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Disneyland in California is the original Disney park, built in 1955. In 2001, they added another park next door, Disney California Adventure.
As huge Disney fans we had to visit when we were in Los Angeles, but we only had one day to visit.
Most people advise focusing on just one park—usually the classic Disneyland. This isn’t a bad idea as there’s so much to see (especially now the new Star Wars land has opened), but we decided to squeeze them both in.
We discovered that yes, it is possible to visit both Disneyland and California Adventure in one day. You won’t see everything (although we hit all the highlights), but you’ll have a lot of fun.
Sure, ideally you’d spend two days at Disney California so your visit is less rushed and you have more time to savour the Disney magic and revisit your favourite rides.
But if you only have one day, get yourself a Parkhopper ticket and visit them both.
In this post we share our tips for maximising your time in the parks and the Disneyland for adults one day itinerary that we followed.
- Disneyland Restrictions in 2021
- Video: One Day Disneyland Itinerary for Adults
- Time-Saving Disneyland Tips
- Skip Queues with Lightning Lanes and Genie+
- Wheelchair Access for Disneyland Rides
- Disneyland and California Adventure One Day Itinerary
- Where to Stay at Disneyland
- More Disney Posts
- More California Posts
Disneyland Restrictions in 2021
Disneyland California reopened on April 30, 2021, after over a year of closure.
Initially it was only open to residents of California, but since the state reopened fully on June 15, 2021, out-of-state guests are now allowed.
Much has changed since our last visit to Disneyland and if you plan to visit the parks in 2021, not all of the advice in this post will be valid while restrictions are in place, although the rides featured in this post are open.
Check the Disneyland website for the latest details.
The main restrictions currently are:
- Park capacity is limited.
- To enter the park you must have an admission ticket plus a theme park reservation for a specific date. Reservations can be made on their website—check availability before you buy a ticket and book as far in advance as possible.
- Masks are required indoors including on attractions and transportation, regardless of vaccination status.
- FastPasses and MaxPass have been retired and will be replaced by the new Genie+ service this fall.
- Magic Mornings and Extra Magic Hours are currently unavailable.
- Parades and some attractions are currently suspended. Fireworks returned at Disneyland Park on July 4, 2021.
- Some restaurants are temporarily closed.
- Park Hopper tickets are available, but you can only visit the second park after 1pm. That works fine with the Disney California two park itinerary below. Choose Disneyland as your first park.
- Currently, the only way to ride Stars Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Indiana Jones Adventure, and the new Web Slingers Spider Man Adventure is by joining a virtual queue on the Disneyland app.
Video: One Day Disneyland Itinerary for Adults
Time-Saving Disneyland Tips
To make the most of your time at Disney California, here are our top tips:
- Visit mid-week in the off-season to avoid long queues. We visited on a Tuesday at the end of October when the parks were open from 10am to 8pm (a quiet day) and didn’t queue for more than 20 minutes all day. Check the Disneyland opening hours—days with shorter opening hours are when Disney predicts fewer visitors. The Undercover Tourist recommends the best and worst times of year to visit.
- Arrive at least an hour before the parks open to get parked (you may need to take a shuttle from the car park), buy your tickets, and be ready queuing at the gate. The morning is the quietest and best time for popular rides.
- Get each person in your group to pick a few must-do rides and focus on those first.
- Download the Disneyland app to check wait times (and decide which ride to do next), pre-order meals, see maps and more.
- Start in Disneyland and visit California Adventure in the afternoon. Our friends who stayed in Disneyland said the park felt crowded and full of exhausted, crying kids in the afternoon—we didn’t see any of that in California Adventure which has more adult-orientated rides.
- Use the single rider line – We were able to skip huge queues by using the single rider line. Although we couldn’t sit next to each other we always rode in the same car.
Skip Queues with Lightning Lanes and Genie+
From Fall 2021, Lightning Lanes will be introduced at Disneyland to replace the old FastPass and MaxPass system.
Lightning Lanes are a way to skip the queue by choosing the next available time to go on popular Disneyland rides.
Access to Lightning Lanes is primarily via a new paid service called Genie+ which you can buy from the Disneyland app for $20 per ticket per day (or include it when you purchase your park ticket).
Disney has not yet released which rides will be included, but it will likely be rides that previously used FastPass.
Ride reservations can be made on the app. They can only be made on the day and you can only book one at a time. As soon as you tap in to the ride you can select your next ride.
A small selection of the most popular rides (including Radiator Springs Racers) will not be included in the $20 bundle. Instead, line-skipping for these will be priced individually. Details have not yet been released.
We didn’t use Genie+ for this Disneyland itinerary as it wasn’t available then, but we will use it on our next visit.
Wheelchair Access for Disneyland Rides
All these Disneyland and California Adventure rides are accessible for guests in wheelchairs or ECVs (Electric Conveyance Vehicles), but many require transfer from a wheelchair to the ride vehicle.
On the Disneyland website, you can see this list of services for guests with mobility disabilities which shows which rides are accessible for wheelchair users.
This guide lists the best wheelchair-accessible rides at Disneyland which don’t require riders to leave their wheelchairs.
Wheelchairs and ECVs can be hired at both parks on a first-come, first-served basis.
Disneyland and California Adventure One Day Itinerary
This was our itinerary for visiting Disneyland and California Adventure in one day.
This was before the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land opened in Disneyland in late 2019. If you want to ride the popular Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance in this area (which you probably do), you must join a virtual queue using the Disneyland app as soon as you arrive in the park. These tickets sell out within minutes!
If you are successful you will be called to ride later in the day and can continue with the rest of your itinerary until then.
The other new ride is Millennium Falcon, which is generally quieter in the evening. After dark is also an atmospheric time to explore this new area of the park.
