1-Day Disneyland “Daily Trip Blueprint”

If we had one day in Disneyland and were looking for the perfect way to spend that day, these are the attractions we would do, the restaurants where we’d dine, and the metaphorical roses we would stop to smell. The idea behind this post is to answer the frequently asked question, “what would you do if you only had one day in ____ Disney park?” We are starting with Disneyland for the first post in this series of “Daily Trip Blueprints.” This particular guide for Disneyland has been revised from its original form for the Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration, which is now underway.

Note that this Daily Trip Blueprint isn’t a touring plan or strategy guide for visiting Disneyland, nor is it a thorough listing of every attraction at Disneyland. For our ride ratings and reviews of each attractions (which will give you a better idea of what to prioritize), read our comprehensive Best Disneyland Attractions & Ride Guide post. If you need comprehensive help for planning every aspect of your visit to Disneyland, from where to purchase discount tickets to transportation from the airport and more, read our Disneyland Resort Trip Planning Guide.

Instead, what we are providing is a rough blueprint of our favorite things to do in an “ideal day” at Disneyland with low to moderate crowds (on busier days, it will be more difficult to accomplish all of this), and when you should do them for the ‘best experience,’ but not necessarily the most efficient experience. In other words, this strives to be subjective rather than objective.

If budget is no issue, we recommend staying at Disneyland Hotel (our favorite) or Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel (closer to the parks) for your visit. If you only have 1 day for Disneyland (hopefully you also have a day for Disney California Adventure), your time is fairly limited and you won’t be able to see it all, but at least staying at one of these hotels puts you in a good position to utilize Morning Extra Magic Hours to see more (make sure to consult the official Disneyland Calendar to see when these are offered). Plus, these hotels have great location and are just flat out fun. If these hotels are outside of your budget, check out our Disneyland Area Hotel Reviews & Rankings for more on the pros and cons of each hotel near Disneyland.

Once you wake up from wherever it is that you are sleeping, here’s what to do…

DSC_8092 as Smart Object-1 copy

Breakfast: Tangaroa Terrace – Right off the bat we’re going to start out the DTB by going outside of the park, to Disneyland Hotel. This is for good reason–1 day in Disneyland is not enough to see everything, and the morning hours are crucial for experiencing attractions efficiently. So, you’ll start out your ideal day at Disneyland at least one hour before you can enter the park by having breakfast at Tangaroa Terrace (our full review). The goal is to get to the park 15 minutes before the turnstiles open, and it’s a 15 minute walk from Disneyland Hotel to the turnstiles, so plan accordingly. As for what to eat, we highly recommend the French Toast topped with Warm Banana-Caramel Sauce. 

Early Morning Attractions: Fantasyland – We always feel a sense of accomplishment by starting the morning in Fantasyland, because there are so many short attractions here within close proximity to one another that can be done quickly. It’s also a good way to avoid this area in the middle of the day, when it’s chaotic. We highly recommend starting with Peter Pan’s Flight. Especially after its recent refurbishment that upgraded several effects, Peter Pan’s Flight gets the longest line the quickest. Follow that with Alice in Wonderland (another recently refurbished attraction that will have long lines all day). Our other absolute must-dos here for the morning are Casey Junior, Mad Tea Party, and Storybook Land Canal Boats, because the nice morning sunshine just gives these attractions a pleasant feeling. You should be able to hit 75%+ of the attractions in Fantasyland in the first hour the park is open if you are efficient. 


Morning Snack: Matterhorn Macaroon – With Fantasyland (mostly?) crossed off your list, it’s time to slow down and have a snack break (a big part of our days in the parks is eating!). Head down to Jolly Holiday Bakery at the edge of Main Street and get these delicious Disneyland originals. While most of your party is doing this, send a runner for FastPasses at Space Mountain or Indiana Jones Adventure.


Late Morning Attractions: The Disneyland Classics – This is a good time for things like ‘it’s a small world’ and Roger Rabbit’s Toon Town Spin that you probably didn’t hit in your initial run of Fantasyland. Then, round out your morning with two of Disneyland’s flagship attractions located in New Orleans Square: Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. With the Hatbox Ghost recently added to Haunted Mansion, it can get slightly longer lines, but they still typically aren’t bad. After that, it’s time for the third big attraction in New Orleans Square: food!

Lunch: Cafe Orleans OR French Market – Two of our absolute favorite Disneyland restaurants are in New Orleans Square. Cafe Orleans (read our full review) is a table service option, whereas French Market (read our full review) is counter service. Both offer good value for money, and nice open-air outdoor seating. You can’t go wrong either way, but if you’re short on time, pick French Market. Wild card option 3: Blue Bayou, one of Disneyland’s most popular restaurants for its location along the water in Pirates of the Caribbean, but we feel it’s overpriced and overrated. After you’re done eating (our while waiting on your table), take a few minutes to explore the nooks, crannies, and shops of New Orleans Square, one of Disney’s best theme park lands anywhere.

