From scheduling rides to pacing out meals, here’s how to pull off two delicious days at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure
Theme park food normally brings to mind wilted hot dogs and sad soft serve cones, but Disney cares far too much about its culinary program to stoop so low at its original park. The perfect 48 hours in the Happiest Place on Earth are filled with much less junk food than you’d anticipate, with generous options for strong cocktails, sit-down dinners that don’t disappoint, and plenty of unique eats that’ll play well on Instagram.
If you’re wondering how to hit all the best rides and the best churros across Disneyland Resort’s two theme parks, look no further. Whether you’re playing hooky from work with friends, in the midst of a multigenerational family vacation, or smartly cramming in a visit before Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge packs the parks for months to come, here’s everything you should plan on eating and drinking — and some stuff to do while you digest as well — to make the most of your park hopper.
Just here for the food? Check out our list of the 38 Essential things to Eat and Drink at Disneyland. Wrong coast? See our full Guide to Eating and Drinking in Disney World.
Day 1: Disneyland
7:45 a.m. This part is key — to beat the crowds, you have to get here early. Don’t wait in line to buy tickets; download the Disneyland App, purchase ’em there, and splurge on the MaxPass surcharge. (It’ll let you book FastPasses without sprinting back and forth across the park.) Once inside, ride Peter Pan’s Flight and Dumbo before the lines get nuts and grab FastPasses for thrill rides like Space Mountain and Indiana Jones Adventure.
9:30 a.m. Once you’ve crammed in some fun, head to River Belle Terrace for a breakfast worth taking a break for. A feast of Southern-inspired fried green tomatoes, chicken and biscuits, and killer slow-cooked short rib skillet is on par with any LA brunch, and is easily the best meal in the park. Don’t, on any accounts, miss the monkey bread.
11:15 a.m. Explore classics like Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Star Tours, which continue to provide thrills, before hitting the far-flung corners of the park like ToonTown and Critter Country.
2 p.m. FastPass reservation times make it tricky to sit down, so having lunch on the go is the move. Mosey over to Main Street, U.S.A. for Plaza Inn’s fried chicken, hand-dipped corn dogs at the Little Red Wagon, or, if it’s miraculously not too hot out, Jolly Holiday’s grilled cheese and tomato-basil soup.
4 p.m. Regain your energy with slow-paced attractions that can double as a low-key naptime. (Remember: this park does not yet serve alcohol; only Star Wars Land’s cantina will offer booze.) Take a load off on the Disneyland Railroad, hop aboard a ride on the Mark Twain Riverboat — it’s underrated and lovely — or hit It’s a Small World, whose earworm anthem is a sweet antidote to today’s political climate. If you’re feeling snacky, shove a seasonal churro (available throughout the park) inside your bag for a sweet on-demand treat, or skip the Dole Whip line by using the Disneyland App’s mobile ordering, a godsend for anyone in the know enough to utilize it across both parks.
7 p.m. Dine alfresco in the spirit of the Big Easy at Cafe Orleans; it takes reservations, and more often than not, you’ll need one. Parmesan- and garlic-crusted pommes frites are a must for starters, and if you can handle it, the deep-fried Monte Cristo is renowned. (Couples should also look into similar, upscale NOLA cooking at Blue Bayou, whose coveted low-lit tables are located within Pirates of the Caribbean.)?
Prefer to play it by ear? Grab a sack of powdery Mickey-shaped beignets at the nearby Mint Julep Bar and listen to the live jazz band, which often plays nightly.
9 p.m. Close out the movie-fueled magic of Fantasmic!, Disneyland’s bombastic waterfront show featuring acrobatics, explosions, and yes, Mickey shooting sparklers out of his white-gloved palms. Stay put for fireworks, which are easily visible from the Fantasmic! viewing area, letting you avoid the crazy castle crowd.
10:15 p.m. Drag your tired limbs over to Trader Sam’s, the phenomenal Tiki bar at the Disneyland Hotel, located at the far end of Downtown Disney. The rowdier indoors is famed for its seafaring antics and enticing special effects, but sprawling on the cushy outdoor sofas while listening to live music is the better way to go.
Day 2: Disney California Adventure
8 a.m. Ease into the day with a Storytellers Cafe character breakfast at Disney’s Grand Californian, after which you can bop right over to the park via the hotel’s exclusive entrance. The buffet includes staples (Mickey Waffles, breakfast sausages, bagels and lox) and some delicious curveballs (chilaquiles, drinkable “cereal milk”) along with visits for the young ’uns by Mickey Mouse and friends. No time for a leisurely breakfast? Order tamales at Flo’s V8 Cafe and save room for an early lunch.
9:15 a.m. With MaxPass you can book FastPasses the moment you cross through the park gates, so grab Radiator Springs Racers first; it’s always the longest wait. Once you’re eligible to book again, choose Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout (Marvel’s fabulously frenetic Tower of Terror reinvention), or Toy Story Mania for a competitive and cartoony shoot-out battle.
11 a.m. Explore Pixar Pier’s Toy Story-themed takeaway boxes of chicken and melty deep-dish chocolate chip cookies before the sun blares down on you; once that happens, opt for the Soarin’ attraction and its well-earned A.C. Take the long way over to see what’s happening at Paradise Gardens, which is often seasonally rethemed for Día de los Muertos, Lunar New Year, and other international celebrations.
12:45 p.m. Skip the sit-down affair and spend the day tackling the park’s unhealthy indulgences, best when split among a group. Kooky theme park favorites include Corn Dog Castle’s all-cheese dog and Clarabelle’s dipped ice cream bars — both of which can be ordered from your phone — Cars Land’s Cozy Cones, and anything sourdough from the on-site Boudin bakery. (Step inside for a tour and to earn a lil’ sourdough sample.)
3 p.m. Grab seats for the afternoon showing of Frozen — Live at the Hyperion for a Broadway-level show without having to buy tickets, and tackle kid-friendly interactive experiences like Animation Academy and Turtle Talk with Crush if you haven’t already. Rolling with a crew of adults? Skip the baby stuff and instead head to Carthay Circle’s street-level lounge, whose small plates and elegant cocktail menu cannot be missed.
4:45 p.m. Take a happy-hour break on easy attractions like The Little Mermaid, Silly Symphony Swings, or Cars Land’s impeccable Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters, which rarely have long waits.
6 p.m. Carthay Circle Restaurant is the ideal spot for a upscale sit-down dinner, but the gussied-up American fare Lamplight Lounge remains a clutch choice for kicking back and taking in waterfront sunset views of the amusement-packed horizon.
8:15 p.m. Fit in a nighttime ride on the Incredicoaster — it’s best after sundown — before selecting a spot for Disney’s nighttime entertainment: Paint the Night, a multimedia parade with larger-than-life effects, and World of Color, a waterfront projection show.
10 p.m. Call it quits with a late-night jostle on Guardians of the Galaxy’s drop ride, which is much moodier after nightfall. (Remember: if you’re line before the park closes, they’ll still let you ride!) Buy a Mickey-shaped Boudin sourdough loaf on the way out and clutch it tight to congratulate yourself — you’ve accomplished it all.