Should you fly or drive to Disneyland? Rent a car or use Uber? In this Disneyland transportation guide, we’ll answer these questions for you. We’ve put this together based on our first-hand experiences visiting Anaheim dozens of times as tourists, and living in Southern California as locals. Here are pros and cons to each approach, as we’ve discovered, so we will share the good and the bad of each transportation option as it relates to Disneyland, and visiting Southern California, generally.
Let’s start with the threshold question of whether you should fly or drive, which is probably not even a question for most of you. If you live on the East Coast or Midwest, the answer to this should be relatively easy. Driving to California for many is time-prohibitive, so flying is the de facto way of getting to Disneyland. Those living in California or the surrounding states may choose to drive, but sometimes it’s even more efficient for these guests to fly.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size fits all answer. Weigh the cost of airfare times the number of people in your party versus the cost of driving. However, don’t stop there. Driving takes longer, so consider how much more time it will take to fly and add the value of your time, and also the wear and tear on your car, to the cost of driving.
For example, if it’s just you and your wife traveling, and airfare will cost $250 round trip for each of you, whereas gas will cost $150, don’t assume you’d be better off driving because the cost is $500 v. $100. Also ascribe a value to your vacation time. I value each day of my vacation as my salary for one day at work. You may value your time differently, but factor it in somehow.
Same with vehicle wear and tear; this should be a per-mile cost. If it would take three full days of your vacation to drive to and from Disneyland, but only one full day to fly, and you value each day of your vacation at $100 for each of you, that’s $400 more to add to the cost of driving. Wear and tear to your vehicle would probably be offset by transportation costs once you get to SoCal if you don’t have a car.
At that point, flying would have the same cost as driving, so you might want to tip the scales in the favor of your preferred way of getting there. As you’ll read below, you likely won’t need a car at Disneyland, so don’t choose driving just because you want to have your car at Disneyland.
Flying to Disneyland
As for airfare being too expensive, before coming to this conclusion, make sure to do your research. Use ITASoftware and Expedia to search all airlines, and multiple area airports. All airports are relatively close to Disneyland, and sometimes LGB or BUR ends up having cheaper flights than LAX or SNA.
My personal favorite is SNA, also known as John Wayne, and not just because John Wayne is a national treasure. John Wayne is the closest airport to Disneyland and typically has the best prices. Plus, it has a statue of John Wayne by baggage claim!
For more information on the pros & cons of each airport, read our Airports Near Disneylandpost. It will help you choose the best–not just the cheapest–option. There are a lot of factors to consider.
Renting a car at the airport is one option. You can read about the pros and cons of in the next section. The alternative, if you don’t plan on renting a car, is taking a taxi, or limo to your hotel. The driving distance from John Wayne Airport in Orange County (SNA) to Disneyland is around 20-30 minutes, which makes any of these options fairly easy.
The big change for Disneyland transportation as of early 2020 is that shared shuttles are no longer an option. Both SuperShuttle and Disneyland Express have ceased operations from the three Disneyland-area airports. For us, this is not a huge deal as Uber and Lyft are infinitely superior and roughly the same price from Orange County’s airport, but others with unique circumstances may have more of an issue.
As noted above, our recommendation is using Uber or Lyft. From LAX, Uber will likely cost around $50-70, depending upon traffic. From SNA, Uber will likely cost around $20-35. This depends upon traffic, so your amounts may vary, but should be in these ranges.
We used to discuss using a taxi in this section, but at this point, Uber is less than half the price of a taxi, considerably more reliable, and a much more pleasant experience. There’s really no upside to a taxi, so we no longer recommend them for anyone except those who don’t have smartphones.
Should You Rent A Car?
Some people can’t travel anywhere without having a vehicle at their disposal. We aren’t like that, but we can understand others always wanting a rental car. If you’ve already chosen to drive to Disneyland, you’ll have your own car. Be aware that most off-site hotels in the Disneyland area charge for parking. Plus, even if you drive to Disneyland, you’ll still want to stay as close as possible to Disneyland to avoid dealing with the SoCal transportation grid.
Transportation at Disneyland is very different from transportation at Walt Disney World. Whereas Walt Disney World is spread out requiring some form of transportation to get around the resort, Disneyland is compact and can easily be canvased by foot. The distance from the front entrance of Disneyland (park) to the front entrance of Disney California Adventure is only about 100 yards.
Downtown Disney is just as close to both of them. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa has its own entrance to Disney California Adventure. Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel overlooks the Paradise Pier area of Disney California Adventure. Disneyland Hotel is adjacent to Downtown Disney. The entire resort has a very small footprint. At Disneyland, your feet are always the best form of transportation.
Since you can easily find a cheap hotel within walking distance of Disneyland, and since many hotels charge for parking, there is no cost-savings to renting a car. So, although the ride from the airport will cost money, and although hotels slightly farther away from Disneyland will be cheaper, the cost of the rental car, plus the cost of parking at your hotel and/or parking at Disneyland will undoubtedly be more expensive than taking an Uber or Lyft and staying at a slightly more expensive hotel within walking distance of Disneyland.
The real reason to rent a car is if you want one or if Disneyland is just one stop in your California trip. It’s difficult to visit other Southern California attractions without a rental car (although not impossible) as you have to rely upon public transportation or taxis. The cost of taxis can add up quickly, and the time wasted in relying upon public transportation makes a compelling case for getting a rental car. If you do elect to rent a car, we recommend Hotwire.com (look for their “Our Lowest Price” special car rate) and Costco.
As stated above, we recommend staying in a hotel within walking distance of Disneyland even if you do decide to rent a car. These hotels can be found for as little as $89/night, and walking to Disneyland Resort is much more convenient than relying on the Anaheim Resort Transit (ART) system, public transportation, your hotel’s shuttle, or driving to Disneyland and parking there. To help choose the right hotel for you, refer to our Disneyland hotel guide.
In the event that you do choose a hotel a little farther away from the parks to save more money, ART is a viable option. These buses have stops right in front of many popular hotels, and ART drops you off directly at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. In addition to the parks, ART connects you to restaurants, shopping, dining, and other destinations in the area, including the cities of Anaheim, Garden Grove, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, and Orange.
You can purchase ART tickets via kiosks with credit cards or cash, or with cash on-board. You can also purchase ART passes at participating hotels, or online in advance.
Back when we were tourists, our preferred way to visit Disneyland was by flying into John Wayne/Orange County Airport and taking Uber to our hotel. We’d be sure to book a hotel that was right across the street from Disneyland’s Esplanade (so, around a 5 minute walk to Disneyland), and costs $120/night or less. We would not rent a car, but if we do decide to visit somewhere else in Southern California, we’d utilize Uber. Most of our trips were Disneyland-only, so that was the most convenient option.
Now that we are locals, most of this obviously does not apply to us, personally, but we’ve learned a lot in the process of living in California. One big thing is that there’s a wealth of things to see and do here. From the ocean to downtown Los Angeles to the studios in Burbank and far, far more. This can make having a rental car really nice. However, we realize that’s one of those “do as we say, not as we do” things. If we were still tourists heading to Disneyland, we know it would be hard to pull ourselves from the parks. In that case, avoiding the hassle of a rental car is still ideal. As they say, your mileage may vary. 😉
Hopefully by using this guide along with your personal preferences and circumstances, you can determine the type of transportation best for you to utilize while at Disneyland. As with all things on this site, your mileage may vary!