Don’t want to feel like a newbie in the “locals parks” of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure? We have tips (101, to be exact) that will help you do Disneyland like a pro. Some are simple hacks to save money, some will help you save time, and others are just random oddities that will enhance the experience based on our time as Annual Passholders and Disneyland locals.
Our 101 Great Walt Disney World Tips list was so popular that we’ve decided to do this one for Disneyland! Not all of these tips will be applicable to everyone (not everyone is going to need to know about a Baby Care Center…even if the adults in your party can sometimes be big babies), but there should be something for everyone here.
Whether you’re a first time planner or a weathered veteran who still has nightmare-flashbacks to Light Magic, there are tips for you here! Oh, and be sure to read the comments at the end, as some readers have shared additional tips that are pretty strong. Keep in mind that these tips are pretty random…if you’re looking for start to finish vacation planning advice, read our comprehensive Disneyland Trip Planning Guide instead of or in addition to this post.
Note that this post was last updated on May 3, 2016 with new tips based on things we’ve learned recently (while some old tips that are no longer relevant were removed). Let’s get started with our 101 favorite Disneyland tips!
101 Disneyland Tips
You can save money on your Disneyland tickets by purchasing from Disney Authorized Ticket Sellers. Just be careful, as there are a lot of Disneyland ticket scams. It can also be good to get the Park Hopper add-on as hopping between the parks is incredibly easy.
On the topic of Park Hopping, if you’re visiting on a busy day, rope drop Disneyland, do Peter Pan’s Flight immediately, then grab a FastPass for Hyperspace Mountain. Right after that, head to Disney California Adventure and grab a FastPass for Radiator Spring Racers. You can simultaneously hold FastPasses in each of the two parks if you have a Park Hopper ticket. (We have more Disneyland ticket tips & recommendations in our ticket article.)
Fond of booze? While it’s not as cool as “Drinking Around the World” in Epcot, you can have a similar bar crawl in Disney California Adventure, Downtown Disney, and the Disney-owned hotels. Just follow our “Disneyland Drinking Debauchery” Guide for tips!
If you are celebrating a special occasion, make sure to pin up a button reflecting the celebration at one of the Disney-owned hotels or in the parks from Guest Services (or at a restaurant if the line at Guest Services is long). You may receive special treatment if wearing the buttons. If you are not celebrating a special occasion but just want a free button, ask a Cast Member for one in Cars Land at Disney California Adventure.
The easiest spot to watch the Disneyland Forever fireworks is the area by ‘it’s a small world’, but the best spot is right on the center of Main Street, USA. It’s a lot busier on Main Street, but worth it if you don’t mind crowds. Check out this article for a map of the best and worst Disneyland fireworks viewing locations.
If planning your trip, you may encounter outdated resources suggesting that there’s little benefit to staying in on-site, Disney-owned hotels at Disneyland Resort. This changed with the opening of Cars Land, as early access to Radiator Springs Racers can be very valuable. Our on-site v. off-site hotel post reflects the current pros and cons of staying off-site and on-site.
Christmas entertainment is included in the cost of daily admission–there is no separate hard ticket event. Christmas offerings include ‘it’s a small world’ holiday, Haunted Mansion Holiday, and much more. For more in-depth info about the holidays, read our Ultimate Guide to Disneyland at Christmas.
Star Wars Land is currently under construction at Disneyland, and anticipated to open in December 2018. Due to construction, Disneyland Railroad, Mark Twain Riverboat, and Fantasmic are not currently running. Check out our post on Star Wars Land construction progress to see how things are coming.
Disneyland is celebrating its 60th Anniversary now through September 5, 2016. This celebration includes the new Paint the Night parade, new Disneyland Forever fireworks, new World of Color, and more. We have more details in our Ultimate Guide to Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary post.
To help plan your Disneyland trip, request a free vacation planning DVD from Disney. These are great for helping getting kids excited about the trip. (And by “kids,” I mean you…I’m not afraid to admit that this DVD gets me hyped for a visit!)
Selfie sticks are not allowed at Disneyland. Do not try to sneak one in and use it–especially on attractions. They will stop the ride, embarrass you, and kick you out of the park. This has happened numerous times, most recently on May 2, 2016 when California Screamin’ had to be evacuated because of a selfie stick user.
FastPass should be used to avoid long lines, but if you must wait in one long line, make it Indiana Jones Adventure. The queue is an experience in itself, and you can use this decoder to translate some Mara-glyphics in the queue.
