Want to do Disneyland and Disney California Adventure like a pro? We have 101 tips that’ll help you save money and time and info to improve your vacation! Everything from Star Wars Land to avoiding lines to best fireworks views and so much more is covered. (Updated September 6, 2019.)
Over our years as Annual Passholders, we’ve learned a lot–and share that with you in this post. Of course, as with things like this not all of these tips will be universally applicable, but there should be something for everyone here. Whether you’re a Disneyland first-timer or a veteran visitor to California who still has nightmare-flashbacks to Light Magic, there are tips for you here!
Oh, and be sure to read the comments at the end, as some readers have shared additional tips that are pretty strong. Keep in mind that these tips are pretty random…if you’re looking for start to finish vacation planning advice, read our comprehensive Disneyland Trip Planning Guide instead of or in addition to this post.
Note that this post is regularly updated, removing tips that are no longer applicable and replacing them new tips based on things we’ve learned recently. We’ve visited several times since Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has debuted, and will be going back again right at the start of Halloween Time at Disneyland for Oogie Boogie Bash!
Make sure to also read the additional reader tips in the comments, as some of you readers have some great tips of your own that are really helpful. If you have some good tips, be sure to add them there, too. The more, the merrier!
With that said, let’s get started with the list of the best Disneyland & Disney California Adventure tips for visiting like a pro…
4. The most iconic and flagship character meal at Disneyland Resort is Goofy’s Kitchen, which is like Chef Mickey’s: California Edition. Read our Guide to Character Dining at Disneyland for more hotel and in-park character meal recommendations.
5. If you are celebrating a special occasion, make sure to pin up a button reflecting the celebration at one of the Disney-owned hotels or in the parks from Guest Services. Other areas of both parks also occasionally offer special, non-celebrating buttons.
6. Christmas entertainment is included in the cost of daily admission–there is no separate hard ticket event. Christmas offerings include ‘it’s a small world’ holiday, Haunted Mansion Holiday, and much more. For more in-depth info about the holidays, read our Ultimate Guide to Disneyland at Christmas.
8. Selfie sticks are not allowed at Disneyland. Do not try to sneak one in and use it–especially on attractions. They will stop the ride, embarrass you, and kick you out of the park. This has happened numerous times, and has caused significant ride downtime.
9. As much as we dislike up-charges, we have to admit that buying MaxPass will save you time and allow you to see more attractions in a single day at Disneyland–especially on busier days. Read our MaxPass & FastPass Guide to Disneyland Resort for more information and tips.
10. Lots of changes have come to Disneyland Resort’s shopping and entertainment district in the last few years, including some must-do dining (including the glorious “Crazy Shake” pictured above). Read everything you need to know in our Guide to Downtown Disney at Disneyland.
11. Fond of booze? While it’s not as cool as “Drinking Around the World” in Epcot, you can have a similar bar crawl in Disney California Adventure, Downtown Disney, and the Disney-owned hotels. Just follow our “Disneyland Drinking Debauchery” Guide for tips!
13. A “re-imagined” version of Fantasmic now plays nightly on the Rivers of America, with FastPass available for each showing. We highly recommend the last show to avoid the crowds.
14. Disneyland gets into the Halloween spirit with “Halloween Time at Disneyland,” which includes attraction overlays, seasonal restaurant menus, and more. Read our Guide to Halloween Time at Disneyland for everything you need to know.
18. Due to the large population of Annual Passholders and how blockout dates redistribute them, the best time to visit Disneyland isn’t as simple as when school is in session. Read about the other best times to visit Disneyland Resort in our When to Visit Disneyland post, which includes crowds calendars and more.
19. Have kids that want to trade pins with Cast Members? Buying pins from Amazon or eBay to trade with Cast Members is far cheaper than in the parks, and makes for a fun activity on the trip. (See our Disney Pin Trading Tipspost for more info and suggestions.)
22. Napa Rose, located in the Grand Californian Hotel, is Disneyland Resort’s best restaurant. Second best is Carthay Circle Restaurant in Disney California Adventure. Read our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews for food photos, and our thoughts on the good and bad of Disneyland Resort dining.
23. Both parks have Baby Care Centers and First Aid Centers. Baby Care Stations are great quiet places to take your kids, and the First Aid Centers have nurses on site who can assist with minor issues (like blisters).
24. We aren’t huge fans of the World of Color Dining Packages, but if you’re going to do one, pick the Carthay Circle Restaurant lunch (not dinner) package.
26. Jungle Cruise skippers sometimes have free maps of the ride that they’ll give out to guests if asked. There are actually a lot of freebies at Disneyland–for other things, read our Free Things at Disneylandpost.
27. Even though Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! is one of the most popular attractions at Disney California Adventure, we still recommend rope-dropping Radiator Springs Racers, as fewer people go towards it, and both attractions will have nearly-equal waits later in the day.
28. If you’re visiting on a night when Disney California Adventure has 2 World of Color performances, always go to the later one for the lowest crowds. This means strategically pulling your World of Color FastPass later in the day so you don’t get “stuck” with an earlier show. Read our other Tips for Viewing World of Color for more info.
