One Day at Disneyland: My Perfect Day
While I grew up visiting Walt Disney World in Florida regularly (I’ve been more times than I’d like to admit ; ) more recently as an adult, I’ve now been to Disneyland in California a few times.
And I LOVE IT!
I’m lucky to have a local friend who knows the ins and outs of putting together a park day at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure, and now that I’ve been several times, I’ve definitely got my “must dos.”
Now first off, since I’m traveling from the middle of the country to get to Disneyland/LA I usually like to go for more than just one day, but I know that most people only end up spending one day at Disneyland as part of a bigger California trip or because they’re more local, so I thought I would put together a little itinerary of my favorite way to spend one day at Disneyland.
A few tips before I get started:
My absolute favorite time to go to Disneyland is in the spring. Usually in April the trees and flowers start to bloom and it. is. so. pretty.
Also good to know…the Disneyland parks go ALL OUT for Halloween and Christmas (certain rides are completely overlaid and areas of the park like Carsland are completely transformed) and that could be a reason to go or not to go during that time depending on if you celebrate.
I buy Genie+ and the Individual Lightning Lanes (the service that lets you skip the lines) because I want to do as much as possible since I don’t go that often. You can read more about that here.
If you’re only going for one day, I’d definitely recommend going on a weekday. It’s so much less crowded. You can still do a lot on the weekend though, but you’re going to need to get there early and have a good plan.
One Day at Disneyland
And one last thing…even with just one day, you’ve got to do BOTH PARKS. Yes, there are two different theme parks that make up the Disneyland Resort…Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. They are within walking distance of each other (like less than 30 seconds to walk from the gate of one to the other) and they each offer a really unique experience so I think both are a must do. That means you’re going to need a park hopper ticket (a ticket that allows you to go to both parks on the same day). Read more tips for visiting Disneyland here.
My Perfect Day at Disneyland
**This is my perfect day at Disneyland so while this doesn’t include every single thing to do (or maybe even some of the most popular things to do), it’s what I like to do and feel like I don’t want to miss.
I always start the day off at Disneyland park. It’s the “classic” Disney park, it has the highest concentration of rides and attractions plus quite a few that aren’t included with Genie+ so I like to knock them out early when the lines are short.
I plan to arrive at the parks about an hour before the official opening time. Whether you’re walking from your hotel or parking in the garage, it’ll give you time to go through security, enter the park, walk down Mainstreet (Mickey and the gang are usually doing a little welcome show in front of the train station) and mosey on down towards the castle to wait for rope drop (when they let guests go deeper into the park towards the rides).
Since I’m a longtime Disney fan and all about nostalgia, I like to do the Fantasyland dark rides first thing since they don’t have Genie+ (the lines will get longer later in the day). They’re also so close to each other that it’s easy to pop from one to another.
Alice in Wonderland is my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE. It’s where I head first and sometimes I’ll even ride twice ; )
This is one of my favorite movies and I LOVE this part of the park so I’ll usually hop on the teacups, head into the Mad Hatter’s and just look around. There’s also a cute Queen of Hearts bathroom in the area.
Snow White’s Enchanted Wish is also a must do for me. It’s recently been updated and it’s SO GOOD.
Peter Pan’s Flight is a must do in general, but since there’s one in Walt Disney World I sometimes skip it here. If this is on your list though, you should probably head here first, then Alice, then Snow White. It tends to get a really long line.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is a Disneyland classic and people feel very strongly about it, but it honestly kind of freaks me out so Mr. Toad and Pinnochio’s Daring Journey were one and dones for me. I don’t usually ride them unless whoever I’m with wants to.
The Storybook Land Canal Boats, Casey Jr Circus Train, Dumbo, and the Carousel are also right in this area. I like all of those, but with only one day at both parks, they’re skips for me.
What is NOT a skip in Fantasyland is It’s a Small World. This is one of my all time favorite attractions and the Disneyland version is so different from the Florida one that I always make it a priority.
After I wrap it up in Fantasyland (the trick here is to be quick and not get bogged down taking pictures or “getting distracted” just yet – I’ll circle back later in the day once the lines have gotten longer), I head over towards New Orleans Square to hop on Pirates of the Caribbean.
This is another Disneyland classic/Walt Disney original and it doesn’t have Genie+ so the line gets longer later in the day.
After that whirlwind of a morning, I like to stop for Mickey shaped beignets at the Mint Julep Bar.
That counts as breakfast, right?
Besides what I’ve already mentioned, my must-do rides at Disneyland are Space Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure, Big Thunder Mountain, Rise of the Resistance, and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. These are all included with Genie+ (Rise of the Resistance and Runaway Railway are Individual Lightning Lanes) which means you should be able to snag a reservation window to ride without waiting.