It has become somewhat of a “tradition” for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure to have a 24-hour party the Friday before Memorial Day. Note that these parties are very popular with locals, but do cause increased crowds on those days. If you will take advantage of the extra hours, we highly recommend going. If not, it’s best to plan on visiting a different time of year. The party will likely not be occurring on Memorial Day 2016, but might later in June. Here are some tips for the party.
Mad Hatter sometimes plays “musical chairs” with kids at Coke Corner on Main Street in Disneyland once daily. This usually occurs at 2:30 p.m., but the time is subject to change and is not listed in the Times Guide. Ask a Cast Member at Coke Corner for the exact time it will be occurring during your visit. Here’s a video of the game.
Disneyland now enforces FastPass return times, but there is a 15 minute grace period, so don’t discard your FastPasses if you’re only a bit late.
Due to the large population of Annual Passholders and how blockout dates redistribute them, the best time to visit Disneyland isn’t as simple as when school is in session. Read about the other best times to visit Disneyland Resort in our When to Visit Disneyland post, discussing crowds, special events, weather, and more.
Have kids that want to trade pins with Cast Members? Buying pins from Amazon or eBay to trade with Cast Members is the difference between spending ~$1 per pin and $8-10 per pin. This makes a cheap souvenir and fun activity on the trip. (Note: some pins on eBay and Amazon are fakes.) Likewise, pressed pennies are cheap and there are machines all around the parks, so those can make for a fun activity, too.
Guests staying at the Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel (and its Disney Vacation Club Villas) have access to a private viewing deck, which overlooks Paradise Pier and offers a very unique view of World of Color.
It rains very few days per year in Southern California, so packing ponchos is probably unnecessary unless rain is in the forecast. Instead, pack extra juice for your phone, collapsible water bottles with filters (the drinking fountain water is bad), and parade blankets. Read our other suggestions in our What to Pack for Disney List post.
If you’ve never visited Disneyland Resort, you should go in with at least a rough plan of attack. Failing that, prioritize the following as the first attractions to do each morning when you arrive: Radiator Springs Racers at Disney California Adventure and Fantasyland, Indiana Jones Adventure, Space Mountain, or Star Tours: the Adventures Continue in Disneyland. Read our 1-Day Disneyland Itinerary and 1-Day Disney California Adventure Itinerary for more tips.
Napa Rose, located in the Grand Californian Hotel, is Disneyland Resort’s best restaurant. Second best is Carthay Circle Restaurant in Disney California Adventure. Read our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews for food photos, and our thoughts on the good and bad of Disneyland Resort dining.
Both parks have Baby Care Centers and First Aid Centers. Baby Care Stations are great quiet places to take your kids, and the First Aid Centers have nurses on site who can assist with minor issues (like blisters).
We aren’t huge fans of the World of Color Dining Packages, but if you’re going to do one, pick the Carthay Circle Restaurant lunch (not dinner!) package.
Want to know which rides to do and which to skip in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure? Our Disneyland Ride Guide and Disney California Adventure Ride Guide have summaries of every attraction, tips, and numerical scores so you can plan your day and avoid the duds. (Lookin’ at you, Innoventions!)
Jungle Cruise skippers sometimes have free maps of the ride that they’ll give out to guests if asked. There are actually a lot of freebies at Disneyland–for other things, read our Free Things at Disneyland post.
The Star Wars “Season of the Force” overlay for Tomorrowland is fairly underwhelming, with the exception of Hyperspace Mountain, which is phenomenal. Be sure to get a FastPass for this early in the day, as they can go quickly.
The Disneyland Dining Plan is nothing like the Walt Disney World Dining Plan. Very few Disneyland guests even know about it, and it’s rarely used by anyone.
Disneyland gets into the Halloween spirit with “Halloween Time at Disneyland,” which includes attraction overlays, Mickey’s Halloween Party, seasonal restaurant menus, and more. Read our Guide to Halloween Time at Disneyland for everything you need to know.
If you’re visiting on a night when Disney California Adventure has 2 World of Color performances, always go to the later one for the lowest crowds. This means strategically pulling your World of Color FastPass later in the day so you don’t get “stuck” with an earlier show. Read our other Tips for Viewing World of Color for more info.
Make sure to arrive at Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room far enough in advance of a show to pick up a Dole Whip. The line inside the queue/waiting area is usually shorter than the one in the Adventureland walkway. They’re “classic” Disney snacks, and you can take them in the show with you.
