- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
No trip to Southern California is complete without a visit to Disneyland Park. The only Disney park both designed and completed by Walt Disney himself, it changed the game for modern theme park design and remains near the top of the list of most popular parks globally, just after Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando. Not bad for a former Anaheim orange grove.
With just two parks and an array of hotels, most within walking distance, Disneyland is arguably easier to visit than its Florida counterpart and can be an ideal add-on to your Southern California vacation—or a destination unto itself. Whether you’re just popping in for the day or are planning an extended visit, here’s all the must-have info you need to plan your trip.
All listings featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. If you book something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
All about the parks
Disneyland Resort is made up of two theme parks, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure.
If you only have one day to visit, spend it at Disneyland Park. This is where you’ll find classic attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, Matterhorn Bobsleds, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (yes, the one about the drunk-driving toad who winds up in hell).
A huge draw to this park is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a 14-acre expansion dedicated to the franchise in a galaxy far, far away. Live out your Star Wars fantasies here by stepping into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, sipping on blue milk (a non-dairy blend of rice and coconut milk with pineapple, dragon fruit, and watermelon that can be an acquired taste), or bellying up to the bar at Oga’s Cantina while DJ R-3X spins some intergalactic tunes. Don’t miss Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Disney’s most innovative attraction yet, but you’ll have to plan ahead. The ride doesn’t have a typical standby line, and spots in the virtual queue go quickly on busy days.
Across the way, Disney California Adventure is designed in a Mission and Art Deco style to reflect Southern California as it was when Disney, the man, moved there in the 1920s. This park features some true gems like Cars Land, which recreates the town from the 2006 animated film. Take a high-speed ride through the painted desert on Radiator Springs Racers or climb aboard a tractor on Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, a simple spinner attraction featuring a soundtrack sung by Larry the Cable Guy that has no logical reason for being as fun as it is. You won’t find this in the Disneyland times guide, but each night around sunset, the neon lights of Radiator Springs flicker on to the tune of “Shh-boom,” just like in the movie.
The newest addition to the park is Avengers Campus, a land dedicated to Marvel superheroes. It features one of California Adventure’s must-do attractions, Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout, which is a new take on an old favorite. Disneyland re-themed the former Tower of Terror to the Marvel film, giving it a fantastic soundtrack (you never know what you'll hear, but options include Pat Benatar, Elvis Presley, Parliament, and The Jackson 5) and pushing the ride’s mechanics to their limit, so you feel like you’re a yo-yo on a string in the best way possible.
If that sounds a little intense, leave the action to the pros and check out the Spider-Man stunt show, one of many “heroic encounters” outside the Avengers Headquarters. It’s here that you can see Disney’s first-ever “stuntronic,” a cutting-edge stunt animatronic, fly through the air with no wires—or webs—attached.
Because Disneyland’s attendance base is largely Southern California locals, crowds are often lower when annual passholders are blocked from entry, which includes many weekends and large portions of the summer months. Compare your travel dates to Disneyland’s calendar for the Imagine Key and Enchant Key pass options before booking.
Disneyland’s two parks are connected by an esplanade that also links with Downtown Disney, a shopping and dining complex that includes the kind of diversions you don’t expect to see at a theme park. Highlights here include Ballast Point, Disneyland’s first on-site brewery, and Salt & Straw, for their unique seasonal flavors of small-batch ice cream like buttermilk pancakes or mushroom muddy buddies. From Downtown Disney, hop aboard the Disneyland Monorail (a valid park ticket is required) for a different sort of park tour and easy access to Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, where you'll find Space Mountain.
What to know about ticketing
Prices for single-day tickets vary depending on the time of year and day of the week you visit, and range from $104 to $154 for adults and $98 to $146 for children ages three to nine. The lowest prices are found on weekdays in January, February, May, and September; the spring break in mid-April, as well as fall and winter holidays, are the priciest. Multi-day tickets are cheaper the longer you stay, down to $72 per day on a five-day visit, which can be used over 13 days. In addition to a park ticket, you’ll need a park reservation for the same date. Reservations can be made up to 120 days in advance, and you can check availability before purchasing tickets.
If this is your first visit and you only have one day, stick to Disneyland Park for the classic experience. The park has roughly double the number of attractions compared to Disney California Adventure, so there’s plenty to fill your day. For multi-day trips, opt for park hopper tickets, which costs $55 per day. Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure are so close together—it’s just about 100 steps from gate to gate—that it’s easy to cover a lot of ground. If you move quick, you can often catch both parks’ nighttime spectaculars in one evening.
