Disney

My Top 3 Things to do at Disneyland Resort!

Welcome back! Today we’ll be discussing my personal favorite rides, shows, and dining options at Disneyland resort. This is a long post so buckle in!

It’s hard to narrow any of these categories to just a Top Three, but I wanted to challenge myself and see what I could come up with. Please note that there are many attractions, shows, and restaurants that I LOVE that didn’t make it on to these lists. With that said, here’s my unsolicited “Top Three” lists for attractions, dining, and entertainment at Disneyland Resort! I’ll also throw in some honorable mentions, in addition to some picks that I enjoy, but you might be surprised to see didn’t make the cut.

MY TOP THREE ATTRACTIONS AT DISNEYLAND:

  1. Indiana Jones Adventure: This is my favorite attraction in the resort by far. This is imagineering at its finest, and it was for a long time the ‘newest’ E-ticket attraction in Disneyland park. If you’re familiar with Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom, the ride system and track layout are nearly identical, only this time you’re off to the Temple of the Forbidden Eye in this high-thrills adventure.
  2. The Haunted Mansion: Arguably my favorite ‘classic’ dark ride in all the Disney parks I’ve been to, the original iteration of The Haunted Mansion has stood the test of time over the past 50 years. Although I prefer the version in Disney World more, simply due to the interactive queue and the bonus rooms that lengthen the attraction, the version here in Disneyland is a must-do. I also love the fact that they have a holiday overlay where the characters from Nightmare Before Christmas take over from October through January!
  3. Pirates of the Caribbean: This is another classic, quintessential Disney attraction that you simply cannot skip. The Disneyland version of this ride is clearly superior to the Florida version. There’s more drops, you float by Blue Bayou at the beginning, there are new additions in the cave scenes, I could go on and on. I will always go on Pirates if the wait time is short, even if I’m in the parks for just a couple of hours.

Honorable mention: It’s A Small World. I never wanted to ride Small World on my annual trips to Disney World, but I love the Disneyland version! Of course there’s that infamous ear worm of a song, but Disneyland has some very special Easter eggs throughout the ride. Imagineers designed dolls in the look and style of a bunch of classic Disney characters, like Cinderella, Lilo and Stitch, Ariel, Simba, and Belle (plus many more) and placed them in their home countries/regions of the world. It’s a nice twist and something fun for everyone to scavenger hunt for! Another honorable mention that I have to throw in here, only because I would be betraying my tradition as of late if I didn’t mention it, is The Disneyland Railroad. It’s seriously the most calming thing ever to just jump on the train on Main Street and take the Grand Circle Tour of Disneyland.

Surprise omission: Any of the mountains. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the mountains, but when it came to picking my top three, these didn’t make the cut. If you’re looking for true thrills, make Space Mountain a priority for you and your party when you visit Disneyland. And of course if you want a classic Disney attraction, you have to ride the Matterhorn (just know ahead of time that it is a little long in the tooth and your back may feel as old as the famed mountain itself when you get off).

Another surprise omission is Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. The newest attraction at Disneyland, Smuggler’s Run is in Galaxy’s Edge where you get to pilot and control the Millennium Falcon! While this attraction is fun and highly interactive, I found it to be disappointing in several key aspects. If you aren’t in the front seats as the Pilot, your view is obstructed by those sitting in front of you. Some ‘jobs’ are more challenging than others; for example the Gunners only hit 1 button for 99% of the ride. There’s a lot of pressure on the Pilots, which may or may not be for you if you want to truly enjoy the ride. Overall I’m very impressed by the attraction, but I think it’ll be blown out of the water by Rise of the Resistance in just a few short months!

MY TOP THREE FOOD LOCATIONS IN DISNEYLAND:

  1. On a budget: Bengal Barbecue. Bengal Barbecue is located directly across from Indiana Jones. My favorite frozen beverage can be found here (the Jungle Julep) in addition to snack-sized meat skewers. Great protein option for under $10! My personal recommendation is the Bengal Beef Skewer.
  2. Looking to treat yourself: Blue Bayou: Nestled inside New Orleans Square, Blue Bayou is a signature dining experience with soft, dim lighting and a very relaxing atmosphere. Get a table by the water and watch the boats from Pirates of the Caribbean pass by!
  3. Hidden gem: Troubadour Tavern: Not too many people know about this food location, but they should!! Located right next to Fantasyland Theatre where Mickey and the Magical Map plays, Troubadour Tavern serves one of my favorite dishes of all time, loaded baked potatoes. My stomach is growling just thinking about them.

