Growing up on the East Coast, I’ve spent my fair share of time at Disney World. 

But Disneyland? I went once when I was about 26 and in the immortal words of Shania Twain… it didn’t impress ah-me much. 

Since I was planning on being in LA for a few months, I thought I would give it another shot. What I needed were a few Disneyland tips for lovers of the World. 

In the past 15 years, the parks have expanded, Disney has added its branding to more and more rides (California Screamin’ is now the Incredicoaster), and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, the Star Wars land has opened. 

But a West Coast Disney World is Disneyland not. 

If you love Disney World, don’t expect Disneyland to offer the same experience. In some ways, Disneyland can be (gasp!) even better than Disney World, as long as you’re open to it being a different experience.

Disneyland Tips for Disney World Lovers

These Disneyland tips for Disney World lovers will help you find your footing in the smaller, West Coast park.

  • Disneyland is the park we would call Magic Kingdom in Disney World — not the name of the entire Disneyland property (as Disney World is). 
  • Stay at the Grand Californian if you have the budget and if you’re limited on time — you can enter both parks as well as Downtown Disney directly from the hotel. Can money buy happiness? Maybe not, but this splurge-worthy Disney hotel can help you have more fun.
  • Splurge on the Genie+ Lightning Lane Service for $20 per person per day; save by using single rider lines. 
  • Save by passing on the park hopper add-on, as each park can easily be done in one day with Lightning Lane service. 
  • Splurge on a rideshare (especially if you’re splitting the cost with others) if you’re heading to the parks from LA, as the train only gets you to Anaheim — and not the parks.
  • Splurge and save by eating at a variety of quick-service, medium-range, and high-end restaurants.  
  • Stay at the Grand Californian if you have the budget and if you’re limited on time — you can enter both parks as well as Downtown Disney directly from the hotel. Can money buy happiness? Maybe not, but this splurge-worthy Disney hotel can help you have more fun.

Getting to Disneyland

If you’re planning on flying to Southern California to get the Disneyland Experience, you can choose between a few airports.

The closest airport to Disneyland is the John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, which is about a 30-minute drive from the Disney property. You can also fly into LAX (about an hour away). 

But if you’re planning on heading to Disneyland from Los Angeles (as I did) there are a few ways to do it.

Splurge: Rideshare

Disneyland tip: I took a rideshare (Uber or Lyft) from MidCity in LA, and it only took about 45 minutes to get to the Disney property in Anaheim. 

The cost? About $50 each way (but this depends on the traffic). I left LA at 5:45 AM to avoid rush hour and arrived at the Grand Californian at 6:30 AM. On my return trip, I just kept an eye on rideshare fares and opted to leave Disney at about 6:30 PM, which got me back to LA between 7:15 PM and 7:30 PM and cost about $45 (without tip). 

For me, it was worth it. I was only going for one night, so time was of the essence for me. 

If you don’t want to spend about $100 roundtrip to get to Disneyland from LA, you could always take the train or the light rail.

Save: Train

There are two ways to take the train to Anaheim, by Amtrak and Lightrail.

Amtrak

A one-way ticket from LA to Anaheim starts at $16; Amtrack prices go up the fuller the trains, so book early to get the best deals. 

From Union Station in LA to Anaheim, it takes about 38 minutes. You’ll then need to take a bus to Disneyland (another 30-to-40 minutes), which costs $2, or a rideshare, which costs about $10 (without tip) and takes about 10 minutes. 

Lightrail

Or, you can take the Orange County Line light rail from LA to Anaheim and then a bus or rideshare to the park. The light rail costs $8.75 and a bus or rideshare to Disneyland costs between $2 and $10.

Bus

The Flixbus, which you can catch in Downtown LA (about 10 minutes from Union Station) costs only $5.99 and takes about 90 minutes to get to the Anaheim Regional Transportation Center. 

Again, you’ll need to take the bus or a rideshare to Disneyland, which takes between 10 and 30 minutes and costs between $2 and $10. 

