Disneyland Trip Planning Guide [2024] (2024)

If you’re planning a trip to Disneyland, you’ve come to the right place! In this guide, we cover everything from flights to hotels to riding all the best rides. So grab a cup of coffee (or tea, or water), settle in, and let’s start planning your trip to Disneyland!

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  • Basics of Disneyland Resort

  • Dates, Events, and Crowds

  • Getting to Disneyland

  • Where to Stay

  • Buying Disneyland Tickets

  • Planning Your Time at the Theme Parks

Basics of Disneyland Resort

Disneyland Resort is located in Anaheim, Southern California, about an hour outside of downtown Los Angeles by car. The entire resort comprises the following:

  • The “castle park,” Disneyland (or “Disneyland park” for clarity)

  • A second park, Disney California Adventure

  • Three Disney-operated hotels — Disneyland Hotel, , Disney’s Pixar Place Hotel

  • A shopping and dining area, Downtown Disney

In the surrounding area—within walking distance—there are also countless hotels, stores, and restaurants that are not directly affiliated with Disney.

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Overview of the Theme Parks

Disneyland park is THE traditional castle park.The park is dedicated to “the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America.”All other castle parks bear the marks of the Disneyland roots.

Zealous fans will point out that while Walt Disney had a significant role in planning and designing Walt Disney World, Disneyland is the only park he actually set foot in.

Disneyland park features the lands of Main Street U.S.A., Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, Mickey’s Toontown, Frontierland, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Disney California Adventure is, at least in name, a park dedicated to those who built the Golden State. In actuality, it is sort of a place for Disney to put a great collection of lands with some awesome Disney theming. It’s home to Pixar Pier, Avengers Campus, and the stunning Cars Land.

Both parks have great nighttime shows—Fantasmic at Disneyland and World of Color at Disney California Adventure. Seasonal nighttime shows are also occasionally added.

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Dates, Events, and Crowds in 2024

In deciding when to visit Disneyland, you’re going to need to consider crowd levels, along with events that bring even higher crowds than usual.

Crowd Levels at Disneyland

Disneyland Resort “suffers” from a huge demand problem. This is chiefly the product of its placement adjacent to the second largest metropolitan area in the United States. There are lotsof annual passholders at Disneyland and lotsof people just spending a day or two visiting from within California.

If you want to avoid high crowds, avoid warmer months and holidays. We recommend giving the Disney Tourist Blog post on Disneyland crowds a read, as they’re the most thoughtful and expert writers on this subject.

Otherwise, we think an over-reliance on crowd calendars is a mistake. Don’t think that a perfect day depends on low crowds. Low crowds help, but like most any Disney park, the quality of your day is going to depend most on the amount of preparation you put into it. A beautiful California day can bring huge afternoon crowds any day of year.

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2024 Disneyland Events Calendar

Disneyland has gotten so exciting that now they’ve gone ahead and released an events calendar for 2024. Here’s a look at what’s on it:

  • Lunar New Year at Disney California Adventure Park: January 23 to February 18

  • Celebrate Gospel at Disneyland Park: February 17 and 24

  • Anaheim Ducks Days at Disney California Adventure Park: February 22-23

  • Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival: March 1 to April 22

  • Season of the Force at Disneyland Park: April 5 to June 2

  • Pixar Fest: April 26 to August 4

  • Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort: August 23 to October 31

  • Plaza de la Familia at Disney California Adventure Park: August 23 to November 2

  • Holidays at the Disneyland Resort: Beginning November 15

As you can see, Disneyland celebrates a variety of events, including Halloween, Christmas, Lunar New Year, Food & Wine (in Spring), Dia de los Muertos, and others. We think the most compelling of these are Halloween and Christmas, primarily because they feature the Haunted Mansion overlay “Haunted Mansion Holiday,” which is a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay on Haunted Mansion.

Christmas at Disneyland. The 2024 Disneyland holiday season will begin on November 15, 2024. Disney Tourist Blog has the best coverage of Christmas at Disneyland.

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Lunar New Year at Disney California Adventure. Disney California Adventure celebrates Lunar New Year in 2024 from January 23 to February 18.

Food and Wine at Disney California Adventure. From March 1 to April 22, 2024, Disney California Adventure hosts a Food & Wine festival. This isn’t anywhere near the size of the flagship annual event at Epcot, but it is still a good event. It really brings in the local crowds, though, so be prepared for that park to be busier than usual.

Halloween at Disneyland. Halloween festivities at the parks will be held August 23 to October 31. Oogie Boogie Bash, a ticketed party was held Disney California Adventure select dates in September and October. This is a great event that we expect to see back in 2024.

