Disneyland vs. California Adventure: Which Is Better?

Choosing between Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure can be a really hard decision to make for many prospective Disney theme park visitors. Especially if one of you wants to go to one park while another wants to go to the other!

I get it, theme park tickets are NOT cheap these days. And Disneyland tickets? They’re the most expensive park tickets out there! You better make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth by visiting the right park!

I’m going to try to help you do that today with this article!

Before making a decision on which park to visit, let’s take a look at both of them in detail. From there, you’ll want to consider factors such as what lands you can find in each, park rides and attractions, types of restaurants offered, and overall park atmospheres to ensure that you choose the best Disney theme park for your excursion.

They’re both magical in their own way — but if you HAD to pick just one, I’m here to help you feel confident in your choice!

This post may contain affiliate links. You won’t be paying a cent more, but in the event of a sale, the small affiliate commission I receive will help keep this blog running/pumping out useful and free content. Thanks a lot!

Disneyland vs. California Adventure: Overview Of The Parks

Disneyland, often referred to as the “Happiest Place on Earth,” is a beloved theme park complex made up of two massive theme parks, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure.

It is easily the most beloved theme park in the USA, known for its family-friendly atmosphere, enchanting characters, and classic Disney attractions.

Disneyland Park

Dumbo Fantasyland - Disneyland

This is the original Disneyland theme park (and the first ever!) that opened its doors in 1955.

It’s a dreamy place where dreams come true for kids (and adults!) in lands like Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland, housing iconic attractions such as Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, and the Haunted Mansion.

Park-goers can not only ride rides, but also meet loads of Disney characters, enjoy parades and live shows, and experience the magic of Disney storytelling throughout the park.

Disney California Adventure

Disneyland California Adventure

Located adjacent to Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure offers a different but equally fun experience!

Opened in 2001, this park celebrates the diverse culture and history of California and includes really popular worlds like Cars Land, Pixar Pier, Avengers Campus, and San Fransokyo.

It houses a few major Disney attractions like Radiator Springs Racers (inspired by the movie “Cars”), Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!, the oh-so-fun Incredicoaster, and the nightly World of Color show!

The park also hosts events like the Food & Wine Festival, Oogie Boogie Bash (Halloween), and Lunar New Year celebrations.

Downtown Disney District

In addition to the theme parks, Disneyland Resort features the Downtown Disney District, a vibrant shopping, dining, and entertainment area. You’ll find all sorts of restaurants, dessert shops, and Disney-centric souvenir stores here.

Also on the Disneyland Resort property are a couple of official Disney hotels that, while quite pricey, make it a complete vacation destination! Here they are:

  • Disneyland Hotel: A classic Disney hotel offering a nostalgic and upscale experience with three themed towers, beautiful gardens, and dining options like Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar.
  • Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa: Located adjacent to Disney California Adventure Park, this luxurious hotel features a rustic, Arts and Crafts design, a private entrance to the park, and the Mandara Spa.
  • Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel: A seaside-themed hotel with a laid-back atmosphere, a rooftop pool, and dining at the Surfside Lounge.

Disneyland Park: An In-Depth Look

Now that we’ve reviewed the two parks at a high level, let’s dive in a bit deeper and into the nitty gritty details.

Lands At Disneyland Park

Disneyland is known for its meticulous attention to detail and immersive designs. You will immediately notice that as soon as you enter each of the different lands found within this park!

Here are the different lands you can find at Disneyland:

Main Street, U.S.A.: Designed to resemble a turn-of-the-century American town, Main Street, U.S.A. welcomes guests as they enter the park. It features quaint shops, dining options, and a view of Sleeping Beauty Castle at the end.

Disneyland Main Street

Adventureland: This land transports visitors to exotic locations with attractions like the Jungle Cruise and Indiana Jones Adventure.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge: This land allows you to discover Star Wars experiences and rides like ‘Star Wars: Rise Of The Resistance’ and ‘Millenium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run’ that bring you closer to the epic saga than ever before.

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New Orleans Square: Inspired by the French Quarter of New Orleans, this area is home to the iconic Haunted Mansion and the high-energy Pirates of the Caribbean ride. (And the not-so-secret Club 33!)

Critter Country: A woodland-themed area where you can find Splash Mountain and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Frontierland: Recreates the Wild West with attractions like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Mark Twain Riverboat.

Fantasyland: Inspired by classic Disney fairy tales, Fantasyland is home to iconic attractions like It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White, and the Mad Hatter Tea Party.

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Tomorrowland: A futuristic-themed land featuring Space Mountain, Star Tours, Autopia, and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.

Mickey’s Toontown: Based on the cartoon world of Mickey Mouse, this land offers attractions that appeal to younger children like Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Goofy’s How-To-Play Yard, and classic character meet-and-greets in front of their cartoon-styled houses.

Rides At Disneyland Park

Disneyland has a really good mix of both thrill rides and family-friendly rides, though personally speaking, the rides skew more towards calmer, more kid-appropriate ones.