For me, all of the schlepping and transfers didn’t feel worth it to take the train or a bus. At the end of the day, I’d be saving money, but would have needed to get up at like 3:00 AM to get to Disneyland by 6:30 AM. 

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Disneyland Hotels

When it comes to Disney, you could end up spending a fortune if you opt for the high-end choice every time. My Disneyland tip? Know when to splurge and when to save. 

I decided to splurge and stay at the Grand Californian Hotel on Disney property. I stayed at a motel off property the last time I visited Disneyland and found the experience… not magical, to say the least. 

Growing up on the East Coast, we never visited Disneyland — only Disney World. And one of the joys of going to Disney is enjoying an uninterrupted Disney experience. Meaning, you never need to feel the disappointment of leaving Disney property to go back to the hotel for the day.

While you can easily walk to both Disneyland parks from dozens — hundreds — of hotels and motels in Anaheim, leaving Disney property really does burst my magic bubble a little. 

Disneyland has three on-property hotels, including the Grand Californian (high-end), Disneyland Hotel (moderate), and Paradise Pier (budget). 

Disney Grand Californian

Splurge: Grand Californian Hotel

Since I only had two days to spend at Disneyland, I decided to splurge and stay at the Grand Californian, which cost about $700 for the night with taxes and fees.

Yes, this was a massive splurge. And the prices don’t dip much lower than what I paid throughout the year. 

If you book early, you can get a room for about $450 a night before taxes and fees (about $550-$650 total). 

Grand Californian Hotel: Benefits 

Staying at the Grand Californian was worth it. 

I had limited time, didn’t want to worry about walking back and forth to the Disneyland Hotel or Paradise Pier (which are further from the parks than the Grand Californian), and to be honest: I wanted a luxury Disney experience for just one night.

Convenience: Location, Location, Location

Disneyland Tip: one of the biggest benefits of staying at the Grand Californian is the location. You get direct access to both parks and Downtown Disney directly from the hotel itself. 

Show your park ticket at the Grand Californian’s monorail station and take the monorail directly into Tomorrowland. Or, walk straight into California Adventure or Downtown Disney from the hotel. 

No waiting in line with the other peasants. 

I’d left my Tums in my hotel room on the first day, and heartburn struck while I was enjoying a margarita at the Avenger’s Campus in California Adventure. No problem. About 10 minutes later, I was back in my room, Tums in hand.

This could be really beneficial if you have small kids and are constantly forgetting stuff back in the hotel. 

Atmosphere: Disney Experience

The Grand Californian is really nice. It was modeled after The Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park. 

The decor is elegant craftsman. The lobby, (in true Disney fashion) is expansive and cozy at the same time. There’s a fireplace so huge, you could practically walk into it, and about 20 rocking chairs sit in front of it, offering ample space for guests who want to snuggle up.

Restaurants

One of the most popular high-end restaurants at Disneyland is the Napa Rose, located right in the Grand Californian.

I had dinner here at the bar one night, and I didn’t have a reservation, so luckily there was room at the bar. 

The menu pays homage to California wine country (as the name suggests), and I had the butternut squash ravioli appetizer, which was one ravioli topped with duck and cranberry relish. 

I was honestly surprised about the portion, but after a day of eating at the parks, it was just the right portion size. 

There’s only one spot for breakfast at this property, and it’s a buffet that costs $50 for adults. If you want something quick, just head out the door to Downtown Disney and grab something at Starbucks or La Brea Bakery (only Starbucks is open before 9:00 AM).

Or, you can walk to the Disneyland Hotel for quick-service breakfast options.

For lunch, I ate at the Craftsman Bar, which is located poolside. The menu was ‘meh’ and mostly consisted of flatbreads. I opted for the nachos, which were kind of lame, to be honest. Nothing really special — I’d take the Tortuga Tavern’s nachos at the Magic Kingdom any day over the ones here.

