Let’s get something straight: Disneyland is not just for the kids. While both California’s Disneyland and Florida’s Walt Disney World are wildly popular with families from all over the world, Disneyland is frequented by a large young adult crowd, particularly SoCal residents who are pass-holders. Full disclosure: that includes me.
Friends of mine have expressed their confusion about why I love Disneyland so much. And sure, it’s not for everyone. But if you mistakenly believe that the park(s) are only for children, you’ve got a lot to learn. Here’s a quick guide to enjoying Disneyland as a child-free adult:
Start at Disneyland and visit California Adventure in the afternoon
Get there about an hour before park opening (parking takes awhile) and head to Disneyland first. The kids around you will be cheerful, awake, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed. By afternoon, when kids are tired, cranky, and ready for a nap, cross over to the considerably more adult-friendly California Adventure Park. Not only are there fewer kids and more adult rides, there’s the little perk that…
…California Adventure has a liquor license
Make the happiest place on Earth EVEN happier, with an extra special something in your drink. Best place to go? Lamplight Lounge by the pier, which serves creative cocktails and appetizers like lobster nachos. Advanced reservations are best, but you can make same-day reservations after 2pm.
Skip the Disneyland fireworks (and parades)
Parents use these shows as a respite from the endless walking, particularly for their kids. While they’re distracted, you’ll have full reign of the parks! The rides won’t be EMPTY during these shows, but you’ll likely find a sweet spot in wait times (as well as a reprieve from screaming toddlers.) Fun fact: if you want to see the fireworks, you can see them from quite a few places in the park(s), not just from the prime strip of Main Street.
Avoid ToonTown like the plague
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve ridden the zany Roger Rabbit adventure alongside giggling toddlers, but this part of Disneyland Park is THE KID ZONE. Unless you want to trip over ankle biters (or have your own ankles smacked by stroller wheels), steer clear.
Avoid weekends and spring/summer break
Kids will over-run the park any time of year, but spring break and summer are the most popular time for families and school-aged kids to visit. If you can, visit in the middle of the week and not around any major holiday.
Utilize the single-rider option
If you’re flying solo or with a friend, the single-rider option is well worth the saved time. You’ll each likely walk right onto the ride, with the satisfying feeling of marching past scores of families waiting in the mile-long standby line. The only downside is that not every ride offers a single-rider option. However, the ones that do (Radiator Springs Racers, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones, Matterhorn Bobsleds, etc.) are major attractions.
Enjoy a romantic, classy date (yes, at Disneyland!)
Being a grown-up kid is great fun: you get to enjoy the best of both worlds. And what better way to do that than by sipping a martini in Old Hollywood? California Adventure’s Carthay Circle restaurant is on the second floor of the Carthay Circle Theater, a replica of the theater where Snow White premiered in 1937. Prices are on par with a 5-star restaurant AND a Disney theme park, but hey, you only live once amiright? Or, you can dine on fancy Italian food and wine on the cozy, fire-lamp-warmed patio of Wine Country Trattoria.
Speaking of World of Color…see it
This light and color show on the water of California Adventure’s lagoon is beautifully impressive. Get there as early as you’re allowed, and score a spot in front of the railings if you can (so your view isn’t obstructed.) **World of Color is currently unavailable, but will return Spring 2022.
Stay at Disneyland late
Visiting families tend to retire to their nearby hotels after the 9pm fireworks show, and lines will shorten – a bit. After California Adventure closes at 10pm, we head over to Disneyland to maximize the last of our time. I consider the “magic hour” to be 11pm to midnight, when Trevor and I usually race around and pack in all the big rides before closing.
Pro tip: you can get in line any time before the park actually closes and still ride the ride (they’ll just close the line behind you.) In fact, the park’s closing time is really only the signal to start making your way to the exit. The shops remain open for one hour after rides stop accepting people in line. So if you want to get that gorgeous nighttime photo of Sleeping Beauty Castle in all her purple and blue-lit glory, or walk around and enjoy an empty, magical park, do it around 30 minutes after official closing time.
Don’t forget Downtown Disney
Escape the crowds temporarily (or round off the night) at Downtown Disney, where there are plenty of food and drink options for adults. Choose from sports bars, gourmet burger joints, and plenty of shopping to do away from (most of) the kids. My favorite place for a mid-afternoon siesta is at UVA Bar & Cafe, right in the center of Downtown Disney. They have delicious signature cocktails and one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.
This post was updated February 2022.