Park Itineraries

Disney California Adventure 1-Day Itinerary

Our California Adventure Itinerary is a touring plan for what attractions, shows, and dining we’d do in one day at the park. This itinerary is our efficient way to experience all of the, what we consider, California Adventure essentials. While other touring plans are more focused on fitting in all of the attractions in one day, we’ll be more focused on how to have our ideal day in California Adventure. Yes, we’ll get to the majority of the attractions but some are left behind in favor of, what we consider, better options. If you are more ride focused than we care to be, check out our rankings of the California Adventure attractions. Along with that, we also have the entertainment, counter-service and table-service restaurants rated.

Unlike Disneyland, most of California Adventure can be experienced in a day without significant planning. Planning out your first hour or two is essential because that’s when you’ll get the most done, especially on a busy day, but California Adventure lends itself to ‘winging it’ a little more than other parks. That isn’t to say California Adventure is a bad theme park. I do have qualms with the park’s premise and certain lands but there are some brilliant areas throughout and a great ambiance. We’ll explore that more throughout this itinerary.

On top of the Marvel additions that the park has received, California Adventure seems like a park without much of an identity at the moment. Imagineers worked hard to develop that identity with a major renovation about 5 years ago but that has slowly started to chip away with questionable thematic decisions. I could see the park becoming very different in the next decade but we try to keep the itinerary updated often.

Soarin tower

There are many different factors that go into a theme park day, so we do have to keep this somewhat general. I don’t know how busy the park will be when you visit, whether you purchased Genie+ or Lightning Lanes (when available), where you are staying, etc. What I do assume in this itinerary is that you are spending the full day inside of the park, not paying for any upcharges, getting there before the gates open and leaving after the park closes. To do this, I would recommend staying as close as possible whether that be at Disneyland Hotel, Grand Californian or a cheaper hotel across the street on Harbor Blvd.

Before your park day begins, you’ll need to have tickets and get them linked to your Disney account. We prefer to get our tickets here!

As always, if you have specific questions then please leave us a comment below. My best advice in this general touring plan is to loosely follow the plan while also keeping a sense of exploration. This plan assumes that you aren’t using Genie+ (if you are, here are our rankings) and we do still think that you’ll be able to get the whole park done without it. While Disney World has become a place that benefits those who follow a schedule, Disneyland Resort can still play to those who want to be a little more spontaneous. Let’s get to the plan!

Start the Day Racing!

Get to the park somewhere between 15 to 30 minutes ahead of time and head straight to Radiator Springs Racers. This is our favorite ride in the park and fun for the whole family. If you happen to only be going with adults, consider skipping Racers and doing it via the single-rider line later in the day. You may not be able to all sit together but it will save a large amount of time and is the best single rider line in the whole park! If you go this route, then just move straight to the next attraction at opening.

Cars Land RSR car turning DCA

Your Mission: Breakout! and Snacks

From Radiator Springs Racers, head through Avengers Campus to Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! and ride that attraction. If the queue is backed up with a wait of more than 30 minutes then save it for later and keep an eye on the app for a good time. That said, if you’ve arrived this early then you should be good to go!

Rocket up close GotGMB DCA

That was already a bunch of rushing around and going back and forth. It’s not the most efficient in terms of the routes covered but it will get the two most popular attractions out-of-the-way quickly. I’m not much of a breakfast person, especially in the parks. Offerings are usually generic and you’re better off grabbing something before getting there. California Adventure still fits that bill somewhat but we are fans of Flo’s breakfast. So, if you are going to eat a full-on breakfast then that’s where we recommend, as the restaurant is especially peaceful in the morning. If it’s not too hot out, get a table outside that overlooks Radiator Springs Racers.

Flo's neon sky DCA

Still, if you are looking to save money and/or don’t really care about breakfast then skip this step and have something at the hotel or on the way to the park. Honestly, that’s what we usually do to save some money. Not to mention, you’ll be able to get more done in these first few hours so eating will slow you down some. There’s also Starbucks and Schmoozies (which smells smoothies) near the front of the park.

Riding Around Grizzly Peak

After a whirlwind early morning, it’s time for the most peaceful land in the park – Grizzly Peak. There are three attractions here and we recommend them all. Soarin’ and Grizzly River Run are the two big attractions in this land. Go for Soarin’ first as the waits shouldn’t be too high yet. We’re also early enough in the morning that Grizzly River Run won’t have much of a line. Bring a poncho and enjoy a great river raft ride! Use the lockers off to the side of the ride entrance to store all of your gear. They are free for 2 hours!

Backpacking bear Grizzly Peak DCA

Rides and Lunch on the Pier

From Grizzly Peak, take the path through Grizzly River Run and head over to Pixar Pier. If the itinerary has been followed then Incredicoaster and Toy Story Mania are the only major attractions left and both of those have fluctuating wait times. Incredicoaster especially has low waits in the afternoon and evening so don’t try to force the ride in if it’s long.

