This is my pick for a toddler’s first visit to a Disney theme park. This park is much smaller than Disneyland and feels much more manageable to do with a toddler. The rides are mellow and have less ‘scary’ characters and the park feels more spread out which helps with children who get overwhelmed easily. Our experience at California Adventure tends to lean more towards rides rather than the quintessential “Disney” experience. You will see the characters, but just not as much. Our California Adventure with toddlers ride and entertainment guide will help you map out your day and choose what to see and what to skip.
- Radiator Springs is everyone’s first stop. If your child is at least 40 inches tall, then go straight to the fast pass line for the Cars themed ride. Fast Passes are located off the main street past the round-about to your left. (opposite the winery). Fast Passes run out very quickly, so this must be first on your visit if you plan to go. Otherwise, try to wait in the single rider line which will split up your party, but allow you to ride.
- Toy Story Mania is a must do. It gets crowded even on light days. Expect a 20-45 minute wait at any time. Do this early if you can to enjoy the old-fashioned carnival midway games in the modern world – 3-D animation and interactive “shooting”.
- Soarin’ Over California is an amazing 3D experience. Riders must be 40 inches, but parents this is a must do even if your child can’t go. Head to the Grizzly Peak area to pick up your Fast Pass. If your child can’t go on yet, take advantage of the single rider pass. Riders soar over California’s most scenic spots, seeing, smelling and feeling everything around you.
- Monsters Inc is almost like being in the movie. This ride takes you along a slow course watching Mike and Sully race to get Boo back to her bedroom. It is dark, but if your child has seen the movie, they will not be scared. For children who haven’t seen the movie, they might find Sully a little scary at first, but it will quickly become one of their favorite rides.
- Toy Story Mania (mentioned above) is our go to ride. The line is always long, so go early if you can. Otherwise, grab a snack or an ice cream on your way and wait for the fun. This ride is full of old carnival games that you play through an interactive 3D screen.
- Francis Ladybug Boogie is a figure 8 course where the ladybug shaped cars just miss a collision every few seconds. Easy and fun ride for kids of all ages.
- Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree is a fun square dance style course where little tractors are being pulled around. It can jerk you around a bit, so place your child in between adults. If there is only one adult, make sure to hold on tight to your little one.
- Luigi’s Flying Tires are air suspended tires that move according to your body direction. This ride is fun, but can get a bit hot when it’s super hot out.
- Ariel’s Undersea Adventure tells the story of the Little Mermaid. Kids love feeling like they have just gone under the ocean to see all of the fish dancing and singing. There are two somewhat scary eels at one part, but it’s very minor.
- Flik’s Flyers are balloons that fly through the air. Riders do not control the height. They do not go fast, so this is an easy and fun ride for kids of all ages.
- Tuck n Roll drive ’em Buggies is fun for kids 36 inches and above. California Adventure’s version of bumper cars.
- Mickey’s Fun Wheel is the giant Mickey Ferris wheel you can see from all over the park. There are two different lines – one for the non-rocking cars and one for the rocking cars. Go for the rocking cars if you are adventurous. The line tends to get long here. It’s great for a first time visitor to get a good view over the park.
- Golden Zephyr is a fun ride for kids. Your space rocket takes off and spins around high above the park. This ride usually has a short line and the air racing through your hair cools you down on a hot day. Hang on to your hats!
- King Triton’s Carousel is what we go on when someone in our party is going on California Screamin’. Otherwise, it’s just a carousel. Usually a short line and toddlers of all ages always enjoy it.
- Pixar Play Parade is a 45 min fun fest with characters from Disney/Pixar films. Good viewing spots are in Hollywood Land, near the entrance to the Mad Tea Party. For a last minute spot, check near the Boardwalk Pizza/Pasta restaurant.
- Redwood Creek Challenge is THE place to go to let the kids get out some excess energy after waiting in long lines. Kids can climb the fire lookout towers, slide through hollow redwoods, check out their spirit animal in a cave and navigate suspension bridges made out of rope. There is also a small creek where kids ALWAYS get wet!