I always enjoy looking at my Disneyland books ( http://www.disneytouristblog.com/disney-theme-park-books/) to see

Afternoon Attractions: Relaxing Disney Originals – The middle of the afternoon is when Disneyland sees its longest lines, making this a great time to enjoy some of the gems of Disneyland that go unnoticed by most guests while waiting for Soundsational, the afternoon parade. Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and the adjacent Disney Gallery, the Disneyland Railroad, the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walk-Through, Mark Twain Riverboat, and Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room are all recommended. You might consider stopping by Big Thunder Ranch to say hello to the goats there, too. Other options include Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes, Tom Sawyer Island, and Sailing Ship Columbia. This is also a good time to utilize FastPasses (and to continue acquiring them!) for Space Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure, and Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. You won’t have time to do all of these originals, so plan on picking an assortment that are most appealing to you.

Disneyland Spring 2012_387

Afternoon Snack: Lemon Bumblebee Cupcake – If you aren’t interested in this cupcake with lemon filling and honey-lemon frosting, don’t worry about it, because what you are really after here is a relaxing table at Hungry Bear Restaurant (read our full review) along the Rivers of America. Especially around sunset, this spot is beautiful, and a great way to slow down and soak up the ambiance.

Evening Attractions: Better at Night – Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and the Matterhorn are the four attractions that we most strongly recommend doing at night for a superior experience, but unless you’re going on a lightly-crowded day or are skipping Fantasmic and/or Remember… Dreams Come True, this might be overzealous, since these attractions are also very popular. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain offer FastPass, and both Splash Mountain and Matterhorn have Single Rider lines, so it’s not impossible, but tough. We have a full list of the 10 Best Disneyland Attractions at Night, in case you have time for more than these four.


Dinner: Plaza Inn – The Plaza Inn (read our full review) fried chicken is the stuff dreams are made of, and the closest you can get to buying drugs in Disneyland. (Really, the chicken is so addictive it should be a controlled substance!) Eat here and order the chicken. If you’re still hungry after dinner (well done, you truly are a champ!), stop next door at the Little Red Wagon (read our full review) to take a victory lap by getting a post-dinner corn dog. Or, save the corn dog for later if you’re too full.

Nighttime Spectaculars: Fantasmic, Fireworks, and Paint the Night – On busier days of the year, there are two showings of Fantasmic along the Rivers of America, the Disneyland Forever fireworks show, and two runnings of the Paint the Night parade. If this is the case, it is possible to see all 3 in a single day. This requires seeing the first Paint the Night parade, then the fireworks, then the second Fantasmic. This is not the advice we present in our Ultimate Guide to Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration. All 3 are absolutely worth seeing, so you won’t want to skip any of them. The problem is that seeing the first Paint the Night means waiting a long time for it (if you want a good spot). It’s much easier if you have 2-days for Disneyland and can spread this nighttime entertainment out over two nights, which we highly recommend. If not, get a spot for the first Paint the Night as early as you can on Main Street. After Paint the Night, we recommend seeing the fireworks (check out our viewing location tips for Disneyland’s fireworks), and then the second, less-crowded showing of Fantasmic (check out our viewing location tips for Fantasmic). Make sure to get a Fantasmic FastPass earlier in the day.

Park Closing Tranquility – You should have about an hour after Fantasmic until Disneyland closes, so use that to hit whichever attractions you missed, or perhaps enjoy that corn dog and enjoy the beauty and solitude of Disneyland late at night. Things like the Pixie Hollow water show, grabbing a seat under the popcorn lights on a Main Street porch, and wandering around in the neon of Tomorrowland can all be fun experiences. Also, keep in mind that the shops on Main Street are typically open an hour after park closing, making that the time to get your souvenir shopping done.

Nightcap: Trader Sam’s – End it all at the beginning, by the adults in your party heading to Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at Disneyland Hotel after Disneyland closes for drinks and uniquely Disney fun. Trader Sam’s is more fun than a barrel of drunken monkeys, and even if you’re not a drinker, the interactive and detailed Trader Sam’s is a great time. Plus, it’s a great place to do so more eating…you know, if you weren’t already waddling from all the eating this DTB calls for! The convenient location of both Tangaroa Terrace and Trader Sam’s are why we consider Disneyland Hotel an ideal location for a day at Disneyland.

If you’re able to do even 75% of the things on the Daily Trip Blueprint, you are pretty much assured of having an amazing day at Disneyland. That’s our DTB by DTB.com Guarantee! (Please note that this guarantee has no cash value and is not offered to residents of any state except Wyoming. Also note that any day you are at Disneyland should be amazing, so if you don’t have a great time, it’s probably your own fault! ;))

In an ideal world, we recommend two FULL days at Disneyland (plus one full day at Disney California Adventure) to fully see and explore the park without feeling rushed. If you’re heading to Disneyland for the Diamond Celebration, we have tons of posts to help you plan, including our Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets, a look at Disneyland Area Hotel Reviews & Rankings, our Unique Packing List for Disney Trips, an index of our Disneyland Resort Restaurant Reviews, and a number of other things in our comprehensive Disneyland Trip Planning Guide!