Splurge $20 per day to add Disneyland’s Genie+ service, launching in fall 2021, which offers digital booking of many of the most popular rides and attractions. A replacement for the free FastPass system, Genie+ also includes PhotoPass downloads from in-park photographers and onboard ride photos—the kind you usually have to shell out extra to get. Tip: When you see your photo displayed at an attraction’s exit, snap a quick photo with your smartphone to capture the 8-character code on top of the image. You'll need to enter it in the Disneyland app to link the photo to your account.
Where to stay
Disneyland has three on-site resort hotels, Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, all of which offer guests entry to the theme parks an hour before the public each day. The Grand Californian even has its own entrance to Disney California Adventure that allows guests to bypass potentially long lines at the security checkpoint and turnstiles. (Use this back door to the park to fulfill your late-night Dole Whip cravings and be back in bed, treat in hand, in 20 minutes flat.)
All three on-site hotels are located within a few minutes’ walk to the park gates, making it easy to pop back over for nap time or to grab a sweatshirt for chilly SoCal evenings. You pay for that convenience—rates start around $360 per night at Paradise Pier and $600 per night at the Grand Californian—so keep an eye on this page for seasonal specials.
There’s also a wide range of hotels just across the street, many within easy walking distance of the park gate or along the Anaheim Resort Transportation bus line. If the benefit of early entry is important for you to maximize your park time or you’re planning a Disneyland trip for a special occasion, on-site is the way to go. But with many offsite hotels often at least $100 less per night than Disneyland’s most affordable room, you’ll find significant savings by broadening your search. Two new upscale options have come on the market recently: the Westin Anaheim and the JW Marriott Anaheim, both a short walk from the theme parks.
Where to eat
There’s no shortage of choices when it comes to dining, whether you’re looking for a high-end meal or a snack to eat while dashing to your next ride.
Napa Rose at Disney’s Grand Californian features an impressive wine program with a 17,000-bottle cellar and more than 1,000 labels. The menu changes seasonally and offers entrees like braised lamb or smoked pork chops with a cherry orange sauce, with expertly selected wine pairings.
Lamplight Lounge at Disney California Adventure wins points not just for its waterfront location, fan-favorite lobster nachos, or sugar-dusted miniature donuts that come with a pair of raspberry and chocolate dipping sauces. The theming and decor is on point and gives a glimpse into the animation process for a number of Pixar’s films.
If you’re more in the mood for fried pickles and ranch (no disrespect), head to Carnation Cafe on Main Street, USA in Disneyland Park, where the menu also features Walt’s favorite chili and meatloaf.
When it’s snack time, you can’t go wrong with a Dole Whip—our current favorites are the pineapple-raspberry swirl at The Tropical Hideaway or the Pixar Pier Frosty Parfait at Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats, which layers lemon soft serve with blue raspberry slush. Disneyland is constantly rolling out a parade of new churro flavors. Try the Caliente Churro from Senor Buzz Churros on Pixar Pier for a zippier take on cinnamon sugar.
Take advantage of the mobile ordering feature in the Disneyland app to pre-order your meals and avoid standing in line. Select your arrival window in advance for popular locations like Ronto Roasters in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, where we recommend trying the Ronto Wrap, a grilled sausage with sliced roasted pork, slaw, and a creamy peppercorn sauce.
Alcohol is not served at Disneyland Park, with the exception of Oga’s Cantina in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Club 33, a members-only restaurant and lounge. Those wanting to enjoy an adult beverage more freely in the parks will have to cross the esplanade to Disney California Adventure.
Special events to consider
Disneyland has a number of annual events year-round. The Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival runs for about two months each spring and features cooking demos, wine tastings, and more than a dozen booths featuring appetizer-sized portions of California-inspired cuisine, as well as cocktails, beer, and wine.
Lunar New Year brings a big celebration to Disney California Adventure with a special parade and treats like mandarin orange green tea tarts (Mickey-shaped, of course) and a winter plum blossom gin mule. But our favorite feature is the wishing wall that invites visitors to leave a message of hope, health, and happiness for the coming year.
During Halloween, Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party is a special ticketed event at Disney California Adventure (meaning the park will close early to other guests) on select nights in September and October.
The holiday season brings a number of special events and attractions to both parks. Our favorite is Haunted Mansion Holiday, which brings a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay to the Haunted Mansion that completely transforms the classic attraction. It’s a Small World also gets a special treatment with a medley of holiday tunes. Whatever you do, don’t miss the Christmas Fantasy Parade, with its classic toy soldiers marching down Main Street, USA. Unlike at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, the holiday parade and fireworks are included in regular park admission. Now that’s really magical.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler