Our Disneyland vacation planning guide covers what’s new & next in 2024, when to visit to avoid crowds, best restaurants, hotels in Anaheim, money-saving ticket tips, Halloween & Christmas in the parks, and more. It’s a great resource for first-timers to Southern California or lifelong WDW fans. (Updated August 10, 2023.)
Let’s start with all of the latest updates. Disneyland is currently celebrating Disney100, although calling it a “celebration” at this point might be an overstatement. There are some purple and platinum banners up for the 100 Years of Wonder celebration plus the excellent new Wondrous Journeys fireworks at Disneyland and new World of Color – ONE nighttime spectacular at Disney California Adventure. Substantively, that’s about it–and Wondrous Journeys will end for the year once the Halloween season starts in September.
From a planning perspective, the big newish thing is Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, which are essentially paid FastPass, for those who were familiar with that. It’s important to understand how this works and whether you should buy Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lanes before you visit Disneyland. Everything you need to know, including ride priorities, where it’s NOT necessary to buy Genie+ or Lightning Lanes, and much more is covered in our Guide to Genie+ and Lightning Lanes at Disneyland and DCA.
We’ve used Genie+ and Lightning Lanes several times, and cover our experiences and strategy there. If you’re a Walt Disney World regular, the good news is that Genie+ is much easier to use at Disneyland. It also changes far less. If you used Genie+ at Disneyland last year, it’s more or less exactly the same. By contrast, if you used Genie+ at Walt Disney World two months ago, it’s already significantly different.
Regardless of whether you end up buying the Genie+ paid line-skipping, you’ll want to make the decision ahead of time, and plan your strategy accordingly to either get the most mileage out of Genie+ or have an efficient itinerary that finds alternatives for beating the crowds. (Our strong recommendation is to purchase Genie+ for at least one day. If cost is an issue, trim the ‘fat’ from your vacation budget somewhere else.)
Speaking of which, Disneyland has been relatively busy in 2023…which is precisely why we recommend buying the Genie+ service to save time waiting in line. It hasn’t been all bad–and it does appear that “revenge travel” is starting to exhaust itself and come to an end.
However, not nearly to the same degree as Walt Disney World. Most days we’ve done Disneyland this summer, it’s been varying degrees of busy–just slightly less busy than last year. To that point, choosing less busy dates is incredibly important, especially if you won’t be purchase Lightning Lane access.
Our totally free 2023-2024 Disneyland Crowd Calendars offer day by day guides as to when the parks will be least busy and busiest. These crowd calendars are influenced by a variety of factors, including marketing, discounts, park hours, new attraction openings, special events, Anaheim Convention Center events, and even weather (good or bad). We strive to keep our Disneyland crowd calendars updated to reflect changes in attendance trends.
We’re able to keep on top of all the changing crowd patterns and additions because we are Magic Key Passholders who reside in Southern California. Typically, we visit Disneyland and DCA at least once per week to refine this guide and provide you the best info. In addition to park visits, we do frequent hotel stays, lots of eating, and field testing of Genie+ and Lightning Lanes as well as other itineraries and strategy for beating lines at the parks. (Emphasis on typically since this year has been a bit atypical…and slower-paced…for us as we prepare to grow our family!)
But enough about us. Suffice to say, we’re at Disneyland and DCA frequently, and have planning updates and news to share on a regular basis. If you want to receive updates when discounts are released, new things are announced, etc., sign up to receive our free Disney email newsletter, which covers Disneyland plus Walt Disney World and the international parks.
Before we get to the nuts and bolts of Disneyland vacation planning, let’s start with quick background. Disneyland is “Walt Disney’s original magic kingdom.” It’s the castle park that debuted in 1955 and paved the way for other such theme parks around the globe. Disneyland is the only park that Walt Disney himself set foot in and had an active role developing. Beyond its historical legacy that makes it a California institution, Disneyland is incredibly attraction-dense, with enough rides to fill two full days or more (if you’re so inclined).
Directly across from Disneyland is Disney California Adventure (DCA), the second gate of Disneyland Resort. DCA is ostensibly inspired by the Golden State, but is more just a catch-all park with some attractions having a vague California connection and others being driven by Marvel, Pixar, and other Disney franchises.
In addition to the Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme parks, Disneyland Resort is home to Downtown Disney and three official hotels. Downtown Disney is a shopping, dining and entertainment district just outside the two parks. The aforementioned resorts are Paradise Pier Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel–which is directly connected to DCA. The entirety of Disneyland Resort is walkable, with no transportation aside from your feet needed to get anywhere within the property.
Now let’s dig into planning, starting with what’s new and next at Disneyland Resort this year and in 2024…
What’s New & Next at Disneyland
Beyond the aforementioned substantive additions, there are smaller ‘experience improvements’ at Disneyland. Specifically, the start of Park Hopping has been moved forward to 11 am; this makes it easier to switch parks for lunch. There are also a handful of new on-site perks for hotel guests, the best of which is Early Entry. See our Guide to Early Entry at Disneyland for what you need to know about this pre-park opening access to Disneyland and DCA.
Additionally, PhotoPass digital photo downloads of on-ride photos are now free for all guests on the Disneyland app. This includes attraction photos captured on Radiator Springs Racers, Space Mountain, Incredicoaster, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, and more.
In terms of new rides, the biggest relatively recent addition is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and its two attractions, Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. The latter is Disneyland’s biggest blockbuster addition since 1995, a modern masterpiece of Imagineering that is immensely popular and well-worth the multi-hour waits.
Over at Disney California Adventure, the most recent expansion is the Avengers Campus Marvel Land. This features one ride, one restaurant, meet & greets, and shopping. It’ll also showcases a Stuntronics Spider-Man, which is a sight to behold.
Another positive is that the Magic Happens daytime parade has once again returned. This is basically new; it ran for less than 2 weeks at the start of March 2020 and then, well…you probably know. Three years later, Magic Happens made its triumphant return and has now surpassed its original run of twice-daily performances!
Magic Happens is not to be missed. We recommend catching the parade’s first performance from the end of Main Street on the back side of the flagpole or slightly to the side in the street (a rope goes up shortly before the parade arrives to form a viewing area–consult Cast Members for the precise location). Alternatively, the west side of Main Street will offer shade; welcome reprieve from the sun and heat during the summer months.
If you’re curious about the specifics of other additions on the horizon, consult our What’s New & Next for Disneyland in 2023-2024. This gives you an idea of when you might want to visit if you’re still choosing dates, trying to find the best time in terms of special events, new rides, and more.
More is coming in 2024 and beyond, but those are the main things to know. Now, let’s get down to business: what you need to plan a Disneyland vacation…
When to Visit Disneyland
The single most important part of planning a trip to Disneyland is determining when to visit. As mentioned above, crowds are a big component of this, but should not be the sole determining factor. Weather, seasonal events, pricing, and other variables are all important.
To that point, our we also have the Best & Worst Months to Visit Disneyland list, which ranks every month of the year. Even more to the point, this covers our 3 favorite weeks of the year to take a Disneyland trip. That’s more qualitative, and thus can more useful than crowd calendars for many Disneyland planners.
Again, our crowd calendars and month by month ranking resources have been updated to take into account changing attendance patterns brought on by Magic Keys, make-up travel, discounted SoCal tickets, returning entertainment, and more. Crowds have already changed, and we will continue to monitor and update accordingly in the future. Just be warned that crowd calendars are less reliable right now due to pent-up demand, capacity limits, and everything else.
As for seasonal events, we have two favorite times of year. We highly recommend Halloween, which is our #2 time of the year at Disneyland. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Disneyland at Halloween for reasons why, and assistance planning a trip during that specific time of year.
We’re already looking forward to the return of Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party, which will be back for September and October 2023. That’s a hard ticket event, meaning that tickets to it cost extra; you do not need to attend Oogie Boogie Bash to have a great time during the Halloween season at Disneyland, but we recommend it to anyone who is willing and able to splurge–especially fans of rare characters (and villains!).
Unfortunately, Oogie Boogie Bash is already sold out for the entirety of the Halloween 2023 season. With that said, you might have success buying same-day tickets at the booths outside the turnstiles. An even better bet is via the hotel concierge if you’re staying at the Grand Californian, Disneyland Hotel, or Pixar Place Hotel.
Our favorite time of year at Disneyland–by a wide margin–is the holiday season. Unlike Halloween, there is no Christmas hard ticket event, meaning that everything is included with the price of regular admission. This means holiday fireworks, special parades, decorations, attraction overlays, entertainment, and so much more.
You could literally spend multiple full days focused exclusively on the seasonal offerings at Disneyland during the holiday season. Read our Ultimate Guide to Disneyland at Christmasto learn more about what makes this time of year so special–and see photos of the parks in all of their Christmas glory!
Finally, before solidifying your travel dates, you’ll also want to check out our 2023 Disneyland Refurbishment Calendar to make sure any must-do attractions won’t be closed for renovations during your visit.
