Updated March 10, 2018
Have you been California dreaming? I’ve got a trip plan for you to use exactly as I’ve designed it or to customize it for your own needs. I’m incorporating plenty of time at Disneyland, plus adding in some SoCal favorites that work well with families with young children.
Follow me as we get started on this adventure. We’ll take it day by day.
I’ve listed a few favorite dining options for each day that can be used for lunch or dinner. As always, I recommend leaving the park mid-day, which allows you the chance to order pizza at your hotel room or grab Subway if you’re staying off-site.
Before You Leave:
1. First, decide where to stay. Close to the resort works best for little ones. Step One of my planning process can help narrow down your options.
There are plenty of excellent off-site options, too, and there are many advantages to staying off-site, including lots of nearby dining options and retail.
Check out what your options are off-site. I list my favorites in this post, as well as an option to stay at one of my favorites for 10% off your entire reservation.
2. Be sure you know the basics of any Disneyland visit.
- Plan to follow my Disneyland Rules for your best chance at peace with young children (and the adults taking care of them).
- Prepare your princess for her big visit. I have many suggestions, including makeovers, in my princess post.
- Be ready for meltdowns. They might happen to your children, your spouse or even you! I’ve cried in the middle of Disneyland – for both good and bad reasons. Know this going in and have realistic expectations for the happiest place on earth. And, read this post to avoid the mistakes I’ve made over the years.
3. Buy your theme park tickets. (Take a look at some discounted options for Disneyland and the Southern California City Pass.)
You’re here! (Let’s plan like it’s Monday for this itinerary.) If you flew, be sure to schedule Lansky Enterprises to transport you from airport to hotel.The service is top notch and he provides a stop en route for the grocery store for fresh produce and other perishables.
Get settled at your hotel and then visit Downtown Disney for a taste of what’s to come. Entrance is free, there’s lots to do and see and you can eat dinner while you’re there. Return back to your hotel room for plenty of rest. Early wake up follows the next day!
Downtown Disney has many options for dinner. I recommend Earl of Sandwich for a counter service option. Warm toasty sandwiches are yummy, the sides are delicious and the service is excellent. Napolini is a family favorite because it offers pizza, salads and the like. Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen is great for seafood lovers and those who prefer spicier foods. Of course, there are scaled down children’s options, too.
After dinner, stroll through Downtown Disney for shopping. Don’t miss my absolute favorite, Marceline’s Confectionery, named after Walt Disney’s hometown. Grab a sweet treat. Candy apples are a favorite here!
Back to the hotel now. Nighty night!
If you’re staying off site, I recommend this first day be spent at California Adventure. Disneyland will have Extra Magic Hour this day (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays), so you’ll be at an advantage visiting DCA (California Adventure) because everyone will start the day at the same time.
For all park visits, I recommend having breakfast finished prior to entering the parks. Don’t use that precious time in the morning with lower crowds to sit for an hour and eat. Grab something at your hotel, en route to the park or even Downtown Disney if their hours coordinate with park opening hours. I list several Downtown Disney breakfast picks in my DTD Post and then also, I include tips on how to manage your mornings at the parks, too, in another post.
Start your day with a focus on the most popular DCA attractions. This post shows you everything to do first, what else to tackle and in what order, and has maps to coordinate the plan.
After your busy morning, proceed on with my 1 day Touring Plan for DCA with Little Ones:
****Use this as a guideline and don’t feel pressured to do EVERYTHING on the list. Gauge how your family is responding to the busy day, break for nap time and then adjust as needed.
For lunch or dinner, I recommend the following at California Adventure:
- Flo’s V-8 Cafe – In Cars Land, this restaurant is cute and has good food. Try the Beef and Cheddar Sandwich and the Veggie Tater Bake.
- Pacific Wharf Cafe – I love a good salad or sandwich mid-day at the parks. Pacific Wharf has both of these and more for kids.
- Ariel’s Grotto – This is a character meal option and is much pricier than other locations. It also requires a reservation. I recommend it for a nice break from the day, a cool place inside to sit down and relax and a fun princessy event.
Today is your Disneyland day. My favorite! As always, arrive early. Every day should start with the same basic routine, found in my Magical Ways to start your Disneyland Days post. These rules apply for both parks.
I always recommend arriving early, leaving mid-day and returning for night time fun. Feel free to stay late on this day, as tomorrow will be an “off” day with a beach visit or just swimming at the pool.
Insider tip: Visit the “dark rides” behind the castle for super short waits late at night (depending on when fireworks are happening). Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Pinocchio, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride will all have approximately 10 minute waits usually. Since you’re staying late, take advantage of Fantasyland at dark. It feels different at night. I love it!
These attractions are a bit scary, so know what to expect and if you think your little ones can’t handle them, have one adult take them on the carrousel while the other rides. (Note: these attractions should be done after your touring plan has been followed for this day. I’m suggesting these because you’re likely staying later than normal.)
