Guide to Disney California Adventure with Toddlers and Little Kids

Last updated on March 26, 2024

Meeting Lightening McQueen.

The classic characterisation of Disneyland versus Disney California Adventure is that California Adventure is aimed more at grown-ups whereas Disneyland is perfect for little kids. But this is a bit too black and white as there’s lots in both parks for kids and adults alike – and our 2 and 5 year-olds loved Disney California Adventure. In fact, some of their favourite experiences were in California Adventure rather than Disneyland.

I think part of the misunderstanding is that when Disney California Adventure first opened it was indeed aimed at adults, but that was unpopular so the whole thing was overhauled, and things have significantly changed since then with loads more kid-friendly attractions.

So should you visit Disney California Adventure and Disneyland or just stick to one of them? And how do you even begin to plan the trip? Luckily, as always, I’m the planning geek and have done all the legwork for you. So here’s a ridiculously detailed post to help you plan your trip and get the most out of Disney California Adventure with toddlers and little kids. It’s especially for kids under 10 who might be afraid of bigger rides.

We have a similar guide focussed on Disneyland with toddlers. Read both if you’re trying to decide between the two. Plus the Disneyland post has some tips that apply to both parks, which I haven’t repeated here.

Buy your Disney California Adventure tickets now

We bought our tickets through Undercover Tourist who we found to be a little cheaper than some of the other options (although they’re all very similar). We also saved a bit of money by paying in dollars rather than pounds. See the latest prices here.

Bear in mind that you need to book your tickets AND then make a park reservation on the official Disney site. Once you’ve done this, your tickets will be transferred to the app and you can enter by showing your app at the gate.

What is Disney California Adventure?

First things first, Disney California Adventure is a theme park right next to Disneyland (their entrances are side by side) in Anaheim, California. It originally opened in 2001, designed as a celebration of California and with attractions aimed at adults. But that version of the park wasn’t as successful as hoped, and the whole thing was overhauled, officially relaunching in 2012. The re-imagining worked and the theme park became significantly more popular from then on.

The whole place is themed as a romanticized version of California, exploring different places and periods in history through the lens of Disney and Pixar stories. One of the highlights is Pixar Pier, inspired by Victorian boardwalks and filled with Pixar-themed rides. But my absolute favourite area was Cars Land, which puts you right into Radiator Springs in a brilliantly immersive land. Avengers Campus is the newest addition and will be a big hit with any superhero fans.

Is it worth visiting Disney California Adventure with little kids?

In my post on Disneyland, I’ve covered why I think going to Disneyland with little kids is 100% worth it. With Disney California Adventure, I think it’s a little more complicated as overall, there’s less for young kids. But if your kids are into superheroes and the Marvel Universe or Pixar’s Cars movie then it’s definitely worth going. The set building for both of these parts of the park is incredible and were among the things our kids loved the most about Disney.

Should I go to Disneyland or Disney California Adventure with little kids?

Meeting Chip and Dale.

The broad stroke answer is that Disneyland is most likely your best choice if visiting with little kids. But it’s also not as simple as that – because if you have a kid who is wild about superheroes or the movie Cars then Disney California Adventure might be the better option.

And while there’s undoubtedly more for young kids at Disneyland, there are certainly enough rides and experiences to keep young kids entertained at Disney California Adventure too. I recommend reading through the ride/attraction list in both my posts and seeing which one has your most “must do” attractions.

One thing to remember is that if your kids (or you) have hearts set on the classic Disneyland experience, then it’s only Disneyland itself that has iconic elements like the castle and the parade. You can, however, meet Mickey Mouse at either one.

Should I get a park hopper ticket for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure?

We went to Disneyland for one day and Disney California Adventure for the other. We bought single tickets, which meant we could only visit one park per day. However, you can get a Park Hopper ticket, which allows you to move between the two parks. This is a more expensive option, and not strictly necessary as there’s enough to entertain in each individual park. But, in an ideal world, I would have liked a Park Hopper because we didn’t do everything we wanted to in Disneyland, so I’d have quite liked to pop back in on the second day just for a couple of hours.

