In this post, we rank the best Disneyland and Disney California Adventure attractions, narrowing the list to the 10 best from the two parks. Narrowing it to only ten attractions was no easy task. How do you rank the timeless Walt-era Disneyland attractions alongside newer offerings that are more technically-advanced, but may not stand the test of time? Our approach is one of balance, awarding symbolic points for a variety of reasons…and then discarding said points entirely and just choosing our favorites. (So if you’re wondering why Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train is #1…)
Kidding. Even though there’s an element of subjectivity, we attempt to be as objective as humanly possible with the list. Since this is Disneyland, and history and charm are part of the appeal, we do weigh that a bit. Wow-factor also comes into play, as do myriad other variables. Ultimately, it’s not just a list of what’s the most fun or what we do most frequently, but the attractions we think are the highest-quality and significant.
I also want to note that I don’t think this is in any way definitive. I just thought it would be interesting to put together a list of what I consider to be Disneyland Resort’s 10 best attractions. Some great ones and all-time classics are bound to be snubbed, as are some crowd-pleasing favorites that draw big crowds. Even if we had a list with 20 honorable mentions, something would be left off. In fairness, it’s not like this list is sanctioned by some governing theme park body, anyway. I’m just some random dude with a blog, and these are what I perceive as the top 10 attractions and Disneyland and Disney California Adventure…
That might sound like a cop-out, but it’s more to underscore the point that this article is meant to be a fun conversation piece for Disneyland fans, not an authoritative hot take, or a list of the only attractions that you absolutely must-do at Disneyland. You’re going to ride more than 10 attractions (hopefully!) on your trip to Disneyland. It really makes no difference what some dude on the internet thinks is best.
In each description below, I’ll make my case for the attraction being among the best, and I welcome reasoned counterpoints in the comments with those who disagree. (Emphasis on reasoned counterpoints.) With that said, here are the rankings…
10. Storybook Land Canal Boats
This slot was the most difficult to fill. While I was confident about every other attraction, I had four vying for this last slot (Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, California Screamin’, and this). I felt a strong case could be made for each of the candidates, but ultimately, the Storybook Land Canal Boats feel like they capture so much of the essence of Disneyland.
You board a quaint, Cast Member-led boat, while floating through an intimate attraction that adds kinetic energy to the heart of Disneyland. You pass miniaturized versions of villages, castles, and homes of Disney characters. It’s a cute, “peaceful” attraction, not a big-budget ride that will knock your socks off. If you get Storybook Land Canal Boats, you get Disneyland. I especially love Pinocchio’s village, as it has been cleverly designed so the Matterhorn appears as another mountain towering over the village in the background.
9. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Big Thunder Mountain establishes a great sense of place in the outdoor queue, offers a loose but coherent story, and has family-friendly thrills with beautiful scenery to enjoy along the way. It also manages to pack a lot in the way of visuals for a fast-moving ride.
In other words, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is the perfect mix of thrills and detail, with a ton of hilarious gags and an awesome climax scene (when it works) added during the attraction’s huge refurbishment a few years ago. It has a ton of re-rideability for both of those reasons, and is a Disneyland classic as a result.
8. Peter Pan’s Flight
Out of every attraction on this list, Peter Pan’s Flight is the one we experience the least. Unless you rope drop it or wait until the very end of the night, you’re looking at a 45-minute wait, and that’s at the very least. It’s easy to see why Peter Pan’s Flight is so popular. It was re-imagined for Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary to modernize it and add some great new effects, and those changes were done well.
Peter Pan’s Flight is the endearing Fantasyland classic, the defining attraction among several classics around it. Unlike those, which mostly work on charming and nostalgic levels, Peter Pan’s Flight is (still) flat out good. It takes guests in “flying” ships above London and Neverland, and no matter how old you are, there’s suspension of disbelief as you look down on the stream of traffic.
7. Space Mountain
At its core, Space Mountain is more or less a wild mouse coaster in the dark. As compared to Disneyland’s newer flagship attractions, the concept here is surprisingly simple. However, it’s the layers on top of that ‘core’ experience that elevate Space Mountain, making it a top-tier Disneyland attraction.
The feeling that you’re traveling through space is established via interstellar atmosphere, cool theming, a blast-off tunnel, and on-board music. The lead-up to this takes you through a spaceport queue, which also helps to enhance the experience and establish a sense of place. It’s also just downright fun, and that certainly counts for something (a lot!).
6. Splash Mountain
Although their names are quite similar, Splash Mountain is a stark contrast to Space Mountain. Whereas the latter is a quick, roller coaster ride ‘into the void’, Splash Mountain is mostly slow-moving, and it’s one of the most detailed attractions Walt Disney Imagineering has ever created.
Splash Mountain is an Audio Animatronics-driven extravaganza, clocking in at over 10 minutes in duration and featuring dozens of animated critters. It also has more visuals and cute details than you can possibly take in on a single ride-through. (It doesn’t help that Disneyland’s version is paced too quickly.) Splash Mountain tells an engaging story, features great and catchy songs, and also puts guests at the heart of the action at a few points thanks to its drops. Thanks to all of that, Splash Mountain offers something for everyone and is a classic Disneyland attraction.
5. ‘it’s a small world’
‘it’s a small world’ is the iconic attraction featuring the children of the world and that oh-so divisive song. While some guests express absolute disdain for it’s a small world, we suspect that’s mostly in jest or jumping onto the ‘mocking bandwagon’ without giving the attraction any serious thought.
In reality, it’s a small world is a masterpiece. It’s an artistic triumph, and the most recognizable work of famed artist Mary Blair’s career. Her arresting use of color, shapes, and spatial relationships defines it’s a small world, and presents a world that is at once recognizable and surreal. That, plus the peaceful chorus of the children of the world makes it’s a small world instantly recognizable to anyone who is not living under a rock. It’s an enduring classic.
As much as we enjoy the regular version of the attraction, ‘it’s a small world’ holiday is not to be missed. Seriously, one of the main reasons we look forward to Disneyland at Christmas-time is because of this overlay. Not only is the exterior absolutely stunning aglow with lights, but the interior has added decor, a remixed soundtrack, and some memorable scents. (It’s our favorite seasonal overlay at Disneyland–sorry, Haunted Mansion Holiday!) Alright, things get serious on Page 2, as we share the best of the best. The upper echelon, with a mix of the best of modern and classic Imagineering…