Using Uber between John Wayne Airport (SNA) and Disneyland-area hotels is about $20 each way (your first ride is free with referral link or code tomb3417) and given that many of these hotels are within walking distance, you may not need a rental car at Disneyland Resort. Here are some other Disneyland Transportation Tips.
Did you know that there is a nightly “Sh-Boom” moment at dusk when the lights come on in Cars Land? Read our other Cars Land Tips & Tricks.
On select days during the Christmas season, handmade candy canes are prepared at Candy Palace in Disneyland and Trolley Treats in Disney California Adventure. Lines form for these early (before park opening) for these. Despite the fanfare, there really isn’t anything all that special about these candy canes. The fun is in watching Cast Members make the candy canes at the open air bakeries (which anyone can do, regardless of whether you purchase a candy cane).
Non-drinkers normally avoid bars & lounges, but everyone should visit Trader Sam’s at Disneyland Hotel. The theming is Walt Disney Imagineering at the top of its game, and you can spend hours examining all of the wonderful little details. The drink menu is unique, and there are excellent food options–you can order from the Trader Sam’s menu or the Tangaroa Terrace menu, as the two restaurants share a kitchen.
A great selection of CDs featuring Disney theme park music are available in the Emporium on Main Street USA, but some of the best music is available (legally) online.
Although Disney California Adventure has received a massive overhaul in some areas to correct problems that plagued the park when it opened in 2001, there are still remnants of “extinct” areas. Check out the restrooms in the front of the park and in Paradise Pier for a taste of Sunshine Plaza and Route 66, respectively.
Did you know that there are secret restrooms in Disneyland? Not even kidding. Check out some other Disneyland Secrets & Hidden Details in that post.
You WILL get wet on Grizzly River Run in Disney California Adventure. Store your electronics in the lockers near this attraction, which are free for the first two hours.
The Anaheim Convention Center is located within walking distance of Disneyland and is huge. If a large convention is in town, nights in the park can be very crowded even in the off-season. Hotels near Disneyland will also often charge higher rates during conventions. Make sure to consult the Anaheim Convention Center calendar when planning your trip.
With the exception of Splash Mountain, Critter Country is generally a less-busy land. Stop by Hungry Bear Restaurant (one of our favorite restaurants) in late afternoon and get a table by the water as the sun sets on the Rivers of America.
One of the best snacks at Disneyland is the Matterhorn Macaroon at Jolly Holiday Bakery. Go first thing in the morning for a freshly made Matterhorn Macaroon!
Want some other ideas of the best places to get a quick meal at Disneyland? Check out our Top 10 Disneyland Counter Service Restaurants post.
Haunted Mansion Cast Members used to hand out “Death Certificates” to guests who asked. These are no longer given out, but you can print your own from DoomBuggies.com and give it to your kids after their first ride on the Haunted Mansion!
Innoventions should be avoided, but the second story balcony outside the exit offers the best view of Disneyland. To see this view without going through the attraction, walk up the exit ramp.
Disneyland Resort counter service restaurants will give you a free cup of water (ask for a large cup!) or a free cup of hot water.
Alcohol is available in Disney California Adventure, but not in Disneyland (except the exclusive Club 33).
City Hall has recipes for popular Disneyland dishes that they can provide to guests; alternatively, simply asking your server for the recipe of a dish you like might result in a visit to your table by someone from the kitchen.
Disneyland offers a number of Guided Tours for an additional charge, most of which are fairly popular among fans. We’ve only done the Holiday Time at Disneyland Tour, which we thought was just “okay.”
If you watch the window above Snow White’s Scary Adventures, you will see The Evil Queen appear and disappear.
Bell Services at Disney hotels will store your luggage, meaning you can enjoy the parks if you arrive too early on check-in day or have a late flight out on check-out day.
There is an “invisible” 50,000 point target in between Zurg’s breast plates in Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. Aim (roughly) for the “Z” on his chest.
Although not as necessary in the temperate climate of Southern California, if you’re visiting in the height of the summer, Frogg Togg Chilly Pads are a great way to keep cool in the parks.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Radiator Springs Racers are both much better at night. In fact, many Disneyland attractions are better at night.
Adults can order from the kid’s menus, which is a great way to save money while still getting a meal that will satiate smaller/moderate appetites.
The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland is the best Disneyland guidebook. While it’s smaller than its Walt Disney World counterpart (known as the “Disney Bible” among fans), it’s incredibly comprehensive.