If there’s loads more you want to see in one park than the other then a Park Hopper is probably worth it so you can spend a half day in one park and 1.5 days in the other (or a similar split for however many number of days you have).

What’s the perfect age for Disney California Adventure?

I’ve answered this question in detail in the Disneyland post, as well as talking about if you should visit Disneyland over Disney World. And we also discuss the best time to visit. You can use this handy crowd calendar to see projected crowds and events for the dates you’d like to visit.

How to navigate Disney California Adventure

Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure.

Disney California Adventure is around 55 acres, so slightly smaller than Disneyland (85 acres). A loop of the park is around 1.2 miles and it would take around 20 minutes to walk around the whole thing if you’re weren’t stopping along the way or navigating crowds.

It’s split into eight different areas: Avengers Campus, Cars Land, Pixar Pier, San Fransokyo Square, Buena Vista Square, Grizzly Peak, Hollywood Land and Paradise Gardens Park.

You could work your way around the lands methodically one by one, but wait times mean it might sometimes be a better option to jump between different lands on other sides of the park (more on how to plan out your day later).

Bring or hire a stroller

Because of its size and all the walking around, even kids as old as 5 or 6 might benefit from a stroller at Disney California Adventure. It’ll give them a comfortable place to rest and save you from carrying tired little ones.

You can either bring your own or hire one at the main entrance. They have single and double strollers available for about $18 per day.

Be aware that the ones available for hire have no cushioning like a normal stroller, so you could bring something like a cushion/blanket to make it more cosy. We brought our usual stroller with us and put both boys in it when they were tired. 

How to plan your time at Disney California Adventure with kids

A successful trip to Disney California Adventure with kids is all about planning, reducing wait times and fitting in as much as you can without getting completely exhausted. There’s no one-size-fits all answer as it depends on your priorities, but here are some general guidelines, plus an example of the itinerary we went with. These pointers are largely the same as the ones we suggested for Disneyland too.

1. Make a priority list of your key things to do

It’s helpful to create a list of must-visit attractions to ensure you don’t miss out on your family’s favourites. I’d suggest ranking them into two categories: “must-sees” and “nice to haves”. We did this for both Disney parks and managed to fit in all our must-sees and nice-to-haves at Disney California Adventure (at Disneyland we didn’t manage to do all the nice-to-haves). I recommend not telling your children too much about the rides, especially the ‘nice-to-haves’ as that will help to avoid disappointment.

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2. Make a flexible plan

It’s good to have a rough itinerary for your day, but also to keep things flexible. Wait times vary throughout the day, so it might be useful to juggle things around. Plus you might stumble upon characters, shows and other entertainment along the way. And that’s not to mention your kids’ moods. There’s no need to stick rigidly to your original plan – allow for some magic along the way.

3. Pace yourself

Remember that Disney can be overwhelming for young kids (and adults!), so take breaks, find shady spots, and enjoy leisurely moments to recharge. There’s always something to look at and be entertained by, so even sitting still at Disney is fun. A good way to break things up is by watching one of the shows. Playgrounds are also a great place to have a break. The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail at California Adventure is a lovely playground area with loads of shady spots to cool down and take a break.

4. Choose your first ride wisely

There are lots of different theories for which ride to go on first at every Disney Park, but it’s always going to be a gamble as you can’t predict for sure what the wait times will be on any given day.  

At Disney California Adventure, people tend to recommend Radiator Springs Racers because it isn’t included in Genie+, and while you can buy a lightening lane pass, it’s quite expensive to buy one for a group. Web Slingers is also often recommended as a first ride because it’s one of the most popular in the park. That’s the one we went with as all four of us could ride it together (our 2-year-old was too small for Radiator Springs).