Here are some of the most popular rides you can look forward to:

Thrill Rides:

  • Space Mountain
  • Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye
  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Splash Mountain
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds

Family-Friendly Rides:

  • It’s a Small World
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
  • Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Winnie the Pooh: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
  • Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
  • Astro Orbitor
  • King Arthur Carrousel
  • Mad Tea Party
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Enchanted Tiki Room
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

Shows And Entertainment At Disneyland Park

First off, let me tell you that there are SOOO many opportunities to catch a show or parade at Disneyland! They literally happen all day throughout the park.

Parades: Disneyland is renowned for its festive parades, including the “Main Street Electrical Parade” with dazzling lights and music, “Magic Happens Parade” featuring beloved Disney characters, and “A Christmas Fantasy Parade” during the holiday season, showcasing festive floats and characters in holiday attire.

Fireworks Spectaculars: Disneyland offers stunning fireworks shows like “Disneyland Forever,” which combines fireworks, projections, and music to tell a magical story. “Remember… Dreams Come True” and “Fantasy in the Sky” are other beloved classics that light up the night sky. You can expect a fireworks show at Disneyland each and every night!

Live Shows and Performances: Disneyland features a variety of live entertainment options, including “Fantasmic!” with its fun mix of live actors, water screens, and special effects. Here is a quick list of some lesser-known shows you can catch at the park:

  • Mickey and the Magical Map: A live musical show in the Fantasyland Theatre featuring Mickey Mouse on a magical journey through Disney’s animated classics.
  • Enchanted Tiki Room: An enchanting show with animatronic birds, flowers, and tikis that come to life with music and a touch of humor.
  • Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln: A historical and patriotic presentation featuring an audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln sharing inspiring quotes and insights.
  • Storytelling at the Royal Theatre: Live performances in Fantasy Faire where talented actors retell classic Disney tales like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Frozen” in a humorous and interactive way.
  • Dapper Dans: A barbershop quartet that performs harmonious tunes and fun, upbeat songs along Main Street, U.S.A.
  • The Disneyland Band: A lively marching band that brings joy and music to various locations in the park.

And during certain holidays, look out for themed decor! Here’s a peek at what the Halloween / Dia de los Muertos decorations look like at the park:

Character Meet And Greets At Disneyland Park

If you’ve ever wanted to meet or get a signature of your favorite Disney characters and princesses, Disneyland is the place to be for that! Here’s a taste of who you can meet at Disneyland Park:

  • Classic Disney Characters: You’ll find iconic Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto, Geppetto, Pinocchio, Aladdin and Jasmine, and Cinderella. Character Meet and Greets in Disneyland often feature these beloved classics in their classic outfits.
  • Fantasyland: In Disneyland’s Fantasyland, you’ll find several character Meet and Greets near attractions inspired by Disney’s classic animated films. For example, you can meet Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” near the Mad Tea Party ride or Snow White near Snow White’s Scary Adventures.
  • Royal Hall: Fantasy Faire in Disneyland offers the Royal Hall, where you can meet Disney princesses like Cinderella, Ariel, and Belle in a regal setting. It’s a dream come true for young visitors who want to meet their favorite princesses.
  • Seasonal Characters: Visit during Halloween and you might catch a glimpse of Maleficent, Cruella de Vil, and Ursula roaming around. Visit during the holidays and you’ll find all your favorite characters dressed in holiday colors!

Food At Disneyland Park

Eating at Disneyland is a whooooole activity in itself.

Both parks are known for their unique and iconic food items that are beloved by park-goers. In fact, some people buy season passes JUST to get the chance to try all the foods at Disneyland Resort!

Prime examples of classic must-try food items include the churros, Dole Whip, Mickey-shaped pretzels, and the Grey Stuff dessert. These treats are not just delicious; they become part of the Disney experience and are often sought after by guests.

Disney is also known for its seasonal and themed menus that tie into special events and holidays. During Halloween, you might find spooky-themed treats, and during Christmas, the parks offer festive holiday dishes and beverages.

You can also find one in-park character dining experience within Disneyland, where you and the fam can enjoy a meal in the company of your favorite Disney characters. Located on Main Street, U.S.A. in Disneyland, Plaza Inn offers the “Minnie & Friends – Breakfast in the Park” character dining experience. You can enjoy a hearty breakfast buffet while meeting Disney characters like Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse, and their friends!

👉 Looking for more character dining? There are four restaurants that typically offer character meals at Disneyland Resort — one in the Disneyland Resort hotel, two at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, and one at Disneyland Park.

If you’ve got the time and the budget for it, be sure to make reservations at a themed sit-down restaurant. These restaurants are incredibly immersive — and the food is actually REALLY tasty.

Here is a sample of just some of the restaurants found on the Disneyland side:

  • Blue Bayou: Located within the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, this restaurant offers a unique dining experience in a romantic, candlelit setting with views of the ride’s bayou scene. Perhaps the most sought-after restaurant within the park!
  • Galactic Grill: Star Wars fans will enjoy this restaurant in Tomorrowland, featuring themed dishes like the Dark Side chicken sandwich and First Order specialty burger.
  • Oga’s Cantina: Grab creative cocktails — Star Wars style — while a droid DJs and drops the beats. Reservations are a must!
  • Café Orleans: Known for its Monte Cristo sandwich and pommes frites, this New Orleans-style eatery offers a taste of the French Quarter.
  • Red Rose Taverne: Inspired by “Beauty and the Beast,” this Fantasyland restaurant serves French-inspired cuisine, including the iconic Grey Stuff dessert.
  • Plaza Inn: Counter-service restaurant serving up some of the best fried chicken in Southern California!

