An Insider’s Guide to Disneyland and California Adventure

by / 7 months ago

One of the biggest perks of living in Southern California is your proximity to Disneyland. I must admit, I didn’t grow up going to Disneyland and was more nervous than excited for our first ever family trip there. There really is something magical about it and each time is a new, fun experience. We visited the parks for the first time as a family in December 2014 and have been annual pass holders ever since.

Did you know you can apply the cost of your ticket toward an annual pass?

We received 2 day park hopper tickets as Christmas gifts so it was pretty much a no-brainer to upgrade seeing as it would have cost more for a single day park hopper for 1 person. If you love Disney, it is definitely worth looking into. We have the least expensive pass which does not allow access during major holidays, weekends or the summer but I would avoid visiting at those times anyway.


Parking is now $20 per vehicle. There are several different lots affiliated with the theme park as well as local hotels and the rate is the same across the board. We always park in the Mickey & Friends lot and use the tram to get us to and from the parks.

Tip: if you ride in the very front or very back cars of the tram you do not need to fold your strollers (parents, you know how annoying that is!). Children may not ride in their strollers though.


Another great thing about Disneyland is that they DO allow outside food and beverages. This is a god send. Food at theme parks can get pricey and they don’t have the healthiest options available. They do have some good choices (pickles, fruit, water) at select snack stations however. We bring in an insulated bag stuffed to the brim with snacks for the kids and ourselves.

  • I bring carrots, celery, cucumbers, sliced apples, goldfish, granola bars, protein bars, string cheese, sandwiches, protein shakes and of course a few lollipops as bribes.
  • I also bring reusable water bottles and a 1 gallon container of water to refill them with throughout the day. These are available at any grocery store, Target, Walmart or gas station.

Tip: California Adventure sells beer and wine (you’re probably going to need it)

Insider Tips

  1. Tuesdays – Thursdays are typically less crowded
  2. Get there right after the park opens
  3. Plan the main attractions you want to see ahead of time and map them out. (Maps are available at the entrance gates)
  4. Cast members often have stickers and “celebration” buttons available for kids or those celebrating special occasions.
  5. Pay attention to your surroundings – the parks get very crowded at times. Keep a close eye on your kids and your belongings. Also, keep an eye out for others as well. I can’t even count how many times I’ve almost been ran over or almost separated from my child because of someone snapping a photo and not paying attention to where they were going.
  6. Practice patience 🙂 We are all in this together.
  7. Always check for ride closures before making promises to your kids (I’ve learned this the hard way a few too many times)
  8. The Rider Switch pass – this is the best tip of all. If you, like myself, have a child that is too short to ride you can get what is called a rider switch pass. Just ask the first cast member you see in line (and I mean literally the people standing closest to the main entrance of the line) and they will hook you up. It works just like a fast pass, doesn’t have a return time and it’s good for up to 3 people.

Must See Attractions

Obviously this is my personal opinion here, but we typically visit once a month or so and are able to get through everything at both parks in one day so I’d like to believe we have a pretty efficient system. We decide as we are driving where to start (California Adventure vs. Disneyland) and plan our day from there.


An Insider's Guide to Disneyland and California Adventure

My top picks:

  1. Space Mountain
  2. Matterhorn
  3. Indiana Jones
  4. Astro Blasters
  5. Big Thunder Mountain
  6. Pirates of The Caribbean
  7. Haunted Mansion
  8. Splash Mountain
  9. Winnie The Pooh
  10. It’s A Small World
  11. Dumbo*
  12. Teacups*
  13. Alice in Wonderland*      An Insider's Guide to Disneyland and California Adventure

If we start at Disneyland our day typically goes as such: My oldest and I ride Space Mountain and I get a rider switch pass for my husband. Meanwhile he gets fast passes for Indiana Jones. After he get’s the fast passes, we meet at the Toy Story Astro Blasters ride. He then rides Space Mountain again with our oldest and I take the youngest on Astro Blasters. Depending on when our return time is, we wait in line for the Matterhorn (no fast passes available but they do have a single rider option) or head to Adventureland and take turns on Indiana Jones.

An Insider's Guide to Disneyland and California Adventure

An Insider's Guide to Disneyland and California Adventure

During this time we are now eligible for fast passes again so we grab them for Big Thunder Mountain. While waiting for our next return time, we ride Pirates of The Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion and check out the lines in Fantasyland. Fantasyland is the most crowded so if I can avoid going there, I do. Fast passes are not available for any of those rides.

Once our next return time is up we get our last fast pass for Splash Mountain. Since our youngest can’t ride yet, one parent her on the Winnie the Pooh ride while the other parent is on Splash Mountain and then we switch.

An Insider's Guide to Disneyland and California Adventure

An Insider's Guide to Disneyland and California Adventure

If that doesn’t sound exhausting enough, we then relax on It’s A Small World. It’s air-conditioned, inside and approximately 10 minutes long. It’s a much needed break 🙂 Depending on crowd levels we sometimes visit Toon Town but it is rare. Usually by this point we are more than ready for California Adventure.

California Adventure:

An Insider's Guide to Disneyland and California Adventure

My top picks:

  1. Radiator Springs Racers
  2. Ariel’s Under Sea Adventure
  3. Midway Mania
  4. Monsters Inc.
  5. Soarin’ Over The World
  6. Tow Mater
  7. California Screamin’* (thrill ride)
  8. Grizzly River Run* (you get SOAKED!!!)

The Radiator Springs Racers are by far the most popular ride here. If you don’t start your day here, you will have to wait in standby because even the fast passes sell out within an hour. It is SO much fun though. In my personal experience, the lines are not as long as stated on the signs.

An Insider's Guide to Disneyland and California Adventure

An Insider's Guide to Disneyland and California Adventure

An Insider's Guide to Disneyland and California Adventure

If we visit California Adventure second, we typically take our oldest daughter straight to Cars Land to get that out of the way and we get a rider switch pass. While she and one of us are on the ride, we take our youngest to Ariel’s Under Sea Adventure and Monsters Inc. If there is still time left we will sometimes ride Tow Mater which is similar to the Teacup ride only “Cars” themed. We usually end our day on Midway Mania. I have to say this is my favorite of all! The line is always long, but, it is worth it.

If you have any other tips you’d like to share please do so below! Thanks for reading!



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7 comments on “An Insider’s Guide to Disneyland and California Adventure

    • It’s basically for families with children or someone who cannot ride for whatever reason. Instead of waiting in standby twice, you approach the cast member at the front of the line and ask for a rider switch pass – sometimes they will ask to see the rest of your party. That pass then works just like a fast pass but it doesn’t have a return time (woo hoo!) and it is good for up to 3 people to ride at once. Another bonus is you’re still eligible for fast passes while you have a rider switch. But if you are already using your fast pass to ride you cannot also get a rider switch (it’s very rare they will allow this)

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