One of the most common questions I get asked from friends that are planning a trip to Southern California is ‘how can I do Disneyland in one day?’ For some families, Disneyland is just a side trip on a vacation that’s focused on family or visiting other Southern California destinations.
While our when to visit Disneyland guide recommends three days to see and do everything at the Disneyland Resort, it is possible to just spend one day at Disneyland and see everything you like! I prioritized the most popular attractions, restaurants, and characters to ensure that you can maximize the magic even if you only have one day to devote to the Disneyland Resort.
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Step One: Arrive Early, Use MaxPass, and Focus on Key Attractions
If you only have one day to spend at Disneyland, you need to arrive early enough to be present for Rope Drop. Arrive to the gates at least 45 minutes prior to the opening time for the parks so you can be let in and get a good spot for Rope Drop. The cast members will start letting guests in about 15-20 minutes early and this lets you get a good spot by the ‘ropes’ that are set up blocking off your entrance to the different lands. Make sure to eat breakfast at your hotel and pack snacks so you can spend the morning focusing on attractions.
Second, make sure that you splurge on MaxPass. This will allow you to book FastPass reservations from your phone and download unlimited photos taken of you at Disneyland which is a must have if you only have one day. Here is a recommended list of attractions you should hit in the morning:
- Star Tours*
- Space Mountain*
- Indiana Jones*
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Haunted Mansion*
- Big Thunder Mountain*
*These attractions all offer FastPass. I suggest lining up at Rope Drop facing Tomorrowland and riding Star Tours first. Once you enter the park you can grab your first MaxPass even before the park officially opens! Grab a FastPass for Space Mountain and then work your way through the list grabbing FastPasses along the way. If a ride has a longer wait than 20 minutes, skip it, and come back with a FastPass.
If you’re interested in seeing the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, I recommend visiting the new land in the afternoon once the morning ‘rush’ has calmed down. Even if your group isn’t full of diehard Star Wars fans, this new land is amazingly immersive in its detail and appearance- it’s worth checking out!
Disneyland has been using a virtual queue for guests to ride the new e-ticket attraction Rise of the Resistance. Here are the steps you will need to take to access the ride:
- Download the Disneyland app for Disneyland and make sure everyone’s tickets are already scanned into your app so that way once you enter you can seamlessly sign up for a boarding group.
- Arrive at least an hour prior to park opening to have the best chance for accessing a boarding pass in the virtual queue as there are not guarantees.
- Once you’re scanned into the park, immediately access the app and look for the link on the home page labeled “Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance – Access by Boarding Group”and request a boarding group. Be ready to do this the instant the park officially opens for the best chance of getting to ride!
- You will be given a boarding group number, the larger the number, the later in the day you will ride.
- Enable push notifications for the app on your phone and when it’s time to enter the queue for Rise of the Resistance you will receive a notification instantly. You will then have two hours to access your boarding time.
Keep in mind that this will largely impact your flexibility for the day since once you receive your boarding group notification you will have to make your way back to the ride. But it’s definitely worth it for any Star Wars fan!
Other classic attractions that you should ride in Disneyland:
- Splash Mountain
- Disneyland Railroad
- Peter Pan & other Fantasyland rides
- it’s a small world
I have kept this list small because I recommend you spend part of your day in California Adventure- the park just adjacent of Disneyland. You can check out our guide to attractions at Disneyland here and pick out your top choices. Make sure when you break for lunch that you are waiting with a FastPass in hand.
Make sure that you are watching the FastPass times for Radiator Springs Racers on your phone so you have a FastPass ready when you head over to California Adventure!
Step Two: Meet Mickey, Eat Lunch at a Disneyland Tradition, and Get A Castle Picture
Once you’ve done hitting those key morning attractions (that have the lowest lines in the mornings) you can break for lunch. I recommend these restaurants to get that traditional Disneyland feel:
- Carnation Cafe– this American style restaurant is classic Disneyland featuring many of Walt Disney’s favorite dishes and a beautiful patio with a view of Main Street U.S.A.
- Blue Bayou– this restaurant was once considered the finest of dining options in Disneyland serving Cajun style food in a themed Louisiana bayou setting inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
- Minnie & Friends Character Dining at the Plaza Inn– I recommend character dining if you have kids in your group- this is the only character dining option inside the parks. This will allow your kids to meet many characters at once and eat a delicious Disney breakfast buffet (including Mickey waffles!) all at one time. This can be an efficient use of time.
Before you plan on heading over to California Adventure, you have two more things to cross off your list before the evening at Disneyland: meet Mickey Mouse and get your picture in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. PhotoPass photographers will be lined up in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle all day so at any time you can go get your picture. Since you’ve purchased MaxPass, you will get all the photo downloads at no extra cost for the day.