Honorable mention: Plaza Inn. I’ve dined here for both breakfast and dinner. Breakfast is a character buffet and dinner is home to the widely loved and adored fried chicken. As a Cast Member I often worked parade crowd control shifts in the evening standing next to Plaza Inn, and the smell of the fried chicken always made me hungry. The character breakfast is also a lot of fun and you get to see some characters you wouldn’t normally see in the parks, like Max and the Fairy Godmother!

Surprise omission: Cafe Orleans: There was an urban legend of sorts before I moved to California that Disneyland was home to the infamous “Monte Cristo Sandwich” and that eating one was akin to entering the gates of heaven. Well, you can imagine my disappointment when I finally tried this sandwich and it was … just okay? Nothing to write home about in my opinion. If you’re looking for a mid-price level table service restaurant in Disneyland, I would check out Carnation Cafe or River Belle Terrace first.

MY TOP THREE ATTRACTIONS IN CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE:

  1. Incredicoaster: I want to start this category off by saying that this is really a 3-way tie for my favorite ride in DCA and any of these attractions could be in my top spot. With that said, I was so bummed to say goodbye to California Screamin’, but I was also pleasantly surprised at how well they transitioned to the Incredicoaster. The approach to an existing track layout was very clever and it remains one of my favorite rides in California Adventure.
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout: The Tower of Terror was hands down my favorite ride in California Adventure, so you can imagine my heartbreak when I had to bid it farewell. That said, I have so much fun every time I ride Mission: Breakout. Another excellent example of an existing ride structure being transformed into something completely new in an imaginative way.
  3. Radiator Springs Racers: While I’m not the biggest Cars fan, I LOVE this ride. If you’re a fan of Test Track in Epcot, you’ll love Racers, too. It’s a near-identical concept (hairpin turns with an almost head-on collision, being sent through the ‘testing rooms’, and of course the launch at the end leading you outside to the racetrack) and the race at the end with another car adds an element of competition to the attraction. DEFINITELY get a FastPass for this attraction first thing in the morning if you plan on riding.

Honorable mention: Toy Story Midway Mania. This ride is so much fun!! This highly interactive attraction can also be found in Hollywood Studios in Florida. This ride remains popular over the years so definitely plan on booking a FastPass for this experience! If you’re traveling to the parks solo or if you’re in a party of 2, take advantage of the Buddy Pass system (like Single Rider, but they also include parties of 2! Ask a Cast Member for more information).

Surprise Omission: Soarin’ Over the World. My heart aches for the loss of Soarin’ Over California. I’ve been over the moon this summer with its triumphant return to California Adventure, but sadly it will leave at the end of August and we will switch back to the CGI polar bears. I guess that’s my biggest issue with Soarin’ Over the World: a good amount of the ride is CGI. The charm of Soarin’ Over California was the live wide-shots of some of the state’s signature landmarks. My suggestion? Leave Soarin’ Over the World in Epcot (a much better fit for that park IMO) and let the original iteration of this attraction stay in California Adventure (unless we’re heading for a park re-branding……..)

TOP THREE FOOD LOCATIONS IN CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE:

  1. On a budget: Pacific Wharf: This option is great if everyone in your party is in the mood for something different. You can choose from lower priced Mexican, Chinese, or bread bowl options, plus there’s a beer cart, margarita stand, and Ghirardelli for dessert! My personal favorite item from Pacific Wharf is the Cocina Bowl with chicken (pictured above) from Cocina Cucamonga. They also have great guacamole!
  2. Looking to treat yourself: Wine Country Trattoria. We’ve never had a bad experience here! The best time to eat here was when DCA had parades; you could get a table right along the parade route, and since this restaurant is slightly elevated above street level, you had no obstructed view! Since there’s no parades currently running in DCA Wine Country doesn’t have that draw, however there’s still an excellent menu to dine from.
  3. Hidden gem: Alfresco’s Tasting Terrace. I almost feel bad letting you all in on this secret location because I love how every time I go, there’s always open tables available. But I want to hook you up with the scoop!! If you’re heading up the stairs to check in to Wine Country Trattoria, there is another set of stairs to the right of the hostess stand that takes you to the Tasting Terrace. Here you’ll find bite sized eats like flatbread and meatballs (DEFINITELY get the meatballs), plus a full wine bar and secret drink menu.

