Downtown Disney is Disneyland’s entertainment district and a popular spot in Anaheim, California for dining, shopping, and more. In this guide, we’ll cover tips for where to eat, what to do, how much time to budget for Downtown Disney, and more. (Last updated May 10, 2019.)
For starters, what a difference a few years make. When we originally published this, we didn’t really recommend bothering with Downtown Disney. It was outside Disneyland’s security perimeter, and between that hassle and the lineup of restaurants, we rarely bothered with it.
Since then, Downtown Disney has moved inside the bag check area (meaning you can dine at Downtown Disney without going through bag check again) and a ton of excellent new restaurants have been added, giving Downtown Disney a truly formidable lineup. Exceptional newcomers include Salt & Straw Ice Cream, Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes, Ballast Point Brewing Co, and Splitsville Luxury Lanes.
Note that this post covers Downtown Disney at Disneyland (in Anaheim, California), not Walt Disney World’s version of the same, which is now called Disney Springs. In terms of a quick overview, Downtown Disney abuts Disneyland and California Adventure on one side (it’s a 5 minute walk from the parks), passes by Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, and ends on the other side at Disneyland Hotel.
Downtown Disney admission is free, and parking is also free for 3 hours with a $20 minimum purchase and validation from any Downtown Disney location. Up to 5 hours of parking is free with validation from any Downtown Disney table service restaurant. Hours are typically 7 a.m. until midnight, with most stores opening after 7 a.m., and closing before midnight.
There are a mix of retail stores and restaurants at Downtown Disney, much like what you’d find at any outdoor mall in Southern California. The unique anchor tenants at Downtown Disney are World of Disney and Splitsville. Popular restaurants include Earl of Sandwich, Catal, Naples & Napolini, Sprinkles Cupcakes, and Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen.
During the day, Downtown Disney is less crowded than Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. At night and on weekends, in particular, it can get quite busy with a mix of tourists, locals, and people walking from their hotel or the Mickey & Friends Parking Structure to the parks.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s delve into some of our Downtown Disney recommendations…
Disneyland’s Downtown Disney has a number of dining options, ranging from snack stands to counter service spots to fine dining table service restaurants.
Here are our recommendations for each tier…
Counter Service – The best options here are Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes, Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express and Napolini. While ice cream isn’t technically a meal (challenge accepted) Salt & Straw is a must-try counter service.
Everyone loves Earl of Sandwich, and while we like it, we think it’s a bit overrated. The portion size is pretty small for the price. Pretty much all of the other counter service restaurants are afterthought windows at table service restaurants.
Table Service (Less Expensive) – When it comes to table service, our top pick is Naples, which is the west coast cousin of Via Napoli. Sarah claims it doesn’t taste quite as good as Via Napoli in World Showcase, but I think it’s nearly identical. In any case, we both agree that it’s excellent pizza. A group sharing a 1/2 meter pizza can make this a fairly reasonable value, too.
Table Service (Fine Dining) – The fine dining restaurant in Downtown Disney is Catal. We really like this, as we mention in our recent review. However, if you want other outside-the-park fine dining options, consider Steakhouse 55 and Napa Rose.
Downtown Disney also now has two Starbucks, giving credence to the ole joke about one on every street-corner. In this case, there’s one near the entrance to the Grand Californian, and one near the entrance to Disneyland Hotel. This is definitely convenient for guests of those hotels, and we’d highly recommend they go to Starbucks over drinking the coffee served at the hotels.
When it comes to dining, that’s about all we recommend. If you are considering Downtown Disney because you don’t have a park ticket, you could just as easily consider eating at one of the Disney hotels. In that regard, both the Grand Californian and Disneyland Hotel have dining options that we prefer to most of what’s offered in Downtown Disney.
Downtown Disney features a mix of Disney and third party retail. Nowadays, that mix skews much more towards Disney, as many of the third party stores have closed in the last few years. Aside from the LEGO store, the ones that remain don’t interest me in the slightest.
If you can’t get your fill of Disney shopping in the parks, there are a few stores in Downtown Disney that might scratch your itch. Here’s a current list of noteworthy stores:
World of Disney – If your goal is to get lost amongst Disney souvenirs, this sprawling store has you covered. Pretty much any Disneyland souvenir sold in the parks is available here.
Pop-Up Disney! A Mickey Celebration – Technically entertainment, this is a paid photo op with Disney backdrops for people who are thirsty for likes on Instagram.
Disney Dress Shop – Dresses.
Disney Home – Home goods.
LEGO Store – LEGOs.
Disney’s Pin Traders – The name says it all…
Marceline’s Confectionery – Candy shop named after Walt’s hometown.
Di– Makeovers and clothes for tweens.
WonderGround Gallery – Trendy, contemporary Disney art showcasing specific artists. Pretty cool to browse.
That’s about it in terms of Downtown Disney shopping. Really, most of the above is redundant to what’s in the parks. You can look at that two ways: save all of your shopping for a non-park day so you can maximize your attraction time, or if you do your shopping in the parks, you don’t need to bother with Downtown Disney.
If you are in need of travel accessories, I would recommend skipping Downtown Disney and instead heading out of the parks the other direction, towards Harbor Boulevard. From there, walk towards Katella Ave. On the corner of Harbor and Katella, you’ll find large, new Walgreen’s and CVS stores that border on being mini-Targets (there is also an actual Target if you keep walking, but it’s like a mile farther and isn’t that nice). We highly recommend both the CVS and Walgreen’s.
How Much Time?
Our take on Downtown Disney is that it’s a place to go after both parks have closed if you’re not ready to go to bed, or a place to have dinner or drinks outside of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Downtown Disney is a nice ‘change of pace’ option, not an ‘entertainment destination’ that needs time budgeted to it before your trip.
It’s starting to gain some worthwhile dining and retail, but still needs a few more options to rival other nearby outdoor malls in Southern California. The good news is that Downtown Disney at Disneyland is currently in the midst of a multi-year re-imagining that has already added several additions listed in this post, and those have helped dramatically alter the vibe of Downtown Disney.
The bad news is that a more comprehensive plan to add a new resort with first-floor retail and dining near on the Disneyland Hotel side of Downtown Disney was canceled last year. Prior to that being canceled, ESPN Club and Rainforest Cafe permanently closed. We’re still holding out hope that a new hotel concept will be built, but for now, that end of Downtown Disney could use some help.
In the meantime, we like Downtown Disney as a nice change of pace for places to eat during or after a day at Disneyland. There’s some great food, snacks, and fun things to do in Downtown Disney that simply did not exist a few years ago. The options here are now starting to rival out-of-park options in the Disneyland Resort hotels–but Downtown Disney still has some work to do if it wants to ‘compete’ with the likes of Trader Sam’s, Napa Rose, and Steakhouse 55.
Do you agree or disagree with our take on Disneyland’s Downtown Disney? Any shopping or dining recommendations? Questions about where to eat or anything else? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!