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Besides these park-wide transformations, hard ticketed events like Disneyland After Dark: Star Wars Nite give you the chance to experience unique theming and entertainment, along with lower waits for rides, for a price.

How Long to Visit Disneyland

For a first visit, we advise four nights (three full days plus two travel days) at Disneyland resort for a first trip. This might be a bit surprising—surely even three days for two theme parks would be overkill! But Disneyland is a special place.

Disneyland park is not a one-day park. It takes at least one and a half, more like two, days to get a full sense of the place. Disney California Adventure probably is a one-day park, but repeat rides on the best attractions will push you to one and a half days.

So, in general, you want something like three and a half days for these parks. First time visitors will want to take things slower, maybe see the hotels, and spend some time in Downtown Disney. All that adds up to three full days plus some half days on either end being a good length.

That said, if you only have two full days, I would not tell you to start looking for another destination. You can do two amazing days at Disneyland, hitting all the highlights and many, if not most, of the other offerings. You’ll probably have to be more deliberate on your must-do rights and open to compromise when your schedule doesn’t cooperate, but it will be a great time.

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Getting To Disneyland

Disneyland Resort is located in Anaheim, California, about one hour outside central Los Angeles by car. In this section, we’re going to be writing for guests flying to Disneyland, covering airport choice and getting to the resort from the airport.

Flying to Los Angeles

If you’re flying to Disneyland Resort, you'll need to choose between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and John Wayne Airport, Orange County (SNA). SNA is closer but served by fewer flights. LAX is farther but one of the busiest airports in the world.

Economy flights to both airports can be found as low as $100 to $200 per person, sometimes even lower. You can read more about getting the best flight prices.

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Get to Disneyland from The Airport

We prefer to Uber from both LAX and SNA to any of the hotels / Airbnbs near Disneyland. While we’ve used shuttles in the past, we generally find that the low demand (relative to Walt Disney World) makes these a less appealing option. You can use the Uber app to check the price of the journey in advance to see if you’d like to research alternative options.

Where to Stay

Visiting Disneyland, you have two good options for accommodations: hotels and Airbnb.

Hotels at and Near Disneyland Resort

There are a huge number of hotels at and near Disneyland Resort. The map below shows a sampling. For reference, the red star on the left is Disneyland Hotel and the purple star in the middle is the entrance area for both parks. You can see several hotels along the right are a shorter distance to the parks than Disneyland Hotel.

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The three Disney-managed hotels are: Disney’s Pixar Place Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. Our reviews to these are linked a bit below.

All three are short walks from the parks (5 to 15 minutes), and Grand Californian is adjacent to and has an entrance into Disney California Adventure. Pixar Place Hotel also has a dedicated entrance to that park, but it’s a five-minute walk from the hotel.

Beyond the Disney hotels, there are a variety of hotels that partner with Disney in some fashion (e.g. "good neighbor" hotels) and many that are nearby but don’t partner with Disney. To learn more about the non-Disney hotels we recommend you visit Disney Tourist Blog. We’ve stayed at The Anaheim and Best Western Plus Park Place Inn and Mini Suites and will probably visit both again.

Prices at the Disney Hotels

Disney’s hotels at Disneyland are expensive, even compared to their Walt Disney World counterparts. How expensive? Here are the average pre-tax room rates for some Disney hotels one night in September:

  • All-Star Movies (Walt Disney World) - $157

  • Pixar Place Hotel (Disneyland) - $443

  • Disneyland Hotel (Disneyland) - $538

  • Contemporary Resort (Walt Disney World) - $580

  • Grand Californian Hotel & Spa (Disneyland) - $716

Disney’s Pixar Place Hotel is Disney’s cheapest option at Disneyland, and it’s almost 3X the price of a value resort at Walt Disney World. Contemporary Resort—our favorite hotel at Walt Disney World (and one of its most expensive)—comes in well below the Grand Californian.

There are also countless hotels area around Disneyland that range from $200 to $300 per night, including several that are closer to the main park entrances than Pixar Place and Disneyland Hotel.

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Reviews of the Disney Hotels

We have stayed at all three Disney hotels and reviewed each separately:

  • Review of Disney’s Pixar Place Hotel

  • Review of Disneyland Hotel

Generally, we don’t think Disney’s hotels are worth staying at just for the perks. The big perk is Early Entry, but this in no way justifies the price of the hotels.

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Pixar Place Hotel—the lowest priced Disney option—is a great hotel. The new rooms are fabulous and the theming throughout the resort is top-notch. The dedicated entrance to Disney California Adventure is great, but you’re (only) 5 minutes farther from the Disneyland entrance than Disneyland Hotel.

Disneyland Hotel and, more so, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa are two of the best hotels in the area. Whether that justifies their prices is up to you. If you want to stay in the nicest, highest quality hotel in the immediate area, it would probably be Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, but you’ll be paying 2X to 3X the going local rate to stay there.