I was really looking forward to checking out the lounge, but it was insanely crowded and there was a line to get in, despite the hotel being somewhat empty that night. I guess one of the downsides to your hotel being extremely accessible to two Disney parks and Downtown Disney is that the hotel bars and restaurants get more crowded with non-hotel guests. 

In fact, the lobby was swarming with Disney guests, trying to get out of the rain that night. Not really a big deal but also not really the Disney Resort experience I was used to in Orlando. 

Grand Californian Hotel Rooms

My hotel room was really nice. I had a view of the pool, and the decor was typical high-end Disney: still on-theme without overdoing it.

You also get a bath full of H20+ beauty products. 

I guess one of the downsides to your hotel being extremely accessible to two Disney parks and Downtown Disney is that the hotel bars and restaurants get more crowded with non-hotel guests. 

Save: Disneyland Hotel

If you want to spend about half of what I did for a night at Disney, the Disneyland Hotel seems like a decent option, too.

The downsides are that both the Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier (Disneyland’s budget hotel) are located on the other side of Downtown Disney, technically across the street from the parks (but thanks to Disney magic you don’t even notice you cross over a street at all). 

Neither one of these hotels have direct access to the parks, but they do stay on theme. You won’t lose any Disney magic, as you won’t need to leave the resort property during your stay.

While I didn’t stay here, online the rooms look like your typical Hilton or Marriott rooms (though you still get H20+ beauty products). There are plenty of Disney restaurants at these hotels, including Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar (which I did happen to dine at).

Trader Sam’s is on-brand with the Jungle Cruise and Tiki Room. 

It’s set somewhere in the South Pacific, and the decor is just about what you’d expect for a tiki bar. Every 15 or so minutes, the bar darkens, and thunder and lightning strike. Drinks can be ordered in overpriced tiki mugs ($30 not including the drink), but you’re not required to buy the mug to order the drink.

The food is… Hawaiian themed? There’s rice and shrimp and burgers and chicken. 

Overall (despite the relatively cynical tone of this review), I really enjoyed myself here. The ambiance is really what Disney does best, so it’s easy to overlook the ho-hum food choices. 

Unlike at the Grand Californian, there are quick-service breakfast options at the Disneyland Hotel. 

Disneyland Hotel

Disneyland Attractions

Disneyland and California Adventure tickets aren’t cheap, and the base price of the ticket doesn’t include Lightning Lane service (Disney’s new FastPass) or park hopping. Tickets start at around $105 a day for adults. 

Disney also sells park hopper and Genie Service add-ons, which cost $60 and $20 per person, per day, respectively. 

Splurge: Genie Service/Lightning Lane

Disney has started charging for their previous FastPass service (which they discontinued during COVID). 

Now called Lightning Lane (and available as a package deal with Genie Service), this service costs $20 per person, per day — and it doesn’t cover all the Lightning Lane rides (or all of the rides in each park, for that matter).

Simply purchase the Genie Service, and you’ll get one opportunity to ‘skip the line’ on popular rides, including Indiana Jones, Space Mountain, Soarin’, and more. Most of the dark rides in Fantasyland do not offer Lightning Lane (Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Mr. Toad’s, etc.). 

When you’re ready to ride a Lightning Lane ride, simply head to the Genie Service section of your Disneyland app, choose the ride, and choose a return time (I was able to board almost immediately for most rides; after park hopper hours start at 1:00 PM, lines got noticeably longer and I had to wait between 30 minutes and an hour to get a Lightning Lane return time). 

I loved the new Lightning Lane service — especially compared to the old Disney FastPass. 

One of my big grievances with the FP was that you had to make your selections sometimes months in advance to take advantage, which frankly sucks for a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kinda gal. 

I got to each park at opening and was able to ride some of the more popular rides without waiting or using my one LL pass per ride per day.

At California Adventure, I was able to board every ride without a wait within the first 2.5 hours at the park (except Spiderman Webslingers and Soarin’, which I did use LL for later in the day). I was ‘done’ with all the rides before 10:30 AM. 