Disneyland is the original park, a magical fantasy world where you’ll find characters like Mickey Mouse. It’s similar to Magic Kingdom at Disney World in Florida with a few different rides.
Our first stop was Space Mountain. There’s no better way to start the day than on this high-speed roller coaster that twists and turns in the dark. It’s the most thrilling ride at Disneyland.
Our goal was to ride all four mountain rides (Space, Thunder, Splash, Matterhorn) and although Matterhorn isn’t the best of the roller coasters—it felt a little dated and jolty—the queue was short so it was worth jumping on as we walked over to the other side of the park.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Thunder Mountain was much better—fast, great Wild West theming, and with views of the park. It was still early enough that we didn’t have to wait very long.
By the time we got off, queues were longer so we picked up a FastPass for Indiana Jones.
We were visiting a few days before Halloween so Haunted Mansion, which gets a Halloween makeover with characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas, was unsurprisingly popular.
This was probably our longest queue, but it was only 20 minutes and there’s lots to entertain you while you wait.
The ride is a slow tour in the dark through an eerie mansion inhabited by 999 ghosts. It’s not actually scary but it is very well done.
Tom Sawyer Island (12.30pm)
It was time for lunch so we took a boat over to Tom Sawyer Island where we could picnic away from the crowds. The island is a fun place to wander for a change of pace.
Pirates of the Caribbean
A long, gentle boat ride through the world of pirates. The song is catchy, the details incredible, and you’ll notice something new each time you ride.
Our Indiana Jones FastPass window had started so we picked up a new FastPass for Splash Mountain before riding.
Indiana Jones Adventure (2pm)
We used our first FastPass of the day for Indiana Jones, a fast ride through a cursed temple facing dangers like a giant boulder rolling straight towards us.
Enchanted Tiki Room
We had a while before our Splash Mountain FastPass time and were feeling a little tired so took a break in the nearby Tiki Room.
This musical show featuring animatronic birds isn’t a must-see, but it’s quirky and very Disney. Or just a good place for a rest.
We used a FastPass for our favourite Disney ride. The log flume ride starts out slow with a gentle trip through the bayou with Br’er Rabbit and many other animatronic animals with some catchy Disney songs.
It ends with a big drop down a waterfall, and if you’re sitting near the front like I was, you’ll get soaked. Pure Disney fun.
Disney California Adventure 3.30pm-6.30pm
Although there was still plenty we could have done in Disneyland, we had ridden everything on our list, so it was time to head over to California Adventure. The entrances are just opposite each other so it’s easy to go from one to the other.
Disney California Adventure is the newer park that celebrates the history and culture of the state with themed worlds like Cars Land, Paradise Pier, and Hollywood Land.
The worlds are detailed and immersive with some excellent vintage architecture. Disney California Adventure rides are more teenager and adult orientated, and you can even buy beer.
On June 4, 2021, the new Avengers Campus opened featuring the major attraction, Web Slingers: A Spider Man Adventure. This 3D dark ride is interactive and allows you to sling webs with your arms.
Currently, the only way to ride Web Slingers is by joining a virtual queue on the Disneyland app. If you are following this Disneyland one day itinerary, you can check for available boarding groups at 12pm while in Disneyland and then enter California Adventure after 1pm. You’ll get a notification when your boarding group is called.
Grizzly River Run
As we were already wet, we started with another water ride. Grizzly River Run is an enjoyable white water rafting ride where you will get wet.
For pure thrills, Incredicoaster (previously called California Screamin’) is the best Disneyland ride at either of the parks. It’s a classic high-speed roller coaster with plunges and twists and an upside-down loop.
Queues were long and FastPasses were sold out, so we saved some time with the single rider line.
Afterwards, we treated ourselves to some delicious Ghirardelli ice cream.
Radiator Springs Racers
Located in Cars Land, Radiator Springs Racers is one of the most popular rides at California Adventure. The queue was 60 minutes and FastPasses had run out, so we joined the single rider line.
This worked really well and we only waited two minutes and were in the same car (just not next to each other).
The ride is an outdoor car race through an impressive red-rock desert landscape with characters from the movie Cars.
Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
When we visited this was still the haunted elevator ride, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, one of Disney’s best rides.
It now follows a similar format with different theming. You can still expect a sudden thrilling plummet that’s a lot of fun.
Soarin’ Around the World
Soarin’ is a wonderfully relaxing hand gliding ride where you soar above the world and see famous sights like the Great Wall of China, Iguazu Falls, and Sydney Harbour.
It was the perfect way to end our day.
Back to Disneyland (6.30pm – Close)
We had to leave early evening, but the park is usually open later. Nighttime is the perfect time to explore the new Star Wars land and ride Millennium Falcon and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance if you weren’t able to ride them earlier.
If you have the energy, finish your night with a cocktail at the Trader Sam’s tiki bar in the nearby Disneyland Hotel. We haven’t been to the California version, but the one at Disney World Orlando is so much fun! It’s a must on a Disneyland for adults itinerary.
Where to Stay at Disneyland
We visited from San Diego, but it’s best to stay close by if you can. If you stay in one of the onsite Disneyland hotels you’ll benefit from Extra Magic Hours on certain days and be able to enter the park one hour earlier than everyone else. The downside is they are much more expensive than off-site hotels.
Our visit to California Adventure was definitely rushed and we would have loved a full day to explore, but we had a fantastic afternoon there and are glad we went.
If you have the time and money, it’s well worth spending two days at the Disney California parks. There are many rides to keep you busy and we love just wandering and soaking up the Disney magic and the excellent attention to detail.
But if you only have one day, this itinerary offers plenty of Disney fun.
More Disney Posts
More California Posts
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Thanks to Disneyland who provided us with complimentary tickets.
Photo credit: The castle and Big Thunder Mountain photos are by Tom Krones.