We typically do not recommend relying heavily on the refurbishment calendar. While Disneyland provides advance notice of most major multi-month closures, that’s not always the case. Some are scheduled last minute for necessary repairs or preventative maintenance. Short projects are sometimes scheduled at the last minute, and unannounced downtime (due to breakdowns or other issues) can also impact attractions.
Our biggest piece of advice with regard to refurbishments is not to visit in January or February if a high number of ride closures will negatively impact your trip. Winter is typically Disneyland’s refurbishment season, with many attractions going down for annual maintenance after the holidays.
Where to Stay
There are a ton of options in terms of where to stay near Disneyland: Good Neighbor Hotels, official Disney resorts, nearby hotels within driving distance, sprawling resorts in nearby beach towns, and more. In Best Hotels Near Disneyland, we cover our top 10 picks for hotels within walking distance of the parks, with 5 family-friendly budget options, 3 luxury resorts, and 2 Disney-owned hotels. That’s a concise resource if you don’t want to comb through our more comprehensive hotel info.
If you’re looking for something more thorough, we’ve stayed at every on-site Disneyland hotel and most of the Good Neighbor Disneyland hotels and other off-site hotels within walking distance of the Disneyland Esplanade.
All of these are covered in our Rankings & Reviews of the Best & Worst Hotels Near Disneyland. This post ranks ~60 hotels near Disneyland at which we have stayed, along with room photos, pros & cons, and other useful information. That also details how to score a good deal on a hotel that’s close to Disneyland.
Fair warning: those comprehensive rankings can be overwhelming. We do a lot of hotel stays in Anaheim and report on them; most of that’s overkill for planners–you just need to know which ones are the ‘hotel hell’ options (bottom of the list) to avoid at all costs and the best ones to book (top of the list). If you’ve already booked accommodations, you might also want to search the list to see where your selected hotel ranks!
Our Money-Saving Guide to Disneyland Tickets is a huge resource with recommendations on what type of Disneyland tickets you should buy, including how many days, whether you should get Park Hopper, and where you can buy Disneyland tickets to save some money.
For the vast majority of guests visiting Disneyland, we recommend the Park Hopper ticket option. This allows you to bounce back and forth between the two parks throughout the day, which is easy to do given that their about a football field apart.
The practical upsides of this is starting at the park that opens first and ending your night at the park open later (Disneyland is often open 2 hours later than Disney California Adventure). You can also eat in the park with the dining options you prefer, grab a beer in DCA (there’s no alcohol in Disneyland outside of Oga’s Cantina in Star Wars Land), and enjoy the nighttime spectaculars in both parks.
Prior to moving to California, we were Disneyland AP holders while living in Indianapolis, Indiana followed by Orlando, Florida. We’d make several long weekend trips out to Disneyland each year, and the APs more than paid for themselves.
With that said, Annual Passes were much cheaper when we lived in the Midwest–a fraction of the current price–and we blogged about Disney by the time we moved to Central. So our circumstances are a bit unique. Nevertheless, if you live in Nevada, Utah, or even Northern California…and can do a few long weekends each year, Magic Keys might make sense for you, too!
Disneyland Strategy & Itineraries
There are over 75 attractions between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. On a normal day, the average guest will only experience 10-11 of those. It would thus take you at least 6 days to experience everything in the two theme parks, assuming you didn’t want to re-ride anything. Obviously, not many people are devoting over a week to their Disneyland vacation.
As such, we’ve developed a few step-by-step Disneyland touring plans, each of which will enable you to efficiently experience the parks, while also enjoying their leisurely offerings and atmosphere. More to the point, you’ll be able to do 20+ rides per day–and skip the ones not worth your time.
Here are our best and recommended itineraries:
Disneyland 1-Day Itinerary – Only have one day to visit Disneyland? This is a step-by-step plan of attack for which attractions you should do, where you should eat, what to see, and more. This covers all of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, including Rise of the Resistance.
Disney California Adventure 1-Day Itinerary – Unlike Disneyland, DCA is easier to fully experience in a single day. This touring plan includes strategy for beating the crowds at Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, Web Slingers Spider-Man Adventure, and more!
We are currently working on additional multi-day itineraries for trips of 4+ days at Disneyland Resort. For now, if you plan on spending more time at DCA, consult our Disney California Adventure Ride Reviews & Guide. The article reviews every attraction at Disneyland, giving each a numerical score out of 10, plus highlights key attractions that we consider the best ones, which should be prioritized if you have limited time.
Our Disneyland Ride Reviews & Guide does the same thing for the castle park, in case you want to spend 3+ days there. (Which you totally could, especially now that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is open!)