Usually I would try to schedule my Genie+ reservation times so I don’t have to cross the park, but Disneyland isn’t that big so it’s easier to wing it. And in the morning the return times for Genie+ are often pretty immediate. Example: At 10:30AM, the line for Space Mountain may be 30-40 minutes but the Genie+ return time may be right at 10:30-11:30AM so you can walk right on as soon as you book it.
So, for midmorning to early afternoon, I use Genie+ to schedule:
Big Thunder Mountain: This isn’t too far from New Orleans Square.
Indiana Jones Adventure: This ride is unique to Disneyland (there isn’t one in Florida) so it’s definitely a must do for me. While I’m in Adventureland, I like to get a dole whip and go to the Enchanted Tiki Room. It’s a classic 1960s attraction. The Jungle Cruise isn’t a must do for me, but it’s in this area so now would be a convenient time if it’s on your list.
Rise of the Resistance: You can book your return window for Rise of the Resistance independent of the Genie+ system so I usually like to go with a 11:30-12:30 time slot. While I’m back in Galaxy’s Edge, I like to get a “space coffee” from Docking Bay 7 and keep an eye out for Grogu and the Mandalorian.
Also, I saw R2-D2 for the first time last time I was here!
Mickey & Minnie’s Runway Railway: Toontown is pretty close to Galaxy’s Edge so I would schedule a Lightning Lane for Runway Railway next or just be prepared to wait a bit. I LOVE Toontown!
There’s no longer one at the Magic Kingdom in Florida so seeing Mickey and Minnie’s houses is always a must do for me. It’s a big nostalgic part of my childhood.
Space Mountain: Tomorrowland is closer to the front of the park so Space Mountain makes for a good “last ride” in Disneyland as you head over towards California Adventure.
But before I leave Disneyland, I like to have lunch at the Jolly Holiday Bakery on Main Street. This Mary Poppins themed counter service restaurant is SO CUTE and it’s one of my favorite spots to eat in the park. You MUST get the grilled cheese and tomato soup combo plus whatever looks yummy in the dessert case.
You can park hop to Disney’s California Adventure anytime after 1PM and if I only have one day, I’d aim to be there by 2-2:30.
Since you’re arriving at California Adventure in the afternoon (and there are some seriously popular rides here), you’re going to have to work Genie+ really well.
My must do rides are: Radiator Springs Racers, Incredicoaster, Guardians Mission Breakout, and Soarin (but only if they’re doing the classic California version…if it’s the “around the world” version I just play it by ear since it’s also at Epcot).
I also really like to do the Silly Symphony Swings and Mickey’s Fun Wheel if I can fit it in and the lines aren’t too long (these don’t have Genie+).
Here’s where there’s a little hitch: You can only buy TWO Individual Lightning Lanes each day and there are currently three offered between the two parks (Rise of the Resistance, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and Radiator Springs Racers). If I’m trying to do all three in one day, I’ll pick Rise of the Resistance and Radiator Springs Racers because Runaway Railway usually has a pretty manageable line. Radiator Springs Racers is a MUST DO for me because it’s unique to California plus I LOVE Route 66. On my last trip it was closed for refurbishment the whole time and it was a big bummer.
So that leaves Incredicoaster and Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout (and possibly Soarin’ ) to manage with Genie+. I also like Webslingers if I can get a Genie+.
Mission Breakout is one of my FAVORITE rides in the California parks and there are different songs that it rotates to so sometimes I’ll get a Genie+ AND wait in the standby line if it’s only 30 minutes or so to ride twice.
I also love to grab a reservation for Lamplight Lounge in the early evening. 30 minutes or so before sunset is PERFECT. If I can’t get into Lamplight, I also really like the Carthay Circle lounge.
Now my absolute NON-NEGOTIABLE don’t miss in the California parks is Carsland at night when they turn on the neon.
By nature, I’m an early bird and usually ready to wind down once it gets dark so I don’t always make it to the fireworks/World of Color/ Fantasmic, but I NEVER miss the neon in Carsland.
I think Carsland in Disney’s California Adventure is one of the best things Disney has ever built. It’s such a fantastic, fully immersive land and honestly, it’s kind of what inspired my big Route 66 road trip last year.
And every night right about dusk, they have a little “turning on the neon” event. They play “Sh-Boom” on the loudspeakers and turn the signs on one by one. Everybody stands in the street and watches and it just feels like a little piece of magic.
And that’s my perfect day at Disneyland!
Want more Disneyland posts? Check these out…
Disneyland 101: Advice I’d Tell a Friend Going the First Time
One Day at Disneyland: MY Perfect Day
Cars Route 66 Road Trip: The Real Life Places Behind Radiator Springs in Disneyland
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