For updates on Disneyland, the latest news, and tips, sign up for our free monthly newsletter!

Your Thoughts…

What would you include in your ideal day at Disneyland? If you haven’t visited Disneyland yet, what do you plan on doing? Share your questions and thoughts in the comments!

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44 Responses to “1-Day Disneyland “Daily Trip Blueprint””

  1. Eric says:

    As always, great work Sarah & Tom! Looking forward to the next entries in the DTB series! :)

  2. KCmike says:

    “Closest thing to buying drugs at Disneyland”….Plaza Inn chicken. Love the reference.

  3. Stephanie Dabrowski says:

    Great post!! Definitely something people always ask about, now I know the perfect location to direct them too! Can’t wait to see more installments of these!

  4. Tammi says:

    I haven’t been to Disneyland since 1994 because I always feel I get more value for my vacation dollars at Disney World (because it has 4 parks and usually has some good deals). After reading many of your blog posts, it seems I need to get back to Disneyland though. There have been so many things added in the (wow-I just realized 20 years since I’ve been there!)

    • Tom Bricker says:

      It’s just a different style of place, I think. You could easily spend a full week or even two at Walt Disney World, and still find things to do. You can’t do that at Disneyland. That’s just not the nature of the place. Disneyland is better as a ‘quick getaway’ vacation, or as one part of a vacation to California.

  5. Missy says:

    DTB is going to be a great series! I love all your food pictures. Thank you for sharing.

    Disneyland Christmas 2014

  6. Jo says:

    This was a really fun post! I can’t wait to see the other ones.

  7. Lauren says:

    Love this! Can’t wait to start planning my first Disneyland trip! Thanks Tom and Sarah!

  8. N. Christensen says:

    Perfect timing! My husband and I are going to be at Disneyland on Labor Day only (my first time–lifelong WDW-goer) and though we have a touringplans subscription I trust your must-do list more!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      The info TouringPlans provides is totally different than this. Theirs is objective, stats-driven, whereas my list is basically just based on my personal preferences and way I like to do things. Obviously, I try to do things in a way/order that isn’t totally nonsensical, but I have no stats to back any of this up. Just my instincts! :)

      • N. Christensen says:

        I know they have a pretty thorough method for their recommendations (and it’s certainly useful), but yours is my favorite Disney blog (since I started planning our honeymoon) and as half of a childless Disney-loving couple I’m more inclined to trust another childless Disney-loving couple!

  9. Dan Heaton says:

    Oh man. I wish that I could convince my wife for us to try and get a babysitter and do a quick trip to Disneyland for a day or two like this plan. It just seems so much more relaxing there.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      In my opinion, it is more relaxing there. No ADRs, no FastPass+ or apps needed, no transportation, etc. You just roll out of bed, walk from your hotel room to the parks (which you can walk BETWEEN) and do stuff. That’s it!

  10. Angela says:

    I have to second your recommendation for the Disneyland Hotel. On our first trip there we stayed at the DL hotel. One of my absolute favorite parts of our entire trip was walking back to the hotel at night. We stayed in the back tower behind the pool. We just meandered along the path and listened to the live music coming from Tangaroa Terrace. It was lit up with Tiki lights and just super relaxing. Such a nice way to end each day.

  11. Megan says:

    No Alice in Wonderland?? It’s a must for me even with only one day – which as a former LA native, used to be what I had more often than not!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Alice in Wonderland is one of the Fantasyland dark rides that should be done first thing in the morning.

  12. Wonderful day in Disneyland. I might only reorder one item. I believe the best time for the Matterhorn is sunrise. I put it second in my early morning order, just after Peter Pan. Coming out of the tunnels as the sun is just cresting is beautiful beyond words.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Can’t argue with that. How about compromising and moving it to sunset? Only reason I suggest that is because Matterhorn takes longer at load/unload/etc. than the other Fantasyland attractions, meaning that by the time you’re off it, other rides have built up longer rides. Whereas hitting Peter Pan, then Mr. Toad, then Alice, etc. can all be accomplished VERY quickly. Matterhorn via single rider is pretty much always a short wait.

  13. Kristin says:

    This is such a great DTB!! I am such a “planner” when it comes to any vacation, and that is especially true with Disney vacations. SO, I am going to print out this DTB, highlight it, and take with us when we go to Disneyland! Thanks so much!!!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      No problem. If you’re going to use it to that extent, you might want to actually formulate a step-by-step attraction list-order, since this one is fairly vague.

