I cannot tell you how excited I was to go down to Disneyland for my son’s third birthday. Since kids are free before three years old, we flew down two days before his actual birthday and celebrated while we were there. (Kids don’t “age” at Disney so if you buy a multi-day ticket, whatever age they are on the first day is what they’ll stay.)
I knew that a LOT of planning was going to be necessary for this trip, so I started researching about six weeks before. We wanted to take it slow since we had our 1-year-old with us too, so I made sure that I took advantage of every minute we had there.
My son’s birthday is November 12 and we were visiting the park on the 11th and the 12th. Because the 11th is Veteran’s Day and the 12th was the official start of the holiday season, I knew it was going to be busy, and boy was it. We couldn’t get to everything we wanted to since there were so many people, so we loosely followed our plan. Even though we didn’t get to it all, it was still an amazing, magical time!
If you’re going to Disney soon, keep reading for all the details you’ll need to know!
Disneyland Park Tickets and Reservations
Currently, you must make a reservation for the day that you want to visit. Because of this, I would ensure your dates are available before buying tickets. To make a reservation and to buy tickets, you’ll need to create a Disneyland account. Check Park reservations here.
Restaurant reservations aren’t required, but they are very recommended. The best restaurants fill up early. Check dining reservations here.
TIP: Download the Disneyland app before heading to the park. It has everything! You can store your tickets, hotel reservations, and dining reservations, order food, check ride wait times, and see the schedule of all of the entertainment for the day.
Closest Airports to Disneyland
There are three airports that serve Orange County. All three airports have shuttle service to Disneyland.
SNA (John Wayne Airport) is in Santa Ana and is 13 miles and roughly 20 minutes away from Disneyland. This is the closest airport and it’s also small so it’s simple to get in and out of.
LGB (Long Beach Airport) is in Long Beach and is 23 miles and roughly 30 minutes away from Disneyland. A little further out but it’s also easy to get in and out of.
LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) is in El Segundo and is 33 miles and roughly 45 minutes (no traffic) away from Disneyland. If you can’t find a direct flight into the other two, you can fly into LAX but it’s huge and there’s always traffic. Know it’ll be a long travel day from LAX, but it’s manageable if it’s the only option.
Read over my tips on how to fly with kids here.
Getting Around Disneyland
Walk. The easiest option is to stay in or around the park and walk everywhere. Disneyland is compact and there are plenty of dining options and convenience stores right outside of the park so you can easily get by walking your whole trip.
Hotel shuttle. Hotels that are further out offer a shuttle (some are free, some have a small fee) and they will drive you to the park. You’ll need to double check with your hotels on what they offer.
Drive. If you want to explore the area and would rather drive to the park, you can rent a car. There is plenty of parking available at Disneyland but it’s $25/day. There is free bus transportation from the Toy Story Parking Area to the park, and free tram rides from the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure to the parks. Check out rental cars here.
Staying at Disneyland
If you stay on-site, you’re fully immersed in the Disney magic throughout your trip. The rooms, restaurants, and décor are themed, and some rooms will also have views of the park as well. They each have amazing pool areas as well. The downside is that the prices are much higher for these hotels.
Disneyland has three on-site hotels:
Disney’s Paradise Pier, the beach themed hotel. Next to California Adventure, it offers standard rooms, plus many options for 1- and 2-bedroom suites, with one option for a 3-bedroom suite.
Disneyland Hotel, the classic Disney themed hotel. Right next to the Downtown Disney District, it offers standard rooms, 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom suites, plus themed rooms (like the Mickey Mouse 2-bedroom suite.)
Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, the elegant, Craftsman themed hotel. Attached to California Adventure, it offers standard rooms plus many options for 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom suites.
Disney also offers a recommended list of off-site “Good Neighbor” hotels—Disney approved, quality hotels, a mile or less from the park. The ones below all are walking distance to the park and offer standard rooms and multi-room suites. Here’s a list of all of the Good Neighbor hotels.