How to reduce your wait times at Disneyland with kids

Understandably, one of the main things that puts people off going to Disney is the idea of having to wait for hours in queues and only getting to ride a couple of attractions. While this might be the case if you don’t plan at all (and I know many people who’ve made this mistake), you should definitely be able to avoid this. And there’s no way this should be your reality if you invest in Genie+. Here are some key tips.

1. Get Genie+

You can upgrade your Disney California Adventure ticket by using Genie+, a paid service (around $25 per person) that grants you access to the fast lane (lightening lane) on a handful of attractions. We did this and I definitely recommend using it as it saved us a lot of time and waiting around.

Rides with Genie+ at Disney California Adventure

Incredicoaster.

These are the rides that have a lightening lane with Genie+ at Disney California Adventure. Some of them aren’t suitable for younger kids, but we used it for the first four rides on this list with both our kids. And we also used it for Soarin’ with just Otis, and for the Incredicoaster and Guardians of the Galaxy for just us adults. Older kids, or those more into fast rides, could use it for the others too.

Check the official Disneyland site before going as some of the Genie+ selections are subject to change.

  • The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
  • Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
  • Toy Story Midway Mania!
  • WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure
  • Soarin’ Over California
  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
  • Incredicoaster

How to use Genie+ at Disney California Adventure

You use Genie+ through the Disneyland app. In the list of rides, it tells you when the next lightening lane slot is available. For some rides, this will be immediately, while for more popular ones, you may have to wait much longer.

You can only use the lightening lane once for each attraction, and you can’t reserve loads at once – there are strict timings for when you can do this (more on this in a moment).

Once you’ve reserved a Genie+ lightening lane, you have one hour from the start time of your slot to redeem the pass. You get a barcode through the app, which you simply scan at the entrance to the lightening lane for that ride.

As soon as you redeem your pass, you can order another one for a different ride. Or you can also reserve another spot after two hours of reserving your first one even if you haven’t redeemed the first one yet. This is useful when the spot you’ve reserved is hours later. This often happens later in the day as the park becomes busier, or even earlier in the day for popular rides. For example, at one point, the next slot available for Web Slingers was about 4 hours later. Be aware that lightening lane availability for popular rides often sells out, so keep an eye on what the next available slots are, and if some of your “must do” rides are already showing slots that are hours away, it might be wise to prioritise them and book now. This is a popular strategy called “stacking” where you reserve passes for later slots every two hours and then have a nice straight run of lightening lanes to look forward to in the afternoon.

2. Buy individual lightening lanes

There’s currently only one ride – Radiator Springs Racers – at Disney California Adventure that isn’t included in Genie+ but you can still buy an individual lightening lane pass for. These passes vary in price depending on the day, but can be quite expensive especially for groups. For example, on the day we went, an individual lightening lane pass cost $25, so that would have been $75 for three of us.

We did find a loophole – but I’m not sure this is legit so might not work every time! Arlo was too young for Radiator Springs so we needed to ride in two groups. I bought a lightening lane pass for myself and rode the ride first with Otis, and then Steve and Otis went on after me using rider switch (see below). Because they were using rider switch, which uses the lightening lane anyway, they didn’t have to pay for their own lightening lane passes. We did this at Disneyland too.

3. Use rider switch

If you’re in a group where not everyone wants to/can ride a certain attraction, you can often use the rider switch service. This is now available on all rides at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure and means that once one part of the party has finished riding the ride, the second part can jump directly to the lightening lane rather than waiting in the normal queue. It’s not as good as Universal Studios where you jump straight to the front of the line, but it still saves a lot of time. Also, on rides that don’t have a normal lightening lane, you often get to jump even further up the queue.