29. Disneyland now enforces FastPass return times, but there is a 15 minute grace period, so don’t discard your FastPasses if you’re only a bit late.
31. Mad Hatter sometimes plays “musical chairs” with kids at Coke Corner on Main Street in Disneyland once daily. This usually occurs at 2:30 p.m., but the time is subject to change and is not listed in the Times Guide. Ask a Cast Member at Coke Corner for the exact time it will be occurring during your visit. Here’s a video of the game.
32. Make sure to arrive at Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room far enough in advance of a show to pick up a Dole Whip. The line inside the queue/waiting area is usually shorter than the one in the Adventureland walkway. They’re “classic” Disney snacks, and you can take them in the show with you.
33. Using Uber between John Wayne Airport (SNA) and Disneyland-area hotels is about $20 each way and given that many of these hotels are within walking distance, you may not need a rental car at Disneyland Resort. Here are some other Disneyland Transportation Tips.
34. Did you know that there is a nightly “Sh-Boom” moment at dusk when the lights come on in Cars Land? Read our other Cars Land Tips & Tricks.
35. During the Christmas season, handmade candy canes are prepared at Candy Palace in Disneyland and Trolley Treats in DCA. Lines form for these early (before park opening) for these. Despite the fanfare, there really isn’t anything all that special about these candy canes. The fun is in watching Cast Members make them.
36. The Disneyland Dining Plan is no longer offered. There is no such thing as the “Free Dining” promotion at Disneyland Resort.
39. Although Disney California Adventure has received a massive overhaul in some areas to correct problems that plagued the park when it opened in 2001, there are still remnants of “extinct” areas. Check out the restrooms in the front of the park and in Paradise Pier for a taste of Sunshine Plaza and Route 66, respectively.
40. You WILL get wet on Grizzly River Run in Disney California Adventure. Store your electronics in the lockers near this attraction, which are free for the first two hours.
42. The Anaheim Convention Center is located within walking distance of Disneyland and is huge. If a large convention is in town, nights in the park can be very crowded even in the off-season. Hotels near Disneyland will also often charge higher rates during conventions. Make sure to consult the Anaheim Convention Center calendar when planning your trip.
43. With the exception of Splash Mountain, Critter Country is generally a less-busy land. Stop by Hungry Bear Restaurant (one of our favorite restaurants) in late afternoon and get a table by the water as the sun sets on the Rivers of America.
44. One of the best snacks at Disneyland is the Matterhorn Macaroon at Jolly Holiday Bakery. Go first thing in the morning for a freshly made Matterhorn Macaroon!
46. Haunted Mansion Cast Members used to hand out “Death Certificates” to guests who asked. These are no longer given out, but you can print your own from DoomBuggies.com and give it to your kids after their first ride on the Haunted Mansion!
47. Star Wars Launch Bay is nothing special unless you want to meet characters, but the second story balcony outside the exit offers the best view of Disneyland. To see this view without going through the exhibit, walk up the exit ramp.
48. Disneyland Resort counter service restaurants will give you a free cup of water (ask for a large cup!) or a free cup of hot water.
49. City Hall has recipes for popular Disneyland dishes that they can provide to guests; alternatively, simply asking your server for the recipe of a dish you like might result in a visit to your table by someone from the kitchen.
57. Adults can order from the kid’s menus, which is a great way to save money while still getting a meal that will satiate smaller/moderate appetites.
58. The Unofficial Guide to Disneylandis the best Disneyland guidebook. While it’s smaller than its Walt Disney World counterpart (known as the “Disney Bible” among fans), it’s incredibly comprehensive.
59. Grizzly Peak Airfield in Disney California Adventure has an extensive backstory involving the history of aviation that is told throughout the land in some subtle ways. Make sure to keep an eye out for the details there. If you don’t, here’s a summary of the original backstory, and here’s info about some of the changes.
60. A Christmas Fantasy Parade is not as impressive as its Walt Disney World cousin, but the best viewing place for the parade is in the hub facing Main Street or at the end of Main Street near the hub. The parade comes right at you, and is well-lit for photos by the lights of Main Street.
61. Guests are allowed to bring their own snacks into Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, just no glass bottles or outside alcohol.
63. Attractions don’t close when the parks close, meaning that you can get in a 90-minute line at 10:59 p.m. when the parks close at 11 p.m. and be in the park well past closing. This is a great way to experience rides with perpetually long lines, like Radiator Springs Racers, without wasting “valuable” time.
69. Bayside Brews in Disney California Adventure serves the best beer (Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA), Trader Sam’s in the Disneyland Hotel has the best mixed drinks, and Napa Rose in the Grand Californian has the best wines.
71. If you’re not interested in staking out a spot and watching Disneyland’s fireworks, riding attractions from which the fireworks are visible during the fireworks can enhance the experience. The highlights of these attractions are Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Matterhorn. Best of all is Storybook Land Canal Boats, which actually stops moving when the fireworks start, giving guests a view of the fireworks from their boat!