Adventure is out there sign DCA Pixar Pier

Toy Story Mania is a different question as the queue generally stays pretty long. If the wait is under half an hour then jump in and do the attraction. If it’s over that then save it for later in the evening. While it’s not a perfect ride, Toy Story Mania is a lot of fun and the entire family can do it.

Really any attraction that has a wait time under 20 or 30 minutes is worth doing at this point. The spinning rides on the pier are fun if the line isn’t long, although they’re more fun around sunset or at night. Jessie’s Critter Carousel is a good attraction to hit while you’re by Toy Story Mania and the line is always short. This is also a perfect time to go on Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure and Goofy’s Sky School (which I don’t actually recommend because it scares me to death), as well.

Along with going on whatever attractions that fit your fancy, this area is where we recommend lunch. Sharing the Lobster Nachos, Salmon PLT and Potato Skins at Lamplight Lounge is our top recommendation, as the view along with the food can’t be matched elsewhere in the park. If that doesn’t sound up your alley then anything in San Fransokyo is a solid option. We’re partial to the shared Lobster Nachos for a light lunch and back to the Cozy Cones for a snack but I digress.

Lobster Nachos Lamplight Lounge DCA

An Afternoon in Hollywood

Like actual Hollywood, California Adventure’s Hollywood Land is full of great shows, amazing theaters, cool attractions, and things that make you wish you had done something else with your time. We’ll try to skip the latter here. There are certainly some flaws but it’s still worth seeing. Shows seem to come and go at the Hyperion Theater for now. If there is one, then it is well worth seeing. If not, consider seeing the Spider-Man Stunt Show and some of the entertainment around Carthay Circle instead! Neither take up much time.

Frozen ladder

There are a few ways to get out of the heat in the land. Animation Academy is a very fun drawing class and is maybe the most underrated attraction in the park. Even if you’re like me and not good at drawing, the inside of the building is cool both in temperature and aesthetic. It’s a nice place to sit down for a few minutes if you need a break. Mickey’s Philharmagic is a newer attraction in the park and is another way to get out of the heat and enjoy a decent show. Philharmagic is a 3D movie that lasts about 10 minutes and showcases many classic Disney characters. Monsters Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue is a pretty lame attraction but it is in that land. If the wait time is under 15 minutes then go for it!

Snack, Adventuring and Spinning

After you’re burnt out in Hollywood then it’s time to go back to eating! That’s not a plot for a sad remake of a 90’s sitcom, it is actually the next step in the itinerary. Going back to the Cozy Cones is a good choice. There are a number of interesting snacks in Pixar Pier as well as Ghirardelli at Pacific Wharf. Grab a drink along with it (the Prickly Pear Soda in Cars Land is a personal favorite) and then enjoy some of the more modest attractions in Pixar Pier and Cars Land.

Golden Zephyr and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree are both way more fun than they ought to be. Silly Symphony Swings and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters are fine too and shouldn’t have much of a line. I wouldn’t be too concerned about missing either of the latter two but Mater’s is a blast.

This step is not as condensed into a location as others but this is also a great time for Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. This is part playground, part obstacle course and part pretty paths to explore. I love this area next to Grizzly River Run, even if this is more meant for kids. This is worth your time, especially if you have little ones and it’s not too hot outside.

A Ride and Lighting in Cars Land

Depending on the time of year and when the sun sets, these next three steps can all be rearranged. Most of this is based on when sunset is because that’s when we recommend being in Cars Land. While we’ve recommended plenty of stops in the land for attractions and food, there hasn’t been much exploring this brilliant area. The reason why is because we were saving it for when the lights turn on (ask a cast member for an exact time) in Cars Land and the whole area is lit up by neon and the blue hour. There are very few theme park lands that surpass this in the evening. Enjoy the small lighting show (it’s very subtle) and then explore the land’s details. After the lighting, catch a ride on Radiator Springs Racers via the single rider line and enjoy the attraction at night. It’s a beautiful setting!

Cars Land RSR night DCA

More Eating!

Again, this should be before sunset in the summer months. For dinner we recommend the wonderful Carthay Circle Restaurant. Inside of the park icon, dinner here is elegant and delicious. They even have a worthwhile lounge if you can’t get into the restaurant. I do think Carthay Circle is underrated when it comes to Disneyland Resort restaurants as others get more hype but this equals almost anywhere in terms of the quality of food and atmosphere. Don’t overlook the appetizers as they might be the highlight of the menu.