Disney California Adventure: An In-Depth Look

Lands At Disney California Adventure

Disney California Adventure Park, located just right next to Disneyland, offers completely different thematic areas, some celebrating the culture, history, and natural beauty of California, some celebrating Pixar, and more.

Here’s a list of all the lands you can find at DCA:

Buena Vista Street: This is the park’s equivalent of Main Street, U.S.A., but with a California twist. It captures the ambiance of Los Angeles in the 1920s when Walt Disney first arrived in the state. The Carthay Circle Restaurant and Lounge (a great place to grab fancy cocktails) serves as the park’s iconic centerpiece.

Grizzly Peak: Themed after the High Sierras and national parks of California, this area is home to attractions like Grizzly River Run, a white-water rafting adventure, and the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.

Pixar Pier: Featuring the super fun Incredicoaster, Toy Story Mania! carnival ride, and of course the Mickey-themed Ferris Wheel!

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Paradise Gardens Park: This seaside-themed area offers family-friendly attractions like the Golden Zephyr and the Jumpin’ Jellyfish ride. It also hosts live entertainment and character meet-and-greets.

San Fransokyo Square (previously Pacific Wharf): A food court area inspired by Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Big Hero 6.

San Fransokyo Square - Disney California Adventure

Hollywood Land: Celebrating the entertainment industry, Hollywood Land is where you’ll find attractions like Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! (previously Tower of Terror) and the Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! ride.

Cars Land: Based on the Cars movie franchise, Cars Land is a highly immersive area featuring attractions like Radiator Springs Racers, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters.

Avengers Campus: An area dedicated to Marvel superheroes, Avengers Campus offers thrilling experiences like WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure and Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!

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Rides At Disney California Adventure

The rides at DCA, while a bit more limited than the number you’ll find at Disneyland, are a ton of fun! Here are some of the most popular rides at DCA you can look forward to:

Thrill Rides:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!: A thrilling drop tower ride with a Marvel Comics theme.
  • Radiator Springs Racers: A high-speed, race-themed dark ride through the scenic landscapes of Radiator Springs from “Cars.”
  • Incredicoaster: A thrilling roller coaster inspired by “The Incredibles.”
  • Grizzly River Run: A white-water rafting adventure through the wilderness.

Family-Friendly Rides:

  • Toy Story Midway Mania!: An interactive 4D ride that takes you through classic carnival games hosted by Toy Story characters.
  • The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure: A dark ride that retells the story of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”
  • Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree: A spinning ride featuring Mater from “Cars.”
  • Soarin’ Around the World: A hang-gliding simulation ride that takes you to iconic global destinations.
  • Pixar Pal-A-Round: A Ferris wheel featuring swinging and non-swinging gondolas.
  • Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!: A dark ride that follows the adventures of Mike and Sulley from “Monsters, Inc.”
  • Golden Zephyr: A gentle, spinning ride inspired by a 1920s amusement park attraction.
  • Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters: A dancing car ride in Cars Land.
  • Jumpin’ Jellyfish: A gentle drop ride with a “Finding Nemo” theme.
  • Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind: A spinning ride inspired by the characters from Disney-Pixar’s “Inside Out.”
  • Silly Symphony Swings: A swing ride featuring Mickey Mouse and classic Disney animation.
  • Redwood Creek Challenge Trail: An interactive play area and obstacle course inspired by Disney’s “Brother Bear.”

Shows And Entertainment At Disney California Adventure

Similar to what you can find at Disneyland, you can expect a whole bunch of fun shows and parades at DCA. Some of the popular ones include:

  • World of Color: A spectacular nighttime water and light show featuring music, animation, and fountains. It takes place on Paradise Bay and is a must-see. You’ve gotta watch it at least once if you’ve never seen it before!
  • Disney Junior Dance Party!: A lively show designed for younger children featuring characters from popular Disney Junior shows. Great for kids who love to dance!
  • Live at the Hyperion: Puts on Broadway-style musicals (previous shows include the retelling of the hit films Frozen, Captain America, and Aladdin). Regardless of the movie featured, expect an extravagant Broadway-style show with impressive special effects, music, and live song-and-dance moments.
  • Animation Academy: An interactive experience where you can learn to draw Disney characters.
  • Turtle Talk with Crush: An interactive show where Crush, the sea turtle from “Finding Nemo,” interacts with the audience.
  • Tale of the Lion King: A vibrant, outdoor musical production that celebrates the music and characters of Disney’s “The Lion King.”
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic: A 4D musical adventure starring Mickey Mouse, featuring classic Disney songs and memorable moments from beloved Disney films.
  • Red Car Trolley News Boys: A fun street show with a nostalgic Hollywood vibe, featuring singing newsboys and a vintage Red Car Trolley.
  • Pixarmonic Orchestra: A whimsical musical performance by a quirky group of animated Pixar characters playing well-known tunes in a humorous and entertaining style.
  • Five & Dime: A lively street performance by a jazzy band, featuring singing and dancing on Buena Vista Street.