At Disneyland, I knew I would possibly want to ride Indiana Jones more than once (since it’s not available at Disney World and a little more special) as well as Space Mountain. So, I headed to Indiana first, waiting in line for probably 15 minutes and headed over to Tomorrowland for Space Mountain (the line was about 20 to 30 minutes here because the ride had temporarily shut down). 

I used LL for Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the morning (I waited in line for about 20 minutes to ride Pirates of the Caribbean, as there’s no LL option here), and I used single rider lanes for the Millenium Falcon: Smugglers Run in the morning and the Matterhorn bobsleds in the afternoon.

In the evening, I was able to ride Space Mountain and Indiana Jones a second time, using my LL.  

My Disneyland tip? Definitely opt for the Genie+ Lightning Lane if it’s in your budget. 

Rise of the Resistance is possibly the most popular ride in Disneyland — and I have to agree it’s totally worth the cost of a Lightning Lane Pass.

Splurge: Paid Lightning Lane Rides

The $20 you pay for Genie+ Service isn’t where the add-ons end, either. If you want to get in the Lightning Lanes for three of Disneyland’s most popular rides, you’re going to need to shell out an additional $8 to $20 per ride (even if you’ve already paid for Genie+.

Radiator Springs Racers (CA)

Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure, the ride that’s a mixture of GE Test Track at EPCOT (but make it Cars!) and a dark ride. 

Lines for this ride can stretch up to 90 minutes long, and the LL add-on costs between $8 and $15 per person (depending on the crowd levels at the park). But here’s the thing: Radiator Springs Racers has a single rider line. Meaning, you can skip the line without paying the extra fee if everyone in your party can and wants to ride solo. 

Spiderman Webslingers (CA)

Spiderman Webslingers just added a single-rider option (it wasn’t available when I went so I paid $10 for the LL on this ride).

If someone in your party is a big Spiderman fan, this ride might be a must-do for you; however, I wasn’t that impressed with it.

It’s essentially Toy Story Mania in a bigger car (I think it seats up to 7 people per side or something) and without the arcade gun (motion sensors detect your hands and you shoot webs to stop some horrible spider experiment gone wrong). 

Would I pay $10 again to ride this ride? Nope. But I was there to try stuff and so try it I did. 

Rise of the Resistance (DL)

Rise of the Resistance is possibly the most popular ride in Disneyland — and I have to agree it’s totally worth it.

When I was at Disney World in 2021, the only way to ride this ride was to get in a virtual queue at 7:00 AM on a day you had a Hollywood Studios reservation and ticket. My brother-in-law was the one who spent 20 minutes trying to secure us a spot in the queue, and let me tell you: it seemed along the lines of buying Beyonce tickets.

At Disneyland, there’s no virtual queue for this ride. The standby line wait was anywhere between 45 and 105 minutes. I opted to splurge $20 to buy the LL access, and it was totally worth it.

This ride is truly worth the hype. It uses this new trackless ride technology (you’ll also see it in Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad and Ratatouille at Disney World). 

My splurge versus save Disneyland tip? It was totally worth the splurge for me.

Save: Single Rider Lines

Disney also offers single rider lines on some rides, including: 

  • Radiator Springs Racers (CA)
  • Incredicoaster (CA)
  • Spiderman Webslingers (CA)
  • Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run (DL)
  • Matterhorn (DL)

Simply hop in the single rider line and skip the majority of the line for popular rides if all members of your party are willing to (and are old enough) to sit solo with another party. 

I took advantage of all of these single rider lines available at the time. 

For most rides, people got really weirded out when I was instructed to sit with their party. On Radiator Springs, I sat with a couple that was making out the entire ride. On the Incredicoaster, my seatmate did a double-take when I sat down next to him. 

I was seated with two different parties on Millenium Falcon: Smugglers Run (six people per car), and both parties seemed like they were prepared to be seated with others who were not in their party. 

