Growing up, we were always at Disneyland. I’ve visited over ten times in my life, and it only gets better every time. I hear a lot of people who have never been say that it’s only fun when you’re a kid. Believe me, it’s not. Going as a kid is a blast of course, but as an adult you have full control over where you go and what you eat, and you can enjoy the amazing alcoholic beverages that Disney makes (responsibly)! With people getting their vaccines and the CDC advising that masks are no longer necessary for fully vaccinated people, it’s a great time to visit the park. Here’s all you need to know for a great trip!
Prep for your trip
There are some things that are a good idea to bring with you on your Disney trip:
- Sunscreen – You’ll be outside the entire day, so this is a must. Aim for zero-waste sunscreen or buy some zinc oxide powder and mix it into your daily moisturizer!
- A water bottle – Disneyland has plenty of water fountains, so there is no need to buy a plastic water bottle while you’re there. Keep in mind you’ll be carrying it all day, so either put a strap on it, or bring a smaller one that you can fit in your bag.
- A backpack or comfortable purse – There are lockers that you can use to store your things for the day, but you’ll lose a lot of time going back and forth if you keep everything in there. Keep what you think you’ll need with you in a bag that you’ll be okay with carrying all day. Fanny packs, back packs, and practical purses are great for this.
- Good walking shoes – This is the most important thing, I promise you. If you plan on being there all day, it’s worth it, but your feet will feel broken by the end of it. You’ll be running and walking all day to different rides, so be prepared for very sore feet. Don’t make the mistake of bringing cute shoes that aren’t comfortable. Flip flops, vans, chacos, running shoes, and similar types of shoes are all great (flip flops because they’re handy on water rides).
- A light jacket – It can be chilly at night when the sun goes down (especially if you get on Splash Mountain and get soaked), so bring a jacket that you can throw on. A hoodie is great.
- Deodorant or natural fragrance – This isn’t a must, but if you plan on being active all day (and most do), bring something to freshen up.
- Lip balm – Always good to have in the summer.
- Cash – This makes it easier at food carts, but all places take cards if their machines aren’t down.
- A map of the park – This is only necessary if you haven’t been there, and even without it you won’t get lost. There are good signs and the staff is super friendly to ask for directions from. It can be nice to have though if you don’t want to use your phone to look up locations and are in a hurry to get to a ride.
- A phone charger – You’ll want to take photos all day, so your phone will die quickly. Have a charger with you if you don’t want to worry about it.
- Sunglasses – You’ll be in the sun, so trust me when I say you’ll want these. If not, bring a hat or something because nothing is worse than being blinded by the light in the most magical place on Earth.
- An umbrella – If you think it will rain, this can be handy. A rain jacket might be easier though, because it can be super crowded in the park.
- Hand sanitizer – Now, there are stations for hand sanitizer and hand washing all over the park, but it wasn’t always like that. If you don’t want to hunt one down, having your own is great.
- Advil or medication for headaches – You’ll be eating a lot of sugar while in the park, so if you’re prone to migraines like I am, having something with you for them will help it not ruin your day.
- Snacks – These are super expensive in the park, and while there are a few must-eats, there’s no need to spend a ton when all you need is a little pick-me-up. Bring things that aren’t going to be messy or leak. Keep it in your locker or bring it with you, but keep in mind what you plan on doing so that you don’t bring something inconvenient to walk around with if you want to keep it with you. Crackers, cereal, chips, and bananas are great options.
- A reusable straw – You’ll probably be getting a cold beverage, and while a straw isn’t necessary for abled people, it can be useful if you plan on walking as you drink. The last thing you want is to spill everywhere, so this might be nice to have with you.
- A zero-waste kit – This isn’t super necessary if you plan on eating at sit-down places (and you should- they’re great!), but if you don’t, bring a little bag with silverware, a foldable cup, plate/bowl, napkin, and anything else you think of.
- A spray bottle with water – If you are prone to getting very hot, consider bringing a little bottle of water to spritz on your face throughout the day. The heat reflects off of the streets in Disneyland, so it gets notoriously hot. They sell these bottles in the park (complete with fans) but they are plastic so if you’re not comfortable with that (or spending a lot), bring your own!
- A swimsuit and anything else you might want for your time at your hotel (including personal care items, clothes, etc.).
Before you leave, budget out how many days you have the funds and time for, and try to make loose plans. It’s so fun to wing it when traveling, but doing that at Disney can be expensive, so plan your hotel stays ahead of time! Keep in mind the weather, and make sure to plan for it.