Character Meet And Greets At Disney California Adventure

Similar to Disneyland, you’ll find characters roaming around the lands in this park too. But the characters you’ll find won’t be the same ones as the ones at Disneyland! Here’s what — or who — you can expect:

  • Pixar Characters: DCA often features Meet and Greets with characters from Pixar films, such as Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, Joy and Sadness from Inside Out, Mater and Lightning McQueen from Cars, and Baymax from Big Hero 6.
  • Superhero Encounters: Marvel fans can meet superheroes like Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Captain America (the old and the new one), and Black Widow in DCA’s Hollywood Land. The Super Hero HQ area provides opportunities to interact with these iconic characters.
  • Character Moments in Cars Land: In Cars Land, you may encounter characters like Lightning McQueen, Mater, and other residents of Radiator Springs in their automobile-themed costumes (which look like actual cars with blinking eyes and mouths), adding a unique touch to the Meet and Greets.
  • Festival of Holidays: During special events like the Festival of Holidays, you can meet characters from diverse cultural backgrounds, such as Princess Elena and other Disney characters celebrating different holidays and traditions.

Food At Disney California Adventure

Similar to the food at Disneyland, the dining experience at Disney California Adventure (DCA) is nothing short of amazing and can be considered an activity in itself.

Disneyland and DCA offer a wide range of culinary options, from international cuisine to classic American fare. Whether you’re in the mood for Mexican, French, Italian, or American comfort food, you’ll find it all within the parks.

There are also tons of opportunities to grab alcoholic drinks at DCA! You can get micheladas at Bayside Brews, a fancy Old-Fashioned at Carthay Circle Restaurant, your choice between the many choices of creative cocktails at Lamplight Lounge, and an assortment of ever-changing drinks at Pym’s Test Kitchen.

Here’s an example of some of the counter-service and sit-down restaurants you’ll find within the park:

  • Carthay Circle Restaurant: Located in Buena Vista Street, this upscale restaurant offers a fine dining experience with a menu inspired by California cuisine.
  • Lamplight Lounge: Overlooking Pixar Pier, this restaurant features a creative menu and even more creative cocktails, making it a great spot for both food and views!
  • Mendocino Terrace: If you’re looking for wine and craft beer, this outdoor lounge in Pacific Wharf is a great place to relax and enjoy some beverages.
  • Corn Dog Castle: A must if you like state fair-style jumbo corndogs!
  • Flo’s V8 Café: Transport yourself to the 1950s at this Route 66-inspired diner in Cars Land, known for its classic American comfort food.
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The one thing to note is that you won’t find Character Dining within Disney California Adventure. Ariel’s Grotto (closed) used to offer character dining with Disney princesses, however, this dining location has been reimagined as Lamplight Lounge, which doesn’t offer character dining.

For character dining, you’ll have to go to one of the restaurants at the Disneyland hotels or at Disneyland Park (Plaza Inn).

Ticket Costs At Disneyland Resort

When it comes to ticket pricing, both parks cost the same amount of money.

Disneyland Resort and Disney California Adventure offers one-day tickets with variable pricing based on the date and season you visit, ranging from $104 to $164 for a single park.

There are also options for multi-day tickets. If you purchase multi-day tickets, the cost per day decreases — which means a opportunity to save on admission costs.

You can also choose from a One-Park-Per-Day ticket or a Park Hopper ticket.

A One-Park-Per-Day ticket is self-explanatory. You can either visit Disneyland Park or Disney California Adventure Park for one full day.

A Park Hopper Ticket allows guests to visit more than one park per day. Guests must make a theme park reservation for the first park they plan to visit. After entering that first park, guests will be able to visit the next park starting at 11:00 AM and go between the parks until each park’s regularly scheduled closure. 

One-Day Park Hoppers start at $169, but depending on the day and season, can go up to $244. You can get the latest ticket info/prices here.

Annual Pass and VIP Offers:

Disneyland offers various annual pass options, called Magic Key Passes. At the time of writing, they are not selling new passes for the lower key levels — most Magic Keys are only available for renewal.

I won’t cover them all here, but here’s the gist. For non-California residents:

  • The cheapest Magic Key option for Disneyland and California Adventure is the Enchant Key: $699.

The resort also provides VIP tours for an elevated experience, including guided tours with priority access and personalized itineraries.

Skip-The-Line Features At Disneyland Resort

Disneyland’s free FastPass system is sadly… no longer. If you want to enjoy skip-the-line benefits during your time at the park, it’s going to cost you some additional money.

The Disney Genie+ service, available for a fee, has replaced the FastPass system. Prices start at $25 per day.

With the purchase of Disney Genie+ service, you can select the next available arrival window for Disney Genie+ Lightning Lane entrances at select attractions across both parks.

You can make one selection at a time, after park entry on the day of your visit (attractions are subject to limited availability; limit one Lightning Lane selection per attraction per day).

Disneyland vs. California Adventure: Side-By-Side Comparison

In a nutshell: While Disneyland focuses on classic Disney’s timeless stories and family-friendly experiences, California Adventure spotlights the best of California, Pixar, Cars, and Avengers. You’ll find no shortage of good food and live entertainment at either park!