Honorable Mention: Lamplight Lounge. I freakin’ love Lamplight Lounge. I was sad to see Cove Bar go, but I’m happy to say that Lamplight is one of my favorite places to grab a drink in California Adventure! The food is good, not great, but good. I definitely recommend checking out brunch at Lamplight. The Crab cake Eggs Benedict was DIVINE.

Surprise omission: Carthay Circle. The only reason I didn’t list Carthay is because I haven’t eaten there yet!! Can you believe I’ve lived here for 4 years and STILL haven’t been to the flagship restaurant in California Adventure. But I can’t judge it if I haven’t been there. I will say however that the menu has repeatedly held me back from taking the plunge, and I have opted for Blue Bayou and Steakhouse 55 in the past for signature dining instead. But I’ll eat at Carthay one day!

MY TOP THREE ENTERTAINMENT OPTIONS IN DISNEYLAND (RESORT-WIDE):

  1. Disneyland Forever: This fireworks show has a special place in my heart as it was the resident nighttime spectacular when I worked at Disneyland during the Diamond Anniversary. It’s by far my favorite Disney fireworks show (yes, even more than any of the fireworks shows at Magic Kingdom), and unfortunately its current run ends on September 2!! Hopefully it will come back again soon. Since it’s on its way out, let’s assume you can bump every other show on this list up…
  2. Fantasmic: I’m so so so grateful that this show exists on both coasts. The music from Fantasmic is unforgettable and the finale is something you’ll have to see to believe! There are clear pros and cons to both versions of the show; I personally love the fact that they added Pirates of the Caribbean to the Disneyland version!
  3. Frozen at the Hyperion: Let’s face it: you either love Frozen or you hate it. I happen to love it, and this 60 minute stage adaptation makes me grateful I don’t have to dish out hundreds of dollars to see it on Broadway (although I wouldn’t stop anyone from buying me a ticket…). Not only is the show Broadway-caliber, but you get an hour long break from the heat!

Honorable mention: Mickey and the Magical Map: This show is adorable. For some reason it took me forever to see it the first time, but now I’ll never turn down an opportunity to see it!! The show times of this show are a little wonky so be sure to check your Times Guide when you arrive to see when it’s playing.

Retired honorable mention: Paint the Night. Another wild claim: this is BY FAR my favorite nighttime parade at ANY Disney park (yes, more than Main Street Electrical Parade). This was also part of the Diamond Anniversary when I was a Cast Member, but it’s also just such a good parade. Who doesn’t want to dance around to Owl City?!

Surprise omission: World of Color. I feel like this is gonna get a lot of hate…but I’ve never been impressed with World of Color! While I think it is beautiful, and the music is lovely, there are other nighttime options that I would prefer to watch. If you’re new to Disneyland and you’re only visiting for one day, I highly recommend you opt for the Disneyland-side entertainment offerings at night (Fantasmic and Disneyland Forever, or whatever the current fireworks show is). That said, if you’re familiar with Fantasmic from Disney World in Orlando, World of Color offers something different (although there are some differences in Disneyland’s Fantasmic!). In short: if you’ve never seen Fantasmic on either coast, go for that. If you’ve seen Fantasmic at WDW, then opt for World of Color instead.

