California Adventure is my pick for a toddler’s first visit to a Disney theme park. California Adventure is smaller than Disneyland and feels much more manageable to do with a toddler. The California Adventure rides for toddlers are mellow and have less ‘scary’ characters. Additionally, 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 classic “Disney” experience. However, you will see Disney characters, perhaps just not as much as you would at Disneyland.
After many many visits with our toddler, we have developed our guide to California Adventure rides for toddlers which will help you map out your day and choose what to see and what to skip. If this is your first visit to a Disney park, make sure to read our planning a trip to Disneyland post first!
California Adventure Rides for Toddlers
What To Do First
A visit to California Adventure with toddlers is a much more mellow experience than a visit to Disneyland across the way. The park is more manageable for the younger kids with a good amount of rides, but not so many that you can’t do them all in one visit. Below are our must do rides for toddlers (and even older kids too!) at California Adventure that are best done as soon as the park opens!
[box]If your toddler is at least 40 inches tall, your first stop should be getting a FASTPASS for Radiator Springs, aka the Cars themed ride. FASTPASSes are located off the Main Street past the round-about to your left. (opposite the winery). FASTPASSes 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 even if your littles can’t![/box]
Toy Story Midway Mania
Toy Story Midway Mania, the old fashioned carnival midway games in the modern world, is a must do that the entire family will enjoy. Kids of all ages will enjoy the interactive ‘shooting’ aspect of the game as they are raced around from game to game.
This is one of our favorite rides at California Adventure. It gets crowded even on light days, so expect a 20-45 minute wait at any time. New to the 2018 season, Toy Story Midway Mania has FASTPASSes available, so if you can’t make it to this ride early, grab a FASTPASS for later.
Soarin’ Among the World
Previous Soarin’ Over Califoria, the new version takes visitors on an amazing 3D experience to sights around the world. 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 FASTPASS. If your child can’t go on yet, take advantage of the single rider pass. Riders soar over the world’s most scenic spots, seeing, smelling and feeling everything around you.
Our Must Dos
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 in the ride, 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.
Francis Ladybug Boogie
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
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 or hold them a little close so they don’t bang around too much.
Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters
A new spin on a previous ride is Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters. This ride takes you on a spin in some fancy Italian imports that get to dancing! This ride is fun, but can get a bit hot when it’s super hot out.
The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
Ariel’s Adventure tells the story of the Little Mermaid in a very Disneyland-esque ride. 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. Typically the line is short which makes this a great one to hop on as you pass by!
Flik’s Flyers in Bugsland are cute “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
This is fun for kids 36 inches and above. California Adventure’s version of bumper cars. My son couldn’t wait until he was big enough to do this on his own!
Mickey’s Fun Wheel
The giant Mickey Ferris Wheel is an icon 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.
The Golden Zephyr is a fun ride for kids that seems to grow with them. 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
What can you say about a carousel.. they are all pretty similar, but for some reason kids want to experience them all! This is our go to ride for when we split up with one of the adults 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
The main parade at California Adventure 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.
Let Kids Be Kids
California Adventure does an amazing job at providing plenty of spaces for kids to be kids. This is one of the reasons it’s our top pick for a first time visit to Disney. Below are our favorite places for kids to just be kids.
Redwood Creek Challenge
This 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! You can easily spend an hour here climbing the ropes and letting the kids explore.
Water Splash Pads
My favorite feature at California Adventure for toddlers is in Bugs Land – the water splash pad zones. These are perfect for a hot day or even 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. Luckily the bathrooms are right across from the splash zone to change.
As night falls, visit the Mad Tea Party area for live music, cooling mists and space to run around!
To Beat The Heat
Besides the splash pads mentioned above, there are a few other ways to beat the heat at California Adventure during a hot summer day. Some of our favorites are below.
Also check into the performance area near Monsters, Inc as there are often school performances in the tented area. 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
Another fantastic place to relax and cool down is at the Disney Jr Live show which 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: it is floor seating only)
The Disney Animation hall 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 Anna & Elsa.
If your kid is into live shows, make sure to check out the Hyperion 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.
Help! My Kid Doesn’t Like Rides
There are always some toddlers who cannot stand the rides, even the super tame ones here at California Adventure. Luckily for them there is still plenty to do!
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 on. 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!
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 guide to Disneyland with toddlers. Don’t forget to read all about pre-trip planning for Disneyland & California Adventure.
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