Food is an awesome part of the Disneyland experience. From delicious desserts to addictively-good counter service fried chicken to table service restaurants that pay tribute to Walt Disney, there are a lot of exceptional dining options at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Many of you have loved our 101 Great Disneyland Tips post, and since dining is so essential, we’re following up that post with this one that is specific to eating in and around the parks.
While dining at Disneyland isn’t nearly as complicated as dining at Walt Disney World due to the lack of a Disney Dining Plan, and also because there are far fewer restaurants, there is an added wrinkle: locals. Due to the huge population of local Annual Passholders, Disneyland regularly offers seasonal snacks, special foods, and even has some ‘secret menu’ treats that are only available to those in the know.
As Disneyland locals ourselves, this is something we really appreciate. New and interesting meals and snacks keeps things interesting, and motivates us to keep dining inside Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, even when we could just stop for fast food on our drive to or from the parks…
The result of this is that we probably eat at Disneyland Resort far too often. On the plus side, this has given us a good amount of insight into Disneyland dining tips that less-frequent visitors can also take advantage of in order to ‘eat like a local’ at Disneyland.
That’s our goal with this post, and hopefully this mix of random Disneyland and Disney California dining tips helps you do exactly that!
Some of these tips might not work for you, but if you can even test out 5 of them on your Disneyland vacation, that’s hopefully going to be a “win” and make your visit a more enjoyable experience.
Other Disneyland regulars may disagree with some of our tips, but such is the nature of such a list, which offers subjective tips. Alright, here goes: our 60 Delicious Disneyland Dining Tips:
- Like another California icon, In-N-Out Burger, there are numerous “secret menu” options throughout Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. These occasionally change, but our current favorites are the Mac & Cheese Bread Bowl at Pacific Wharf Cafe and the Neapolitan Shake at Flo’s V8 Cafe.
- Through Summer 2017, there’s a temporary Beauty and the Beast restaurant in Disneyland, and it has some of the best counter service food in the park.
- The Disneyland Dining Plan was discontinued several years ago and has not been offered since. The “Free Dining” promotion never has been offered at Disneyland.
- Read our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews and look at food photos before planning your meals. Also, consult current menus on Disneyland.com for pricing info.
- Dining reservations for many restaurants at Disneyland are not essential. However, reservations can be made online for many Disneyland Resort restaurants, up to 60 days in advance.
- Annual Passholders receive 10-15% discounts on dining at Disneyland restaurants. Due to this discount (and the merchandise discount), it might make sense for someone in your party to purchase a lower-tier Annual Pass instead of regular tickets. Do the math!
- Some Disneyland counter service restaurants allow you to order a la carte as opposed to a combo, meaning you get the entree without frees or whatever other side is included. This will usually reduce the price by ~$2. (Confirm that it will reduce the price before paying.)
- Even though alcohol is not served inside Disneyland (except at Club 33), it’s still possible to Drink Around the World at Disneyland Resort. You’ll just focus on the Disney California Adventure, Downtown Disney, and Hotel bars. It’s a blast!
- If you want to try the famous Monte Cristo, consider splitting it with a friend (or two). It’s incredibly rich and decadent, and the whole thing might be a bit much for those who aren’t competitive donut eaters.
- Drinking fountain water at Disneyland tastes funky. You can get free cups of ice water on the go from any counter service restaurant at Walt Disney World. Or, bring a Brita 24-Ounce Water Filter Bottle so you can filter your own water on the go!
- Mickey Beignets at Mint Julep Bar are the same as the ones at Cafe Orleans, but for half the price. The only difference is the Mint Julep Bar beignets don’t come with dipping sauce.
- Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar is an absolute blast. Even if you don’t drink, going here and grabbing appetizers (and drinks, if you do) after a long day in the parks is a fun way to unwind. The Disney details and special effects here are a lot of fun.
- In addition to free cups of cold water, you can also get free cups of hot water from counter service restaurants. Use that hot water plus these Mount Hagen Organic Instant Regular Coffee sticks for a cost-effective and strong way to get your caffeine fix.
- Avoid churro stands in out of the way locations. The ones on Main Street and Fantasyland are typically best, as they see more foot traffic and are most likely to have fresh churros, rather than ones that have been sitting around for a while. Fresh churros are definitely best.
- One of the best things about Christmas at Disneyland is the special snacks. While these change (to some degree) each year, we look at fan-favorites in our list of the Best Christmas Foods at Disneyland.
- The closest In-N-Out Burger to Disneyland is at 1168 S State College Blvd, Anaheim, California. It’s a 45-minute walk from the front gate of Disneyland, or a 5-minute Uber ride.
- If you need a Starbucks fix around parade time in Disneyland (or any time the line is out the door), it’s faster to place a mobile order for the Downtown Disney Starbucks, walk there, and then go back into the park.
