio, except here you get a view of the soon-to- be Pixar Pier.
3. Cove Bar/Lamplight Lounge:
long a favorite, the Cove Bar re-opened briefly in March before it will close again at the end of the May. It will re-open in June as the Lamplight Lounge. I don’t know if there will still be secret menu items (I imagine new ones may be Pixar-themed), but apparently they will still offer the famous Lobster Nachos.
Best Spots in Downtown Disney
1. Uva Bar and the Happy Hour at Catal.
2. Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen:
Enjoy a po’boy or boudin balls with a tasty New Orleans-themed cocktail.
Tips on How to Enjoy your Trip to Disneyland California
1. Wear comfortable shoes, bring lots of sunscreen and a water bottle. Just don’t bring in a glass bottle as it will be confiscated at security.
2. Get there early. By early, I mean an hour or so before the park opens. Trams from the parking garage to downtown Disney get REALLY full about half an hour before opening. Plus, being there for the rope drop when the park opens is kind of amazing.
3. Unless you are staying at one of the Disneyland resort hotels, do not go to the park on the day they have an Extra Magic Hour. Just go to the other park that day, then rotate.
4. Lines start getting long about an hour and a half after opening. Plan accordingly.
5. If you want to see a nighttime light show, get your Fast Passes to the show early in the day. You’ll have a better viewing spot. If seeing the light show at night is really important to you and you can afford it, use one of the dining packages. You get a great seat and food brought to your table. Just no flash photography, please.
6. Unlike Walt Disney World, you cannot reserve Fast Passes ahead of time online. You can only pick them up once you enter the park. If you buy the Disney MaxPass, you can reserve Fast Passes through the Disneyland app once you enter the park.
7. If traveling with kids, strongly consider a mid-day break for a nap and some air conditioning.
8. Try a fancy churro. The rose gold one is delicious, tastes like strawberries and you will have little gold flecks all over your clothes.
9. If you have a stroller (and you probably should if your kids are under 6), pay attention to the designated stroller parking signs. If your stroller is not parked in a designated area, a cast member can just move it. To where, no one knows. At least your step count will benefit from the search.
10. If your feet need a break, take the monorail from Tomorrowland to Downtown Disney, or ride around the park on the Disneyland Railroad. It’s also a good spot for napping, as you can really just ride.
11. If you want to see one of the shows, get there a little early. They will close the doors at the start time and decline to admit you.
12. If you desperately want to see characters but hate waiting in line, do a character breakfast. The lines to see popular characters really get long, especially later in the day.
13. There’s a splash pad in a Bug’s Land at California Adventure if your little ones need a chance to run and cool off.
14. There are lovely baby care centers located on Main Street and Buena Vista Street in both parks.
15. Make dining reservations early. You can change them online as long as it’s more than 24 hours before your reservation. Otherwise you need to call, and waits on the phone can be long.
16. Try to go on an off day, early in the morning Tuesday-Thursday, and not in summer if possible. Los Angeles is actually lovely in January/February.
17. Parking for the Disneyland Resort in either parking lot costs minimum $20. Walt Disney World recently started charging for parking at its hotels, but currently Disneyland still validates parking for 3 hours at select table-service restaurants. Downtown Disney parking can be validated for 3-5 hours depending on what you buy and where you eat.
Have a great trip!
Thank you Maggie for these great tips and advice for visiting Disneyland California. You can check out more of Maggie's posts at her blog From Toddler to Travler and on her other social media platforms:
Lover of travel to charming places dusted with unique flavor. Join me as I explore the world sip by sip. Cheers!