Both destinations offer unforgettable entertainment options for visitors in Southern California, but let’s review them side-by-side a bit more.

Overall Atmosphere / Theme

At Disneyland, you’ll experience the quintessential storybook atmosphere that Disney is known for. I mean, the massive castle is located in this park! You’ll encounter classic Disney characters and beloved attractions, making you feel like a part of your favorite stories!

On the other hand, California Adventure immerses you in more modern movies like those of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and those of Pixar (like Cars, Coco, Big Hero 6, Inside Out, Toy Story, etc.)

You’ll be immersed in the world of The Avengers, Cars, The Incredibles, and Inside Out, and even be able to interact with your favorite characters from those franchises.

Generally speaking, we’d say younger kids and lifelong Disney fans tend to like Disneyland more, while older kids and adults tend to like California Adventure more.

Rides, Shows, and Entertainment

When it comes to the number of rides each park has, Disneyland Park has more rides between the two parks. You can expect a range of experiences, from thrilling rides like Space Mountain and Indiana Jones Adventure to family-friendly attractions like It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and everything at Toontown.

If you’re a huge fan of Mickey Mouse and friends, Disney’s storybook movies, Indiana Jones, or Star Wars, this is going to be the park for you!

Disney California Adventure Park comes in second place in terms of the number of rides. While it offers several thrilling attractions, such as the Incredicoaster and Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!, it also has a nice variety of family-friendly rides and shows too.

In fact, I think DCA stands out more when it comes to shows and live entertainment. If you’re a Broadway musical lover, you’ll definitely want to see what’s showing at the Hyperion Theater. These musicals are shockingly good and entertaining! Plus, you get to sit in an airconditioned theater for 45+ minutes, which is a huge perk in itself.

Disney California Adventure Park is also going to be great for you if you want to experience California’s old Hollywood scene and the great outdoors, and/or you love Avengers, Pixar, or Cars the movie!

The nighttime shows may also impact your decision on which park to pick! At Disneyland, you can enjoy parades, the nightly fireworks, and live performances at “Fantasmic!” featuring your favorite Disney characters. “World of Color” is the must-see attraction at Disney California Adventure, especially if you’ve never been!

Restaurants and Food Options

At both Disneyland and California Adventure, you’ll find a massive assortment of dining options. And almost ALL of the food will be really yummy.

Disneyland Resort has truly transformed the theme park dining experience into a whole other category of things to do, deserving both your time and attention! I think we need to really drive home how much effort Disney puts into the dining experience!

Disney parks are renowned for their attention to detail and immersive storytelling, and this extends to their dining establishments. Many of the restaurants in Disneyland and DCA are themed to match the surrounding area, making you feel like you’re part of the story.

At Disneyland, there are numerous themed restaurants and food spots, such as the highly-coveted Blue Bayou, where you can dine in a dimly-lit setting literally within the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, as well as the Galactic Grill or Oga’s Cantina for Star Wars fans.

Similarly, the ‘fine dining experience’ at Carthay Circle Restaurant in Disney California Adventure exudes the elegance of Hollywood’s golden age and is meant to take you back to the time when Snow White first premiered on screen! Then there’s the Lamplight Lounge, which pays homage to all things Pixar.

These immersive settings really do enhance the overall park experience — at both parks.

Having said that, if you are specifically looking for in-park character dining, only Disneyland Park has that at the moment.

Retail and Merchandise

Within both parks, you will find no shortage of souvenir shops.

At Disneyland’s Main Street, shopping can take up a few hours if you’re really in the market for some new Disneyland swag.

You can browse through all kinds of Mickey ears for your day in the park, build your own droid or lightsaber in the Star Wars land, buy some new Disney-branded clothing, try on princess tiaras and high-end jewelry pieces, shop for holiday ornaments, pick up souvenirs from the many gift shops throughout the different lands, and so much more!

At Disney California Adventure, it’s more of the same!

For instance, Pixar Pier celebrates all things Pixar, offering merchandise related to various Pixar films such as Toy Story, Inside Out, Coco, Ratatouille, and Finding Nemo. Here, you can find Pixar-themed Mickey ears, character plush toys, apparel, collectibles, and more.

In Cars Land, you’ll find merchandise associated with Lightning McQueen, Mater, and other cherished figures from the franchise. Look for die-cast cars, clothing, and Route 66-inspired souvenirs!

At Avengers Campus, you can browse Spider-Man-themed merchandise, including action figures, clothing, and accessories. Additionally, you can explore the Collector’s Fortress-themed store adjacent to Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! for a wide range of merchandise inspired by the Guardians of the Galaxy, from T-shirts to Groot-themed souvenirs.

As for shopping outside of the theme parks, there’s always Downtown Disney! This area is an outdoor shopping and entertainment district that features stores like the World of Disney, where you can find a vast array of Disney-themed merchandise. Other shops include LEGO Store, Sephora, and CURL Surf, among others.

Character Meet and Greets

At both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, you’ll have the opportunity to meet and interact with various characters from all your favorite movies.

At Disneyland, you can come face-to-face with classic Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Chip and Dale, and Goofy. You’ll also find characters from popular franchises such as Star Wars. And let’s not forget about the whole list of Disney princesses you’ll be able to snap a pic with!

