Disneyland and California Adventure in One Day

Disneyland and California Adventure in One DayVisiting Southern California and and only have the time (or money) to do Disneyland and California Adventure in one day? Those of us who go to Disneyland often will say no, don’t do two parks in one day. It’s true, there is a ton to do at each of the parks and to really get the best experience I recommend at least one full day at each park.

But, I also realize that it’s not cheap to visit Disneyland or California Adventure and budgeting for two days is not always in the cards. There is a ton to see, but if you play your cards right, you can do and see a ton in one day. With the introduction of the Disney MaxPass and planning your day out, visiting two parks in one day is more feasible than in years past.

To help plan your trip, I have shared our guide on how to do Disneyland and California Adventure in one day. You won’t get to do everything, but you will get a great taste of both parks and walk (or maybe limp!) away having an amazing experience for both you and the kids.

Disneyland and California Adventure in One DayBOOK YOUR TICKETS IN ADVANCE

If you are planning to purchase your tickets at the park, forget it. Book your tickets in advance so that is one less thing you will have to do on your one and only day at the parks. Make sure you have booked a Park Hopper ticket that will allow you entry into BOTH parks. Note: When you leave one park, get your hand stamped in case you have time to go back again later in the day!

If you plan to use the MaxPass, you can book your tickets in advance with this already included. Otherwise, you can purchase this at the park once you have arrived through the app.

ARRIVE EARLY

I always advocate to visitors to arrive at least 1 hour BEFORE you want to be in the park. It takes time to park the car, go through security and get the tram over to the parks. Once you arrive to the parks, you will also need to line up for entry. The rope drop is typically 10 minutes before the park officially opens. Plan to be there for this so you will be one of the first few people inside the park. Do not underestimate the importance of arriving early.

RESEARCH THE RIDES YOU MUST DO

If you only have one day at the parks, it is important for you to research the rides you want to do. There is no time to wander around the parks aimlessly wondering what to do next. Choosing which rides to do will depend on whether you are with kids and what their ages are. If you are not with children, you can easily skip all the kiddie rides and go for the adrenaline pumping rides first.

Do you love classic Disney storybooks? If so, you will want to spend time in Fantasyland – however I do not recommend these rides for young children who scare easily as they ALL have scary characters. Some children are less into the rides and more into the Disney experience, if so, add on things like visits to the princesses, meet n greets, etc. You can find out from the information booth the times and locations of various meet n greets throughout both parks.
For those who love a little theatrics, don’t miss Mickey’s Magical Map.
Also, keep in mind whether you want to see any parades or live shows. We love these, and would recommend building in time for at least 1 parade or show during your visit. You can check the day’s scheduled events on the app to plan your day in advance. Otherwise this information is on the paper maps provided at the entrance booths.

RIDE SUGGESTIONS FOR ONE DAY VISITORSRadiator Springs is a must even doing Disneyland and California Adventure in One Day

I have provided our ride and entertainment suggestions for both parks, catering to families with elementary aged children who love adrenaline pumping rides while also getting the classic feel of Disneyland.  For more details on ride suggestions for toddlers, see our ride guide for California Adventure and one for Disneyland.

Disneyland:

  • Space Mountain
  • Star Tours
  • Photo Op in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle
  • Indiana Jones
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Splash Mountain (If it’s not a hot day, you can easily give this one a miss)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Walk Through Sleeping Beauty Castle & Fantasyland
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
  • It’s a Small World
  • Walk through Toon Town
  • Autotopia
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island (if you have time to kill or the kids just need to run around)
  • Parade &/or Fireworks

California Adventure:

  • Radiator Springs
  • Toy Story Midway Mania
  • Soarin’ Around the World
  • California Screamin’
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • The Little Mermaid (for a Fantasyland type of ride, without the long wait or super scary characters)
  • Monsters Inc
  • Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (if the line is short)
  • Redwood Creek Challenge Trail (For kids to be kids for a bit!)
  • Grizzly River Run (Great on a hot day)
  • Ferris Wheel (if the line isn’t too long)

WHICH PARK FIRST?

Disneyland and California Adventure in one dayThe first thing to do is find out what time the two parks open. In the height of summer both parks open at the same time, however during off season, California Adventure often opens an hour later and closes an hour earlier.  In this case, you should go to the park that opens first. If it is not California Adventure, race over as soon as it opens.  Another tactic to keep in mind is to go to the park that does not have the Magic Morning as there will already be plenty of people at that park even when the gates officially open to the general public.

All things being equal, I would suggest you start your day at Disneyland, go to California Adventure for the afternoon and then head back to Disneyland. BUT if you do this, there is almost zero chance of getting a FASTPASS for Radiator Springs. FASTPASSes ‘sell out’ early in the day during the busy season and even if you manage to get one it will typically be for late evening. For this reason, I suggest doing California Adventure first if this ride is on your must do list. If it is not, then go to Disneyland first and hop over to California Adventure in the afternoon.

DOWNLOAD THE APP

I know that every amusement park tells you to download their app, but for a day at Disneyland it really is worth it. And it’s free, so what’s the harm! Once you download the app, make sure to set up your account in advance. This way you can either purchase your tickets on your phone or just use the app while at the park. Setting up your account in advance ensures that you will be able to add the MaxPass while in the park with minimal hassle.
Get familiar with the app before your visit to the parks so you will know what places you might like to eat, the specifications for each ride (rider height, FASTPASS information, single rider, etc) and show timings.

BUY A MAXPASS

Disney MaxPass is a relatively new feature at the Southern California parks which allows visitors to the ability to procure FASTPASSes through the Disneyland app. This is a huge timesaver as you cannot get FASTPASSes all the time. While using the MaxPass, visitors will know when they can add their next FASTPASS so even tif they are in line for a ride, they can secure the next FASTPASS saving time and hassle or running all over the park.
This feature costs $10 per ticket per day, but for those who are visiting both Disneyland and California Adventure for one day only, it is worth the extra cost. It also allows you to see and download all of the professional photos taken of you and your family throughout the park.
Check the information booths or entry boards to find out if all FASTPASS rides will be available on the MaxPass during your visit. 

Bonus Tips

Mickey Mouse at Disneyland and California Adventure in One DayDepending on the time of year you visit Disneyland and California Adventure, you may be surprised to find your day isn’t as hectic as you imagined. To help make your day even better, here are a few more tips to ensure a successful visit.
  • Read and research as much as you can before you arrive. If you haven’t been to either of the parks before, read whatever you can get your hands on about the attractions and decide what will work for you and what you absolutely can’t miss. Our Planning a Visit to Disneyland post is a great place to start.
  • Don’t stress when something goes wrong. You will not be able to do everything and there will be rides closed due to construction or temporary issues. Try to go with the flow and do and see what you can.
  • Break up the group from time to time utilizing Single Rider options if you have members of your group who aren’t interested in every ride.
  • Mix things up if you see short lines on interesting rides.
  • Pack lots of snacks and water so you aren’t wasting time waiting in food lines all day.
  • Pick out your lunch and dinner locations in advance by checking menus. Make advance reservations if required.

HAVE FUN and don’t get too bogged down in doing everything on your list. Enjoy the moments of pure joy and happiness with the kiddos!

What do you think about doing Disneyland and California Adventure in one day?  What are your tips for doing the most in the least amount of time?

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Visiting Southern California and only have time for one day at BOTH Disneyland and California Adventure? Not ideal, but it can be done. Read our guide on how to make the most of your one day visit.

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