One of the perks of living in Southern California is vacationing from your everyday life anytime you’ve got the itch. You can go to the beach, trek up a mountain, explore the desert, or literally escape to a world of pure fantasy that was created specifically to delight you.
Disneyland in Anaheim is a short drive from Los Angeles, and a portal to a strange utopia where you can experience life like a child, even if you don’t bring a child with you. In fact, don’t bring a child with you. You’re now an adult who can do whatever you want, and this makes Disneyland a very different and wonderful place. Gather your best friends, skip out of work, and head down to the Happiest Place on Earth to have a very adult time.
GEAR UP AND GO ON A WEEKDAY
If you absolutely hate lines and crowds, check Is It Packed before making Disneyland plans. The best days to go are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and if you can wait until the crowd prediction is ‘Ghost Town’ you’ll have the best chance for very short wait times.
Insider Tip: The Disneyland app will give you real-time updates of wait times for all attractions so you can better plan your day.
Driving to Disneyland is not too bad, but parking can be an expensive nightmare. Get an Annual Pass if possible, so you can make your trips as short or as long as you’d like without activating your Fear Of Missing Out. If you’ll be there for a short time, park at Downtown Disney. Does Disney hate it when you park at Downtown Disney to go to the parks? Yes. But will you spend some time at Downtown Disney before and after? Probably. Live in the gray areas! Just read their parking rules before you go so you know whether this will be cheaper or more expensive for the kind of day you’re planning.
You can also take the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner down from Union Station in Downtown LA, which is a beautiful train ride. There’s a shuttle that goes directly to the park, and the new Anaheim Station is a pretty cool building.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Your first stop before entering the park should always be Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. This is a short walk from Downtown Disney, and a pretty excellent spot to prepare for your adventures. Depending on the drinks being ordered, there are special effects that happen throughout the bar. The lights dim, volcanoes go off, bowls full of rum are re-filled and sometimes it even rains in there.
After a drink or two, make the short walk to Downtown Disney and with your Annual Pass you can jump straight onto the tram that takes you to Tomorrowland. No lines! No gates! And if you ask nicely, you can get to ride in the front car of the train—which, by the way, is the oldest monorail in the world.
Once in Tomorrowland, check your app for wait times. (I’m a huge Space Mountain fan, so I get a FastPass before riding anything else to ensure my peace of mind.) With your favorite FastPass secured, it’s time to mill about the rest of the park. Right off the tram, Buzz Lightyear is a fun way to get competitive and it never has any wait time at all. I’m a horrible loser and an even worse winner, so Buzz Lightyear really helps me alienate all my friends.
Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean have very fast-moving lines that are cool and shady if it’s sunny, or you can ride Indiana Jones as a Single Rider to skip the line and the sunshine completely. You might not get to sit with your friends, but you’re not a kid, so you don’t care. Winnie the Pooh is a psychedelic winner of a ride. And if it’s melting hot out there, you can put your electronics in a free locker by Splash Mountain, get soaking wet, and go get a Dole Whip at the Enchanted Tiki Room in Adventureland. This is like the PG version of the bar you started out at, and it has a beautiful variety of animatronic birds who sing slightly culturally uncomfortable songs.
Is it 4 pm yet? If so, Carthay Circle has opened and it’s calling your name to the other park. Unlike Disneyland, California Adventure has alcohol. You can have a late lunch in the beautiful art deco second floor, but the bar downstairs is the place to have a snack and a beverage. They have a robust California wine and beer selection, and sometimes they have deviled eggs. Who doesn’t love a deviled egg?
After spending some time at Carthay, go ride Soarin' Around the World over and over, as many times as possible if there is no line. If you ask nicely, they’ll let you sit in the first row dead center, so you really get the full effect of being a time and space-traveling hang glider.
Insider Tip: I take my shoes off when riding this ride, which is a contagious thing to do. When people see you take your shoes off, they do it too. It’s weird. Don’t question it.
The last stop of the day is a quick Single Rider jaunt through Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land. And then what? Whatever you want! You’re an adult! At this point you might be pretty tired and cranky, but if you’re not a huge baby you might want to go ride all the rest of the rides and attend the nightly parade which is pretty excellent, and might make you cry. (I have a weird thing where crowds doing things together make me cry without fail. It’s just so beautiful.)
Remember how you parked at Downtown Disney? A great way to get your parking mostly validated is to go see a movie at the AMC. It’s also a good way to make sure you’re 100% sober by the time you get on the road. Sometimes, if you go to a late showing, all the parking attendants have left by the time the movie’s over and you can just drive out of the lot like an absolute winner.
If you’re hungry for dinner, there are a lot of good options around the park or a short ride away, such as The Packing House, which is essentially a fun, fancy food court. Or, on the drive back up to Los Angeles, you could stop at Chicago chain masterpiece Portillo’s Hot Dogs and get a sausage with peppers and a chocolate shake. They have a chocolate shake that features an entire slice of chocolate cake in it. You walked a lot today, right?
If you’re super tired and the drive is looking too long, skip the Disneyland Hotels and stay at a classic favorite like the Alpine Inn, which is straight out of the 50’s and made to look like a snowed-in cabin. It’s a walk away, has free parking and faces the backside of Cars Land. As beautiful as the Grand Californian is, you really only need a place to sleep and dream about all the delightful things you’ve done as an adult in the magical world of Disneyland.
Read More: 10 Things NOT to Do at Disneyland