At DCA, you’ll be able to meet the Disney Pals too! Head to Buena Vista Street to meet the likes of Minnie, Mickey, and Goofy.

In addition to that, you’ll find Pixar characters like Buzz, Woody, Jesse, and the green army guys from Toy Story, Baymax and Hiro Hamada from Big Hero 6, Mater and Lightning McQueen from Cars, the Marvel/Avengers characters, Elsa and Anna from Frozen, as well as Ariel and Mulan from time to time too!

While both parks offer unique and enjoyable character experiences, the choice between the two depends on which types of characters you and the family want to see more.

Disneyland vs. California Adventure: What’s In Common

We’ve covered a ton of differences. Now let’s briefly touch on the similarities. Both parks are the same when it comes to:

  • The chance to meet classic Disney Pals (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, etc)
  • Must-eat foods like turkey legs, Dole Whip treats, Mickey-shaped ice cream, fried chicken, corndogs, and churros.
  • Ticket prices: they’re the same no matter which park you go to
  • Annual pass options: also the same for both
  • Private VIP tour guide: Disneyland Resort offers VIP tours that’ll take guests through both parks, providing guests with priority access, private-themed transportation, and a knowledgeable guide.
  • Genie+: Both parks use the same Lightning Lane system to help guests skip the lines. Disney Genie+ service starts at $25 per person.

Disneyland vs. California Adventure: Which Is Better For You?

Disneyland vs California Adventure - Which Park Is Better?

The park that is ‘better’ for you will really depend on which park offers themes, lands, foods, and rides you’re more interested in.

If you were to ask me to pick one for you, I honestly wouldn’t know what to tell you unless I had a bit more information about what you like and who you’re traveling with!

Objectively speaking, between the two parks within Disneyland Resort, Disneyland Park sees more annual visitors. Disneyland Park has historically been one of the most visited theme parks in the world and is often considered the flagship park of the Disneyland Resort.

And if I had to pick one for myself, I’d probably have to go with Disneyland Park. That’s because of two personal reasons — (1) childhood nostalgia and (2) our love of the food offered at all the Disney parks worldwide!

Firstly, my partner and I (plus all of my siblings, cousins, and friends) grew up on classic Disney movies, so there will always be a special place in our hearts for Disney princesses, Disney songs, Disney characters, Disney Channel, etc.

The rides are always more fun if you’re familiar with the storylines of them!

Secondly, we LOVE the massive assortment of food options offered at the park. Not only are there quick grab-and-go food options like churros, turkey legs, jumbo corndogs, and that fried chicken meal that we can’t say no to every time we’re there, but there’s also a ton of counter-service and sit-down restaurants that we like to rotate through.

Plus, the fact that they introduce new menu items ALL the time does not make the job of trying out the foods easier for us! Seriously, the amount of good food you can get there is endless. ENDLESS, I tell ya!

But that’s just me. Not everyone shares the same love for Disney classics, and I get that.

I also love Marvel movies. The Guardians of the Galaxy ride is my all-time favorite ride between the two parks, with Incredicoaster being my second favorite (it used to be Space Mountain!). This is why it’s honestly so hard to pick just ONE park.

If you have the time and the money for both Disneyland Resort and California Adventure, I’d say you should definitely try to fit in both — simply because they are SO different!

If you want to experience it all — Avengers, Star Wars, Old Hollywood, Disney Princesses, Pirates of the Caribbean, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Cars Land, and everything else featuring Pixar movies — try to visit both parks if you can! It’s an overload of fun and madness at the same time!

You can visit both parks by:

  • opting for the Park Hopper ticketthis is what we normally do since we tend to visit for just one day
  • getting a 2-day One-Park-Per-Day ticketyou can visit Disneyland on Day 1 and Disney California Adventure on Day 2, or vice versa.

Okay but for those of you who still need to choose just ONE… I’ve created a helpful little checklist for you that will help you pick between the Disney parks:

Disneyland is for you if…

  • You have a deep love for classic Disney characters and stories.
  • You want the quintessential Disney experience, including wearing mouse ears, meeting Mickey and Minnie (and all your favorite princes and princesses), taking photos by the magical castle, and catching the nighttime fireworks.
  • You have younger children who enjoy gentle rides and character interactions.
  • You appreciate immersive storytelling and highly themed attractions.
  • You have little ones who would enjoy exploring the charming and nostalgic Toontown.
  • You’re interested in elevating the kids’ experience with prince/princess makeovers at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
  • You enjoy timeless attractions like It’s a Small World, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • Star Wars, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, etc. are must-see areas for you.
  • You plan to buy a lot of souvenirs (Main Street USA is the place where you’ll find everything)
  • You’re a fan of parades, fireworks, and nighttime spectaculars.

Disney California Adventure is for you if…

  • You seek a more diverse range of experiences beyond traditional Disney tales.
  • You love Pixar movies like The Incredibles, Cars, Coco, Toy Story, and Big Hero Six
  • You’re a thrill-seeker who enjoys high-speed rides like the Incredicoaster and Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!
  • You’re interested in exploring the California theme and experiencing the Golden State’s culture.
  • Avengers Campus or Cars Land is high on your list of areas to experience.
  • You appreciate food at Disney and more upscale experiences, such as Gaslamp Lounge or Carthay Circle Restaurant.
  • You want to mix in a Broadway-style musical during your time at the park.
  • You’re intrigued by the Hollywood and movie-themed attractions and entertainment.
  • You want to experience World of Color, the epic nighttime show.
  • You’re visiting during Halloween and plan to attend the Oogie Boogie Bash, a separately ticketed event with spooky entertainment, character encounters, and a parade.

