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Best Viewing of Paint the Night Parade at Disney California Adventure

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The Frog Family just returned from hopping about Pixar Fest at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, and we cannot stop singing the song from the Paint the Night Parade. If you are visiting Disney California Adventure for Pixar Fest, now through Sept. 3, 2018, you don’t want to miss this exciting parade, which combines all the nostalgia of the Main Street Electrical Parade with modern technology, jumpin’ music and over one million sparkling lights to bring guests unique and exciting entertainment. It is sure to thrill every member of your family. The Frog Family has watched this parade several times, and we have some advice for you so that you can find the best viewing of Paint the Night Parade at Disney California Adventure to make it a magical and unforgettable experience.

Paint the Night at Disney California Adventure - Mike Wazowski

The Paint the Night parade originally debuted at Disneyland during its 60th Diamond Anniversary celebration. We’ve been missing it since it left at the end of 2016, and we started jumping up and down with excitement when we heard it would return for Pixar Fest, but this time it park hopped over to Disney California Adventure. And that means getting to know a new parade route and scouting out all the new dining plans. We threw out many of our all our solid tips for Paint the Night and needed to come up with new foolproof strategies for experiencing this parade in the context of other nighttime entertainment. Never being ones to turn down this kind of research, we hit the park for opening weekend singing,

When can we do this again?

Whoa-oh-oh-oh

I never want this to end

Whoa-oh-oh-oh

From this labor of love we bring you our tips for the best viewing of Paint the Night at Disney California Adventure.

Tips for the Best Viewing of Paint the Night at Disney California Adventure

Best Viewing of Paint the Night Parade Disneyland

Plan Ahead and Consult the Schedule

This parade is one of the most popular attractions for tourists and annual pass holders alike. It’s like a rock concert on wheels and the groupies of all ages come out in droves for it. Check the Entertainment Schedule before your visit to find out show times. Some nights have two shows and others have only one. Times can vary each night. As is the case with most nighttime entertainment at the Disneyland Resort, if you want to see an earlier show you will have to invest more time in securing a good viewing location for the earlier show than the later show, which is usually less crowded after many guests leave the park. (Unless you chose a reserved viewing package — more on that later).

Know the Parade Route and Viewing Locations

Paint the Night at Disney California Adventure - Seating

It’s always a good idea to know which direction the parade is flowing and where. The Parade travels the Performance Corridor, but the direction can change. Always double check with a Cast Member regarding the parade direction, especially if there is one parade per night. It could be different each night.

Paint the Night “lives” by Silly Symphony Swings. The first parade of the night begins near Silly Symphony Swings and travels toward Carthay Circle, where it makes a right turn into Hollywood Land, ending just before Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout! Then the route reverses for the second show. On single parade nights, the parade will usually follow the same direction as the first parade, beginning by Silly Symphony Swings and ending in Hollywood Land.

The first day we watched the parade there was an 8:45 p.m. parade and a 10:45 p.m. parade. People started reserving their spots for the first parade between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. All benches and curbs were taken first. Hollywood Land, with its curbs and benches, fills in quickly. Some families laid out blankets along the parade route and ate picnics while they waited. We gnawed on giant turkey legs and Mickey sourdough bread as we waited.

Paint the Night Parade at Disney California Adventure - Toy Story

Assess the crowds during your visit to make a plan for getting your spot. A less-crowded day makes it easier to get a good spot. Knowing where to sit and when to claim your spot can be the most anxiety-provoking part of the night. The best viewing of Paint the Night Parade at Disney California Adventure is a spot in which you can see the parade coming for a while. That will give you the best viewing pleasure and a chance to watch the many dancers and sparkling floats for the longest amount of time. So know which direction the parade is coming toward you.

Cast Members will start preparing for the parade about 2 to 2.5 hours before the parade (you’ll see them coming out with white ropes), and they may discourage you from camping out before 6 p.m. If you want a front-row view, start keeping your eye on the situation after 6:00 on for an 8:45 p.m. show and about 35 minutes to an hour before a 10:45 p.m. show.

Location location location … You can sit along the entire parade route with the exception of pedestrian crossings/walkways and reserved areas. You will want to avoid sitting in a spot that is not a viewing location, because you might feel secure in what you think is a front row spot, then after everything else has filled in a Cast Member will come by and inform you that this is a walkway during the parade and you have to move. So frustrating! So do your research early and double check with a Cast Member. For example, we learned that the curb in front of Award Wieners is a walking zone for the parade — no parade viewing — but the sidewalk/curb on either side of the restaurant and ramps for the nearby crosswalk in front of Disney Junior Dance Party is a viewing area. We liked viewing the parade from this general area for several reasons:

  • Curbs and benches.
  • No pedestrian crossings distracting us from the action.
  • Easy access to the park exit after the parade.

