Best of the Best at Disneyland and California Adventure

UPDATED January 2016

I get all sorts of questions here at DLR Prep School, but the most often request sounds like this: “What should I NOT miss on my trip?”

So, I’ve compiled a list. This list will change over and over again because Disney will continue to create amazing things and because I’ll respond in different ways to new and old things as I continue to visit DLR. These are my favorites today.

My list includes a variety of attractions, shows, food suggestions, souvenir picks and photo ops that I feel encompass a classic Disneyland experience. I’ll detail dining suggestions in another post, but I’ve included iconic Disneyland snacks in this list.

If you focus on these essentials and then add your own special preferences, your DLR experience will be complete.

With that said, here is what I recommend you not miss on your trip:




Peter Pan – Sail through the dark, star lit sky to Neverland on this special ride. This should be first on your list. Walk down Main Street, toward the center of the park to immediately feel Disney magic. Peter Pan is just steps beyond the castle and is one of 4 old school rides that make Disneyland the charming destination it is.

Haunted Mansion – Walk through this spooky attraction filled with supernatural Disney fun just prior to boarding a “doom buggy” to complete your tour. Ghosts and ghouls make every day feel like Halloween.

Pirates of the Caribbean – I’ve heard many times that DLR’s version of Pirates hands-down beats WDW’s, so if you’re comparing the two parks, don’t miss this one. This is a long, satisfying ride that mimics the popular movie franchise with gun battles and pirate debauchery.

Indiana Jones – This ride is most impressive. Climb aboard a rugged vehicle and prepare to enter the world of Indiana. Fire, snakes, bugs and more await in this temple of doom.

Jungle Cruise – There is something so ridiculous about this ride that you can’t help but find it charming. Skippers guide you through the jungle with jokes that are so bad, they’re good. This is an original 1955 Disneyland ride and it’s fun for all ages.

Enchanted Tiki Room – You will likely spend most of your time in this 15 minute attraction wondering what is going on. While sitting on padded benches, the ceiling and walls come alive with singing birds and light up fountains. It’s bizarre. It’s delightful. It’s so perfectly Disney.

It’s a Small World – Sail through happy countries filled with children singing gleefully on this enchanting ride. It might be the sweetest cruise you ever take.

Mad Party Tea Cups – Music plays and lanterns glow as you spin wildly through this busy fun ride. To me, this is classic Disney fun. Don’t miss it.

Matterhorn Bobsleds – This fast paced ride slides through a snowy mountain of excitement. You’ll sneak peaks at the Abominable Snowman as you fly by. Don’t worry. He never catches you.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – This runaway train has been a Disney favorite for years, taking you through a spooky mine at super fast speeds.

California Adventure

Radiator Springs Racers – The best new addition to California Adventure and the star of Cars Land, this fast-paced ride takes you through a beautiful desert landscape in a flash.

Toy Story Mania – The graphics on this ride are super impressive. Pixar characters host as you compete with other riders for high scores from classic midway games.

Soarin’ Over California – This ride still brings tears to my eyes. Soar through the great state of California on this simulator ride while enjoying citrus aromas and more. You just might pack your bags and move west afterward.

The Little Mermaid – Journey under the sea in your “clam-mobile” to see Ariel and friends sing and dance. This sweet ride is magic every time, especially if you have a princess in your group.

California Screamin’ – Created with the classic wooden roller coaster feel of boardwalks long ago, this fast paced coaster is thrilling with great views of the park.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – An out-of-control elevator plunges you high and low in this haunted hotel. Scenes from the original Twilight Zone are mimicked throughout.





Mickey’s Soundsational Parade – This happy parade celebrates whatever you’re celebrating with catchy tunes and lots of classic characters. Tip: Set up a blanket on the parade route an hour or so prior to start time. Leave one volunteer to stay (bring a book!) and let the others enjoy an attraction or snack until parade time. You’ll be grateful for the secure front row spot!

Disneyland Forever Fireworks – This show is amazing with projections along Main Street, the castle, the Matterhorn and it’s a small world. Absolutely do not miss it!

Paint the Night Parade – The newest version of the old school Disney Electric Light Parade – this is so happy and fun. Don’t miss it.

Fantasmic – Good and evil battle in Mickey’s dream during this pyrotechnic masterpiece. The Mark Twain riverboat highlights the show at the end with characters aboard waving to you and your kids. (currently on hiatus through mid-2017)

California Adventure 

World of Color – Watch Disney and Pixar images come to life on a veil of mist with beautiful music accompanying. Tip: Fastpasses are available for closer viewingg at the Grizzly River Run fastpass distribution point as soon as the park opens. This fastpass will not limit your others throughout the day. Blue is the best color to get. Arrive an hour early and stand on the bridge. 




(From both parks)

Churro – Crispy on the outside and gooey inside, these warm delights are super popular at Disneyland. They are so popular they have their own Facebook page. Find these at churro carts throughout the parks.

