Think it’s impossible to do Disneyland in one day? Think again.
Who says Disneyland is just for kids? As much as I love to travel the world and immerse myself into new cultures, I also like to let loose and have fun sometimes. Disneyland is magical, no matter how old or young you are. In fact, there are so many things to do at Disneyland that it’s hard to know where to begin. And if you only have a single day to take it all in, you’ll want to be sure you choose wisely. Take it from someone who visits Disneyland for at least one weekend each year—you can pack in a lot of rides, food, shopping, and entertainment if you know how to plan your day properly.
So if you’re planning to do Disneyland in one day, and you’re overwhelmed by the number of things to do, follow this handy guide to make the most of your fun-filled day.
Pro Tip: If you’ve been thinking about trying a solo trip, it’s the ideal location. It’s safe, there are tons of things to do, and you’re never really alone—simply strike up a conversation with the person next to you in line if you’re feeling a little lonely. It was where I took my first solo trip back in 2000, and it opened my eyes to a whole new world. Since then, I have traveled solo to countless countries.
First, it’s important to understand all of the different parks and attractions that make up the Disneyland Resort. Located in Anaheim, California, it’s made up of two theme parks, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure, as well as the Downtown Disney District and three Disney-themed hotels, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll focus on Disneyland Park specifically.
Pro Tip: If possible, spend an entire weekend in Anaheim, and purchase a Park Hopper Ticket. This allows you to “hop” back and forth between the two theme parks at will.
Stay someplace close to the park. There’s no shortage of hotels, ranging from the upscale and pricey Disney offerings to the Good Neighbor hotels. While these hotels are officially a part of the Disneyland Resort, they are all endorsed by Disney, within walking distance of the resort, and typically meet certain standards. Some, such as Super 8, are easy on the budget, while others, such as Marriott, come with a loftier price tag. Use Google Maps to check the walking distance from your hotel to the Disneyland Park entrance (not the resort or the Downtown District—it can be a fair distance to the park from here).
I’ve stayed at half a dozen different hotels in the area over the years, ranging from budget to beautiful. Last time I was in Anaheim, I stayed at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Anaheim in Walnut Street. The staff was extremely helpful, and the hotel as very clean. There is an onsite restaurant, swimming pool, and shuttle service to Disneyland. And it’s about a 10-minute walk if you cut through the Downtown Disney District.
If it’s in your budget, head to a character breakfast early in the morning. These elaborate all-you-can-eat buffet breakfasts include every kind of food you can imagine. Eggs, waffles (in the shape of Mickey’s head), pancakes, breads, cakes, cereals, pastries, and fruit are just a few of the items on the menu. But the real treat is that your favorite characters interact with you while you eat. It’s a blast and a great way to get pumped up for your day at the parks.
I like to book Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel for 7 a.m. By the time we’re done eating, the park will be about ready to open, and we don’t waste any time getting right to the rides. But beware…the breakfast doesn’t come cheap. You’ll pay a pretty penny for the privilege of partying with Goofy and his friends.
Main Street U.S.A.
When you first enter the park, take a few minutes to soak up the atmosphere. It truly is the happiest place on Earth, and the feeling of euphoria that washes over you the minute you walk through the gates is almost surreal. From the seasonal decorations and colorful building facades to the old-fashioned trolleys and barbershop quartets, the energy is infectious. It’s like stepping into another dimension where you simply can’t keep the smile off your face.
Once you get past the inevitable gush of excitement, it’s time to set your feet in motion. The first place you’ll find yourself is Main Street U.S.A. Modeled after a typical mid-1900s American town, it’s like taking a time machine to bygone days. Only there’s a bit of a catch—aside from a few eateries, Main Street is mostly a shopping extravaganza. And all of the stores are open until one hour after the rides shut down. For this reason, skip the stores until the end of the day. This will test your will power. Even if you’re not a big shopper, there’s something about Mickey Mouse merchandise that reels you in. Not to mention they pump out sweet smells from the bakery to tempt your tummy. But you’ll have plenty of time to take them in at the end of the night, I promise.
However, I recommend on an exception to this rule. If you’re planning to purchase a pair of mouse ears, stop in at the first store on the right-hand side of the street if you’re facing the castle. It’s called the Mad Hatter, and you’ll find all shapes styles, and sizes of hats, from mouse ears to ball caps and fascinators to replicas of the hats your favorite characters wear—like Goofy. They’ll even embroider your name on the side (remember that when strangers mysteriously greet you later in the day). There will be other opportunities to purchase hats throughout the park, but if you buy it early in the day, you’ll get the most bang for your buck. Trust me, the crazy Toy Story topper that seemed super cool in the park won’t seem quite so nifty once you get back home. You’ll really only wear it in the park, so you might as well wear it all day.