72. The Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage has one of the dullest queues of any Disney attraction and much of it is in the sun. It’s also a low-capacity attraction, so lines move slowly. Avoid the midday heat and sun here.
73. Toontown contains a number of gags both of the interactive and sight variety. Spend a little time exploring this area–some of the gags are quite clever!
78. Shops on Main Street in Disneyland are open for an hour after the park closes. Do your shopping once you can’t do rides.
79. The Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough is an oft-overlooked attraction, but it’s a very well done attraction featuring “window” vignettes from Sleeping Beauty. Likewise, Tarzan’s Treehouse, another walk-through is an okay attraction, but makes up for its substantive shortcomings with great views of the park.
80. Disneyland Resort has a couple of excellent bread bowl soups: at Pacific Wharf Cafe in Disney California Adventure and at Royal Street Veranda in Disneyland. We usually go for the seasonal option at Pacific Wharf Cafe, or order the off-menu mac & cheese bread bowl.
81. Several attractions (more than at Walt Disney World) have single rider lines that will save you a lot of time if you don’t mind splitting up from your group. The best of these is Radiator Springs Racers, where it’s not uncommon to save an hour or more on the posted standby time.
82. If you want to get the world famous Disneyland Monte Cristo, consider going to Cafe Orleans instead of Blue Bayou. It’s cheaper at Cafe Orleans, although you won’t have a view of Pirates of the Caribbean there.
83. One of the less-popular bars is Al Fresco Tasting Terrace in Disney California Adventure, which is located upstairs in Wine Country Trattoria. It’s a nice, tranquil place to relax in the afternoon, and it has a great view into Cars Land.
84. Disneyland and Disney California Adventure both have a daily flag retreat ceremony that is short, but nice to watch. It’s the patriotic thing to do.
85. If you give a PhotoPass photographer a (discrete) heads up, they generally can help you capture photos of your proposal.
86. If you need a place to store your luggage, there are luggage lockers at the Desert Inn & Suites across the street from Disneyland. This can be useful if you’re staying farther from Disneyland and want to maximize your time in the parks on your last day, or don’t trust the Bell Services in your own hotel. Read more about Desert Inn & Suites in our review.
88. Ask a Cast Member at the station if you can ride in the front of the next monorail. It’s the only compartment that has air conditioning and the view is great!
89. Peter Pan’s Flight does not have FastPass at Disneyland and is a very popular ride. Go first thing in the morning.
90. The “standard” entrance to Cars Land in Disney California Adventure is down Route 66, but the best entrance is through the bluff that connects to Pacific Wharf, which offers a great reveal of the Cadillac Mountain Range. It feels like you’re in a real National Park!
91. Instead of photographing Sleeping Beauty Castle from the front or near the Partners statue, try photographing your family from the fence near the Wishing Well or on the opposite side (on a path to Fantasyland). You can easily get photos without other guests in them from these two spots, along with a great angle of Sleeping Beauty Castle!
92. Disneyland Resort corn dogs have iconic status. Corn Dog Castle in Disney California Adventure has a variety of options, and Little Red Wagon on Main Street in Disneyland is a long-time fan favorite. Corn dogs can be found a couple other places, but these are the clear-cut “best” spots if you ask locals.
93. The Disney Gallery (immediately to the right when you enter the park) has a rotating exhibit focusing on an artistic component of Disneyland. Take the time to check out the art in here–you’ll gain a new appreciation for some aspect of the park!
94. Don’t buy into Disney Vacation Club by the alluring promotions while at Disneyland Resort. Wait until you get home, do the research, and buy via the resale market if you’re going to buy at all.
95. Pay attention to Roz at the end of Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue in Disney California Adventure. She is interactive.
96. Paradise Pier Hotel was originally a third party hotel, but was renovated when Disney purchased it. As such, some of the theming is a bit on the light side, but the rooms are nice.
97. Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln is not to be missed. It’s a divisive attraction (we love it), but even if you don’t like it, you get to relax in AC for 15-20 minutes. What’s not to like about that?
98. There is a skeleton in Indiana Jones Adventure wearing Mickey Mouse ears as you go around the left turn when first approaching the bridge. He’s almost impossible to spot unless the ride breaks down and you’re evac’d.
99. Walt Disney had an apartment in Disneyland above the Fire Station that is still intact to this day. A candle burns in the window of this apartment, and at Christmas, there is a tree in the window.
101. Even the restrooms at Disneyland Resort are themed. Restrooms in the Hollywood Land are in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Storer House, in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles. Similarly, the restrooms near the Alice in Wonderland dark ride in Disneyland are quite well done.
That covers it on our list of 101 tips for doing Disneyland like a seasoned local. Really, though, this just scratches the surface of the Disneyland tips we have on this blog. If you’re planning your first visit to Disneyland, you should definitely browse other posts, probably starting with the above-mentioned planning guide. Have a great trip! 🙂
Do you agree or disagree with our tips for having a better Disneyland experience? If you have solid Disneyland or Disney California Adventure tips that aren’t mentioned here, please post them below. Your feedback is half the fun! If you have any other comments or questions, please feel free to post those, too.