A Christmas Fantasy Parade is not as impressive as its Walt Disney World cousin, but the best viewing place for the parade is in the hub facing Main Street or at the end of Main Street near the hub. The parade comes right at you, and is well-lit for photos by the lights of Main Street.
Grizzly Peak Airfield (previously Condor Flats) in Disney California Adventure has an extensive backstory involving the history of aviation that is told throughout the land in some subtle ways. Make sure to keep an eye out for the details there. If you don’t, here’s a summary of the original backstory, and here’s info about some of the changes.
Guests are allowed to bring their own snacks into Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, just no glass bottles or outside alcohol.
PhotoPass Cast Members will take (free!) photos of you with your camera, so don’t be afraid to ask! Make sure your settings are dialed in before handing them the camera, as they will not typically adjust settings.
Attractions don’t close when the parks close, meaning that you can get in a 90-minute line at 10:59 p.m. when the parks close at 11 p.m. and be in the park well past closing. This is a great way to experience rides with perpetually long lines, like Radiator Springs Racers, without wasting “valuable” time.
Plaza Inn in Disneyland serves the greatest fried chicken known to man. It also serves amazing yule log during the holiday season.
The Haunted Mansion queue passes through one pet cemetery, but there’s actually a second that is now out of the view of guests. Ask a Cast Member to see it.
There are a few free tours available at Disneyland Resort, including the “Art of the Craft Tour” at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, which examines the hotel’s influences and theme.
If you have growing kids, a great spot for an annual photo is near the Cigar Shop Indian on Main Street USA. He’s a great measuring stick for their growth.
Hidden Mickey spotting is a fun game for kids. The books/apps have different point levels for the various Mickeys. Offer prizes to add to the fun. If Hidden Mickeys aren’t your thing, bringing along the Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland and searching for interest details is a great way to increase your appreciation for the design of Disneyland.
Bayside Brews in Disney California Adventure serves the best beer (Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA), Trader Sam’s in the Disneyland Hotel has the best mixed drinks, and Napa Rose in the Grand Californian has the best wines.
If you’re not interested in staking out a spot and watching Disneyland’s fireworks, riding attractions from which the fireworks are visible during the fireworks can enhance the experience. The highlights of these attractions are Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Matterhorn. Best of all is Storybook Land Canal Boats, which actually stops moving when the fireworks start, giving guests a view of the fireworks from their boat!
The Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage has one of the dullest queues of any Disney attraction and much of it is in the sun. It’s also a low-capacity attraction, so lines move slowly. However, the line at this attraction fluctuate throughout the day and it’s pretty easy to see the entire line as you walk past, so line up for it when it’s shorter.
Toontown contains a number of gags both of the interactive and sight variety. Spend a little time exploring this area–some of the gags are quite clever!
If you anticipate “needing” a princess dress or pirate costume while at Disneyland, buy it in advance, not in the park. This “Disney Princess Dress Up Trunk” offers a few options at a great price.
White Water Snacks at the Grand Californian makes some excellent nachos and is easily accessible from Disney California Adventure. An even better option for nachos is the lobster nachos at Cove Bar.
If you listen carefully to Snow White’s Wishing Well, you can hear her singing. This Wishing Well is also a great spot to propose.
Fantasyland attractions are best experienced first thing in the morning or last thing at night to minimize waits.
Shops on Main Street in Disneyland are open for an hour after the park closes. Do your shopping once you can’t do rides.
There are numerous remnants of Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland in Frontierland. This attraction was replaced by Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and now has a cult following. See what you can find!
Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney is a great place to grab an inexpensive sandwich. Try the Holiday Sandwich, which was originally only available during the Thanksgiving/Christmas season, but became such a favorite that it is now on the permanent menu! It may not sound all that appetizing, but don’t let the description fool you.
The Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough is an oft-overlooked attraction, but it’s a very well done attraction featuring “window” vignettes from Sleeping Beauty. Likewise, Tarzan’s Treehouse, another walk-through is an okay attraction, but makes up for its substantive shortcomings with great views of the park.
Disneyland Resort has a couple of excellent bread bowl soups: broccoli cheddar at Pacific Wharf Cafe in Disney California Adventure and gumbo at Royal Street Veranda in Disneyland.
Several attractions (more than at Walt Disney World) have single rider lines that will save you a lot of time if you don’t mind splitting up from your group. The best of these is Radiator Springs Racers, where it’s not uncommon to save an hour or more on the posted standby time.
If you want to get the world famous Disneyland Monte Cristo, consider going to Cafe Orleans instead of Blue Bayou. It’s cheaper at Cafe Orleans, although you won’t have a view of Pirates of the Caribbean there.