- For $15,000, you can enjoy the uber-exclusive 21 Royal Dining Experience. For $15, you can come to our place and I’ll microwave some corn dogs. (Neither one of these offers are things we’d recommend doing.)
- Steakhouse 55 Lounge is one of the best hidden gems at Disneyland Resort, and its 24-layer chocolate cake is a must-do challenge.
- Captain Kidd’s buffet is directly across the street from Disneyland. It exists solely to prey on unsuspecting tourists, who haven’t Googled it to learn it’s the lowest-rated restaurant in all of Anaheim. Do not dine here unless you want to roll the dice with food poisoning.
- We do not recommend the World of Color dining packages or dessert party unless money is no issue. We have plenty of tips for getting a great view of World of Color without spending any extra money.
- The Plaza Inn Yule Log is basically the spirit of Christmas in food form. A smaller, similar version is also available during Disney California Adventure’s Festival of Holidays.
- The outside seating area at Flo’s V8 Cafe offers excellent views of Radiator Springs Racers. We love sitting here at night, and typically grab food from Pacific Wharf and take it over here to enjoy the ambiance.
- Typically, the wait for Dole Whips is much shorter from in Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room’s waiting area, so enter the “line” for the attraction, and order from the back of the Tiki Juice Bar.
- Carnation Cafe on Main Street is a great option for a quality table service lunch at moderate prices. Lots of good items on the menu here. Also, plenty of Disneyland history!
- Tangaroa Terrace‘s French Toast is the best counter service breakfast outside of the parks.
- Trying a Disneyland Turkey Leg is a rite of passage. It’s a love it or hate it type of thing (I happen to love Disneyland’s turkey legs), but you need to at least give it a chance (we recommend splitting one).
- Mickey’s Funwheel is one of the secret menu drinks at Cove Bar, and it’s worth ordering if only for the Instagram-worthy photos. (“If only for” because the actual drink isn’t that good.) The Lobster Nachos are another must-do at Cove Bar, even though their portion size has been reduced recently.
- Smokejumpers Grill is only an okay counter service option, but it has a self-service toppings bar, so you can pile your burger high with extras. Would you like a little hamburger with your salad? 😉
- Blue Bayou, with its views into Pirates of the Caribbean, is one of the best-themed restaurants at Disneyland. However, the food is fairly ordinary and overpriced. Consider doing a lighter meal here if you must go.
- The glorious Plaza Inn fried chicken can by ordered by the piece, which is good for lighter eaters, especially since the full meal is now creeping up on $20.
- The menu at Flo’s V8 Cafe has changed dramatically since the Cars Land restaurant opened, going from the best counter service restaurant in Disney California Adventure to a mediocre one. We still recommend breakfast there, though.
- Many of the off-site hotels near Disneyland offer “free” breakfast, but almost all of these are awful. Three exceptions are Candy Cane Inn, Park Vue Inn, and Desert Palms Hotel & Suites (and even these are just so-so). Park Vue Inn is the best of these, and is also our top pick for off-site hotels near Disneyland.
- Along with Plaza Inn, our top pick for counter service dining in Disneyland is French Market. Slightly higher prices than the norm, but the quality more than makes up for it.
- The DCA Food & Wine Festival is a fun, annual event and nice way to try some tastes of California. Our Guide to the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival offers tips for saving money, what to try, what not to buy, and more.
- Award Wieners might seem like a good value if you’re going by menu prices, but it’s not a very filling–or very good–meal. Corn Dog Castle is a better alternative if you’re in the market for some form of hot dog.
- Pizza Press is the best off-property restaurant near Disneyland; it’s around a 10 minute walk from the parks, and features delicious made-to-order pizzas. They even offer an AP discount!
- Bengal Barbecue was once a fan-favorite of Disneyland locals due to generous portions on these tasty skewers. In recent years, prices have gone up and portion sizes have gone down. If you read elsewhere about this being a must-do or popular spot, that tip is likely outdated.
- Schmoozies is a national treasure. Whenever a new seasonal smoothie is released, my Disney California Adventure social club, “Walt’s Maliburr-eaters” has a turf war with the “Sons of Eisnarchy” to determine who gets to take the first smoothie-selfie. Not really, but that’d be cool if we did. (Seriously, though, the smoothies are good here.)
- The best, quick breakfast in Disneyland is at Rancho del Zocalo.
- Coke Freestyle Machines (with refills!) are available at Whitewater Snacks in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. This is a great spot for lunch if you want a respite from crowds. Plus, it has the best counter service burger in all of Disneyland Resort.
- The best “value” option in Downtown Disney is not Earl of Sandwich, it’s Napolini, which is the counter service version of Naples. (Which is the West Coast version of Via Napoli!)
- If you like the taste of freezer burn, Stage Door Cafe is for you!