Pro Tip: Depending on the type of ticket you purchase for the park or where you are staying, you may be entitled to enter the park one hour early on certain days of the week. Magic Mornings, as they’re known, are a great way to capitalize on a limited timeline since the park is often fairly quiet in the early morning, and there are few—if any—lines for even the most popular rides.
Next door to the Mad Hatter, there’s a small theater that features Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. While there’s no doubt that Honest Abe was a remarkable figure in US history and the animatronics Disney uses to create a lifelike representation of Abe are also remarkable, it’s about 15 minutes long, and it gets stale after about five. Unless you’re a huge history buff, keep walking. Before you get too far, take a few minutes to look at the brochure you received when you walked through the gates, and establish a game plan for the day. You can also view the current brochure and park maps online to prepare for your trip in advance.
Things to note are the times for parades that take place at various times throughout the day and the fireworks show that happens in front of the castle. Even if you’re not traditionally a fan of parades or fireworks, Disney takes them to a whole new level. You’ll want to make sure you make it back to Main Street U.S.A in time to catch these awesome spectacles and any other live shows that might be taking place throughout the day, such as character meet and greets, theater performances, and live bands.
Also, note if the nighttime spectacular Fantasmic! is showing. It typically takes place two times a night on the Rivers of America in Frontierland. Live-action characters reliving scenes from their imaginations, movies playing on screens made from water fountains, and a battle between good and evil play out before your eyes. Words cannot describe this show. Don’t miss it if you can help it. Once you’ve decided the shows you want to see for the rest of the day, you can start making your way around the park. Once you’ve decided the shows you want to see for the rest of the day, you can start making your way around the park.
If you’re going to do Disneyland in one day, you need to know which attractions—or rides—are most worthy of your time. Disney does an excellent job of describing each ride on its website, so rather than try to reinvent the wheel, I’ve put together a list of attractions throughout the park and ranked them by priority to help ensure you can do Disneyland in one day. Some are classics you simply can’t miss, even if they aren’t as exciting as other attractions. Others are an exhilarating experience you can’t replicate anyplace else, while others aren’t all their cracked up to be. The Disneyland website does a great job of describing each of the park’s “lands” so you can read all about the rides in more detail.
For whatever reasons, I always turn left when I get to the end of Main Street U.S.A. and start my day in Adventureland. So, I’ve listed the attraction sin order of how I typically encounter them. All rides have been ranked according to how classic, cute, thrilling, an unmissable they are up to a maximum of three in each category. If you plan accordingly and follow these recommendations it is possible to do Disneyland in one day. Of course, this itinerary assumes you don’t have any young children visiting the park with you—in that case, you’ll likely only get through a portion of this plan in one day.
❤️ = classic 🌟 = must see 🐭 = cute 🚀 = thrilling 🚫 = skip
|Enchanted Tiki Room||❤️|
|Indiana Jones Adventure||🌟🌟🌟|
New Orleans Square
|Pirate's of the Caribbean||❤️❤️❤️|
|Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes||❤️|
|The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh||🌟|
Pro Tip: Some rides have a single rider line. If you don’t mind being split up from your traveling companions, this is a great way to get on rides faster. On a hot day, the line up for Splash Mountain can take hours, so head to the exit, where you’ll find the line for single riders. Often, you’ll walk right on the ride. Indian Jones typically has a single rider line as well.
|Big Thunder Mountain Railroad||🌟🌟|
|Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island||❤️|
|Mark Twain Riverboat||❤️|
|Sailing Ship Columbia||❤️|
|Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough||❤️|
|Snow White's Scary Adventures||❤️|
|Pinocchio's Daring Journey||❤️|
|Peter Pan's Flight||❤️|
|Mr. Toad's Wild Ride||❤️|
|King Arthur Carousel||❤️|
|Storybook Land Canal Boats||🌟|
|Dumbo the Flying Elephant||❤️|
|Casey Jr. Circus Train||🐭🐭|
|Mad Tea Party||❤️|
|Alice in Wonderland||🌟🌟🌟|
|"it's a small world"||❤️|
Pro Tip: FASTPASS is great…in theory. But it’s not always all it’s cracked up to be in reality. If you get a FASTPASS for a ride in Adventureland with a return time four hours later, you’ll likely be on the other side of the park when your time comes around. It’s not always practical to return. Since the number of FASTPASS tickets you can hold at any one time is restricted, be sure to choose wisely so you don’t end up wasting opportunities.
|Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin||🌟🌟|
|Gadget's Go Coaster||🚀|
|Chip n' Dale Treehouse||🐭🐭|
|Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage||🐭🐭|
|Star Wars Launch Pad||🌟🌟|
|Star Tours—The Adventure Continues||🚀🚀|
|Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters||🐭🐭|
Pro Tip: On some rides, such as Splash Mountain, your picture will be taken while you’re on the ride. When you get off, take a picture of your picture. It’s almost as good as if you buy the real one. On other rides, such as Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, you can email the picture to yourself for free after the ride.
There are so many delicious treats at Disneyland. Some favorites include churros, Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream sandwiches, turkey legs, mint julep’s, and pineapple dole whips. For a healthy snack, you can also get fresh fruit and dill pickles at various locations throughout the park.
If you didn’t fork out for breakfast with the characters, Carnation Cafe is a great place to grab a bite if you like table service. River Belle Terrace also has a decent, cafeteria-style breakfast selection. The Mary Poppins’s themed Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe has plenty of pastries and sweet treats to fill your tummy.
If you follow this guide, by lunchtime, you’ll likely be someplace in the middle of the park. If so, you’ll want to grab a bite to eat in Fantasyland. At Village Haus Restaurant, you can find burgers, flatbreads, and French fries. Walk a little farther in Fantasyland, and you’ll find Troubadour Tavern just outside Mickey’s Toontown. Here, you can grab grub with a German flair, including bratwurst with sauerkraut or pretzel bites.
If you’ve been snacking all morning and want a later lunch, wait until you get to Tomorrowland. Galactic Grill is a space-themed eatery with a wide selection of fast food offerings. Or there’s Red Rockett’s Pizza Port, a cafeteria-style restaurant with all kinds of pasta, pizzas, and other Italian favorites.
Side note…my personal favorite place for lunch or dinner (or both) is Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland. I’m a pesco pollo vegetarian, and I just love the Chieftan chicken skewer. But what I love even more is the tiger tail bread dipped in the Chieftan chicken sauce—so good that my mouth is watering just thinking about it. Be sure to ask for an extra side of Chieftan chicken sauce just for dipping. You won’t be sorry.
Of course, all of these places and others offer dinners as well as lunch, but if you’re looking for something a little more special for dinner, Blue Bayou is an excellent choice. As you sail on Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll notice people dining under the stars right next to the bayou. Specializing in Cajun and Creole fare, Blue Bayou is a unique dining experience you won’t find anyplace else. But be sure to reserve in advance—getting a seat at this exclusive restaurant is no easy feat.
Throughout the day, you’ve likely popped in and out of the various shops in each of the lands and picked up a few souvenirs along the way. Some shops carry special items you won’t find in other parts of the park, so it’s a good idea to give them a quick once over. I recommend checking out the Adventureland Bazaar, the shops of Royal Street in New Orleans Square, Pooh Corner, Pioneer Mercantile, “it’s a small world” Toy Shop, Gag Factory – Toontown Five and Dime, and The Star Trader. Each of these places has some unique and cool items you won’t find anywhere else in the park.
Now that the day is done, be sure to check out the shops of Main Street U.S.A. that you skipped past when you first arrived at the park to pick up some last-minute mementos of your visit to Disneyland. Most of the shops are connected on the interior, so you can pass right from one to the next without ever stepping foot outside.
Some of my favorites include Crystal Arts, which has lots of affordable collectibles, including custom hand-blown glass creations and Christmas ornaments. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you won’t want to miss the Candy Palace and Candy Kitchen, where they serve up all sorts of tasty treats, including chocolates, lollipops, fudge, popcorn, and more. Emporium is the ultimate one-stop Disneyland shop. It sells just about eery type of Disneyland-themed merchandise you can imagine, such as clothes, hats, mugs, plush toys, trinkets, and more. You’ll definitely want to stop here. And if you’re a true Disney connoisseur, you absolutely must visit The Disney Gallery. Here, you’ll find exquisite collectibles and one-of-a-kind works of art from some of Disney’s most talented artists.
It may sound like a lot, but it is possible to do Disneyland in one day. Expect to get up early and stay out late, but it will be worth every moment of fun you have. What are your favorite rides, shops, and places to eat? Leave a comment to share your ideas.
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