You don't need a car at the Disneyland Resort
Disneyland includes two theme parks: the original Disneyland, which opened in 1955, and Disney California Adventure, which opened in 2001. Unlike the sprawling Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, the two Disneyland parks are built next to each another, with their entrances facing each other across a short plaza. There's also a "Downtown Disney" shopping and dining district extending to the west of that plaza, where you will find Disney's three on-site hotels. Dozens of other hotels are located within walking distance of the park along the adjacent Harbor Boulevard. If you get here by car, you'll just park it and not need it again until you leave. (And pay for parking each day while you are here.)
That said, public transportation options to the resort are limited. You can get a taxi, Disneyland Resort Express shuttle, Uber or Lyft from the Los Angeles airport, if you're flying into the LA area. There is no free Disney's Magical Express service from the airport for hotel guests, as there is in Orlando.
If you do bring a car, either pay to park it at your hotel, or you can pay $18 a day to park in the Mickey and Friends parking garage, located off Interstate 5, or the Toy Story surface lot, located off Harbor Blvd. There is no overnight parking at either of these locations.
On-site hotel guests get into one of the two parks an hour early each day
Disney offers an "Extra Magic Hour" for guests stating at the Disneyland Hotel, Disney's Grand Californian Hotel or Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel. On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, California Adventure opens one hour early to these hotel guests. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, it's Disneyland offering the early entry.
On days when Disneyland opens early for hotel guests, people with certain multi-day tickets (three days or more) or Southern California CityPASS tickets can get in early for that extra hour, too. Disney calls the early entry "Magic Morning" for those ticket-holders, but it's the same thing.
Buy your tickets in advance
You can find Disneyland tickets for sale on Disney's website at disneyland.com/tickets. You can print your tickets at home and take them straight to the front gate turnstiles, skipping the often-busy ticket windows at the park. If you decide to upgrade your tickets to add more days or to buy an annual pass, you can do that at any ticket window or guest relations office so long as you do it before your original ticket is up. You'll just pay the difference between what you've already paid and the price of the upgraded ticket. Unused days on Disneyland tickets expire two weeks after their first use, so there's no way to save extra days for a future visit, as you used to be able to do with Walt Disney World tickets.
If you buy a one-day ticket, the price Disney charges will vary based on the day you select for your visit, from $95 to $119 for single park tickets. The price will be higher on busier, more popular days, such as summer and Christmas vacation days.
You might be able to get a small discount on multi-day tickets from authorized resellers such as AAA (ask at your local branch), aResTravel, or from your employer's HR department. Discounted tickets are sometimes available at Sam's Club and Costco, too.
You can call in advance for dining reservations, but they're not really necessary
Disneyland does not offer an advance-payment Disney Dining Plan for its restaurants, as Walt Disney World does. As a result, Disneyland doesn't have thousands of DDP users calling months in advance to book tables to ensure that they can get the most value from their dining credits. Getting a table at one of the Disneyland Resort's table-service restaurants is pretty easy. If you're visiting on an especially busy period or want to minimize your wait for a table (always a good idea), call +1-714-781-DINE to book your time. But you can wait to do that until a few days in advance of your visit.
If you're staying on-site, use the hotel guest-only entry to California Adventure to skip the big security lines
There's an entry into California Adventure through the Disney's Grand Californian hotel, just for use by guests of the three on-site Disney hotels. It's the best way to get into California Adventure in the morning, as the bag check line there will be much shorter than the often-long lines at the plaza. In addition, using the Grand Californian entry allows you first crack at getting Fastpass reservations for the nightly World of Color show on the park's lagoon.
Disney opens the Grand Californian entrance to all visitors around lunchtime, so it's a great way for anyone to get back into the park from Downtown Disney later in the day.