4. Use the app

The Disney app is updated with live wait times for all the attractions throughout the day. This allows you to check that your next planned ride has a reasonable wait time, or if something else has an unusually short queue. The problem is, it’s not always accurate. We found that the app tended to overestimate the wait time. For example, it said we’d need to wait 45 minutes for Soarin’, but it only took about 15 minutes in reality. The person at the door of the ride also told us it was 15 minutes, so don’t always rely on the app when making your decisions, and also ask the door staff.

5. Use the single rider line

If, like us, you’re in a group where not everyone can ride all the rides and one person will have to ride alone when doing rider switch, the single rider line, which is available on a handful of rides, is a useful timesaver. By waiting in this line, you can fill empty seats left by other groups. We did this for the Incredicoaster, which, combined with Genie Plus, meant we almost walked straight on.

Rides with single rider lanes at Disneyland

Check the website before you go as these can be subject to change.

  • WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure
  • Soarin’ Over California
  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Radiator Springs
  • Incredicoaster

6. Get there for rope drop

Rope drop at Disney California Adventure.

One of the best and easiest ways to get the most out of a trip to Disney California Adventure is to get there for ‘rope drop’ when the park opens. The main entrance opens about 30 minutes before rope drop, and you can walk down Buena Vista Street and wait at one of three ropes – the start of Hollywood Land, Cars Land or Pixar Pier – until the official opening. When the ropes drop, music begins and everyone rushes off to their first ride. It’s manic, but fun!

As we said earlier, we went on Web Slingers first and then wandered into Cars Land and did some of the smaller rides there. The lines were pretty short for everything in the first hour and we managed to ride quite a few things.

Remember that guests staying in the official Disney hotels are allowed to enter 30 minutes earlier than everyone else, so some queues do start to build from then. We found there were fewer lines overall in Disney California Adventure than Disneyland.

7. Take advantage of your rider pass if an attraction breaks

If a ride breaks or closes for whatever reason while you’re in the queue, you get a lightening pass for a whole list of rides including those that don’t normally have lightening lanes. This happened to me when queuing for Rise of the Resistance in Disneyland. And it proved incredible useful. Alice in Wonderland had a huge queue (50 mins) and the boys were desperate to ride it. We used the rider pass to get on that rather than wait for Rise to the Resistance to open again, which wasn’t certain to happen. The same can be done at Disney California Adventure.

The best rides for little kids at Disneyland

It’s hard to rank the rides for different ages as it depends hugely on the child, but here’s a broad outline of which rides would suit different levels of fear. After this, I go into more detail about each individual ride, so you can better understand what they’re like and what parts might be off-putting, depending on your kids fears (for example, some are more scary because they’re fast, and others because they’re dark or high up). If darkness is the issue, then Monsters Inc, the Little Mermaid and Toy Story would probably need to go into the “might be a bit scary” section. And if heights are an issue, Golden Zephyr, the ferris wheel, Jumping Jellyfish and Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind would need to move to that section too. Similarily, if they’re fine

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The most gentle rides for kids at Disneyland California Adventure

None of these have height restrictions aside from Jumping Jellyfish. 

  • Pixar Pal-A-Round ferris wheel
  • Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind
  • Jessie’s Critter Carousel
  • The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
  • Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
  • Toy Story Midway Mania!
  • Golden Zephyr
  • Jumping Jellyfish – 40 inches (102cm)

Disneyland rides that might be a bit scary for nervous/very little riders

I’ve listed the height restrictions for these if they have one.

  • WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure
  • Soarin’ Over California – 40 inches (102cm)
  • Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree – 32 inches (81cm)
  • Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters – 32 inches (81cm)
  • Silly Symphony Swings – 40 inches (102cm)

Disneyland rides for more confident or older children

  • Radiator Springs – 40 inches (102cm)
  • Goofy’s Sky School – 42 inches (107cm)
  • Grizzly River Run – 42 inches (107cm)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout
  • Incredicoaster – 48 inches (112cm)

Description of all the best rides for little kids at Disneyland

Avengers Campus rides for kids

The Avengers Campus is the newest addition to Disney California Adventure and will be a big hit with all superhero fans. You can even see Spider-Man literally swinging from a building. It’s pretty epic! To be honest, I preferred the aesthetic of Cars Land – but that’s just a matter of taste.

WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure

Web Slingers is one of DCA’s most popular rides. It has pretty cool interactive tech, which allows you to use hand movements (just like Spider-Man!) to sling webs at spiderbots on the screens in front of you as you ride around in Web Slinger vehicles. I know some people who have taken their toddlers and they’ve been scared, but our two-year-old loved it.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout

Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout.

In the Avengers Campus, you’ll find the Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout ride, which is housed in the old Tower of Terror. It’s an incredibly fun ride, but would only be suitable for the very bravest of young kids as it really flings you about in a frenetic, fast-paced manner. The drops are also pretty hair-raising! It’s somewhat of shame because our eldest loves Rocket racoon and there’s a really fun part of the queue where you get to interact with him. One to save for when he’s older and braver!

Cars Land rides for kids

Cars Land in Disney California Adventure.

I was so impressed by the immersive set building of Cars Land that recreates Radiator Springs. It’s one of the newest Disney worlds and I think one of their best – we loved everything from the Cadillac Mountain range to the cool 50s style diner. It’s also home to some really fun and impressive rides.

Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters

Luigis Rollickin Roadsters.

On Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, you sit in a car while it dances around to Italian tunes in an impressive choreographed dance. It’s a trackless ride so the choreography looks even more impressive as you watch and wonder how the whole things works! It’s pretty gentle so ideal for all ages (I debated putting this in the ‘most gentle rides of all’ section, but kept it one level up because of some fast movemets).

Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree

Our kids loved Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and the line was always pretty fast moving so we rode on it multiple times. Riders get to sit in a tractor-trailer while they whip and whirl around in figure of eights. You have to be 32 inches (81 cm), which is fairly small so our two-year old was able to go on it. I think some kids might be scared of the way it moves, but generally this ride is pretty accessible for most ages beyond babies.

Radiator Springs Racers

Radiator Springs Racers ride at Disneyland California Adventure.

Radiator Springs Racers is one of the park’s most popular rides, and for good reason – it’s really great fun and the styling is superb! You sit in a Lightening McQueen style race car and whip around a track in a race, just like in the film. And the pre-race parts of the ride are fun too, taking you to Luigi’s Casa Della Tires or Ramone’s House of Body Art to get a makeover before the race.

The race is pretty fast and our 5-year old was scared in one part where it almost feels like you’re jumping over a hill – but he also loved it and rode it again. You have to be 102cm to ride so small toddlers won’t be able to (plus they might find it too fast).

Pixar Pier rides for kids

Pixar Pier for kids.

Pixar Pier has a nostalgic feel with a whimsical boardwalk filled with rides themed on Pixar films. It has an old school, Victorian fairground vibe with a classic looking rollercoaster and giant ferris wheel. It was one of our favourite parts of the park, aesthetically. The Incredicoaster is one of the highlights, but definitely one for older or very brave kids. Otherwise, there’s lots to entertain little kids too.

Jessie’s Critter Carousel is a cute little carousel themed on Toy Story 2 where you can choose from a host of critters to ride on. It’s not particularly special, but our little ones loved it.

Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind

Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind.

The Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind is a themed on Riley’s emotions from Inside Out. Choose a memory mover and spin around as they all fly in a circle moving up and down. It’s pretty gentle, but does involved spinning and some heights.

Pixar Pal-A-Round

Pixar Pal a Round.

The giant ferris wheel – officially known as the Pixar Pal-A-Round – towers 150ft into the air and has great views of both Disney California Adventure and neighbouring Disneyland. Some of the gondolas are fixed and others swing. It’s a good one for all ages unless your kids are scared of heights. Despite being brave enough for loads of other rides, we couldn’t get Otis on this for love nor money.