It’s also a great idea to make a list of things you absolutely want to do while there. Disneyland is so magical that it can be overwhelming, and you might forget to do something in the heat of that. Make a list on your phone of a few spots you want to eat at, a few rides you want to do, and a few things you want to buy if you plan on grabbing a souvenir. That last one is super handy if you’re on a tight budget, because there are so many things to buy at Disneyland. It can sucker you in with the nostalgia of it, and it’s all very expensive. So instead of going in blind, think about things you actually want to buy and try to just stick to those things unless you see something that completely speaks to you. Souvenirs really add up here, so try to be realistic about that.
Also, if you want to wear a pair of mouse ears to the park, just know that the ones for sale there can be some of the most pricey things there. It can be worth it if you plan on keeping it and wearing it again for Halloween, parties, or for future trips. If you want to save money though, it can be really fun to make your own before you go. Think about your favorite Disney films and use those for inspiration if you don’t know where to start. For example, if you’re like me and love Tarzan and the Little Mermaid, make two pairs to rotate during your trip- one with jungle plants and fruits on it, and one with seashells and eco friendly blue glitter. There are also lots of them for sale on Etsy made by small makers, so if you are not into crafts that is a good option!
If you really want to get into the spirit of Disney, I recommend spending a week before you leave watching your favorite Disney movies! Make vegan Disney-inspired snacks and dress up, and read about the history of the park as well. This is just a great way to get excited for your trip and get back in touch with your childhood self. It will be almost as fun as the trip itself!
Where to stay
If you have family nearby, stay with them! If not, Airbnbs are an affordable option. If you plan on exploring the local area as well, pick one between Disneyland and the beaches you want to visit. If you want to stay as close as possible to Disneyland though, here are the best options:
For the classy traveler: Grand Californian Hotel
One of Disney’s three hotels on the premises, this place is an elegant dream! Spacious rooms, Californian art, large pools, a spa, and incredible views all make this a premier place to stay during your trip. Their restaurant, The Napa Rose, has plenty of seasonal and locally sourced vegan offerings.
For the Disney die-hard: Disneyland Hotel
Themed around the three popular lands in Disney (Frontier, Fantasy, and Adventure), this Disney-owned hotel plays homage to the history and spirit of the park. The whimsical rooms and waterslides really bring so much magic to any Disney trip, and it’s a great place to stay with kids! It also has conveniently direct access to the monorail, and lots of food options. Tangaroa Terrace even has vegan sushi bowls!
For the person who came to party: Paradise Pier Hotel
The third of the Disney-owned hotels, this spot celebrates boardwalk culture that is so classically Californian. It feels like a step back to the 1920s seaside, with the beautifully done theme. Enjoy the rooftop pools and waterslides, and a huge plus—you can watch the Disneyland firework show from the third floor! Enjoy yucca fries and margaritas at their rooftop bar, and grab some curried cauliflower, house-made guac, and vegan burgers at their lounge.
For the traveler who wants peace and quiet: Hilton Anaheim
This isn’t a Disney-owned hotel, but it’s nearby (one mile away). This offers a retreat from the crowds, without giving up views of the fireworks. Enjoy the pools and waterslides, lobby Starbucks, spa, and glittering purple entrance lined with palm trees as you drive in!
For the luxury traveler: Anaheim Marriott
This local place is a splurge with its sparkling pool, huge bourbon collection, California-grown cuisine, marble bathrooms, balconies with views of the city, al fresco dining, outdoor fire pits, and tropical palms everywhere. This is a truly beautiful place to stay, and completely worth it if treating yourself is the goal.
For the adventurous traveler: Hotel Pepper Tree
Hotel Pepper Tree is a local boutique hotel, and it’s absolutely a work of art. This is also a great place for people who want to save some money and cook for themselves for some of the days they’re there, since they have a poolside BBQ and in-room kitchens! Enjoy the palm trees, rustic interior, outdoor pool, clay decor, free breakfast, ceramic murals, jungle plants, and healthy in-hotel market! There’s also a Persian eatery a few steps from the hotel, with authentic (and accidentally vegan) food.
Prepare the night before
Every night when you get back to your hotel, make sure to:
- look up the weather for the next day and plan accordingly.
- Set your alarm early enough so that you have plenty of time to be at the park 40 minutes before it opens so you can be in line. The lines to get in go quickly, but you won’t want to waste any time.
- Pack any snacks that you’ll need.
- Make sure your tickets and everything is in order.
- Have your bag/purse ready to go.
- Charge your phone.
- Get plenty of sleep!
What to do when you first get inside the park
If you need a locker for a light jacket, snacks, and anything else, grab that first since it’s near the entrance. Use the restroom there, and head out!
I recommend hitting your favorite ride as soon as you get to the park. Be there as soon as it opens and you’ll get to enjoy your favorite ride without any lines.