If you can take advantage of single rider lines, do. It’s totally worth it to save the money on the additional LL cost, and it will save you time.  

Save: Park Hopper

At Disney World, there’s oh so much to do and very little time in which to do it. I almost always get the Park Hopper ($60 per person, per day) here.

At Disneyland, there’s… less to do. 

It’s totally do-able to budget one park per day if you’re splurging on Lightning Lane service and are planning to get to each park early enough in the day to ride a few of the magnet rides before lines get out of control. 

My Disneyland tip: if you’re waffling on whether to get the park hopper or skip it: I’d say to skip it.

Though, you may need to purchase it if you have a restaurant reservation at Disneyland on a day you’re planning on visiting California Adventure (or vice versa). Since there are so few rides at California Adventure, you may want to purchase the park hopper if you want to make the most of your visit and ‘hop’ over to Disneyland after you’ve gone on all the CA rides. 

Disneyland Food

If you’re a fan of Disney, you’re probably a fan of food. I haven’t been to a Disney park that doesn’t offer a wide array of dining options, and Disneyland and California Adventure are no different. 

Disneyland Breakfast Options

If you’re looking to fuel up before the parks open, you’ll have a few nearby options, including the Starbucks at Downtown Disney, the Coffee House at the Disneyland Hotel, or the Storytellers Cafe at the Grand Californian.

Both Starbucks and the Coffee House are quick-service options. 

The Storytellers Cafe is a buffet that costs $35 for kids and $59.99 for adults. Truth be told, the breakfast buffet looked really good (like Vegas-style good), but I just didn’t want to use up all that precious Disney food real estate in one sitting.

Cheap Eats Picks

Disneyland and Disney World food situations are kinda different. 

I know a lot of people who went to Disneyland as children and have uber-fond memories of corndogs, churros, and turkey legs — and I was excited to try at least the corndogs. I’m sorry Disneyland peeps, I just don’t get the corndog hype. 

For starters, the corndog was $9. Granted, it came with a side (fruit or chips), so Disney markets this item as a ‘meal’. I didn’t love the corndog (I just don’t understand corndogs that don’t have any ‘sweet’ component in the batter) and thought the whole thing was way overpriced. My Disneyland tip is to forgo the corndog (unless you’re already a huge fan). 

Yet, I did love a few of the ‘cheap eats’ picks at Disneyland, including the popular churro and giant macron.

Churro

You’ll find churro carts all over the park, selling these treats for $5 a pop. Yes, this is waaaay overpriced for a churro, but (unlike with the corndog fiasco) I actually enjoyed the churro. 

Giant Macron

For breakfast one morning, I stopped at the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe for the giant macron. Hey, I’m on vacation, why not eat a huge macron for breakfast? I was a fan. 

Docking Bay 7

I’ve eaten at Docking Bay 7 both at Disney World and now at Disneyland. 

It was a similar experience at both (though, I felt the food wasn’t as fresh at Disneyland as it was at Disney World; the mac and cheese tasted like it had been sitting out under a heat lamp for at least 15 minutes). 

Located in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, both the ambiance and the food are great here.

The restaurant keeps with the Star Wars theme, and meal prices are reasonable. I ordered the kids’ meal crispy chicken and mac and cheese for $9 (it also came with a fountain drink), and it was the perfect amount of food.

Also, the price was right: I paid the same amount for a full meal as I did the corndog snack I purchased later in the day. 

My Disneyland tip for Docking Bay 7? Order on the mobile app for pickup during a specific time, and skip the line.

Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express

If you love beignets, make a stop at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express for a bag of hot and fresh fried dough and dippers. A small bag (which contains about four large beignets) costs $9.99.

I grabbed a bag on my way back from Trader Sam’s Tiki Bar.  

Mid-Range Restaurants

At Disney, I find that the mid-range restaurants are where it’s at. As much as I love my Tortuga Tavern ‘Nachos Bell Grande-esque nachos, I think Disney does a great job with its mid-range meals.