BONUS: MY TOP 3 RESTAURANTS AT DOWNTOWN DISNEY

  1. Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen: Jazz Kitchen has been our go-to for many years as the restaurant in Downtown Disney where we celebrate: we celebrated both Matt and I getting into graduate school, I took my dad there on Father’s Day, we’ve been there on my birthday…it’s basically an events-only situation (because it costs so darn much to eat there). But writing about it is making me crave their cheesy garlic bread…
  2. Tortilla Joe’s: I once had the best margarita of my life in Tortilla Joe’s. If it were up to me I would eat there every time I visited Downtown Disney. If you’re a fan of Mexican cuisine, you’ll definitely enjoy this restaurant. Some menu items can be hit or miss, but overall I love it.
  3. Ballast Point: This is Matt’s personal favorite as he is a big Ballast Point fan. Every time we come here for dinner, the food is amazing. Yes, they have a GREAT dinner menu, they are family friendly, awesome atmosphere and they also have a great wine menu for you non-beer drinkers like me! Seating can be tight at Ballast so arrive early if you want a seat!! There tends to be more availability outdoors, but it is first-come first-serve. If you want to sit in the dining room, you need a reservation.

Honorable mention: Naples: I’ve only eaten here a couple of times, but the new renovation really impressed me and the new outdoor bar area is gorgeous! If you’re in Disneyland and you’re in the mood for pizza, definitely head to Downtown and eat at Naples.

Surprise omission: Black Tap. I really wanted to love Black Tap…truly I wanted to love it so much. The food is good. Not great, but good. Standout menu item for me was the fried pickles (and I’m not a pickle person). What really knocked them off of the list, which was the biggest surprise and biggest let down, were the milkshakes. When I order a chocolate milkshake, and I’m handed a milkshake made with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup…and charge me $9 for it….I’m sorry but I’ll go to Ghirardelli instead. The Crazy Shakes are fun to try once, take lots of pictures for Instagram, but again, for what they charge it better be the best milkshake I’ve ever had…and it just isn’t.

BONUS BONUS: MY TOP 3 RESTAURANTS AT THE RESORTS

  1. Craftsman Bar at the Grand Californian: Our new favorite spot to grab some food and a drink can be found along the poolside of the Grand Californian. Formerly known as White Water Snacks, the Craftsman Bar offers super casual, laid-back vibes with a menu filled with delicious options! My personal favorite is the cauliflower grilled cheese. The nachos are also delicious, but you definitely need at least 3-4 hungry friends to share them with – they are HUGE.
  2. Steakhouse 55 at the Disneyland Hotel: If it helps you make a decision on where to dine, I probably had the BEST dinner I’ve ever had a Disney park – ever – at Steakhouse 55. It is pricey. But don’t let that stop you! It is worth every penny! If you are looking to celebrate a special occasion, I cannot recommend this restaurant enough! There’s also a lounge in front of the restaurant that offers a full drink menu and a limited food menu.
  3. Storytellers Cafe at the Grand Californian: If you’re looking for great food at a medium price range, Storytellers might be for you! They offer a scrumptious buffet that is sure to please everyone in your party. If you’re looking for a character meal, Storytellers has Mickey & friends during breakfast.

Honorable Mention: Trader Sams. Ok, so technically it’s not a full restaurant, but they have a food menu, so I’m counting it!! If you don’t know about Trader Sam’s, you have to. It’s nestled in the courtyard of the Disneyland Hotel and is a cult classic, fan favorite tiki bar. The menu is full of delicious tropical-inspired drinks (you’ll fall in love if you’re a rum fan), and the atmosphere is one of the most fun places in all of Disneyland Resort! Note that Trader Sam’s is SMALL and seating is always tight, especially later in the evening. You can still sit outside and order the full menu if there’s no seating indoors.

Surprise Omission: Goofy’s Kitchen. We’ve eaten at Goofy’s Kitchen a couple of times now, and while the character interactions are fun, the food has just been okay, especially for the price. If you have little ones and are looking for a character dinner, Goofy’s Kitchen is going to be your only option at the moment. If time of day doesn’t matter for character dining, I suggest a character breakfast at either Plaza Inn or Storytellers.

I HOPE THIS WAS HELPFUL!!! I realize this was a TON of text but I wanted to give you specific reasons why I chose the things I did. Of course since this is my favorites it doesn’t mean all of these things are objectively better than anything else in the park – I’m just asked constantly by my friends what I recommend at Disneyland so I wanted to pass along these thoughts to you as well!

xo Carly

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