Recommended moderate options:
Residence Inn. This is where we stayed, and I couldn’t recommend it enough! It’s about a 10-minute walk to the park. They have standard rooms, with bunk beds in the second bedroom AND a separate bathroom. They have a great pool area with a huge splash pad. Free breakfast is included too.
Howard Johnson Hotel and Water Playground. An 8-minute walk to the park. They have standard rooms, but also connecting rooms you can book together. They have 2-bedroom suites with a kid’s room with bunk beds and a separate bathroom too. The pool area and splash pad are incredible!
Recommended value options:
Clementine Hotel and Suites: A 10-minute walk to the park. An all-suite hotel with studio, 1-bedroom, bi-level loft, and 2-bedroom options. Breakfast and parking are both included. There’s also a small pool area, playground, and a fire pit and BBQ grill to chat with other guests.
Camelot Inn. A 4-minute walk to the parks. Basic rooms with option for a 2-room family suite. Offers a small pool area that also doubles as the perfect place to catch the park’s fireworks.
What to Do at Disneyland Park
You made it to the park! As you walk to the entrance, you’ll first go through a Security checkpoint. They’ll search your belongings, and you’ll walk through a metal detector. (Strollers will not go through the detector, they’ll tell you to push it to the side.)
You’ll then get to the park entrance. Use the Disneyland app to show your tickets. If it’s your first day at the park, they will take your picture.
Once you go through the turnstile, walk over to the Mickey flower portrait, and take your first picture. Head through either entrance to start your day at Main Street.
TIP: We cut the park up into two days.
Day one is Main Street, Fantasyland, Toontown, and Tomorrowland.
Day two is Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, and Frontierland.
Stroll through adorable Main Street, the charming land of small-town America. Main Street is full of magical touches—characters sightings, the start of the parades, delicious dining and dessert options (like Gibson Girl Ice Cream!), and all the best shops and souvenirs.
Once you get to Town Square, you’ll see a staircase that leads you to the Main Street Railroad Station. There will most likely be characters greeting guests or a marching band performing at the top of the staircase. Pose your littles ones on the steps and snap some pictures with the characters. If you want to start your day with a tour of the park, hop on the next train.
Head over to City Hall to take a ride on one of the Main Street Vehicles. You’ll be driven around Main Street in a horse-drawn streetcar, jitney, fire engine, or omnibus!
Poke your head into the shops and grab a souvenir or coffee and a treat. Make you way over to Central Plaza and take a picture at the Walt Disney statue.
Then, head over to the Sleeping Beauty castle and take a picture.
TIP: Bypass the line to take a picture in front of the castle and walk over to the left side. Nobody will be behind you and you’ll get a shot of the water and moat too!
Restaurants to make a reservation at: Plaza Inn
Best quick service foods to try: Jolly Bakery and Corner Café.
Best spots for pictures: Park entrance at Mickey flower portrait, Disney Railroad staircase, Central Plaza statue, while riding on the Main Street Vehicles, Sleeping Beauty’s castle
Enter Fantasyland, the world of fairy tales.
Get ready for some rides, this is where most of the any-height rides are.
Fantasyland rides to try:
- Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
- Casey Jr. Circus Train
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant (there’s an elephant prop in line that is great for pictures)
- King Arthur Carrousel (take a picture while riding)
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Storybook Land Canal Boats
- Mad Tea Party (take a pic while you’re spinning around on the ride)
- Alice in Wonderland
- it’s a small world (take a pic outside of the castle)
Look out for the Pearly Band, the Mary Poppin’s themed band while you’re in Fantasyland. We saw them in front of the it’s a small world ride. The music was great and the kids loved dancing around and watching them play their big instruments.
Best food stand to try: Frozen lemonade
Best spot for pictures: on any of the rides, but some great ones are on Dumbo, King Arthur Carrousel, Mad Tea Party (especially at night!), and in front of it’s a small world.
NAP BREAK. If you are taking a mid-day break for naps, this is a good stopping point to grab some lunch and head to your hotel for a (much needed) break. When you come back to the park, make your way to Toontown.