I’m not always a huge fan of the high-end restaurants on Disney property, as you could get a much better experience (and frankly better quality food) for the same price at a well-rated NYC or LA restaurant than you would at most high-end Disney restaurants.

Truth be told, I didn’t eat at too many mid-range restaurants at Disneyland (I wish I would have tried one of the restaurants at California Adventure or Downtown Disney for lunch instead of the Craftsmans Bar at the Grand Californian pool, but we can’t win ‘em all). 

The ones I tried, I really, really enjoyed.

Trader Sam’s Tiki Bar

I ate at Trader Sam’s for my last meal before Ubering back to LA. And what I loved about this restaurant was the ambiance.

Disney does a great job making you feel like you’re in a cookie-cutter version of somewhere cool. And even though that sounds like a backhand compliment, I truly mean that I love it. 

Trader Sam’s felt like one of my favorite restaurants in Bali (though the theme at Trader Sam’s is South Pacific, I think it’s supposed to be more Hawaii than Indonesia). Every 15 minutes, it would ‘rain’ with lightning and thunder. Yes, this is reminiscent of the Rain Forest Cafe and Bugaboo Creek, but I don’t care, I love it. 

Food was about what you’d expect — Disney-fied Hawaiian. 

Tiki alcoholic beverages cost about $15 each, and you could drink them out of a $30 souvenir tiki mug if your heart so desired (mine did not). 

Olga’s Cantina

Another atmospheric must-see theme restaurant/bar is Olga’s Cantina in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland. 

To get into this bar (yes, kids are allowed inside as well), you’ll need to add yourself to a virtual queue. I had to wait in the virtual queue for about 30 minutes; after I got a notification that it was time to head to the bar, I waited in line for around 10 minutes to check-in at the podium.

I’m pretty sure they do it this way to play to the illusion that you’re at an actual bar with an actual bouncer/line. There’s a muffled discoteque bass sound that makes it appear as though you’ll need to shout over the music to talk to your party members once inside. It’s just a muffled sound that’s pumped outside to make it feel like a real nightclub.

Once inside, you’re given a standing or seated spot, and you can order your drink. The menu has plenty of alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails, as well as Star Wars-themed nibbles (snack mix and a cheese plate).

I’m a sucker for atmospheric bars and restaurants, so naturally I loved Olga’s. Drinks were about $15 to $18 (typical for cocktails at Disney). 

Pym Tasting Lab

At the Avenger’s Campus is Pym Testing Lab, which is essentially a bar. Here, I ordered a margarita (a personal favorite) that was topped with fruity boba. Drinks cost around $15. 

Splurge Restaurants

Unlike Disney World, Disneyland only has a few high-end restaurants. I’m totally okay with this, as I’m not really a huge fan of Disney’s fancier eateries, anyway.

After being unable to get into the lounge at the Grand Californian, I opted to try for a seat at the bar at the Napa Rose, the hotel’s high-end eatery that pays homage to Napa Valley cuisine.

Napa Rose

Napa Rose was about what you’d expect from a high-end eatery at Disney. Not the best food you’ll taste in your life, but dependable mediocrity. 

I ordered the ravioli duck appetizer and was surprised to see it came with only one ravioli. But the portion turned out to be just right as I had been eating pretty much throughout the day. 

The ravioli was filled with butternut squash and topped with duck, browned butter, and cranberry relish. I have to say it was pretty tasty — though not really what I’d expect from a high-end restaurant. It was a little too “Let’s throw a bunch of Thanksgiving-esque flavors together and call it a special.”

The appetizer was $18 (which is what appetizers and salads usually cost at high-end Disney restaurants).  

 

What are your favorite Disneyland tips? Let me know in the comments below!

Disclaimer

Hey, hey! Just a few things before you leave… this post contains affiliate links, so if you buy something after clicking on a one, I might (fingers crossed!) just get a little commission. Good news: I only recommend products that I love! Which means you can feel good about all of my recs.