13 Disneyland Must-Do Experiences for a Magical Vacation
There’s a lot to see and do at Disneyland Park, and that’s putting it mildly. With nine differently themed lands and more than 50 attractions spread across 100 acres, there’s no way you can squeeze it all into one day.
Unfortunately, for some folks, traveling to The Happiest Place on Earth is a short-but-sweet, once-in-a-lifetime experience. So, what should be at the top of your Disney bucket list if you only have a day to spend? Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a pixie dust-hunting pro, read on for our ultimate list of must-do things at Disneyland.
Must-Do Experiences for a Quintessential Disneyland Day
No matter if it’s your first visit or your twentieth, there are some things that are an absolute must for any trip to Disneyland Park. If you’ve only got a day at The Happiest Place on Earth, these 14 tried-and-true experiences are sure to make your vacation both magical and memorable, all while giving you a taste of Disneyland’s nostalgic past and a glimpse into its promising future.
1. Say ‘Hello’ to Mickey Mouse & the Gang
As Walt Disney once said, “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing… that it was all started by a mouse.” So, it’s only right and proper that any Disneyland vacation includes a visit with the Big Cheese himself.
Start your day over at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel in Storyteller’s Café with a little brunch and some Disney character dining at Mickey’s Tales Adventure Breakfast. Or, skip the eggs and bacon, and make your way to Fantasyland in front of “it’s a small world” for a more traditional meet-and-greet with Mickey Mouse, as well as Pluto, Chip ‘n’ Dale and his lady love, Minnie.
2. Celebrate Your Visit with Free Disneyland Buttons
Whether guest birthdays or popular holidays like Halloween and Christmas, the Disney Parks love any opportunity to have a good time, and Disneyland is no exception. Complimentary buttons let everyone else in the parks know what you’re celebrating during your day at Disneyland.
First-time visit, birthday and happily-ever-after variations are all typically available, as is an “I’m celebrating” version made for customization. Just head to City Hall on Main Street, U.S.A., the Chamber of Commerce on Buena Vista Street over at Disney California Adventure Park or one of the many shops located around the resort.
Then, wear it with pride and enjoy the many perks that can come with rocking one of these Disneyland buttons. Along with shouts of “happy birthday” or “congratulations” from cast members and fellow guests, if you’re lucky, you might even get special freebies like Disney trading pins or an on-the-house dessert at dinnertime.
3. Go on Some of Disneyland’s Original Rides
At Disneyland, much of the park remains very close to how it looked way back on opening day on July 17, 1955. This commitment to Walt Disney’s vision and the enduring popularity of many of his creations are a testament to his storytelling and inherent ability to make things people love.
More than a dozen Disneyland opening-day attractions, as well as original entertainment offerings and restaurants, are still available for guests to enjoy, making for an especially fun way to soak up some Disney history. As most are dark rides or other slow-moving attractions, they’re also a good opportunity to cool off and/or catch your breath for a bit.
Original rides at Disneyland that remain open today include:
Autopia – Hop in the driver’s seat of a tiny, slow-paced convertible for a retro road trip through Tomorrowland.
Casey Jr. Circus Train – Choo-choo through the miniaturized fairytale panoramas of Storybook Land in Fantasyland on this little locomotive inspired by Dumbo and Walt Disney’s love of trains.
Disneyland Railroad – Go on a whirlwind tour of Disneyland Park on an 18-minute train voyage themed after Walt Disney’s backyard model railway, the Carolwood Pacific Railroad.
Dumbo the Flying Elephant – Soar over Fantasyland from the back of a pint-sized pachyderm on this kid-friendly classic.
Jungle Cruise – Enjoy views of audio-animatronic wildlife and cheesy dad jokes on this leisurely, light-hearted boat ride captained by punny skippers.
King Arthur Carrousel – Gallop around Fantasyland on a nostalgic merry-go-round inspired by the Knights of the Round Table and Sleeping Beauty.