Dining at Disneyland
Food is half the fun at Disneyland. Both parks have great restaurants, iconic snacks, decadent desserts, and great drinks. We typically go all-out when visiting the parks, doing breakfast at one of the hotels (or sometimes in the park), followed by a mid-morning snack, counter service lunch, and table service dinner.
The stereotype that all Disney food is unhealthy food like burgers and hot dogs is entirely false. Disneyland has inexpensive unique dining options as well as expensive fine dining. Good dining can help define a trip! To that end, we highly recommend checking out our List of the 23 Best Restaurants at Disneyland. Those are the places we dine the most, and recommend to friends visiting the parks. You’ll find several hidden gems on there, as well as explanations for why we’ve snubbed several hotspots.
If you want advice, food photos, and more about all restaurants, see our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews. (Honestly, we think that’s probably overkill for 95% of you. The ‘best of’ list above covers where you should do meals, and there are more lists below for bars, snacks, and desserts.)
Beyond full meals, we have a few resources that can help you plan memorable meals at Disneyland. If you have kids, we highly recommend consulting our Disneyland Character Dining Guide, which covers the best character buffets in the hotels and parks.
Want to have fun with your food at Disneyland? Our Top 10 Delicious Desserts at Disneyland covers delicious treats, including some hidden gems, plus brand new items and recently-added restaurants in Downtown Disney!
Should you fly or drive to Disneyland? Rent a car or use public transportation? What about getting around Southern California? There are a ton of questions you might have, and our Guide to Disneyland Transportationcovers everything you need to know, answering these questions for you based on our first-hand experiences visiting Anaheim as tourists and living nearby as locals.
If you’ve already decided on flying to California but aren’t sure of the pros & cons of each option, check out our Guide to Airports Near Disneyland. That covers the strengths and weaknesses of the 5 airports in Southern California that are relatively convenient to Disneyland.
In a nutshell, our strong recommendation would be flying into SNA (or even LGB) over LAX. Even if the flight is a little more expensive, it’s worth it. Not only is SNA closer to Disneyland, but LAX has tons of chaos, construction, and crowds.
We like LAX and its eclectic energy, but it’s more than a little overwhelming for a first-timer. If you’ve never been to Southern California or a large city like Los Angeles, it can be a bit much and start your trip off on the wrong foot. Meanwhile, SNA is laid back and quiet. If there were a list ranking the best airports for napping, it would be near the top and LAX would be near the bottom.
In addition to this, SNA is much closer to Disneyland than LAX, which makes it easier to simply take an Uber or Lyft from the airport to wherever you’re staying near Disneyland. In most cases, we’d recommend rideshare over renting a car at the airport, as the vast majority of hotels near Disneyland now charge for parking. So not only will you be paying to rent the car, but also to park it.
The vast majority of hotels near Disneyland are within walking distance, so you won’t need a vehicle during the theme park portion of your trip to Southern California. If you’re staying at one of the hotels we recommend in Anaheim, it’s literally counterproductive to drive to Disneyland since the parking structures are all farther away than most of the nearby hotels.
If you’re venturing beyond Disneyland to one of the destinations discussed below–and we strongly recommend that you do–while visiting Southern California, our advice would be to book a rental car in Anaheim. There are numerous rental car companies within walking distance of Disneyland, and most offer one-way rentals to the nearby airports. Walk over to one of those on your checkout morning, pick up your rental car, and continue your California adventure!
We do not recommend relying on rideshare if you’re heading to Los Angeles. However, if you’re doing Laguna Beach or another coastal community, a rental car may not be needed at all. Many coastal towns have free trolley service that is fantastic. Simply take an Uber or Lyft from Disneyland to wherever you’re staying in the beach cities.
Southern California BEYOND Disneyland
If you want to venture beyond theme parks, you’re in luck. Southern California is one of the best places in the world to visit! Thanks to Los Angeles, San Diego, and the beach cities in between, there’s a ton to do in the area.
In addition to this site, we have non-Disney blog: TravelCaffeinewith resources for on an eclectic mix of the places where we’ve lived or visited extensively. California is one such emphasis, as we’ve spent a ton of time exploring our home state. If you’re planning on heading to LA after Disneyland, be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles.
While LA is one of the greatest cities in the world, we’re particularly partial to Laguna Beach. It’s home to the best stretch of coast in California, has small-town charm and personality, and tons of things to do. To that point, see our Ultimate Guide to Laguna Beach, California for extensive advice. If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of visiting Los Angeles, then Laguna Beach is for you!
In addition to these planning resources, we also give away a free eBook,101 Things to Do in Southern California over on TravelCaffeine, so be sure to download that totally free resource!
