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.
- Time-Saving Disneyland Tips
- Disneyland and California Adventure One Day Itinerary
- Where to Stay at Disneyland
- More Disney Posts
Time-Saving Disneyland Tips
To make the most of your time at Disney California, here are our top tips:
- Visit mid-week in 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 less crowds. 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 quietest and the best time for popular rides.
- Get each person in your group to pick a few must-do rides and focus on those first.
- 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 a FastPass for the busiest rides. These are free tickets that give you an allocated time to return and skip the main line. You are only allowed one pass at a time, but you can get a new one as soon as your time window starts. So, if your FastPass for one ride says 2-3pm, at 2pm pick up another FastPass before you go on the ride. FastPasses can run out in the afternoon, as they did for our visit to California Adventure.
- Consider paying for Disney MaxPass – For $15 a day per person, you can use the Disney app to book FastPasses rather than having to go to the ride to collect one. This saves time and energy. We didn’t use MaxPass for this itinerary as it wasn’t available then, but we would probably do it next time.
- Use the single rider line – When FastPasses ran out 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.
- Download the Disneyland app so you can check queue times and decide which ride to do next.
Disneyland and California Adventure One Day Itinerary
This was our itinerary for visiting Disneyland and California Adventure in one day.
In 2019, the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land opened in Disneyland. If you want to ride the two new rides in this area, I recommend heading there first as FastPasses aren’t currently available. You could also try riding them at the end of the day when queues have died down.
The two new rides are Millennium Falcon and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (opening 17 January 2020). Rise of the Resistance will be the most popular ride when it opens so prioritise that.
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.
Note that Space Mountain has temporarily been transformed into Hyperspace Mountain with a Star Wars theme
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
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.
Tom Sawyer Island (12.30pm)
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.
Grizzly River Run
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 this is one of the most popular rides. 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 (from January 2020) if you weren’t able to ride them in the morning.
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.
There are plenty of more affordable hotels within a short walking distance of Disneyland (some are even closer than the onsite hotels) such as Anaheim Desert Inn & Suites, Best Western Plus Anaheim Inn, and Anaheim Hotel.
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 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
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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.
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