- Water Spash Pads in Bugs Land are great for a hot day (or a not so hot day!). One splash zone is just opposite Francis Ladybug Boogie and the bumper cars. The other splash pad is directly behind that, visible from Flik’s Flyers. Children must wear shoes at all times, so plan accordingly. Don’t forget a change of clothes and a towel.
- As night falls, visit the Mad Tea Party area for live music, cooling mists and space to run around!
- A Frozen Sing Along Celebration is a great way to cool down on a hot day. It is also a must for Frozen fans. The large theater screen showcases each song’s words with a little bouncing snowflake for kids who can read. During the songs, guests will be surprised by character appearances. The 30 minute show is long enough to really cool down.
Muppets 3D movie is a great way to introduce 3D and movies to your toddler and get out of the heat. It’s only 15 minutes long once inside the theater. And don’t worry, if it’s not a fit for your child, you can leave at any time.(No longer in operation at this time. It is has been replaced by the Frozen Sing Along above)
- During the day there are often school performances in the tented area near Monster’s Inc. We have seen high school tap shows, live bands, and performing arts. This is a great area to cool down on a hot and busy day.
- Disney Jr Live Show is a 25 minute indoor show. You don’t need to line up super early unless you want to be on the front row. (Note: floor seating only)
- Disney Animation is a great big hall to relax and cool off for a bit. You are surrounded by large screens showcasing all of the different Disney movies and drawings on how they were made. You can also do Turtle Talk with Crush or have a Close-up meet and greet with Elsa and Anna.
- Hyperion Theater is a large theater. Currently there is a live performance of Aladdin. Our son hasn’t ever made it through the entire show, but other toddlers are mesmerized and can’t get enough! Check the theater or paper handout at the entrance for show times.
- Boardwalk Games are always a hit. Buy a card at the machines and then slide right up to play a firefighter water shooting game, ball toss, horse races and more.
- Pixar Play Parade is a 45 min parade with characters from Disney/Pixar films. Good viewing spots are in Hollywood Land, near the entrance to the Mad Tea Party. For a last minute spot, check near the Boardwalk Pizza/Pasta restaurant.
- World of Color if you can make it until it gets dark this 30 minute water show will dazzle you with images projected on a water screen. For admission to the preferred area, you must obtain a Fast Pass. Get your Fast Pass early in the day before they are out. It is standing only.
- Car’s musical performance shows happen in Carsland throughout the day. Check the handout at the entrance for exact times.
- Carsland Meet and Greet: Lightening McQueen, Mater and Red
- Main Street Meet and Greet: Mickey, Goofy and Pluto have set times for photo ops at the bottom of the main street roundabout. Ask a staff member for exact times.
- Paradise Pier Meet and greet: Donald Duck and Daffy can be found on the walkway across the water from California Screamin’ at select times during the day.
- Hollywood Land Meet and Greet: Sully, Sophia the 1st, Jake and many others can often be found roaming around Hollywood Land.
- Boardwalk Meet & Greet: Jessie can often be found just past the Ferris wheel at the end of the boardwalk area.
- Phineas and Ferb Dance Show/parade located in front of Ariel’s Undersea Adventure – check handout at entrance for times.
Feel Free to Skip
- Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train is easy to give a pass too. This line tends to be much longer than what the ride is worth. The ride is VERY short and not that exciting. If you are a completest and just want to do everything, go for it, but don’t feel bad if you pass it up!
- It’s Tough to be a Bug (Bugs Life) is an interactive 3D movie. We have tried it several times and always have to leave with our crying toddler!
This is the run down of what we usually do while at California Adventure. Remember parents, after a long day of rides and toting your toddler around, you can sit down with a cold adult beverage here (unlike Disneyland). So have a seat near Radiator Springs with your drink and watch the cars race by while you rest your feet. Enjoy!
For information on what to do/see at Disneyland, check out our Disneyland Ride & Entertainment guide. Don’t forget to read all about pre-trip planning for Disneyland & California Adventure.
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