- Pacific Wharf Cafe serves a seasonal bread bowl and a seasonal bread pudding. All of the bread puddings we’ve tried have been glorious. The bread bowls are usually good (always filling), too. Our favorite is the Turkey Pot Pie Bread Bowl (served at Christmas), which some people say is life-changing.
- The Chocolate-Covered Peanut Butter Sandwich at Pooh Corner in Disneyland is exceptional, but pricey. Actually, both of those things could be said about a number of treats at Pooh Corner. (I also love their cookies, which are deceptively large.)
- Mint Julep Bar serves seasonal beignet flavors for Halloween and Christmas. These are sometimes hit or miss, but they’re worth trying.
- The (new-ish) Crispy Battered Corn on the Cob at Corn Dog Castle is shockingly good. If you’ve never had Mexican corn on the cob, this is pretty much it. This style of corn on the cob is particularly popular down by San Diego, so think of this decadent treat as trying some authentic local cuisine!
- The various “twists” (Grey Stuff Twist, Cheddar Garlic Bagel Twist, and Strawberry Rose Twist) at Maurice’s Treats in Fantasy Faire are seriously good and filling. They make a good late breakfast option (when open), too.
- Avoid Tomorrowland Terrace at all costs. (Don’t even be tempted by the Alien Burger on the secret menu.) In fact, just avoid eating in Tomorrowland at all costs.
- Stick with desserts at the marketplace kiosk food booths during Disney California Adventure’s festivals. Savory snacks are usually small and offer poor value for money.
- The Matterhorn Macaroon at Jolly Holiday Bakery is an iconic Disneyland snack that represents an iconic Disneyland attraction. It’s a moist coconut macaroon topped with sugary white chocolate “snow” to represent the Matterhorn. It’s delicious and a good value, as far as Disneyland snacks go.
- Don’t order anything served with eggs (notably, breakfasts) at counter service restaurants. These are powdered eggs, and they are disgusting. (Also, we’re pretty sure Disneyland sources its counter service bacon from rubber.)
- The famous Monte Cristo is served at both Blue Bayou and Cafe Orleans. It’s the same sandwich made in the exact same (shared) kitchen, but is cheaper at Cafe Orleans. Order accordingly.
- Try the Fantasia Ice Cream at Gibson Girl. We recommend this in ice cream sandwich form. This is back for a potentially limited time during Main Street Electrical Parade’s run, but hopefully it’ll stick around.
- Sprinkles in Downtown Disney serves the best cupcakes at Disneyland Resort.
- Dole Whips, Dole Whip Floats, and Dole Whips with Rum at The Coffee House at Disneyland Hotel.
- Napa Rose is the best restaurant in all of Disneyland Resort. Try the Chef’s Counter for an unparalleled foodie experience.
- A variety of “fancy” donuts are sold at the Coffee Cart in Disneyland’s Central Plaza (near Sleeping Beauty Castle). Three flavors are available per day, and they frequently sell out in mid-afternoon. Rest assured, though, as another “shipment” usually is freshly-made for evening crowds.
- Goofy’s Kitchen is the best character meal at Disneyland Resort. It’s the West Coast version of Chef Mickey’s, except with better food!
- Cafe Orleans is one of the best table service restaurants at Disneyland. The best meal here, we think, is the pommes frites (an absolute must-order) followed by one of the crepes.
- Eat at off-hours to avoid the crowds. Counter service restaurants are least busy between 2 and 4 pm, and at the end of the night.
- Paradise Garden Grill is our favorite counter service restaurant in Disney California Adventure. The food is refreshing and healthy-ish, and there’s often live music in the evenings.
- For many Disney fans, the membership-only Club 33 is the holy grail. Since its last refurbishment, we think Club 33 is nothing special. Look past the “exclusivity” and instead have a nice meal at Carthay Circle Restaurant, which is just as classy and nicely pays tribute to Walt Disney.
- For Spring 2017, Hungry Bear Restaurant has a ‘seasonal’ Churro Funnel Cake. We’ve yet to try it, but the idea sounds glorious. Hopefully this will become a permanent menu fixture!
Okay, so you’ll notice this is 64 Disneyland Dining Tips, not 60. My original goal here was 50 tips, and I unknowingly went over. I bumped the title up to ’60 Disneyland Dining Tips,’ but then went over that, too. Rather than keep typing and get this thing to 75 or 101 Disneyland Dining Tips (both of which are easily doable), I figured I’d turn this post over to you, and see what people come up with in the comments. So please, share your Disneyland dining hacks, favorite snacks or menu items, etc., in the comments below!
If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
Do you agree or disagree with our Disneyland dining tips? Have any of your own to add? Any secret menu items you enjoy that we didn’t cover? Good value options inside or near the parks? Other must-do menu recommendations? Questions about where to find anything we’ve shared here? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments below!