By Alexandra Evans
When your time and budget permit, a trip to Disneyland is absolutely essential. You don’t need to be a young child to enjoy all of the park’s offerings; Walt Disney created the happiest place on earth for families to enjoy together!
Divided into eight different “regions” (Main Street, Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, Mickey’s ToonTown), children, teenagers, and adults (young and old) alike will find themselves entertained, and it is unlikely you will hit any destination more than once if you are simply wandering around the park. “Every turn a surprise,” I mean it!
Disneyland first opened to the public in 1955, and since, it has been an iconic destination for international tourists and local residents alike. Its sister theme park, Disney California Adventure (DCA), which opened in 2001, is located directly across from the Disneyland entrance. DCA is also divided into different “lands,” most of which are modernized. And then, you’ve also got the Downtown Disney district, comprised only of shops and restaurants (details under “dining”).
Certain attractions, restaurants, and lodging facilities in both parks receive more attention than others, though not all of the latter two destinations are budget-friendly. If you are looking for a magical visit that won’t damage your bank account significantly, keep reading for some of my quick pointers (side note: all are entitled to their own judgment; I am just providing some of my most convenient and budget-friendly finds!).
Let’s be real: the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel are spectacular. However, they may be out of the question if your budget is tight.
Fear not; there are numerous hotels bordering the outside of the theme park, and some are located directly across the street from the main entrance.
The following hotels have rates starting at under $200 per night and have received ratings of four stars or greater (minimum prices are in parentheses):
- Fairfield Inn by Marriott Anaheim Resort ($118)
- SpringHill Suites Anaheim Resort Area/Convention Center ($119)
- Camelot Inn & Suites ($135)
- Desert Palms Hotel and Suites ($141)
- Tropicana Inn & Suites ($145)
- Residence Inn Anaheim Resort/Convention Center ($148)
- Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Playground ($161)
- Best Western Plus Anaheim Inn ($173)
- Best Western Plus Park Place Inn – Mini Suites ($193)
Hotels near the park are not limited to the ones listed here. However, I have listed them here as they are in some of the shortest walking distances from the park entrance and, again, have ratings of four stars at minimum. Any hotel located on W Katella Ave or S Harbor Blvd will give you the fastest commute.
Disneyland is arguably famous for its food; churros, Dole Whip soft serve, Mickey-shaped pretzels, we’ve heard it all. As you walk around the park, you’ll likely find yourself feeling overwhelmed with how many dining options there are in plain sight.
Disney Dining has become very aware of and accommodating to dietary restrictions, which has made dining easier for most guests (some places even offer gluten-free bread, pancakes, and waffles). Most of the eateries in the whole Disneyland-owned property are also kid-friendly. Just be sure to verify with the wait staff.
A quick tip about snacking in the parks: it is always wise to bring your own snacks as the park tends to upcharge guests for basics like fruits, vegetables, and bottles of water. This is especially a good idea for those who prefer to eat all three meals in the parks.
I have listed my top three favorite restaurants under each price category ($, $$, $$$).
Disneyland Dining (from least to most costly):
- Bengal Barbecue ($)
- A quick, satisfying, protein-packed option to get you through a busy day at the parks. This stand, located in Adventureland (across from Indiana Jones), sells beef, chicken, and vegetable skewers (and bacon-wrapped asparagus, my favorite!). Ask for the sauce on the side if you are gluten intolerant.
- Carnation Cafe ($$)
- A vintage, American-themed diner located on Main Street. The wait staff and cooks are very attentive and will listen to any requests regarding dietary restrictions. The cafe is open all day, though prices are lowest during breakfast hours, all the more reason not to feel rushed to get on every single ride in sight as soon as you step foot in the park!