  14. L.J. says:

    Anxious for DisneyWorld plan. It is so big maybe a “week-end” would do better than ONE DAY?

    • Tom Bricker says:

      There will be a 1-day plan for each of the 4 parks. No single park in the world has more worthwhile attractions than Disneyland, which is partly why I wanted to start with it–to see if trimming down each park to a single day was realistic.

  15. Erin Elizabeth says:

    Thank you so much! Our dreams are coming true. As WDW frequent flyers, We finally get to go to disneyland on Christmas week. (I know the crowds are crazy but it’s when we’ll be in CA). This is a wonderful idea to give the must do list. We’ll have about four days so we’ll really get to enjoy it. Your blog posts are always earmarked on our trips.
    Thanks again, Brickers!

    • Emily says:

      The lines are actually not that bad the week of Christmas. My family was there a couple years ago for Christmas and we did 9 attractions between when the park opened at 8am and breakfast,which was at 10. We thought we did pretty well! Then again, the Disneyland Resort is the one we frequent.

      • Tom Bricker says:

        It’s not as bad as Walt Disney World because Disneyland can control crowds by blocking out APs, but it’s still no picnic. With that said, the strategy of arriving early and doing as much as possible in the first 1-2 hours is always solid.

  16. Susan says:

    Great article that listed two of my favorites – goats and Matterhorn macaroons! Thanks!

  17. Aimee says:

    I can’t even think of anything being missed. This DTB is pretty on the money. Can’t wait to give it a try – I have never tried a materhorn marcaroon OR stopped at Trader Sam’s after park closing – I know, I know… who am I?!

    Looking forward to the DCA version! :)

  18. Ryan says:

    Here’s a great tip – ride Matterhorn at night and time it when the fireworks are going off. You can also do that with Big Thunder Mountain. It is super cool to see them that way

  19. Amber says:

    We’re fairly regular DL visitors and know the parks well enough. I read your 1 day trip ideas for Disneyland and California Adventures for fun. I must say you two are in pretty good shape for how much you eat! LOL! I’m kidding, but you sure enjoy your Disney food.

  20. Melissa O'Connell says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I’m taking my four year old son for the first time and only have a day to explore the park.

  21. Jennifer L says:

    For Afternoon Snack you suggest the Hungry Bear Restaurant and it is currently closed until April 2, 2015 and my family will be visiting in March 2015. What would be your suggestion for a back-up Afternoon Snack option? We’ve never been to Disneyland (or Disney World) so this was a great post for me as we have just one day to spend there. Thank you so much!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Jolly Holiday Bakery on Main Street has great snacks, and a lot of people love Bengal BBQ in Adventureland. Have a great trip!

  22. Sasha says:

    We went to Disneyland over winter break and I wanted to see if there was anything I could do better next time…but I guess I basically followed your one day plan without knowing it! Great minds think alike :)

  23. Laurie says:

    We are going to Disneyland for only 1 day, your list is going to be very helpful! I actually love all your posts and can’t wait to put them to use in May.

    I do have one question. I know that the Fantasmic show is at the Adventure Park, right? Is there a parade, fireworks, lightshow or something that Disneyland in the evening, as well? And, if there is, are there ways to get ‘advance’ seating like, if you purchase dinner at a restaurant you will receive reserved seating for a good spot?

    I appreciate your insight and advice!

  24. Rachel says:

    Just found out a couple of hours ago I am going to Disneyland. In 24 days…. WHAT?!
    I used every day of 6 months to plan my last trip to Disney World. I have 24 days to plan a 2 day Disneyland trip… This page just became my disneybible.

    So glad for this post!

  25. sewell says:

    WoW and Thank you!! My sister and nephew are coming to visit. We’ll visit the park in August. I’ve been here 15 years and for all three of us it will be a first time experience. Just can’t thank you enough for the research and counsel. :)

  26. Jay says:


    I used to work at WDW but have since gone back to the UK and decided on my vacation this year I would take my best friend to the place it all began- Disneyland California! I’m working at Comic Con so we can only spare one day at Disneyland which is a shame- to make it worse it is July 4th weekend… now Disneyland is awesome regardless don’t get me wrong it’d just be easier obviously on a less crowded time. So the only days I have free to take her are July 3rd or July 7th… which do you think is the better time to go? I know it probably won’t make a huge difference but thought I’d get a locals insight anyways.

    Thanks for the awesome blog- I’m crazy nostalgic right now.

  27. Stormtalon says:

    A good plan. And your mileage will vary depending on the age and health of the visitors. If you have a stroller don’t expect to get very far or fast.

    One tip I’d contribute is to catch the lights turning on from the Train Station terrace. It is magical seeing the neon light up, with the castle aglow last. The terrace just below the Main Street Train Station is a great vantage for video and photo-philes.

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