Toy Story Midway Mania!

Toystory Midway Mania ride.

Toy Story Midway Mania is so much fun and we loved it as much as the kids. The fairly fast paced ride journeys and spins through scenes from Toy Story. And best of all, every rider can use their own action launcher to shoot virtual darts at targets along the way. It really is great fun, and also somewhat addictive as it makes you want to keep riding and beat your score each time.

Grizzly Peak rides and attractions

Soarin’

Soarin attraction in DCA.

Soarin’ was our 5-year-old’s favourite ride at DCA. The hang glider simulation is so effective that I think he really felt like he was flying all around the world. The added touches, like smells and the feel of wind on your face really add to the experience. Steve and I loved it too.

You have to be over 102cm so it isn’t one for little toddlers. Plus, because the simulation is so good,  I think it might scare some children if they’re afraid of heights.

There are two versions of the ride – soaring over the world or California, which seem to change every few years.

Grizzly River Run

The Grizzly River Run is a classic lazy river ride on a big 8-person raft that spins through rapids and does one big slide. You’ll almost certainly get wet, which was enough to put our kids off. You have to be 42 inches (107cm) so it’s another ride that would exclude really little kids.

Hollywood Land rides for kids

Hollywood Land in Disneyland California Adventure.

Hollywood Land is themed like a studio back lot with all sorts of sets, soundstages and a central Hollywood street. It has a fun vibe, plus the old Tower of Terror (now the Guardian’s of the Galaxy ride) is a dramatic backdrop to it all. There are some cool shows in this area, which are outlined in the ‘shows’ section below.

Monsters Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!

The Monsters Inc dark ride is a fun and gentle taxi ride through a brightly coloured Monstropolis filled with characters from the film. It’s an easy win for the whole family.

Paradise Gardens Park rides for kids

Golden Zephyr

The Golden Zephyr gets the prize for the coolest looking ride at DCA. Riders sit in shiny retro spaceships that swing around like a classic fairground ride. It’s a gentle ride that all ages can enjoy (unless they get nauseous spinning or are scared of heights – there’s always a but!).

Goofy’s Sky School

Goofy’s Sky School roller coaster is smaller than the Incredicoaster, but it’s a lot more jerky and the carts spin, so it has a different sort of thrill-factor. Lots of people report that their kids were more scared on this than the Incredicoaster. We didn’t go on it as the kids were too scared and I’m not a fan of the jerkiness of this style of coaster. That said, many people cite it as their number one favourite ride – it’s all about personal taste.  You have to be 42” (107cm) to ride, so most little kids are ruled out anyways.

Jumpin’ Jellyfish

This is a cute parachute style ride where you sit beneath a jellyfish and float gently up and down. It’s aimed at little kids (above 40 inches / 102 cm) and an adult can sit alongside them, which might help allay any nervous riders’ fears.  

The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure

It’s hard to know who enjoyed this more – me or the kids! The Little Mermaid is one of my favourite Disney films so this dark ride was always going to be a winner in my books. My boys haven’t actually seen the film yet, but they enjoyed all the brightly coloured characters, and of course the music. The only slightly scary bit is when you go past Ursula, but that was over fairly quickly so I successfully distracted our youngest and he was unbothered.

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Silly Symphony Swings

One of my favourite fairground rides from childhood – the big swings – is a feature of Paradise Gardens. Guests have to be 48 inches (122cm) to ride alone. But if you’re over 102cm you can ride in a tandem swing with an adult. The height restrictions make them unsuitable for little kids, plus I think you’d need to be sure your kid is at least semi-responsible to feel safe!

How to meet Disney characters at Disney California Adventure

Meeting Mirabelle from Encanto.

One of the things our kids loved most at Disney California Adventure was meeting some of their favourite characters. There tend to be different characters at DCA to Disneyland, although you will find Mickey Mouse in both parks.

