I've been a Disney super fan since I was six, and have been writing about the parks for 15 years.
As Disneyland becomes more expensive, I learned how to recreate the feeling of visiting without entering a park.
Here's how I do it with character breakfasts and stops at Disney Resorts and, Downtown Disney.
You don't have to have a ticket to Disneyland to have a magical Disney day.
The Disneyland Resort is my happy place. I am a proud Disney adult, one of those young-at-heart grown-ups who can't resist the lure of the magic, whimsy, and churros that are all part of the Disneyland experience in Anaheim, California.
But as much as I would love to visit "the happiest place on earth" as much as possible, due to the cost of admission (currently at up to $224 a day for a park hopper ticket), and the scarcity of reservations (you must snag a date before you can enter the gates), a day at the parks isn't always an option.
Since I've been a super fan from the age of six and have been professionally writing about Disney parks and news for the last 15 years, I discovered it's possible to recreate the feeling of spending a day in Disneyland without ever setting foot in the parks. Here's everywhere I go to make that happen, no ticket required.
Get a cocktail at Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar, which has a distinct Adventureland vibe.
Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel is wildly popular, and for good reason. The drinks, food, and atmosphere are spectacular, in my opinion.
Inspired by the travel theme of Adventureland, the Jungle Cruise ride, and Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room, the bar area is plastered with unique ephemera that includes the same mask-covered columns found in the Disneyland attraction.
I always try to snag one of the few coveted tables inside to experience added fun, such as the showy special effects that accompany drinks like the Shipwreck on the Rocks, Krakatoa Punch, or the Uh-Oh.
When a table inside isn't available, there's a large patio outside with tropical landscaping and comfortable seating.
I rarely leave empty-handed; Trader Sam's offers an array of souvenir tiki mugs, but be warned, on occasion, special release mugs, such as for the holidays, have incurred hours-long lines to form to obtain one.
Take a stroll around the Disneyland Hotel's three lobbies to see the objects from the park, like a vintage Autopia car and a model of Big Thunder Mountain.
The Disneyland Hotel has three towers — Fantasy, Adventure, and Frontier — which surround a pool with an old-school Disneyland sign and models of the monorail.
In the lobby of the Fantasy Tower, which houses the main entrance and check-in desk, there are nods to various elements from Fantasyland, including chairs shaped like teacups and concept art by Mary Blair, the artist behind the iconic style of "It's a small world."
In the Adventure lobby, look for a large mural with the original concept art for Adventureland. Pedestals in front feature various animals seen in the Jungle Cruise attraction.
But my favorite is the Frontier Tower lobby, which houses a large model of Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain, and the attention to detail is incredible.
My family and I always visit these towers during the holiday season when each lobby has its own themed Christmas tree and Santa. I also like to walk over to the entrance of the convention center to see one of the vintage Autopia cars on display for photo ops, plucked from the original race car track attraction in Disneyland.
The stunning Grand Californian Hotel and Spa pays homage to the arts and crafts movement.
I always visit the awe-inspiring lobby of Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, which is filled with antiquarian books, delicate pottery, and decorated plates that serve as examples of the arts and crafts movement.
I suggest signing up for a free hour-long tour of the space to fully appreciate all of the design elements that were used to curate the hotel.
In the evenings, I like to swing by the hotel's Hearthstone Lounge to sip one of their Kentucky Mule's served in a classic brass mug and nibble on their tasty achiote chicken quesadilla.
If I'm not dining, I take my cocktail to the lobby, stretch out on one of their plush leather couches, and enjoy the scenery in a place that feels evocative of Frontierland.
If you can't make it to the Lamplight Lounge in California Adventure for their legendary nachos, try them at the Grand Californian instead.
There are several dining options at the Grand Californian, one of the most upscale options in Disneyland, if not all of Anaheim.
But besides the aforementioned Hearthstone Lounge, I always go for the double-baked nachos at the GCH Craftsman Grill, especially if I know I won't make it into California Adventure for the legendary lobster nachos at the Pixar-themed Lamplight Lounge.
The nachos at GCH arrive smothered in meat, cheese, beans, and more, and when combined with the Maine lobster Quesadilla, taste a lot like those served at Lamplight Lounge.
Downtown Disney has more varied dining options than you'll find in the parks.
I think that some of the best dining experiences at Disneyland are within Downtown Disney. I find it has a more relaxed atmosphere than in the theme parks, too.
There are so many restaurant options: Mexican, Mediterranean, Italian, a brewpub, a burger joint, and a place where you can have your meal with a side of bowling.