My favorite town, Toontown! It’s the ultimate cartoon town. This town is the best for the younger crowds. There’s a big chance you’ll have more character sightings since Mickey and the gang “live” here.
Get your camera ready because this is the place for the best pictures. Visit Goofy’s Playhouse, Donald’s boat, and Mickey’s and Minnie’s houses to see if they’re home. Even if they’re not, snap pictures in front of their adorable homes.
Then stroll around the town, jump in the car at the gas station and pose by the gas pumps, go to the fire station and hop on the fire truck, and explore the treehouse.
Toontown rides to try:
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
- Chip n Dale’s Treehouse
Best food stand to try: Pluto’s Dog House
Best spot for pictures: In front of the houses, the gas station, the fire truck, on the treehouse.
Enter the futuristic age in Tomorrowland. (It’s awesome in the evening because everything is lit up!)
Tomorrowland has a little of everything: rockets, spaceships, cars, even a submarine. You can also hop on the Disneyland Monorail AND Disneyland Railroad. It’s fun to walk around in the evening because with all the lights you feel like you’re actually in a spaceship.
Tomorrowland rides to try:
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
- Astro Orbiter
- Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (temporarily closed)
- Disneyland Monorail
- Disneyland Railroad
Best quick service foods to try: Galactic Grill.
Best spots for pictures: In front of the Astro Blasters ride, on Autopia ride
If you visited Main Street, Fantasyland, and Toontown already, this will be a good time to break for the day and get dinner. If you still have time, pass through Main Street to continue on to the other side of the park starting with Adventureland.
NOTE: The left side of the park contains the smaller lands that have less any-height rides. However, they all have exquisite details throughout that you should look out for while you’re walking through. Also, there’s a lot more highly rated dining on this side.
We breezed through quickly but loved the overall vibe of each of the lands and how different this side was from the other.
We just walked through Star Wars: Galaxy’s End since there are no any-height rides there. We went in the evening and my 3 year old was actually getting a little scared. So, there’s not much I can recommend there BUT they do have Oga’s Cantina in there that is one of the only places you can order alcohol in the park.
Explore the remote tropical jungles of the world in Adventureland. I love the décor here because you really feel like you’re in a jungle—vines, tiki torches, animal statues. It’s the smallest land though and does get crowded quick.
Pop into the safari-themed Adventureland Bazaar to get themed items like animal print Minnie ears or tropical patterned clothes and fun exotic animal toys (and maybe you’ll spot Aladdin outside!)
Rides to try:
- Jungle Cruise
- Tarzan’s Treehouse (you can probably catch Moana here!)
- Enchanted Tiki Room
Best quick service food to try: Bengal BBQ
Best food stand to try: Tiki Juice Bar (for Dole Whip!)
Best spots for pictures: in front of the Adventureland sign, on the bridge at Tarzan’s Treehouse
NEW ORLEANS SQUARE
Head to 19th century jazz land at New Orleans Square. The little town looks like the French Quarter with small shops, fountains, courtyards, and colorful townhouses lining the streets.
There’s such a fun vibe to New Orleans Square— there are plenty of jazz bands and musical groups that perform, artists draw custom portraits and caricatures in the quiet backstreets, and there’s plenty of Creole food (most people say it’s the most delicious of the whole park).
Rides to try:
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Disneyland Railroad
Best quick service food to try: French Market
Best spots to take pics: In front of the colorful townhouses, in front of the Haunted Mansion
Hidden behind New Orleans Square is Critter Country. The quietest section of Disneyland, it’s the adorable backwoods of the forest. It’s lined with shady trees so it’s a nice break from the sun as well.
The Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country has a large, covered patio and provides a spot to relax or eat snacks. It also has great views of the River of America and Splash Mountain.
This is the spot to see Winnie the Pooh and his gang so keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready.
Rides to try:
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes
Best quick service food to try: Harbour Galley (many Disney goers say that their lobster roll is the best meal in Disney!)
