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.” (Or DTB for short. Get it? We thought about calling it the “DTB by DTB.com,” but felt that would cross that line from clever into lame and corny territory…but we probably are so far across that line already that we can no longer even see the line.)

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 you’re looking to develop a plan of attack for visiting attractions in the most efficient order, you should consult TouringPlans.com for Disneyland, which has years of experience and the statistical expertise in terms of “attraction order.”

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, our pick is the Anaheim Desert Inn, an off-site hotel that is about a 10 minute walk from the parks.

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

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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 usually start at Peter Pan’s Flight because it gets the longest line the quickest, with our absolute must-dos here for the morning being 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. 

matterhorn-macaroon

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. 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.

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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.

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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 and Fireworks – On busier days of the year, there are two showings of Fantasmic along the Rivers of America, and one fireworks show (typically called ‘Remember… Dreams Come True’, but there are also seasonal summer, Halloween party, and Christmas shows). If this is the case, the fireworks occur between the showings of Fantasmic, and it’s difficult to see the first showing of Fantasmic and then get to Main Street for the fireworks. Instead, 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).

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 do have two or more days, make sure to check out our Disneyland Park Attractions Guide, which rates and reviews all attractions. Also make sure to look at our Disneyland Dining Reviews Index to get an idea of where else to eat.

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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31 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! :)

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