One of the key differences is that at DCA, you have the chance to meet lots of superheroes at the Avengers Campus. Plus you’ll also likely see Lightening McQueen driving around Cars Land.

We met Chip and Dale, Mirabelle from Encanto, Spider-Man, Lightening McWueen, the Incredibles and more.

Spider-Man swinging from a building at DCA.

Here are some tips for meeting characters at Disney California Adventure

  • The Avengers Campus is the place to find superheroes and specifically around the Avengers Headquarters where different characters appear throughout the day. We enjoyed watching a dance off with some of the Guardians of the Galaxy stars. And head to the Ancient Sanctum to see Doctor Strange who appears periodically throughout the day.
  • Just around the corner from Web Slingers is the chance to see Spider-Man himself perform some pretty amazing stunts. This is one of the things our kids remember most from their time at DCA, and is a must for superhero fans. The show happens throughout the day and the time schedule can be found in the app. Spider Man is often available for autographs or high fives straight after the show.
  • Our kids loved seeing Lightening McQueen who can often be seen near the Cozy Cone Motel in Cars Land. Mater also appears there throughout the day.
  • The best place to find Mickey and friends is on Buena Vista Street where they appear throughout the day dressed up in 1930’s dress.
  • I’d recommend not getting your kids’ hearts set on one character before you visit Disney as they’re not always around on the day, so best to avoid too much disappointment.
  • Sometimes the characters are doing official signings, and other times they’re doing a “walk around” and not stopping for autographs. This is understandable as otherwise they’d be standing there all day!
  • On the app, there’s a map that has a list of characters and where you can find them in the park. It’s updated throughout the day, but we found that not all the characters were listed and we sometimes found ones that weren’t on the app. That said, it’s a useful tool for locating a few definites, but be sure to keep your eyes peeled for others!
  • You can also book character dining experiences where you’re guaranteed to meet certain characters who wander around the restaurant and stop at individual tables. You need to book these in advance.

Other ways to have fun at Disney California Adventure

Disneyland isn’t just about the rides. There are also plenty of other fun ways to keep entertained and have fun. Here are a few the favourites shows and attractions for kids at Disneyland.

World of Color – ONE

Instead of fireworks, DCA has World of Colour, a light and water show where scenes from popular Disney films are projected above the lake in Paradise Gardens Park. It lasts about 25 minutes.

Mickey’s PhilharMagic

A 12-minute, madcap 3D show following Donald Duck through some of Disney’s favourite musical scene. It’s in the Sunset Showcase Theater in Hollywood Land and a really good place to cool down for a bit. Our kids both loved it.

Disney Junior Dance Party

Disney Junior fans will love the Disney Junior Dance Party where Vampirina, Doc McStuffins and other Disney characters play songs and dance along to tunes from favourite Disney Junior shows.

Animation Academy and Sorceror’s Workshop

In the Animation Courtyard and Sorceror’s Workshop, you can learn all about the art of animation in interactive exhibits. And then afterwards, meet a Disney artists and try your own hand at drawing a character sketch. This is for all ages, but prob best for kids around 5 and up.

Turtle Talk with Crush

Often touted as a toddler favourite at Disney California Adventure, Turtle Talk with Crush is a cool attraction where you can interact live with the sea turtle from Finding Nemo. Guests sit beside an aquarium screen as he swims around and answers questions from the audience. The tech is pretty cool and kids and adults alike love it. The show last 15 minutes.

Redwood Creek Challenge Trail

The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is a fantastic adventure playground with a focus on natural adventures like rock climbing, a natural rock slide and the chance to meet your spirit animal in the spirit cave! It has lots of shaded areas, and we even bumped into Chip and Dale while there! Most of it has no age or height restrictions aside from:

  • Cliff Hanger Traverse Rock Climb – at least 42 inches (106 cm)
  • Hoot n’ Holler Log Slides – at least 32 inches (81 cm)
  • Sequoia Smokejumpers Training Tower – between 42 inches (106 cm) and 63 inches (160 cm). Kids must also be aged under 13 (sadly no adults allowed!)

