- More about your oliver guide: Kati Seymore
- Trip type: Family, Beach, City
- Activity level: moderate
- Ideal length of trip: Two nights bookending one day in the park provides the perfect taste of Disney. Go to the beach afterwards if you have time.
to & from
- Cheap and easy flights on Southwest from Oakland, CA (OAK) - Orange County, CA (SNA).
- Rent a car once you arrive for the 35 minute drive to/from Anaheim.
Where to Stay
Disney’s Grand Californian Resort and Spa. Valet your car when you check in and hopefully you won’t want to see it again until you leave. Everything is accessible and easy from the Grand Californian – one exit from the hotel takes you to Downtown Disney and the front entrances to Disneyland and California Adventure; another exit lands you directly in California Adventure. By staying at a Disneyland resort you are entitled to enter one of the parks an hour early for Magic Hour. This is a great way to get ahead of the crowds and jump on popular rides without long lines or a Fast Pass. When you need a break from the parks, retreat back to the hotel pools for splashing and relaxation (waterslides and poolside food and beverage service!)
Where to Eat and Drink
If you love Churros, you are in luck — There are Churro stands everywhere throughout Downtown Disney and both parks! We, however, skipped the many dining options in the parks and headed for Downtown Disney, where there is a little something for everyone, plus two Starbucks.
- The Mexican restaurant, Tortilla Joe's, with our tableside "Guac Girl" and roaming balloon artist was a big hit our first night.
- Catal, Mediterranean fine dining, made the kids happy with bacon studded mac and cheese.
- For breakfast our final day, we hit New Orleans-themed Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen express for delicious beignets and breakfast burritos.
What to Do
This trip was a Christmas surprise for our 10 and 12 year-old kids, who had never been before. Our plan was to do it right and do it once, but we were surprised by how much we all enjoyed it. The Disneyland resort is a manageable size to walk everywhere, and has enough variety to keep everyone happy. We stayed two nights at the hotel, bookending a one-day parks visit. Our big spend was on the hotel, so that we could enjoy Magic Hour — parkside access doesn’t come cheap! Afterwards, we decamped to Laguna Beach for two luxurious days/nights of exploring the beach, floating in the pool and shaking off the crowds.
- Download the Disney app and MaxPass and Park Hopper Ticket. We used the app to map out our ride plans, monitor wait times, restaurant reservations, and acquire FastPasses where we needed them. As it turned out, we only needed to use Fast Passes twice, and are thrilled we skipped the extra spend on a concierge or VIP service.
- Singles Lines. If your kids are old enough to ride on their own, opt for the Singles Line on rides where it is available and you will obliterate any wait time. We used it on the Radiator Springs Racers ride and made it onto the ride in 5 minutes, vs. 15 minutes with a FastPass and 90 minutes in the regular line. If this all sounds like Greek to you, don't worry! It didn't make any sense to me either until I was in the park with the app on my phone and then it all came together.
- Stay up for the Light Show at California Adventure -- it is amazing!
- Finally, favorite attractions for our kids (aged 10 and 12) at California Adventure were California Screamin' (the best roller coaster I've ever been on), Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin' Around the World and Grizzly River Run. At Disneyland, we loved Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars Launch Bay, Matterhorn Bobsleds and had split opinions on Space Mountain vs. It's a Small World After All (the Christmas decorations are amazing!)
- Skip the spend on VIP service and use a combination of Magic Hour, Disneyland app, MaxPass and Fast Passes instead.
- If you are claustrophobic, skip Space Mountain.