- Blue Bayou ($$$)
- This is one of the most iconic eateries in the Disneyland Resort. It was constructed along with the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, to which it is connected. It is seafood themed, though they also offer dishes like prime rib, strip steak, and marinated chicken breast. The prices are steeper than the grab-and-go stands and walk-in diners spread across the park, but they
- Cocina Cucamonga ($)
- Affordable, flavorful, kid-friendly, and allergy-friendly (due to the chefs’ ability to sub different ingredients for one another), this Mexican cuisine is bound to hit the spot after spending hours prancing around California Adventure with little ones. If you are like me and always try to choose the healthiest option on a menu, my recommendation would be the citrus-marinade half chicken. Swap out the rice and beans for grilled vegetables.
- Wine Country Trattoria ($$)
- An Italian cuisine complemented by the ambiance of Napa Valley wineries. Bruschetta, Caprese salads, and several pasta dishes (kid-approved ones included) will adorn your table. You can also enjoy herb and fruit-infused wine.
- Carthay Circle ($$$)
- This is, hands down, easily my favorite restaurant between both parks and the Downtown Disney district, and the 1920s-style ambiance plays a huge part! Like the Blue Bayou, Carthay Circle is the priciest restaurant in the park, but the food is delectable and the wait staff are attentive. Additionally, there is a lounge area with more affordable appetizers and old-fashioned cocktails.
Downtown Disney Dining:
I find that most of the restaurants in Downtown Disney are similarly priced to one another, so I have simply narrowed them down to my top three picks:
- Catal & Uva Bar ($$)
- Anyone who knows me is well aware that I love Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. I first went to this restaurant on my 18th birthday and made a vow to return each time I visited Disneyland. Exotic dishes like bacon-wrapped medjool dates and ahi bruschetta stole my heart. Additionally, their entree selection, ranging from burgers, seafood, slow-roasted prime rib, and oxtail ragu, is spectacular.
- ESPN Zone ($$)
- As a staunch sports lover, no one would be surprised if they were to find me here (probably watching an ice hockey game). If you are the same, definitely consider dining here. What sports fan doesn’t love indulging in classic finger food (hello, Buffalo wings!) while bonding with others (even strangers!) over their favorite teams? It is a great temporary getaway from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks.
- La Brea Bakery Cafe ($$)
- La Brea is better known for its bakery, though their dining facility has some satisfying dishes. When the weather gets chillier, a warm bowl of soup from this cafe is quite the hero. Health nuts, you may be drawn to dishes like their quinoa and chicken bowl!
Growing up, some of the most talked-about rides were (and still are) Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Space Mountain. While they are among my favorites (especially Pirates), I found particular love in (and recommend) the following attractions, some of which might be overlooked:
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Okay, this ride is not overlooked, but it is one of my absolute favorites. Very seldom is the line for this attraction under 40 minutes. Though short, it is very nostalgic and as popular amongst adults as it is children.
- Storybook Land Canal Boats
- Those who have an appreciation for architecture will be captivated. The mouse-sized models of kingdoms and villages from various Walt Disney Animated Classics (ranging from the first ever, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, to one of Disney’s most recent hits, Frozen). Guests in each boat are accompanied by a personal tour guide who will explain what each kingdom or village is home to.
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
- Most of us have a competitive side (I know I do, even though I don’t always exude it), and this ride is the perfect setting to showcase it. In pairs, riders travel through the “galaxy” as they make an effort to shoot as many designated targets as possible.
- Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough
- No joke, it feels as though you are walking through the castle depicted in the 1959 animated classic, Sleeping Beauty. The architecture is spot-on, and as you walk through the hallways and staircases, and segments of the story are presented, chronologically, as guests make their way through.
- Main Street Cinema
- I overlooked this attraction for decades. If you are unfamiliar with Disney’s film work in the 1920s, this is your chance to catch a glimpse of it. Inside the theater are segments of six different black-and-white animation pieces. Contrary to popular belief, Steamboat Willie was not Walt’s first animated feature, it was his third. Plane Crazy came first, followed by Gallopin’ Gaucho, then the famous Steamboat Willie (I guarantee your mind will be blown if you did not know that during this time, it took approximately 300 frames to comprise just under 15 seconds of film).
I hope this post peaked your interest! If you find any of my input helpful, I’d love to know. Hit me up on Twitter (@AlexandraLilE_).