You can find Mickey in ToonTown greeting guests in his house. There is usually a wait for Mickey so if you’ve already met some key characters along the way or you took advantage of character dining- I recommend skipping this unless meeting Mickey is at the top of your list! Meeting him in his house in Toontown is a great experience- one worth waiting for!
Step Three: Go to California Adventure Park, Experience Cars Land and Pixar Pier before Dinner
California Adventure has two main areas that I think are a must see: Cars Land and Pixar Pier. Even if you’re not a huge Cars fan, I still recommend going to this land. The amount of detail here is fantastic! By the time you arrive in California Adventure, you should have timed it so that your FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers is ready to ride. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters are the other two attractions in Cars Land that typically have low wait times- ride those too while you’re there!
Once you’re done in Cars Land, make time to go explore Pixar Pier. There are plenty of photo ops, snacks (don’t miss out on the lemon soft serve at Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats), games, and character meets!
Here are the top attractions you should see while you’re in California Adventure:
- Radiator Springs Racers (make sure you get a FastPass for this while you’re still in Disneyland- they will run out!)
- Guardians of the Galaxy- Mission: BREAKOUT!
- Toy Story Midway Mania!
- Soarin’ Around the World
These attractions are all popular and all have FastPass options, I recommend using FastPass to ride these rides but keep in mind that FastPasses can run out so keep your eye on the times even when you’re still in Disneyland. The best scenario is that you’re walking into California Adventure with a few FastPasses in hand for these rides all ready to go. If you finish these rides, go explore what’s left before you break for dinner.
I recommend having dinner in California Adventure so you can get a taste of the style of this park! Here are my top choices for must see dining options in California Adventure:
- Lamplight Lounge– this Pixar themed restaurant is filled with Pixar design elements, themed food, and drinks including a variety of cocktails inspired by Pixar films. Their food here is great and the atmosphere is even better. I highly recommend you pick this for your place to dine for dinner!
- Wine Country Trattoria– this restaurant is in a Mediterranean garden setting offering fresh Italian food and Napa Valley wines. The patio offers a great view of the park to enjoy while you dine.
Once you’re done with dinner, plan to head back over to Disneyland for evening entertainment and shopping!
Step Four: Back to Disneyland for Evening Entertainment, Shopping, and Ice-Cream!
Plan to end your evening in Disneyland so you can catch the fireworks show, enjoy any last attractions, and shopping on Main Street U.S.A. I recommend you plan on being back in Disneyland by 7PM so you have time to prepare for your evening.
At this point, you have two options: you can get a spot for Fantasmic! which shows over on Rivers of America at 9PM OR you can spend this time enjoying rides until the fireworks show at 9:30PM.
If you’re looking to enjoy Fantasmic!, I recommend that you secure your FastPass for this at the beginning of your day when you first arrive at the park. The FastPass for Fantasmic! is disconnected so it won’t interfere with your ride FastPasses. This will help you get a better view for the show. Once the show ends, stay put for the fireworks which you will have a great view of in your area along with the projections show on the waterscreens on the Rivers of America.
If you decide to skip the show and focus on rides, make sure you keep using FastPasses when available! Some FastPasses might run out by now but if someone leaves the park OR cancels their FastPass- you can see some pop up on the app. If this happens, grab them quickly!
If your heart is set on a castle view for the fireworks, make sure you get your spot AT LEAST an hour or two in advance. Since you have limited time to enjoy Disneyland, I don’t recommend this. You can easily watch them in front of it’s a small world and not have to get a spot quite that early allowing more time to enjoy attractions.
After the fireworks, many people will leave the park. This is a great time (if you’re up for it!) to go ride some key attractions as the wait times will be lower. Spend time enjoying attractions until the park closes.
The shops on Main Street U.S.A. stay open an hour after park close so this is the best time to do your shopping when it doesn’t interfere with your park time. You can spend this last hour making purchases and getting treats to take home!
Last Minute Tips for Spending One Day at Disneyland
Throughout your one day at Disneyland, keep those tips in mind to better maximize your time and see everything important on your list:
- Keep using MaxPass throughout the day. The instant you can book a new FastPass, book one! Keep this going nonstop, even when you’re breaking for lunch or dinner, so you always have a FastPass in hand.
- Make your dining reservations in advance so you don’t have to wait long for seating at the recommend restaurants- otherwise there’s no guarantee you’d get a spot!
- Make sure you get a park hopper ticket for your one day at Disneyland- this plan won’t work without it! A park hopper ticket allows you to hop back and forth between the two parks.
- Make sure you take the time to enjoy treats along the way. Classic Disneyland treats include: popcorn, churros, ice-cream, Mickey pretzels, corn dogs, and more!
Plan Your One Day at Disneyland and Maximize Your Time!
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