One of the less-popular bars is Al Fresco Tasting Terrace in Disney California Adventure, which is located upstairs in Wine Country Trattoria. It’s a nice, tranquil place to relax in the afternoon, and it has a great view into Cars Land.
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure both have a daily flag retreat ceremony that is short, but nice to watch. It’s the patriotic thing to do.
If you give a PhotoPass photographer a (discrete) heads up, they generally can help you capture photos of your proposal.
If you need a place to store your luggage, there are luggage lockers at the Desert Inn & Suites across the street from Disneyland. This can be useful if you’re staying farther from Disneyland and want to maximize your time in the parks on your last day, or don’t trust the Bell Services in your own hotel. Read more about Desert Inn & Suites in our review.
Instead of spending $10+ on each on-ride photo, get PhotoPass+ for UNLIMITED on-ride photos plus photos from PhotoPass photographers around the parks. Pre-purchase this to save more money.
Ask a Cast Member at the station if you can ride in the front of the next monorail. It’s the only compartment that has air conditioning and the view is great!
The “standard” entrance to Cars Land in Disney California Adventure is down Route 66, but the best entrance is through the bluff that connects to Pacific Wharf, which offers a great reveal of the Cadillac Mountain Range. It feels like you’re in a real National Park!
Instead of photographing Sleeping Beauty Castle from the front or near the Partners statue, try photographing your family from the fence near the Wishing Well or on the opposite side (on a path to Fantasyland). You can easily get photos without other guests in them from these two spots, along with a great angle of Sleeping Beauty Castle!
Peter Pan’s Flight does not have FastPass at Disneyland and is a very popular ride. Go first thing in the morning.
Disneyland Resort corn dogs have iconic status. Corn Dog Castle in Disney California Adventure has a variety of options, and Little Red Wagon on Main Street in Disneyland is a long-time fan favorite. Corn dogs can be found a couple other places, but these are the clear-cut “best” spots if you ask locals.
The Disney Gallery (immediately to the right when you enter the park) has a rotating exhibit focusing on an artistic component of Disneyland. Take the time to check out the art in here–you’ll gain a new appreciation for some aspect of the park!
Don’t buy into Disney Vacation Club by the alluring promotions while at Disneyland Resort. Wait until you get home, do the research, and buy via the resale market if you’re going to buy at all.
The Main Street Cinema is a great place to take a break, relax, and watch some classic Disney animated shorts.
Be on the lookout for Jazz and Pirate bands performing in New Orleans Square. Both groups are very talented and are worth stopping to enjoy.
Pay attention to Roz at the end of Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue in Disney California Adventure. She is interactive.
Paradise Pier Hotel was originally a third party hotel, but was renovated when Disney purchased it. As such, some of the theming is a bit on the light side, but the rooms are nice.
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln is not to be missed. It’s a divisive attraction (we love it), but even if you don’t like it, you get to relax in AC for 15-20 minutes. What’s not to like about that?
There is a skeleton in Indiana Jones Adventure wearing Mickey Mouse ears as you go around the left turn when first approaching the bridge. He’s almost impossible to spot unless the ride breaks down and you’re evac’d.
Walt Disney had an apartment in Disneyland above the Fire Station that is still intact to this day. A candle burns in the window of this apartment, and at Christmas, there is a tree in the window.
Carnation Cafe is one of the best table service restaurants at Disneyland and is relatively inexpensive. Make sure to book reservations in advance, as it’s fairly popular, too!
Even the restrooms at Disneyland Resort are themed. Restrooms in the Hollywood Land are in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Storer House, in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles. Similarly, the restrooms near the Alice in Wonderland dark ride in Disneyland are quite well done.
Disneyland is known to many as the “smaller” cousin of Walt Disney World, but there’s really a ton to do at Disneyland Resort (check out our article comparing and contrasting Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort for more info). Read as much as you can when planning your trip and plan out where you want to eat, what you want to see, etc., for the best trip possible!
Yeah, I know that’s 102 tips, not 101. I lost track when I was making our 2016 update to this post and couldn’t figure out which to get. Consider the last two tips 101a and 101b, if you want.
For actual Disneyland trip planning tips and comprehensive advice beyond these quick and random tips, make sure to read our Disneyland Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
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If you have solid Disneyland or Disney California Adventure tips that aren’t mentioned here, please post them below. Your feedback is half the fun! If you have any other comments or questions, please feel free to post those, too.
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