SARAH’S GUIDE TO DISNEYLAND — keeping kids happy and mom and dad sane

Entrance, Disney's California Adventure

Entrance, Disney’s California Adventure

Some years ago, some good friends got us hooked on Disneyland. Turns out the original place for kids and families is a heck of a fun place to go without kids. Though we enjoyed the freedom and agility of being child-free, we were always taking notes for future family trips. And now, we’ve ventured there a few times with our own little Mousketeer. It’s by no means comprehensive, but here are some tips on making Disney work for you with your kids in tow.

Overall tips:

  • Use the fast pass system. They are free and you pick them up near the entrance to the rides. Then, you come back at the time printed on the fast pass, and get to jump a large part of the line. You can have one at a time in each park. (There’s also a time printed on the ticket, after which you can pick up a second pass in that park.)
  • If you do want to stay overnight, all 3 hotels on site are lovely; Paradise Pear is their basic but very nice property; Disneyland Hotel is classic and magical (complete with a mini-light show in your headboard); and the Grand Californian is the high-end, beautiful, California craftsman-style hotel; it has an entrance right into California Adventure. The other two are a short walk from the parks.
  • If you don’t want to take a stroller (though there is stroller parking everywhere), or just want to travel a little lighter, you can stash a backpack in a locker so you don’t have to carry kid supplies with you everywhere. There are lockers in both parks near the entrance, and also lockers in the area between the two parks, in case you want your stuff to be a little more accessible from both parks.
  • BABY SWITCH PASS! If you want to ride big-people rides, but don’t want to confine your kiddo to a long line wait with no payoff, send one parent in and ask for a baby switch pass at the entrance. Parent 1 waits in line, rides the ride, comes out, takes over on parenting duties, and then hands the pass to Parent 2, who slips in the exit or the Fast Pass line to take their turn. Oh, Disney, you’ve thought of everything!
  • There is an amazing baby center on main street, with high chairs, miniature furniture, nursing rooms, supplies for purchase, etc. A lifesaver if you’ve got a really little one!

And now, to the fun stuff. My rundown on the two separate parks:

Disneyland (great for kids of all ages)


  • Space Mountain (fast-paced roller coaster for bigger kids, but not too extreme)
  • Lots of Star Wars stuff if your kids like that (Star Tours ride; Jedi Academy activities)
  • Haunted Mansion (spooky but not too scary; no axe murderer grabs you at the end or anything.)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters (if your kids like Toy Story)
  • Indiana Jones ride (kids have to be 46 inches or taller; bouncy ride but not scary; one of my favorites)
  • Toon Town is fun for little kids (a few rides and Mickey Mouse’s house)
  • Splash Mountain (if it’s hot and you want to get wet; a REALLY steep plunge at end; 40 inch height requirement)
  • Fantasyland, right behind the castle (castle, carrousel, Dumbo, teacups, etc.)
  • For a sit, some classic Disney fun and lines that aren’t usually TOO long, try the Jungle Cruise (love those goofy jokes!) and the Tiki Room (love that Pineapple whip!)

California Adventure (also great for kids of all ages, with some more exciting rides for bigger kids.)


  • Cars Land (don’t miss Radiator Springs Racers if kids are 40 inches or taller. Or let dad use the single rider line.)
  • Soarin’ over California (40 inch height req)
  • Toy Story Mania (good for all kids; it’s a VERY cool ride/virtual shooting game with the toy story theme.
  • Grizzly River Run (if it’s hot and you want to get wet, which you will! 42 inch height req.)
  • Animation Room (If it’s hot and you just want to chill out in a big air conditioned room and look at some Disney animation. May also be a good place for a nap on the go.)
  • Redwood Creek Challenge Trail (if your kids need to burn off some steam and you don’t want to wait in line; ropes, bridges, slides, climbing.)
  • Mickey Wheel (fun ferris wheel; half of cars are stationary on outside edge, half of cars roll on tracks to the inside of the wheel as it goes around, which can get a little scary but is fun.)

Big kid rides:

  • California Screamin’ (roller coaster with a tame upside down loop)
  • Tower of Terror (13-story drop that goes faster than gravity; I have only ridden once and probably never will again)

For mom and dad:

  • Golden Vines Winery (lots of choices, tasting allowed and staff are wine-educated; also a really nice restaurant there- Wine Country Trattoria)
  • Karl Strauss Beer truck (good beers on tap)
  • Bar at Grand Californian Hotel (If you can’t stay there, at least you can get the experience.)
  • Also, beer now available at many concession stands
  • Carthay Circle Restaurant and Lounge (have not yet been in there but looks like they have a fabulous bar.)

Happy park hopping!

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