Airbnb at Disneyland

Airbnb is a thriving business around Disneyland. We have a full post talking about Airbnb near Disneyland.

Years ago, we paid $101 per night for two of us to stay in a nice RV (“glamping”) about 2 miles from Disneyland. Our nightly Uber rides cost between $5 and $10, and our morning walks took about 30-45 minutes.

We used to be a lot more positive on Airbnbs near Disneyland. Since then, prices have risen a bit, hotels and vacation properties are starting to make up more and more of the listings, and we’ve just become more convinced that the convenience of being on Harbor Boulevard is worth the premium paid to be at those hotels.

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Disneyland Tickets

As with Walt Disney World, you have a variety of ticket options when visiting Disneyland. Here are our tips for what park tickets to get and where to get them.

Where to Buy Disneyland Tickets

Our choice ticket broker for Disneyland is Get Away Today. You’ll be getting better prices for the same product that you'd get buying directly from Disney. You should also visit our Disneyland discount tickets buying guide to compare alternatives.

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To Hop or Not to Hop?

If this is your first trip to Disneyland, get park hopper. The reason is simple: you won’t know what park you or your kids prefer in advance. If you have very small children and will be catering entirely to them, then one-park-per-day tickets could work (because you'll easily prefer Disneyland park). But once they hit 40 inches, it’s best to see where the wind takes you, the parks are only about a minute apart, walking.

Park hopper also enables you to better take advantage of Genie+, the paid system for skipping lines on popular rides,as you’ll have a wider selection of rides to choose from on any given day.

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Disneyland Magic Key Annual Pass

We have a post covering the Disneyland Annual Pass options. Aside from discounted passes for local residents, Disneyland annual passes start at $699 with dining and merchandise discounts starting at 10%. That’s the equivalent of about five to eight days of visits over at least two trips.

For the most part, deciding on a Disneyland annual pass comes simply down to how many trips you’re planning on taking in the next 365 days.

Planning Your Time At The Parks

Finally, let’s talk about actually putting together plans for how you’ll spend your time at the resort, particularly in the two parks.

What The Parks Offer

If you’re completely new to Disney parks, you might wonder exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Well, each park offers a variety of rides, entertainment (both stage shows and “street” performances), stores, restaurants, and character greetings.

If you’re coming to a Disney park, you shouldn’t be coming for the newest most exciting thrill rides in the world—though they’ve got a few of those, too. Rather, you’re really coming for the variety and quality of offerings. It’s a “fun for the whole family” atmosphere where kids and adults alike are expected to enjoy all types of rides and entertainment.

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We have a guide to the rides of Disneyland park and a guide to the rides of Disney California Adventure. If you’re traveling with little ones, you’ll want to check the height requirements for every Disneyland ride. You can, of course, Meet Mickey Mouse at both parks.

If you want to learn more about characters, we recommend downloading the Disneyland app, which lists all ongoing character appearances at the resort. There are also restaurants that offer character dining, where you’ll be able to meet characters during your meal.

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Guides for Planning Your Days

We have plenty of content to help you plan your days at Disneyland. We have a full one-day itinerary for Disneyland. We also have a One-Day Disney California Adventure Itinerary. Generally, we recommend visitors try to visit each park for a full day and then split a third day between the two parks. We don’t like to encourage too much hopping until you’re familiar with both parks.

Whether you’re solo or not, you’ll want to know how to get the most out of the Single Rider lines at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

Genie+ and Lightning Lanes at Disneyland

There is no more free FASTPASS at Disneyland. Instead, guests now have the option of purchasing either Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lanes in order to access the Lightning Lanes of select rides. We have a Complete Guide to Genie+ and Lightning Lanes at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

Genie+ costs $25 to $30 per day and includes—subject to a whole host of rules—access to eleven Lightning Lanes at Disneyland park and eight Lightning Lanes at Disney California Adventure. Three more rides have Individual Lightning Lanes available for separate purchase.

Altogether, about half the rides at the resort have Lightning Lanes, for all other rides you’ll use the regular standby lines if you want to ride.

You can buy Genie+ in advance as part of your ticket or you can buy it once you enter the park in the morning. We recommend buying it as part of your ticket if your ticket is for three days or less. For longer trips, it will make more sense to buy it day-by-day and judge how much you need it on the later days.

Individual Lightning Lanes can be purchased once you’re inside the park, and our Lightning Lane guide and itineraries go into more detail about whether or not you should make those purchases.

That’s all for now! Be sure to check out the rest of our Disneyland content (linked Throughout this post)!

Disneyland Trip Planning Guide [2024] (2024)


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