Use Fastpass to skip some of the lines in the park
Disneyland uses the original paper-ticket Fastpass ride reservation system - not the new Fastpass+ system now in use at Walt Disney World. On selected rides and shows, you can get a "return time" for those attractions by inserting your park ticket into the designated Fastpass machines and collecting paper tickets that you will use to skip the regular, standby lines. One person can collect the Fastpasses for your entire group, so long as they have everyone's tickets. It's one Fastpass per park ticket. (We suggest sending the fastest person in your group ahead to get those Fastpasses when available.) Once you get a Fastpass, you can't get another one (with some exceptions) until the return time for that Fastpass has arrived, or two hours later - whichever comes first. The exceptions are shows such as World of Color, which are "off the grid" and allow you to get another Fastpass immediately.
You cannot reserve Fastpasses in advance of your visit, as you can at Walt Disney World. We suggest starting your day by getting a Fastpass for the attraction that will have the longest mid-day waits, then getting another Fastpass as soon as you can. (We'll share a specific strategy in our final tip!)
Use single rider lines to skip long waits, too
Disney allows people riding alone to skip much of the wait for certain attractions, too. Disney "cast members" (i.e. employees) will take people from the single rider line to fill in empty seats at the loading station for a ride, so that ride vehicles go out fully loaded - reducing the wait time for everyone. You don't have to be visiting the park by yourself to use single rider lines - you just have to be willing to split up your group for the actual ride. (Note that children under age 7 will not be allowed to ride alone.) On slower days and times, single rider lines might not be open. But the rides that typically offer single rider lines are:
Disney California Adventure
Park hopping is easy, but can be expensive
With the two parks located so close together, hopping between them is easy. You don't need to go through the security bag check again when walking directly between the parks, either. But visiting both parks on the same ay requires a "Park Hopper" ticket, which adds $50-60 to the cost of a one-day ticket and $40 to the cost of any multi-day ticket (that's total, not per day). Annual passes include park hopping, which is why locals treat the two parks as one. If you are visiting for the first time, you'll probably find it easier - and definitely find it cheaper - to stick with one park per day on a two-day trip. But go ahead and spring for the Park Hopper if you buy a pass for three days or more.
There are some great toddler-sized toilets in the Baby Care centers
If you are visiting with young children, take a moment to find the Baby Care centers, on Main Street in Disneyland and Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure. There are nursing rooms, changing tables and toddler-sized "real" toilets in there that will make potty time much less stressful for everyone than in the regular park bathrooms.
A bonus tip for parents: Many rides in the parks have minimum heights to ride, but parents can enjoy them by using a "child swap." That allows one parent to ride while the other waits with the too-short child. Then the other parent can ride immediately, without having to wait in the line again. Ask at any attraction with a height restriction, and the cast member measuring kids out front will show you what to do.
Get to the park before it opens in the morning, then do these rides first:
You can find the parks' operating hours online at Disneyland's website, or by using the official Disneyland app, which is free and includes current wait times for all attractions in both parks.
In Disneyland: Go to Hyperspace Mountain and get Fastpasses for everyone riding, then double back to Star Tours and ride it. If you have time before your Fastpass return, go on Buzz Lightyear, too. Ride Hyperspace Mountain, then head to Indiana Jones. Get Fastpasses for that, then go ride Big Thunder Mountain. Ride Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean (if you have time) before returning for Indiana Jones. Then get Fastpasses for Splash Mountain before riding Haunted Mansion and Pirates, if you didn't get to it before. Other highly recommended attractions for later in the day include the Fantasy Faire Theatre shows, Alice in Wonderland, the Mickey's Soundsational and Paint the Night parades and the Disneyland Forever fireworks show. Disney World visitors coming to Disneyland for the first time also ought to ride Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Roger Rabbit's Car-Toon Spin, and the Matterhorn Bobsleds.
In Disney California Adventure: Get Fastpasses for Radiator Springs Racers and World of Color before going on Soarin'. Then ride Toy Story Midway Mania and California Screamin' before returning to Radiator Springs Racers. Go get Fastpasses for the Frozen show then ride the Tower of Terror and visit the Animation Academy before your showtime. Later in the day, if it's warm, cool off with a ride on the Grizzly River Run. Past Disney World visitors also might consider rides on Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters and Monsters, Inc: Mike and Sulley to the Rescue.
Disneyland fans: What are your favorite tips for new visitors? Please share them in the comments.Tweet
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