Best food stand to try: Pooh Corner (for Tigger Treats!)
Best spots for pictures: Anywhere in Pooh Corner, in front of Splash Mountain
Make your way to Frontierland to enter the Wild, Wild West. It’s filled with mountains, old-fashioned buildings, cowboys, pioneers, saloons, and even a shooting gallery.
You can ride a boat over to Tom Sawyer’s Island to explore caves, treehouses, and forts too!
Frontierland is also where you can spot some of the Toy Story crew, like Woody and Jessie, or Mickey’s pals Chip and Dale.
Rides to try:
- Mark Twain Riverboat,
- Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island,
- Shootin’ Exposition (purchased tokens required to shoot).
Best quick service food: Rancho del Zocalo
Best spot for pictures: Against the rock formation, in front of the Golden Horseshoe saloon, on Tom Sawyer’s Island
Right next door to Disneyland is Downtown Disney, an amazing outdoor shopping area full of shops, dining, and beautiful décor. I liked breaking up the day and having lunch and checking out the shops there.
We had lunch in Downtown Disney each day and both times it was delicious. We loved Uva and Naples. For dessert, Salt and Straw is THE best ice cream I’ve ever tasted (they also have a location in Venice, CA). Make reservations early though because they fill up fast for lunch and dinner.
In addition to many Disney stores, there’s plenty of other shopping available, like Sephora, Curl Surf, and the LEGO Store.
Airline tickets: $652 for three tickets
Hotel: $1,722 for three nights + parking
Rental car: $244 for three days
Disney tickets: $470 for 2 people over 10, for two days at same park
Disney-park food: ~$85 Uva, Downtown Disney, ~$60 Naples, Downtown Disney, ~$35 frozen lemonade, popcorn, sodas
Off-site food: ~$30 Blaze Pizza, ~$25 Pizza Press
Disney souvenirs: $12 balloon + $30 bubble machine
My Disney tips:
Naps: If you will be going back to the hotel for naps, I suggest doing two lands in the morning, eating lunch, then venturing back to the hotel for a break. Once back at the park, do another two lands.
Souvenirs: Everywhere near the parks sells Disney souvenirs. Check those stores for anything you like before you buy at the park. I bought Minnie ears for $6.99 at CVS and they were $29.99 at the park. That being said, the souvenirs they have at the park will make your kids eyes light up. We bought the Mickey balloon and the bubble machine and both kept them quiet for hours.
Best place to watch fireworks and parades: Main Street is the very best place to watch both, but you have to line up early. Right in front of the it’s a small world ride is also a good spot.
Want to add a beach day at the beginning or end of your trip? Or have a beach day to break up a few days at Disneyland?
The two closest beaches are roughly a half hour away and both awesome choices. Newport Beach is 18 miles and about 25 minutes away (no traffic). Huntington Beach is also an option 21 miles and about 30 minutes away (no traffic). I’ve spent more time in Newport Beach and love it there, I have my suggestions on what to do there below.
This time, our boys just wanted to play in the sand and we didn’t get to do any of the other activities I had on my itinerary. Since everything at Disney was planned, I decided to just let the boys do what they wanted this time!
Newport Beach is in the middle of all the action. It’s huge so there’s plenty of room for the kids to run around or you can enjoy a volleyball game. It has an amazing boardwalk that’s great for bike rides and cycling.
Corona Del Mar is another family friendly beach great for swimming.
Newport Beach Boardwalk
The oceanfront boardwalk is nearly three miles long and is filled with restaurants, shops, and beautiful beachfront housing. You can walk or rent bikes to get around.
Fun Zone at Balboa Island
The Fun Zone is an old-fashioned amusement park perfect for kids of all ages. It’s on a peninsula so to make it even more fun you can take a ferry there!
A nautical themed playground right on the marina. The water on that side is much calmer so it’s great for the little ones. It’s walking distance from the Boardwalk too. There are picnic tables, a grassy area, and basketball courts too.
Have you been to Disneyland? What’s your favorite part? Let me know in the comments!
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