If you really want to go all out, exit the park near Grizzly River Run into the Grand Californian Hotel and enjoy Napa Rose. Although it is expensive, Napa Rose serves the best food I’ve eaten at a Disney Resort. For those that want to stay on a smaller budget, still go to the Grand Californian and eat at GCH Craftsman Grill. It’s the best counter-service restaurant in Disneyland Resort which is no small feat!

WEB Slingers and then Enjoy the Atmosphere

We’ve left off one big attraction and that’s the newest one to arrive in California Adventure. WEB Slingers debuted to mixed reviews and has since dropped the virtual queue aspect of the ride, opting for a standby queue. With that in mind, we recommend doing this attraction as the very last one of the night, getting in line right before closing. We put it here in the step because you shouldn’t miss World of Color, once the show does return. But if there is no World of Color then don’t worry about getting in line for WEB Slingers until a few minutes before the park closing time. If that’s the case, do the next part before this!

Once nightfall hits, it’s time to head back to Pixar Pier and enjoy the atmosphere. The pier feels more authentic at this time of day with the popcorn lights and kinetic energy of the spinning attractions. If you have time on the way make another trek through Grizzly Peak. Once in Pixar Pier use the time to walk around and enjoy the ambiance. Get on one of the spinner rides and Incredicoaster if the line is short, as the view will be phenomenal.

Pixar Pier night IncrediCoaster DCA

World of Color – One

World of Color is a unique nighttime spectacular format that uses fountains and projections to go through some of Disney’s best cinematic moments. Currently, World of Color – One is being played at DCA and it’s not nearly as good as the original. I would still recommend seeing the show, especially for first timers but I don’t think it’s a huge loss if you opt for something else in its place. Here are our tips on how to see World of Color!

A Slow Walk out of the Park

After World of Color ends, let the crowds pass and linger by the water for a while. The post show has some nice music and the fountains are still running for a while. This is an opportune time for pictures. Also, we don’t like to be herded like cattle. Once the crowds die down, it’s time to start making your way to the exit. Our favorite route to take is through Pacific Wharf back through the side entrance to Cars Land. There’s a chance this way may be blocked off but it’s worth a shot as it’s beautifully serene. After watching a show with thousands of people, walking quietly through the beautiful rock-work of Cars Land is a nice counter-balance.

Eventually, you’ll have to exit and the day will be complete. Like our Disneyland Itinerary, we can’t recommend Trader Sam’s enough so if you didn’t go already and still have some energy left then go. It’s a perfect nightcap to our ideal day in California Adventure.

If you get most of the things on this list done then I think the day will be wonderful. A quick word of advice for California Adventure that I hope came through in this itinerary: Take time to linger in Cars Land and Grizzly Peak. Both are incredible lands but very different from each other. Spending time walking there, or Pixar Pier at night, is far superior to walking around Hollywood Land and could make the difference in a day being good or great.

As always, if you have questions or thoughts on our California Adventure itinerary then leave a comment below. If you are planning a trip to Disneyland, then check out our planning guide. If you enjoy what you are reading here on Wandering in Disney please share this post with your friends, as well as like our social media pages.  You can also subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email.  You can do all of that on the right side of this page.  Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!

12 replies »

  1. Hey, I’m going to DCA and Disneyland for the first time (first time at any Disney park actually) and was just wondering if having a Bugs Land closed changes anything for your recommended morning strategy. Also if you have any other recommendations for either park that aren’t on your itinerarys those would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Jaiden, thanks for the comment. I wouldn’t change anything about the morning strategy, you may just have to take a little bit longer of path between attractions.

      As for anything extra, I wouldn’t change much. My absolute favorite things to do at Disneyland Resort include Fantasmic!, New Orleans Square at night, Cars Land around sunset and Fantasyland in the morning. Give yourself plenty of time for those aspects is really my recommendation, although your preferences may be different than mine depending on who you are going with and your tastes.

      Any specific questions about your visit?

  2. Thanks for replying and for those tips Andrew! I think that’s it for now but I’ll let you know if I have any more questions 🙂

  3. Hello! Great post. First time visitor. We will be staying on-site, using EE and g+, and paying for LL+ Radiator Racers. Do I need park hopper? I’m worried we will run out of things to see/do by 3pm. Should we just pay the extra $$$ and HOP over to DL after that?

    • Hi George, thanks for reading and the comment!
      How many days will you be at the resort in total? I don’t necessarily think you’ll run out of things to do but if you do purchase genie+ and LL then you will complete the headliners fairly early.
      Without giving a totally direct answer I think it comes down to when you’re visiting and how many days. If it’s during Spring Break or summer then crowds will be higher and will slow you down some, making a park hopper not as important. If money isn’t a huge issue, I’d say get the park hopper and get genie+ for the first day and try to do all of the eligible rides in if you can. Then purchase it the subsequent days if necessary but don’t if you check a bunch of rides off the list.

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