Mad Tea Party – Spin through Fantasyland (without losing your lunch) in a twirling teacup themed after Alice in Wonderland.
Main Street Vehicles – Jump in an old-fashioned fire engine, horse-pulled streetcar, jitney or two-story, open-air omnibus for a nostalgic cruise up Main Street, U.S.A.
Mark Twain Riverboat – Slow things down with a relaxing ride down the Rivers of America on a steam-powered paddle boat that once hosted Walt and Lillian Disney’s 30th anniversary.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – Buckle up for a jolty joyride through the English countryside on this classic Fantasyland dark ride themed after The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and The Wind in the Willows.
Peter Pan’s Flight – Set sail for adventure over a moonlit London on a flying pirate ship bound for Neverland.
Snow White’s Enchanted Wish – Journey into the story of Disney’s first feature-length princess on a nostalgic Fantasyland dark ride which recently received a glow-up.
Storybook Land Canal Boats – Cruise through the mouth of Monstro the whale (of Pinocchio fame) and past tiny scenes from classic Disney tales.
4. Stroll Right Down the Middle of Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A.
Be transported to a simpler time and place with a walk down Main Street, U.S.A. Taking its inspiration from Walt Disney’s hometown of Marceline, Missouri and Fort Collins, Colorado, home to Harper Goff (the land’s fellow creator), this quaint avenue is a blast from the past.
Stop to eat at the Plaza Inn or Carnation Café for comfort-food classics with nostalgic sensibilities. To dine like the man behind the magic, try Walt’s Chili, which is based on his favorite recipe. Then, as you mosey up Main Street, U.S.A., take some time to admire the many details, like the windows dedicated to Walt and Roy Disney and other instrumental individuals.
In the late afternoon, make your way back to Town Square to watch the daily Flag Retreat Ceremony. Held since the park opened back in July 1955, this poignant display featuring the Disneyland Band and Dapper Dans barbershop quartet is a salute to the armed forces, as well as a nod to Walt and Roy’s service during World War I.
5. Visit Sleeping Beauty Castle
The original Disney icon, Sleeping Beauty Castle is the bubblegum-hued centerpiece of Disneyland Park. And unlike Cinderella Castle, its taller, bluer counterpart in Central Florida, this petite, pink fortress actually houses an attraction: the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough. Enjoy some shade as you take in scenes from this beautifully animated classic Disney film.
6. Conquer the Disneyland Mountains
The Disneyland mountains are calling, and you must go. Although The Happiest Place on Earth isn’t exactly known for its thrill rides, you can still get a bit of an adrenaline rush by summiting Disneyland’s four family-friendly peaks: Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Matterhorn Bobsleds.
Just keep in mind that the Disneyland mountains aren’t only some of the most popular rides in the park; they’re also spread out in four different lands, including Critter Country, Tomorrowland, Frontierland and Fantasyland. So, be prepared to do some backtracking or consider upgrading to Disney Genie+ if you don’t want to wait in a long line.
7. Enjoy an Iconic Snack
Along with rides and characters, another thing Disneyland is known for is its food. And trust us, this isn’t your typical theme park fare. Whether you’re craving something sweet or savory, you’re sure to find something that satisfies.
Snack on light bites like hand-dipped corn dogs from Little Red Wagon on Main Street, U.S.A. or warm bread bowls filled with cozy soups from Royal Street Veranda or French Market Restaurant in New Orleans Square. Just be sure to save some room for dessert.
With decades of history and a dedicated fan following, no Disneyland treat is more quintessential than the beloved DOLE Whip, which can be found throughout the resort. Not in the mood for pineapple? Sink your teeth into a Mickey ice cream bar or sweet and crispy churro instead. Wash it all down with a refreshing (non-alcoholic) mint julep from the Mint Julep Bar.
8. Spend Some Time in New Orleans Square
Disneyland touts several themed lands, but one of our favorites has to be New Orleans Square. Unique to Disneyland Park, this charming corner of The Happiest Place on Earth opened in July 1966 to much fanfare. Even the then-mayor of the Big Easy was on hand for the dedication and to proclaim Walt Disney an honorary citizen of the city.