Where To Buy Discounted Disneyland Tickets

Still need to buy Disneyland tickets?  Sure, you can buy them at the gate, but then you’d be paying full price. We like to buy discounted Disneyland tickets from either our workplace discount portals or from Undercover Tourist.

If you don’t have a workplace discount portal offering discounted Disney tickets, then Undercover Tourist is your best bet.

Undercover Tourist is the trusted name for discounted theme park tickets. Depending on how many days you visit the parks, you can save up to $149 per ticket with them!

Flights And Hotels For Disneyland Resort

How To Get To Disneyland By Plane

Disneyland Resort is located in Anaheim, California, which is about an hour’s drive south of Los Angeles.

From Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), it takes approximately 40 minutes to reach Disneyland without traffic. Having said that, there will almost ALWAYS be traffic, making the drive more like 50 – 70 minutes long (on average).

An alternative for Disneyland would be to fly into John Wayne Airport (SNA), which is a smaller airport located just 20 minutes away from Anaheim.

If you’re flying into Southern California for just these parks, choose the airport that offers decently priced flights and is within driving distance of the parks. What’s within driving distance is entirely dependent on what you’re able to tolerate.

If a 40-60 minute drive to get to Disneyland from LAX is out of the question, stick with searching for flights in and out of John Wayne Airport (SNA).

Hotels Near Disneyland

The sheer amount of hotels near Disneyland Resort is next level. You will easily find loads of accommodation options to suit all kinds of budgets and living styles.

What you’ll find is that a lot of the hotels near Disneyland offer family-friendly suites with kitchenettes, multiple beds, outdoor pools, and maybe even kids’ splash zones!

Planning your trip to SoCal? Save on travel costs by booking your accommodations through this platform! Their ‘no prepayment’ and ‘free cancellation’ features are unbeatable. This is my #1 favorite way to book hotels!

Official Disneyland Hotels

Disneyland has three on-site hotels:

  • Disneyland Hotel: A classic Disney hotel offering a nostalgic and upscale experience with three themed towers, beautiful gardens, and dining options like Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar.
  • Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa: Located adjacent to Disney California Adventure Park, this luxurious hotel features a rustic, Arts and Crafts design, a private entrance to the park, and the Mandara Spa.
  • Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel: A seaside-themed hotel with a laid-back atmosphere, a rooftop pool, and dining at the Surfside Lounge.

All of them provide easy foot access to the theme parks and Downtown Disney. These hotels are usually quite expensive compared to hotels surrounding the park!

Disneyland Hotel

Hotels Near Disneyland

You can also choose from a variety of amazing hotels that are close to the Disneyland Resort, including chain brands like the Sheraton, Hilton, Marriott, and many more.

We usually stay at one of these off-site hotels and walk over to the parks. Many of the hotels are just 7-15 minutes away from the park entrances by foot!

They’re a lot cheaper, and many also offer perks like free parking or free breakfast too.

Element By Westin - Best Hotels Near Disneyland With Free Breakfast
During my last Disneyland trip, I truly enjoyed Element By Westin’s FREE breakfast spread!

Essential Tips For Your Disneyland Resort Visit

  • For discounted Disneyland tickets (steep discounts are nearly impossible unless you know someone who works at Disney) — we like to buy from Undercover Tourist.
  • Generally, the slowest periods at Disneyland are from January through early February. If you can, try to schedule your visits on weekdays, as weekends tend to see much higher traffic. We personally never attempt either park on weekends (Fridays to Sundays). We’ll always try to aim for a visit on a weekday (Mondays to Thursdays) because we really don’t enjoy standing in ride lines for any more than 30 minutes!
  • If you’re staying overnight, choose your hotel strategically. Many hotels in the area charge $10-25/night for parking, so if you’re traveling on a budget, be sure to choose a hotel that’s within walking distance of the parks, yet still offers free parking to guests.
  • If you’re traveling with a larger family, you can save a lot of money on food by selecting a hotel near Disneyland that offers complimentary breakfast. A lot of these hotels serve up really good breakfast too — complete with Mickey-shaped waffles!
  • Pack a pair of stylish yet comfortable walking shoes. You’re likely going to be doing 10+ miles of walking on your feet!
  • Arrive early: Arriving early (like when the park opens) ensures that you’re able to capitalize on shorter lines, especially for popular attractions like Star Wars: Rise Of The Resistance, Space Mountain, or Guardians of the Galaxy, where lines can get up to 2 hours long.
  • Use park apps: Disneyland has an official app with features such as making ride and restaurant reservations, as well as showing you wait times, showtimes, and park maps, which can help you strategize your day better.
  • Want to avoid crowds at all costs? Before your visit, check to see if any nearby school districts are on break. You’ll want to visit on a weekday when all the schools within ALL the nearby school districts are in session.
  • You can also use Is It Packed’s crowd calendar predictor, but sometimes it drops the ball — so take what you see with a grain of salt!
  • Upgrading to Genie+ at Disneyland can be totally worth the money, depending on how much you value your time. If you plan to go to the parks for multiple days, you may not need Lightning Lane access. But if you’ve only got 1 day to experience it all, Genie+ dramatically reduces wait times for popular attractions!
  • Plan your meal times strategically: To avoid long lines at restaurants and food stalls, consider eating during non-peak hours, like preparing to eat a little earlier or later than traditional meal times.
  • If you want to experience character dining or a sit-down restaurant at any of the Disney parks, you’ll want to make reservations 60 days in advance! Really, these reservations book up QUICK.
  • Both parts are in Southern California’s Orange County — it’s HOT here, especially in the summertime. Do not forget the hot weather essentials: a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and a water bottle!
  • You’re allowed to bring snacks, so be sure to pack a few things to munch on if you’re looking to save money. You could even bring in lunch/dinner if you really wanted to save money.
  • If you need a break from all the heat, sun, and/or walking, you can duck into rides like Pirates Of The Caribbean and it’s a small world (both involve sitting on a boat in AC), or watch a show at the Hyperion Theater, Turtle Talk with Crush, and Mickey’s PhilharMagic Concert. And by ‘watch a show’ I mean taking a quick nappy nap.
  • Before getting to the parks, make sure you’re aware of the various facilities and services offered to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable visit. Look for info on things like First Aid, Baby Care Centers, Wheelchair and Stroller Rentals, and how security checks work.