Games of Pixar Pier

There are some fun classic fairground games you can play on Pixar Pier, all themed on Pixar films. But you do have to pay extra to play these.

Where to Eat in Disney California Adventure with Kids

The Disney California Adventure restaurants and snack stands are all part of the Disney experience, although you will save money if you bring your own snacks and packed lunch. Maybe do a bit of both if you can. Here are some top tips for eating at Disney California Adventure.

Order food in advance on the Disney app

Order through the app to avoid having to queue. We found this super convenient as it meant we could maximise our time elsewhere. You simply order online for a specific window of time. And then when you arrive at the restaurant during that window, you press a button saying you’ve arrived and they prepare your order, ready for you. It’s a pretty efficient system.

Character dining

There’s no character dining inside Disney California Adventure, but some of the Disneyland resort hoels do have themed breakfasts or dinners. These include Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland hotel and the Princess Breakfast at Disney’s Grand California Hotel and Spa. Check the website for the latest opportunities.

Table-service restaurants at Disneyland

If you want something a bit more formal, there are some Disneyland restaurants that you can book in advance for a sit-down dining experience. Here’s a list of places that accept reservations, including the Carthay Circle Lounge. Personally I’d recommend just ordering through the app as it might be easier having the flexibility with kids. You never know when hunger might strike.

The best food for kids in Disneyland

Disneyland is well set up for kid-friendly menus and we were pleased to see some healthy options too. We ate at Flo’s V8 in Car’s Land, which has cool diner styling.  

I also recommend trying some of the Disney snacks. The giant cookie from Jack-Jack Cokie Num Nums was delicious and we also had the famous Dole whip from Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats (the portion size is humongous!).

See a full list of the dining options at Disney California Adventure here.

Where to stay in Disney California Adventure with kids

We cover this in more detail in the Disneyland post, but we stayed at the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Playground, which is around an 8-minute walk from Disneyland. We really recommend it for a quirky, family-friendly stay.

Buy your Disneyland tickets now

We bought our tickets through Undercover Tourist who we found to be a little cheaper than some of the other options (although they’re all fairly similar). We also saved a bit of money by paying in dollars rather than pounds. See the latest prices here

Bear in mind that you need to book your tickets AND then make a park reservation on the Disney site itself. Once you’ve done this, your tickets will be transferred to the app and you can enter by showing your ticket on there at the gate.

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Our California travel guides

We also have detailed guides to loads of California destinations that can help you plan even more. They’ll especially suit you if you’re a bit like us, keen on discovering the creative side of a destination and in pursuit of all the best cafes, ice creams, doughnuts, bookshops, murals and beauty spots. And we have lots of family guides if you’re travelling with kids.

Road trips: California Road Trip | Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip | San Francisco to Seattle road trip | San Francisco to Seattle road trip

Handpicked travel guides: Laguna Beach | Mendocino |San ClementeSan Diego  | Santa Barbara  | Santa Cruz|Shasta Cascade and Redding Sonoma |Tuolumne County Yolo County

California family travel guides: California with kidsLos Angeles with kids | Sacramento with kidsSan Diego with kids | San Francisco with kids

California accommodation guides: Joshua Tree Airbnb | Laguna Beach Airbnb | Hip Palm Springs Hotels | Palm Springs Airbnb | Palm Springs VRBO | San Diego Airbnb | Santa Cruz Airbnb | Santa Barbara Airbnb |Santa Monica Airbnb | Sonoma Airbnb | Venice Beach AirbnbHip San Francisco Hotels

California attraction guides: How to get the most out of Disneyland with toddlers | The ultimate guide to Universal Studios with babies and toddlers

If you’re heading elsewhere in the USA or even worldwide, see more of our family travel tips here.

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