If you’re thinking of visiting other theme parks in Southern California, we also have guides to those…
Universal Studios Hollywood Trip Planning Guide– In just a few years, USH has transformed and improved dramatically. The opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was what really put the park on the map as a vacation destination, but many other additions have made this a great park in the last few years. Our favorite new attraction is Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash, a new family-friendly dark ride. (Read our review of it in Universal’s New Dark Ride Rivals Disney’s Best!)
Aside from that, the Studio Tour is our favorite attraction, which is a 45-minute plus tram tour through the working backlot of Universal’s studio. If you are only interested in this Studio Tour, you might broaden your potential options beyond just USH, and also consider the Warner Brothers Studio Tour and Sony Pictures Studio Tour as alternatives.
Guide to Knott’s Berry Farm – An Orange County institution that proudly proclaims itself as “America’s 1st Theme Park.” Really, Knott’s is a tale of two theme parks. It has modern roller coasters and other fare for thrill-seekers. Thematically, this leaves a lot to be desired.
Then there are the quainter areas, reminiscent of Frontierland at Disneyland. We love these areas–and the park’s annual Boysenberry Festival. All things considered, we love both Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios Hollywood, and together with Disneyland Resort, these four gates make for a great theme park vacation in Southern California!
Other Disneyland Planning Resources
Now that we’ve covered the essentials to ensure you have a great trip to Disneyland, we have a bunch of other resources that will guide you through the planning process to make your visit to Disneyland more enjoyable, helping you save time and money. Armed with all of this knowledge, you will have a much better vacation.
What to Pack – Packing for Disneyland is comparable to packing for any vacation, but with a few twists. Here’s our list of “unordinary” items to pack that will help enhance your Disneyland trip!
Guide to Downtown Disney– We sort of gloss over it here, but Downtown Disney is a massive area within Disneyland Resort’s security perimeter. You can easily leave either park and get to one of these restaurants for a meal…or some of the best ice cream you’ll ever have…in under 10 minutes.
Our 101 Best Disneyland Tips – This is not nearly as structured as our other advice, but these tips offer great advice and sometimes obscure little things that will help you visit the parks like a local. This is more granular advice than what you’ll find in our other planning articles, but we’ve had a lot of positive feedback from readers who really got a lot more out of their trips because of those tips.
Renting DVC Points to Save Money on Accommodations– This is written from a WDW perspective, but there are also Disney Vacation Club villas at the Grand Californian. Booking there can be a challenge (it’s incredibly popular), but you can save a ton of money if your timing is right and you get lucky.
Best Credit Cards for Disney Travel– Leveraging credit card rewards can be a great way of getting free airfare or hotel rooms, and there are several options near Disneyland that you can book for free thanks to signup bonuses.
Tips for Buying Discount Disney Gift Cards– Want to save at least 5% on every single thing you buy at Disneyland? These hacks are for you. Some are relatively simple and straightforward (like using the Target RedCard) while others require a bit more effort.
In general, there are a variety of ways you can save money on a trip to Disneyland. If you’re looking for the best way to save on an entire vacation package, many of our favorite hotels near Disneyland can be booked via Get Away Today at a discount. If you bundle tickets into your hotel stay, you’ll get an even better deal. You can check package prices here.
Between this blog and TravelCaffeine.com, you should be totally covered with what you need to know if you’re thinking about visiting Disneyland Resort and Southern California sometime in 2023 or 2024. We can’t encourage people enough to give Disneyland a try, especially Disney fans who are biased towards Walt Disney World as their “home” park. Disneyland is a totally different, much more relaxed experience. It’s intimate in both size and feel, and is oozing with history and incredible attractions.
I could go on for pages and pages about why I love Disneyland, and why everyone owes it to themselves to visit Disneyland, but hopefully this is a good-enough jumping off point. If you’ve never been to either Walt Disney World or Disneyland Resort, it’s a good place to start as we attempt to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of each in an unbiased manner. If all of this is still overwhelming or you want personalized recommendations for Disneyland Resort, click here to get a vacation quote from a no fee Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
Are you planning a Disneyland Resort visit for this year or in 2024? Debating between Halloween and Christmas? Have you already visited Galaxy’s Edge and done Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance? What about Avengers Campus? Are you excited for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway or the reimagined Toontown? Thoughts on Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, where to stay, best restaurants and snacks, or anything else covered here? Have you previously visited Disneyland? Have any tips of your own to add? Any questions you still have that this guide did not answer? We really appreciate reader feedback and your thoughts, so please share in the comments below! 🙂