Afterwards, rather than heading to nearby rides, go straight to shopping if you plan on getting souvenirs or browsing through the magical shops. They can be really difficult to enjoy later, as the later it gets, the more packed they become. These shops are so fun to even just window shop through, and you can’t do that when it’s shoulder-to-shoulder in there. Take at least an hour to just walk through Main Street USA. Grab a coffee at the Starbucks there, and take your time browsing through all of the stores before the chaos of the afternoon shoppers. If you have more time, wander into the other stores around the park—they’re just as much a part of the experience, as they are beautiful inside and out.
Where to shop while you’re in the park
For the traveler: Adventureland Bazaar
This spot is perfect if you dream of adventuring through Africa. The bazaar is inspired by Indiana Jones, Tarzan, The Lion King, and exotic places on Earth. This is my favorite spot, as they have the most unique goods. Animal print everything, wooden masks, ceramic animal figurines, and beautiful art of lush jungles—it’s all here.
For the Disney-obsessed: Disney Showcase
Disney Showcase is the biggest shop in the park, and is right on Mainstreet. This is a good spot to grab beautifully designed princess shirts, Mickey ears if you don’t have any, expensive Disney jewelry, and pretty much anything you can think of.
For the Star Wars fanatic: Star Trader
Located in Tomorrowland, this is a great shop if you dream of having authentic Star Wars costumes, galactic art, and of course—a lightsaber.
For the artist: Disneyana
This is where you can buy one-of-a-kind art inspired by Disney, and meet a real Disney artist! It’s in Mainstreet USA, and it’s a beautiful place to stop in.
For the person who has a Pinterest board dedicated to Disney: Mad Hatter
If you pin a ton of the classic Pinterest photos of people in mouse ears at Disneyland, you need to come in here. This is the ultimate spot for getting a pair of mouse ears for yourself, so if you don’t have one already, go to Fantasyland and come here!
For the wild one: Pioneer Mercantile
This is located in Frontierland, and if you dream of running away to the desert frontier, this is for you. Snag Wild West-themed attire, supplies for hitting the dusty trails, and old-fashioned hats.
Rides to definitely fit in
These rides are also extremely popular, so expect long lines. The best way to handle this is to bring snacks to eat in line. Grab some vegan candy (the Goofy Sour Balls are especially tasty), a Mickey Pretzel (accidentally vegan), or a Dole Whip to eat while you wait. It will make the line feel like it goes much faster. Enjoy the people watching. Make friends. Soak up the anticipation.
- Splash Mountain (Frontierland)
- Haunted Mansion (New Orleans Square)
- Pirates of the Caribbean (New Orleans Square)
- Indiana Jones Adventure (Adventureland)
- Space Mountain (Tomorrowland)
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant (Fantasyland)
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Frontierland)
- The Matterhorn (Fantasyland)
- Mad Tea Party (Fantasyland)
- Peter Pan’s Flight (Fantasyland)
- Pinocchio’s Daring Journey (Fantasyland)
- the carousel in Fantasyland (do this one at night—it’s magical when it lights up)
- Snow White’s Enchanted Wish (Fantasyland)
Attractions to definitely fit in
On top of the rides at Disneyland, the park also has a lot of really fun things to do that are more mellow. Here are the best ones:
- Jungle Cruise (Adventureland)
- Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (Tomorrowland)
- Star Tours (Tomorrowland)
- Mark Twain Riverboat (Frontierland)
- Tarzan’s Treehouse (Adventureland)
- Tom Sawyer Island (across the river from New Orleans Square)
- Davy Crocket Explorer Canoes (Frontierland, in the river)
- Main Street Cinema (Mainstreet USA)
- Minnie’s House (Toontown—all of the characters’ houses are here)
- the parades—all of them are beautiful!
Where to find the most beautiful places in the park
These are all awesome places to walk, get pictures, and enjoy some take-away food. If you plan on getting a group photo at some point, do it in one of these places:
- Tarzan’s Treehouse – This is also where the best view in the park is. This may look like it’s just for kids, but it’s not. Located in Adventureland, this is a little discreet treehouse. Climb up the tree and walk through Tarzan’s parents’ treehouse, cross rope bridges, and enjoy views of the river.
- Along the river – Walk along the river, starting in New Orleans Square. It’s so fun to walk its length with a cold drink and enjoy the views and sounds.
- Inside the Disney Castle – Walk through it and channel your inner princess or prince. The art is unbelievable in there.
- Along the Jungle Cruise route – You’ll feel like you’re in the tropics.
- All of Adventureland – Seriously, this area of the park feels so tropical and freeing so make time to walk through and take it all in.
- The line for the Dumbo ride – This will be the best line you stand in, because this is where the best views are of the ornate design of the ride.