My family's current favorite is Naples Ristorante for the simplicity of their pizza margarita with a salad on the side. We prefer to sit outside to watch as the parade of park-goers pass by, including kids in their Disney costumes and adults with huge grins on their faces.
I also always book lunch or dinner reservations in advance; otherwise, you might experience a lengthy wait. Book reservations via the Disneyland app 60 days before visiting, just remember there is a next-day cancellation charge if your plans change.
Book a character breakfast to pose with Disney's famous faces.
Mickey, Minnie, and pals aren't only found in Disneyland or California Adventure. They also make appearances at several character breakfast and brunch offerings at Disney's official hotels, and often with a much shorter wait for a photo op.
My favorite is Mickey's Tales of Adventure Brunch Buffet at the Storytellers Café at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. The buffet includes Mickey Waffles, hand-cut meats, chile verde chilaquiles, and the characters come directly to you while you dine.
Goofy's Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel also features character visits alongside Mickey Mouse pancakes and waffles, and Goofy's peanut butter pizza, which has always been a hit with my daughter.
The Napa Rose is Disneyland's most upscale dining option and offers the Disney Princess Breakfast Adventures experience. It's a splurge at $125 per person (even for kids — that price is for anyone over the age of three) for three courses but makes guests feel like Disney royalty.
The World of Disney store is much larger than any gift shop in the parks.
You don't have to go into the parks to pick up a souvenir. The World of Disney store is the largest gift store in the Disneyland Resort area, and on the west coast. I always end up purchasing something here, whether I planned to or not.
The massive store, located in Downtown Disney, near the park's esplanade, features an array of items exclusive to the Disney resort area, from T-shirts and toys to bedazzled Minnie ears and curated seasonal collections.
Even when I've been at the parks all day, I often save my souvenir shopping for an end-of-the-day visit to the World of Disney. Plus, that way, I'm not lugging my goodies around with me all day.
For something "Star Wars"-themed, the Star Wars Trading Post is now open in the store, too.
The Dress Shop in Downtown Disney sells a larger collection of dresses than in Walt Disney World.
The Dress Shop in Downtown Disney sells colorful frocks that pay homage to Disney classics like "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Alice in Wonderland." Along with dresses, they sell purses, hair accessories, and, of course, ears.
The dress shop is across from a large Sephora store, so when I do end up buying one of their pretty dresses, I head next door to get really glammed up.
Currently, the only other place to buy these vintage-inspired dresses is Disney Clothiers on Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland, but they have a much smaller collection than what is offered at the shop in Downtown Disney.
Seasonal landscaping, murals, and photo ops are plentiful and as intricate as those seen inside the parks.
It's easy to rush through Downtown Disney, but I always take the time to appreciate unique landscaping and photo ops created by Disney's Imagineers, the same team that designs the theme parks.
During Halloween, look for towers of pumpkins, and during events such as Pixar Fest, whimsical floral arrangements take the shape of characters like Buzz Lightyear.
Special vignettes will also pop up from time to time to promote new Disney projects. For example, "Star Wars" fans should stop by the Trading Post for the "Book of Boba Fett" photo op, where you can sit in Jabba the Hutt's throne.
Nearby, the former ESPN Zone building entrance is home to murals, including one that pays tribute to Chadwick Boseman of "Black Panther," as well as a Spiderman portrait to celebrate the opening of the Avengers Campus, and a mural in celebration of Lunar New Year.
One-of-a-kind treats are available in places like Downtown Disney.
Many Disney parks sell treats you'll only find there, but some of my favorite sweets are outside its walls.
At Marceline's Confectionery, named for Walt Disney's hometown in Missouri, I love to watch candy makers through large picture windows as they create culinary masterpieces like candied apples and peanut brittle.
Salt and Straw, a newer addition to Downtown Disney, serves small-batch ice cream with unique flavors like pear and blue cheese and strawberry honey balsamic with black pepper.
Finally, the CrazyShake Window by Black Tap doles out over-the-top, overloaded milkshakes, including one with Mickey Mouse in the form of a crispy treat, topped with sprinkles.
End the night with a great — and free — view of the park fireworks.
A little past 9 p.m., whether I'm staying on-site or not, I always swing by the esplanade, which is the large expanse located between the entrances for Disneyland Resort and California Adventure.
This area is a fantastic spot to watch the nightly fireworks that explode above the Disneyland Resort. The area near the Lego store also has a good view.
While it won't come with the accompanying soundtrack piped throughout the park, there are far fewer people, which means more space to watch the show. And, since you'll already be outside of the park, there will be no need to contend with crowds trying to exit at the same time.
Read the original article on Insider