New Orleans Square is home to some of the park’s most famous rides and restaurants, including the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. And don’t forget the food! From quick-service to table-service, here you’ll find a few different eateries dishing up some tasty Cajun-Creole cuisine, such as Café Orleans and, of course, the wildly popular Blue Bayou. Over at the French Market Restaurant and Mint Julep Bar, you can even listen to live jazz as you nibble on sugary Mickey-shaped beignets.
9. Rocket Down the Highway in the Sky (AKA the Disneyland Monorail)
When it comes to Disney’s many transportation options, none are more recognizable than the iconic Monorail. A true Disneyland original, the transportation option was the first of its kind in the United States when it opened in 1959. Today, these retro-futuristic, high-speed trains also produce zero emissions.
Two different Monorail stops are available at the Disneyland Resort. To really make an entrance, hop on at the station in Downtown Disney District before exiting in Tomorrowland. Just remember that you’ll need to have a valid park ticket handy. While on board, don’t miss the bird’s-eye views of Disneyland, California Adventure and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.
10. Meet the Disney Princesses
While it all started with a mouse, it was actually a princess that catapulted Disney from the small screen to the silver screen and on to Disneyland. So, be sure to say ‘hello’ to Snow White, the original Disney princess, as well as Aurora, Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel and sometimes even Moana.
Meet-and-greets are typically held at Fantasy Faire and The Royal Hall, with appearances happening until around 5 PM or 6 PM. Best of all, unlike Mickey Mouse, the disney are quite chatty. We know their radiant beauty can be intimidating, but don’t be afraid to make friendly conversation. It’s sure to result in a memorable experience.
11. See Sorcerer Mickey Battle the Disney Villains at a Showing of Fantasmic!
If there is one show you absolutely can’t miss at Disneyland, it’s Fantasmic! Combining a cast of Disney characters led by Mickey Mouse, stunning projections on screens of water, thrilling pyrotechnics and an epic battle between good and evil, this nighttime offering is unlike any other at Disneyland.
Fantasmic! is usually held at least one time each night with an additional showing on busier nights, with showtimes typically at 9 PM and 10:30 PM. The live show takes over the Rivers of America facing New Orleans Square. If possible, stay for the second showing for fewer crowds and, as a result, better seats.
12. Travel to a Galaxy Far, Far Away
Although you’ll find an array of Disneyland opening-day attractions still in operation, a lot has changed at The Happiest Place on Earth, too. After all, Walt Disney famously said, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”
Opened in 2019, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a dream for fans of this beloved space adventure. Nestled at the back of the park behind Frontierland and Critter Country, Galaxy’s Edge features such incredible rides as Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
After escaping the First Order, be sure to sample some of the out-of-this-world eats on offer, such as tasty wraps piled high with meats grilled with a podracer engine at Ronto Roasters or a cool cup of iconic Blue Milk from the Milk Stand. And for all the adults out there, be sure to stop for a cocktail at Oga’s Cantina.
13. End Your Magical Day with a Classic Disneyland Fireworks Finale
It wouldn’t be a Disney vacation without a fireworks finale. After all, those twinkling explosives do look a bit like pixie dust. Blending dazzling pyrotechnics, immersive projections and a stirring soundtrack, Wondrous Journeys is the current fireworks show at The Happiest Place on Earth, which celebrates 100 years of Disney animation.
On the bright side, it will quickly be replaced by Halloween Screams, Disneyland’s spirited nighttime spectacular. However, keep in mind that while this Halloween-themed entertainment offering features projections and pyrotechnics every night, fireworks are only incorporated on certain evenings. So, be sure to check the Disneyland app for the schedule.
That concludes our list of must-do things at Disneyland Park. Is there anything we forgot? Let us know in the comments! Then, learn how to make those steep admission prices more wallet-friendly with our Disneyland discount tickets.