Disneyland vs. California Adventure: Frequently Asked Questions

Which park is more budget-friendly?

Both Disneyland and California Adventure cost the same amount. 1 to 2-day admissions cost the most, while 3- to 5-day tickets will provide you with more of a discount on price-per-day.

Between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, which park is better for adult visitors?

While both parks cater to visitors of all ages, Disney California Adventure tends to have more attractions, entertainment, and dining options geared toward adults. There is also more variety when it comes to alcoholic drink choices in California Adventure too.

Conversely, Disneyland offers a larger focus on family-oriented rides and attractions, appealing primarily to smaller children and families.

Between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, which park is better for younger children?

Between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, Disneyland is generally considered the better choice for younger children, primarily for the following reasons:

Toontown: Disneyland features Mickey’s Toontown, a dedicated area designed specifically for younger kids. The kiddos can explore cartoon-style houses, meet beloved characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and enjoy interactive play areas. It offers age-appropriate attractions like Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Gadget’s Go Coaster, and Chip ‘n’ Dale Treehouse.

“It’s a Small World”: This classic ride in Disneyland, “It’s a Small World,” is a gentle boat ride that showcases diverse cultures and regions through animatronic dolls. It’s known for its catchy theme song and colorful scenes, which little kids cannot get enough of!

Storybook Theme: Disneyland’s overall theme revolves around classic Disney stories and fairy tales, which strongly resonate with young children. Attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, and Alice in Wonderland bring these beloved stories to life in a kid-friendly way.

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique: Disneyland offers the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where young guests can be transformed into princes and princesses by experienced Fairy Godmothers-in-Training! This magical makeover experience allows children to dress up as their favorite Disney characters, making their visit even more enchanting.

What’s the best time to visit Disneyland Resort to avoid crowds?

Typically, the parks at Disneyland Resort see fewer crowds on weekdays during non-peak months, like January and February.

Can I bring outside food into the Disneyland parks?

Snacks and non-alcoholic drinks are allowed, but full meals are generally discouraged. Technically, you could pack a full lunch/dinner if you really wanted to though.

What are the must-see attractions in Disneyland?

Attractions like Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones Adventure, Star Wars: Rise Of The Resistance, Millenium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, it’s a small world, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Haunted Mansion are super popular choices. If you can make it til nightfall, don’t miss the fireworks display at night!

What are the top attractions in Disney California Adventure?

Must-see attractions include Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!, The Incredicoaster, Toy Story Mania!, Soarin’ Around the World, and World of Color.

Do I need a separate ticket for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure?

Yes, each park requires a separate admission ticket, or you can purchase a Park Hopper ticket to visit both parks on the same day.

Are there character dining experiences in Disney California Adventure?

While there are character dining options in Disneyland Resort, most are located in the Disneyland hotels. There is one in-park character dining experience offered at Disneyland Park. There is currently no in-park character dining experience at DCA.

Looking for more travel tips? You may also like:

What To Pack For A Disneyland Trip: 41 Essentials To Bring (+Free Printable!)

7 Best Disneyland Hotels With Free Breakfasts (That Don’t Suck)

15 Best Disneyland Souvenirs To Buy

40+ Things To Do In Anaheim Other Than Disneyland

45 Cute Date Night Ideas In Orange County, California

175 Bucket List Things To Do In Los Angeles, California (From A Local’s Perspective)

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Elle Leung

My name is Elle and I'm a travel blogger and adventurer based in California. I love helping people plan trips and create unique itineraries based on their interests and their budgets. I'm a huge fan of outdoor adventures and doing off-the-beaten-path things in my state (and all around the world too)!

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