Follow my Day 1 of 2 Disneyland Touring Plans for this day:
For lunch or dinner, I recommend the following at Disneyland:
- Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe – This is one of my favorites. The Jolly Holiday Combo includes grilled cheese and tomato/basil soup. It’s awesome! Their sandwiches are good, too. I’ve actually tried every one of them. (I have a sandwich problem.) This place also has the Matterhorn Macaroon for $1.99, which is one of the best values in the park. If you ask my son, Jack, he’ll recommend the huge cinnamon roll, regardless of what time you’re eating.
- Rancho del Zacalo – This is my daughter’s absolute favorite and where we eat every time I take her to Disneyland. We share the red sauce enchiladas and also chips/salsa. This restaurant has free drink refills.
- Cafe Orleans – Make reservations for this one and order the monte cristo and pomme frites. Also, save me a seat because I’ll be joining you. One of the best meals in the park!
You’ve earned a day off. This is it. Sleep in (if kids allow), enjoy your hotel or venture out a bit to see Southern California. I’ve listed the 5 best beach destinations in a recent post.
My two favorites on that list are Crescent Bay (for the sheer beauty of it) and also Balboa Island. Balboa Island incorporates lots of fun “firsts” for many kids. Ride the ferry from mainland to the island, go out on the pier, walk the island, play on the beach and more. It’s a cute place. Check out all of your options for a beach day, with tips on beach visits while on vacation, in that beach post. Then, return back to your hotel for a good night’s sleep before your final theme park day.
Regarding transportation, Lansky can take you to the beach for the following rates:
* Disneyland from/to Balboa Island, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Corona Del Mar – $70 flat / 1 way
* Disneyland from/to Crescent Bay – $90 flat / 1 way
* Fare includes driver gratuity – No hidden cost
* Fare same as yellow cab
While you’re out, consider some favorite SoCal eateries:
- In-n-Out – Yummy burgers and fries. Ask for yours “animal style”. Check their secret menu for more options.
- The Shake Shack – This place has amazing views, yummy Ruby’s style burgers and fries and delicious milkshakes.
- Wahoo’s Fish Taco – Wahoo’s is your healthiest version of these three and is delicious, too.
Back to Disneyland! This is your final Disney day, so make it count. I suggest making notes at the end of each day of any theme park visit that includes things you wish you had time for. This last day is your opportunity to work from that list.
Think ahead to iconic photo ops you want to accomplish, final character interactions, souvenir shopping and maybe a specific Disney treat you’ve been dreaming of.
Follow Day 2 of 2 Disneyland Touring Plan for this day:
For lunch, I recommend the following:
- The French Market – This outdoor patio seating restaurant often has live music playing (not too loud) and delicious dining choices like red beans & rice and the Nawlin’s Salad (my favorite). Choose a seat on the outer skirts of the patio for good people watching.
- The Golden Horseshoe – An old school Disney favorite, this place has chicken nuggets, fries, and yummy ice cream sundaes. Split the sundaes into two for an ample amount of ice cream treat and you still both get a cookie. Live entertainment is also fun here.
For dinner, I recommend having reservations made for a memorable, final meal in the park or in one of the DLR Hotels. There are so many lovely restaurants. Review this post for information on everything edible at the Disneyland Resort. I break down all of your options into smaller categories so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Another day to sleep in. Yay! Kids should be properly tired by now, so hopefully you’ll all get to rest a bit.
I like to leave this day open for lots of reasons. You may have thought of something, as the week progressed, that you’d like to do in Southern California. The concierge at your hotel might have sparked some interest. There are all sorts of things to do in this area. Here are just a few suggestions:
Each of those links includes information on travel to and from these destinations and suggestions on where to eat. As always, I recommend Uber.com for nearby trips if you did not rent a car.
If you’re not up for a day trip or another venture out, enjoy your hotel and relax. Disneyland is hard work. Sometimes, I enjoy a nice swim and nap as much as I do a day at the parks – especially after a week full of being on the go.
Travel day! Have a good breakfast, pack up and be on your way. Home sweet home awaits.
Once you’re home, review my post on What to do After Your Disneyland Trip. Lots of good ideas on preserving your special memories.
And while you’re on the plane ride home? Have a cocktail. You’ve earned it. You made it through Disneyland with small children! Some people run marathons. You go to Disneyland. It’s all taxing, physically and emotionally. Reward yourself.
- Reservations for any dining event can be made by calling (714) 781-DINE (3463) between 7:00 AM and 9:00 PM daily (Pacific Time).
- If you call to make special event dining reservations (for World of Color or MSEP), be sure to note that you want that specific dining package, rather than a regular reservation.
- This trip plan is a model to review and design your own from. If you need help making it work for you, don’t hesitate to email me at Casey@dlrprepschool.com.