1 Day Itinerary: Disney California Adventure

Ah, California Adventure, it gives me so much hope. There’s a reason that last year I deemed it “Disney’s best park in the United States”. It gives me hope because I visited before the renovations (who can forget that terrifying, pop-art, California-looking entrance), and then I visited after the company poured the big bucks into it. Now it shines like a beacon of hope for what a Disney park can become. It make me hopeful for the future of Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, as the company is currently working to bring them up to par. It also has The Cove Bar and The Carthay Circle, which are two of my favorite places in any Disney Park, so it automatically curries good favor with me. The only thing that makes me sad is each time David and I have been to California Adventure, we’ve only had one day to explore it. We’ve had multiple days at Disneyland, but always only one day to explore her sister park. Because of this, we’ve developed a master itinerary to accomplish as much as possible in one day, which we would like to share with you.

1. We stress this every time we talk about a Disney Park so much that people might think that we can talk about nothing else, but GET THERE AT LEAST 20 MINUTES BEFORE THE PARK OPENS. This doesn’t mean pulling into the parking lot 20 minutes before the park opens, but being at the gate, with your tickets, 20 minutes before the park opens. Trust me, if you only have one day, especially if you are in the park anytime near a weekend, summer, or a holiday, this is beyond crucial.

2. As soon as they let you in the park, head straight towards ‘A Bugs Land’. Not because you’re going to ride anything there, but because this is where the Holy Grail is: your fast pass for Radiator Springs Racers. Grab a fast pass for Radiator Springs Racers, which will probably be sometime in the late morning/early afternoon.

3. After you grab your fast pass, head to Cars Land. If this is your first time in the park, this will be an incredible sight. Cars Land is intricately detailed, and actually makes you feel like you’re stepping into a movie. Take a moment to take it all in, instead of just rushing straight to the ride. It truly is the height of Disney magic.

4. Radiator Springs Racers is the big draw at California Adventure, and there is a good chance you’re going to want to ride it several times. Your best bet is to jump in line now, even though you have a fast pass for later. If you are willing to ride separately from your party, we always do single rider because it saves so much valuable time.


5. Looking for some caffeine? (I know I always am!) There’s now a Starbucks on Buena Vista Street! It’s called The Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe. This is also where you can pick up those highly coveted California Adventure ‘You Are Here’ mugs.

6. After accomplishing Radiator Springs Racers several times, what to do next at California Adventure becomes a matter of opinion. The park is actually very well distributed with both smaller, and larger ‘E Ticket” attractions, and uses the single rider and paper fast pass system well, so in our experience, it doesn’t seem to have the bottleneck crowd problem AS MUCH as other parks.

7. Head to Tower of Terror and see California Adventures version of this spooky classic. We prefer Disney World’s rendition, but both are fantastic.


8. If you are at the parks before January of 2016, the Aladdin Musical in Hollywood Land is a MUST see (its also conveniently close to Tower of Terror). Check your times guide for showtimes! After January 2016, this beloved show will be leaving to make room for a new, Frozen musical. I just can’t seem to let it go for how butt hurt I am about this.

9. If you only have one day at California Adventure, we recommend skipping A Bugs Land completely. To us, its akin to Dinoland U.S.A. in Animal Kingdom: kind of pointless, and kind of waste of time. If you want, just walk through it so you can say you did.

10. We always head over to  Paradise Pier next. We love this area, and its gorgeous theming as a seaside boardwalk. Knock out California Screamin’, the parks only real roller coaster, and let it blow your mind that the voice on the speaker is Neil Patrick Harris.


11. Jump in line for Toy Story Mania. These lines can grow, but not to the level that we’ve seen at Hollywood Studios. We didn’t see it past forty minutes when we were there on labor day weekend.

12. While you’re at Paradise Pier, grab some lunch! The Cove Bar isn’t a secret anymore, but it’s one of our favorite places at California Adventure. Order a coveted plate of Lobster Nachos, and if you’re a lush, a Mickey’s Fun Wheel to wash it down.

13. Head over to Grizzly River Run, and while you’re there, grab a fast pass for World of Color, if you’re planning on going to the first showing of the night (we always recommend the second showing, as virtually no one stays for it). Next, ride Grizzly River Run. You will either stay completely dry, or get totally soaked. There’s no in-between. We like to wear ponchos, because I hate being sopping wet around the parks.


14. Head to California Adventure’s version of Soarin’. We like this version better because they have SINGLE RIDER. Guys – no matter how much you like your family or friends, sitting by them is not worth waiting in an hour-long line when you could only wait ten minutes. EMBRACE SINGLE RIDER. It will make your life better.

15. You’re close to Buena Vista Street, which makes it a great time to meet Oswald. This is a character that you can ONLY meet at California Adventure, which is pretty special.

16. We enjoy meeting all the characters that hang out on Buena Vista Street because they’re decked out in 1930’s garb, which you can’t see in other parks. They also have fun performances in the center of the street that make you feel like you’re really in the Golden Era of Hollywood.


17. At this point of the day, when we’ve accomplished all the ‘big’ attractions, we like to double back and see all the smaller attractions that we missed. This includes Mickeys Fun Wheel, Mike & Sulley to the Rescue, The Animation Academy, The Silly Symphony Swings, and Voyage of the Little Mermaid.

18. At dusk, Cars Land is illuminated by all of its neon lights. It’s a magical, beautiful experience that you should try not to miss.


19. We highly recommend our favorite restaurant, The Carthay Circle for dinner. Its a beautiful tribute to Walt Disney and his work. Themed like the Carthay Circle theater, where Snow White premiered, the decor transports you to another time and place (and the food is incredible). It’s also pricy, so if you’re looking for a more affordable option, Flo’s V8 Cafe is a delicious counter service option smack dab in the middle of Cars Land.

20. Watch World of Color! If you have fast passes, watch the first showing. If not, catch the second! Either way, this beautiful fountain show is not to be missed. We stress – NOT TO BE MISSED! It’s one of the best night time shows Disney has put on in years, and IT IS NOT TO BE MISSED. have we stressed that enough? (WE JUST WANT TO BE HEARD.)


We hope you have a great day at Disney California Adventure. We hope you revel at Cars Land and laugh on Mickey’s Fun Wheel. We hope you cry during World of Color and give Oswald a big hug. Mainly, we hope that when the day is done, and you’re strolling out through a dimly-lit Hollywood Boulevard, full of corndogs and fantastic memories, that you love it as much as we do.