10 Essential Things to Do in Disneyland

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This list of essential things to do in Disneyland is perfect for Florida Disney World lovers exploring the original California Disney theme park for the first time.

The classic Disneyland sign

As an East Coast resident who frequents the Florida’s Walt Disney World, flying clear across the country to experience Disneyland for the first time in my life as part of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I had never really stopped to think about how the two parks differed before our trip.

I couldn’t imagine that things would be so unique to Disneyland that the expense of buying pricey plane tickets, dealing with an intense time zone change for my family, and investing all the extra effort would be worth it when Walt Disney World is just a simple drive away from our house.

I am so very glad I got to see first-hand what makes Disneyland so very special and why it is worth a visit even if you’re usually a Disney World fan.

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The Top 10 Things to Do at Disneyland

The castle against a bright blue sky

If you’re curious to know why you should visit Disneyland if you’ve already been to Disney World, I’m going to run through our favorite highlights from our visit.

Yes, some of these things are also available at Disney World in Florida, but the Disneyland California versions are absolutely different and worth noting!

In other cases, Disneyland is able to offer something totally unique and different that is unavailable anywhere in all of Disney World.

Let’s take a look.

1. The Mad Tea Party

The outdoor teacups ride at Disneyland.

Always a classic Disney ride. My family could ride the teacups all day, it is one of the best rides at Magic Kingdom.

The setting for the California tea cups ride is absolutely stunning.

While the Florida version is nestled under a shaded gazebo, the California ride is in the open air with darling lanterns strung across the sky overhead.

We rode the teacups in the morning and the light just made the whole area glow.

At night, the lanterns light up and give it a whole new magical feeling.

If I had to choose, I’d say that Disneyland definitely wins the prize for the best tea cups!

2. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

Two girls sit in a sample red car outside the ride.

We scrambled to finish reading our copy of “Wind in the Willows” before we headed to California all because of this classic Disneyland ride.

The Peanut was ecstatic to see it in person and now she still talks about it over a decade later!

It is an old school ride, a little dark and scary but both of my girls loved the thrilling turns.

We are so sad that there isn’t a similar ride in Disney World. This unique Disneyland ride would be worth a visit to the theme park just by itself!

3. It’s A Small World

The outside of the It's a Small World ride.
Photo credit: Josh Hallett

This was absolutely my One Thing for our Disneyland trip.

I was beyond thrilled to be able to ride my all time favorite Disney ride on the day of it’s 50th Anniversary.

I couldn’t believe my magic pixie-dusted luck that Richard Sherman was in Disneyland that morning to play the famous It’s a Small World theme song that he wrote. Truly an unforgettable experience.

The California version of It’s a Small World is the original World’s Fair ride and is much bigger and longer than the Florida equivalent.

For Disney World It’s a Small World fans, the California ride is an amazing treat.

My favorite element was the hidden Disney characters they added to various scenes.

Be sure to look for Lilo & Stitch, Nemo & friends, the Toy Story gang and more all subtly added to the appropriate areas.

4. Walt’s Bench

A teal bench sits in front of a picture of the Disney castle.

The authenticity and originality of Disneyland was definitely not lost on me.

We were sure to watch “Saving Mr. Banks” before our trip and I was thrilled to walk the same streets where the magic began.

When I heard that the park bench Walt Disney sat on while he dreamed of the entire concept of Disneyland was preserved and on display in the park, I had to see it myself.

Head to the Opera House directly to the right after you enter the park, before you head down Main Street, and you will find the bench waiting for you.

The signs and other memorabilia there make it worth 5 minutes of your time for sure.

5. California Adventure

The outside of the theme park.
Photo credit: Josh Hallett

The biggest difference between Disneyland and Disney World is something my husband and I still talk about almost 10 years after our visit . . .

Disneyland sits right across from its sister theme park, California Adventure.

You can literally walk right out the entrance of Disneyland, across the square that separates them, and into the gates of California Adventure in minutes.

For families with small children and strollers, this is an incredible benefit.

While we will always love our Disney World vacations, we definitely wish that Disneyland was our home park when our girls were small. It is just so much more manageable for walking and experiencing with little kids.

6. CarsLand

A trip to California Adventure is absolutely worth your time even if all you visit is CarsLand.

I confess that as a mom to 2 young girls, “Cars” had not been on our must-see rotation.

We watched it before the trip so my girls would appreciate this area of the park more and I am SO glad we did.

Walking into Radiator Springs feels like you are walking into the movie itself. The attention to detail is absolutely remarkable.

The mountain range in Cars Land
Photo credit: Josh Hallett

The mountain range could honestly be a whole bullet point on this list itself.

The sculpture, the painting and colors, they feel real. Truly one of the most magnificent Disney creations I’ve witnessed in a very long time.

I could also dedicate an entire bullet point to the Radiator Springs Racers ride.

We rode it 4 times in 2 days, both at night and during daylight hours which I highly recommend.

If you could only choose one time of day, I’d pick the night for sure.

Two young girls stand next to a replica of Lightning McQueen, the race car.

This section of the park has absolutely sparked a newfound love of the Cars characters for my girls.

We came home with a die cast Mater and Lighting McQueen and they are the favorite of our souvenirs.

I can’t even imagine how existing Cars fanatics would adore a visit to this area.

7. Toon Town

ToonTown at night, the water fountain is in the foreground.
Photo credit: Josh Hallett

This is one of the most adorable sections of Disneyland in my opinion.

It is also another totally unique element that Disneyland can offer that Disney World does not.

Here you’ll find all the Mickey & the Gang houses.

You can tour each one and they are just filled with the personality of the home owner.

My girls loved Donald’s boat best of all and we all got a kick out of Chip and Dale’s treehouse.

There is nothing like this in Florida so we had a wonderful time exploring it together.

8. Monster’s Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue!

Two young girls pose for a picture with Sully.

Monster’s Inc and Monster’s University are two of our favorite Pixar movies.

We were thrilled to discover an entire ride dedicated to them in California Adventure.

The whole family really enjoyed this tour of Monstropolis.

The very best section was the peek into the door warehouse featured in Monster’s Inc.

9. Ariel’s Grotto

A young girl poses with Ariel.

Ariel’s Grotto was one of the most magical parts of our trip. Located in California Adventure, the restaurant is beautiful.

Lots of natural light which makes for great pictures with the princesses, and just a lovely ambiance all around.

Unfortunately, Ariel’s Grotto has now closed but you can find great alternatives for Little Mermaid fans here.

10. World of Color

Last but definitely not least, one of the most spectacular and unique things we experienced in California was the evening performance of World of Color in California Adventure.

This Vegas-style water show incorporates lighting, special effects, music, and movie clips for an experience unlike anything else.

Our girls were still struggling with the time change and had trouble staying awake for it.

Be sure to carve out time in your schedule and make sure everyone is well rested to enjoy it!

More Disney Vacation Planning Tips

If you’re planning a Disney family vacation, don’t miss our family’s best Disney advice:

A photo collage shows the classic Disneyland sign next to the sign for the Radiator Springs Racers.

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