Mickey beignet – At the Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square, you’ll find warm, sugary beignets made just like those at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.

Mickey pretzel – Soft pretzels shaped like Mickey Mouse (with or without salt) are available at carts throughout the parks.

Corn dog – The State Fair of Texas has nothing on these delectable treats found at the corn dog cart a the end of Main Street, at the Stage Door Cafe in Frontierland (next to the Golden Horseshoe) and at the Corn Dog Castle in California Adventure.

Dole Whip – This beloved treat can be found just outside of the Enchanted tiki tiki tiki tiki Tiki Room. It’s a pineapple whip ice cream delight and is a favorite of many. Tip: Even if you’re not going into the Tiki Room, walk through the entrance and stand in line from the opposite side of the bar from the outside line up. You’ll get much faster service there.




Mickey ears – The ultimate in timeless Disneyland memorabilia, Mickey ears are my favorite souvenir. These can be found throughout the parks with monogramming options at the Mad Hatter stores.

Autograph book – Buy these on site or off to collect character or princess signatures and perhaps add photos from your trip after arriving back home. These are available in many gift shops and kiosks in the parks. Tip: Your character experience will go smoother if you have your own pen, too. Bring or buy one!



Photo Opportunities:


Castle – Every trip to Disneyland has to include the iconic photo in front of the castle. Tip: Capture even prettier photos by stepping just to the right of the castle (if you’re facing the castle). You can include the water in your photo from this angle and there’s usually less of  a crowd in this area.

With Mickey Mouse – Mingle just before Main Street for a chance to meet Mickey or find him at his house in Toon Town. Cast members are super friendly and more than willing to use your camera or phone to capture these special moments. They’ll also offer a photo pass to you, which is a plastic card that is scanned by all Disney photographers throughout the parks when they take your photo. Tip: As in the image above, take photos candidly and not just when children are posed with Mickey. Interactive photos often end up being the ones you love most because they tell the story of your experience.

Mad Party Tea Cups – Include the lanterns when capturing these photos, before or during the ride. The colors are spectacular! Tip: While spinning, focus in on your subject(s) and you might get that perfect shot….with a big, laughing smile and a blurry park behind.

California Adventure

With water/California Screamin’/Mickey’s Fun Wheel – From across the water, take a photo with the big white roller coaster and Ferris wheel behind. This captures lots of what California Adventure has to offer in one image.


Bonus: The attraction portion was listed in order to line up with my touring plans, detailed on Step 5 Plan Park Touring of my 6 Step Planning Process. This page provides tips on how to design your days so that you don’t waste any time and also includes itineraries for (1 and 2 day) visits to Disneyland and (1 day) visits to California Adventure. The itineraries include two versions – for big and little kids. Don’t miss that page when creating your trip plan!

Have specific questions for me? Email me at [email protected] Happy to help!


Tickets I recommend (read why)
Enter code DLRPS at checkout to save an additional $2 on each ticket.


  1. There is no “seating” for World of Color. The Fastpasses really just reserve an area for you to STAND (and between the show itself and waiting for it to start, you will be standing a fairly long time). The best areas are reserved for people who shell out for the World of Color “Dining Package”, which includes a meal at one of two (possibly three, depending on the day) restaurants. Carthay Circle (which is the most expensive option) also has the best reserved viewing area. However, don’t feel that you absolutely have to get the dining package; the free Fastpass areas also have pretty good views, you’re just not right smack in the middle.

    If you do think you might want to go with a dining package, unfortunately, Disney does not make it easy to find out what’s actually on the menu for the dining packages (it’s not the same as the regular menu; the two share some items, but not all of them), so be sure to ask when you’re making reservations (and if the park is busy enough to make the dining package worth it, you need reservations).

    Even if you have a Fastpass / Dining Package, all that’s really reserved for you is an area (some of which are better than others). If you actually want to be on the front row, you need to get there VERY early and start not waiting in line (Disney doesn’t want people waiting in line too early, so you have to go to the general area of where the line starts and act like you just sort of happen to be there until they actually call for the line to start forming).

  2. I agree, Splash Mountain is a great ride. A favorite of mine as well. Usually, If you head over there about an hour before the park closes the lines are way short and you can ride it over and over because nobody wants to get wet when it’s late and dark out. It’s so much fun! I rode it about 15 times in a row once.

  3. Nice list, I agree. The only attractions you missed, that are a must ride are Space Mountain and Splash Mountain. No trip to Disney is complete without Splash Mtn. my all-time favorite ride. Ride this one twice in a row to really feel it’s magic, go late at night or early in the morning when there are no lines, you’ll only get a little wet. It’s a great ride with thrills, storytelling, and relaxing moments through the old “South”.

    And if you have time make sure you see the Live Aladdin show at California Adventure and the Bug’s Life 4D show (if it is open).