- The pond beside the castle – This is the best spot to get a picture with the castle without all of the crowds. Enjoy the sounds of the pond and toss a coin in the well!
- Tom Sawyer Island – There is a pirate lair here, and the whole island is filled with caves and lush, tropical plants. It is the coolest feeling to be on the island, and even the landing to cross the river (on a tiny boat) is so beautiful as it feels like something out of Indiana Jones with the reeds and bamboo.
- Mainstreet USA – The entire road leads to a giant castle, so this is a no-brainer.
Where to find the best vegan meals in the park
There are a lot of snacks to choose from that are vegan in the park, including the popcorn, soft pretzels, giant pickles, dole whips, cotton candy, frozen fruit bars, hummus cups, chip options, tropical fruit, and of course—blue milk. If you want a meal though, here are the best options in Disneyland:
This is a Tomorrowland institution, and it’s one of the most affordable places to eat in the park. They have a killer vegan veggie wrap, fries, and veggie burgers.
River Belle Terrace
This is an exciting option because they have vegan chopped salad (order it with the BBQ tofu) and a vegan BBQ platter. It’s a really beautiful spot too, so it’s a perfect summery spot.
This is a long-time favorite of mine, as it captures the spirit of Adventureland perfectly. I recommend ordering a platter of rice, veggie skewers, pineapple spears, and citrus miso slaw! Be sure to wash it down with a Jungle Julep.
Docking Bay 7
This adventurous spot is located in Galaxy’s Edge and it offers vegan meatball pitas and loads of tropical juice options!
Rancho Del Zocalo
This is where we went for dinner every time that we were in the park. It’s delicious, and there are so many options at this Frontierland eatery! Enjoy the Mexico-inspired mosaics and beautiful music as you feast on cauliflower tacos, lime tortilla chips and salsa, vegetable burritos, rice (without cheese), refried beans, and big taco salads (order without meat). They also have a lot of drinks to choose from like the honeydew agua fresca!
Grab a vegan burger, a hearty salad (order without cheese), oatmeal, or chef-requested vegan waffles! This place is a nod to Victorian Americana, so just enjoy the nostalgic vibe of the place.
Alien Pizza Planet
This is a great, less expensive spot. They have a huge offering of pizza, pasta, and salad, and any dish can be made with vegan cheese upon request! The sky’s the limit here.
Red Rose Taverne
This magical spot offers cauliflower sandwiches and fries there in Fantasyland! If you love Beauty and the Beast and want to grab something fast, this is the best option!
Located in Glaxay’s Edge, this spot has a really flavorful Ronto-less Garden Wrap! Made with vegan sausage, kimchi, pickled cucumber, gochujang sauce, all wrapped in pita bread.
Blue Bayou Restaurant
This is the fanciest and most expensive place in the park for reason. Located inside the Pirate’s of the Caribbean ride, this requires reservations way in advance. They offer cauliflower steak, salad (order without cheese), and a huge wine list!
The Golden Horseshoe
If you are craving chili in Frontierland, stop in because their vegetarian one is vegan! Get it with fries and a root beer as a nod to the western theme.
Royal Street Veranda
If you are craving gumbo in New Orleans Square, no need to daydream. Order the veggie gumbo here- it’s amazing! It comes in a sourdough bread bowl, so enjoy that in the open-air seating areas overlooking the river. This was where we usually went to lunch when we were at Disneyland. It’s relatively less expensive than the other options.
Keep in mind as well that there are other options outside the park at your hotel and at Downtown Disney, so if you are wanting to explore more, explore those areas as well!
Where to watch the fireworks show at the end of the night
You cannot miss the fireworks show. Period. It’s the best one you’ll ever see (my grandpa did the shows for them, so I know how much work goes into it behind the scenes), so you’ll need a good spot. There are a few options.
The first is to go the traditional route and stand on Mainstreet to see it over the castle. It’s stunning, and while it will be the most crowded option, there’s a reason why. Get there an hour early if you want a decent spot.
The second is to ride Thunder Mountain as it’s going. You won’t see the whole show, but the view from up there is incredible and it has a perfect vantage point of the show.
The third option is to ride the Dumbo ride as it goes, for fairytale finish to the day, or to watch it from the ground at the neighboring It’s A Small World ride.
Another option is to watch it from Galaxy’s Edge. The view will be great but the music won’t be projected here so there won’t be crowds.
The last one is to go to your hotel if you are staying somewhere with a view of it (you’ll need to ask the staff that morning or before you leave to the resort). This is a good option if you don’t want to fight crowds and want to have a more mellow evening.
Enjoy the your trip!
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Photo: Emily Iris Degn