You do not want to sit behind a crossing area. All those people walking between you and the oncoming parade will distract you from the action and ruin your photos and videos. Tad, our family videographer, always makes sure to position us for better photos and videos away from crossings and blind corners. Of course there are many more locations along the route. We've had a chance to hop around the parade route and have found that the area near Goofy's Sky School filled in much later than Hollywood Land and was the best spot to hop in place shortly (15-30 minutes) before parade time. Most of the parade route is ground seating — so no curbs. If you can find a spot to sit that allows you to lean against a light pole or wall, your back will thank you.

Paint the Night Parade at Disney California Adventure - Tink

Consider a Reserved Viewing Area

If you are not one to camp out on a curb or the cement for a few hours — hey, we toadally get the desire to maximize your time — you might consider an option that gives you a reserved viewing area. You can reserve Paint the Night dining packages through Disneyland Dining Reservations up to 60 days in advance. There are also some Pixar Fest hotel packages available at Disneyland Hotel and the Grand Californian that come with reserved viewing certain nights.

Paint the Night at Disney California Adventure - Carthay Circle Reserved Seating

Here are the reserved dining package areas for viewing Paint the Night parade at Disney California Adventure:

  • Carthay Circle — Four-course prix fixed dinner with reserved viewing in chairs on the Hollywood Land side of the building. Second row of chairs is not higher than the first row, just sayin’.
  • Wine Country Trattoria — Three course lunch or dinner with reserved ground seating/standing with a few benches in front of the winery vines and Blue Sky Cellar.
  • Sonoma Terrace Reception — Snacks, drinks and truffles at tables and chairs along the parade route in front of Sonoma Terrace. First row of tables is low top, second row is high top.

Best Viewing of Paint the Night Parade Disneyland

Plan Your Parade Viewing Around Other Nighttime Entertainment

One of the biggest differences between Paint the Night occurring in Disney California Adventure vs. Disneyland is that the fireworks and parade are now separated. No more hopping off the curb after the parade to watch the fireworks show. If seeing Paint the Night, World of Color (under refurbishment until late June), Fantasmic! and the new Together Forever fireworks are on your must-do list, it will take some planning. Both parks offer amazing nighttime entertainment, but it can be challenging and even impossible to get it all in on the same night, so we recommend taking at least two nights to enjoy the shows — one night in each park. Any of these shows offer a great way to put a grand finale on your day, but many of the shows overlap or are scheduled pretty tightly together. It becomes extremely challenging to move before, during and after the nighttime entertainment due to crowds.

If there is a late Paint the Night parade, you just may be able to pull off seeing more than one show. If there is only an early show, then you may have to make a choice, depending on the other park’s schedule. Remember that what may seem like it works on paper doesn’t always play out in reality. The parks are moving large masses of people in the evening, so any movement takes much longer than usual.

Paint the Night Parade at Disney California Adventure - Cars

Scenario 1: You have one night in each park. At Disneyland you can usually view both Fantasmic! and Together Forever fireworks depending on the schedule. If viewing the 9:00 p.m. Fantasmic!, stay in place after the show and watch fireworks from that location since there are only three minutes between shows, and they pipe in the music to that location and show the fabulous projection on three large water screens. If you can stay up for the 10:30 p.m. show you can watch fireworks where you like and then move in to get a spot for Fantasmic!

For the Disney California Adventure night, you should be able to manage both World of Color and Paint the Night. More details to come in June when the World of Color refurbishment ends, Pixar Pier opens and summer entertainment ramps up. For now, it’s just Paint the Night to worry about. But since the parade route goes right past World of Color you might be able to see one show right after the other if you snag the perfect location. Sounds like more research for us in June!

Scenario 2: You have a ParkHopper ticket and only one night. We love parking hopping. We bounce back and forth between the parks many times in a single day because the entrances are right across from each other. However nighttime movement slows us down. You can catch two or three nighttime shows on a night where the show times work out — that means a second Fantasmic! and Paint the Night. Unless it is New Year's Eve there is never more than one fireworks show … and that show is subject to frequent cancellations due to wind. So let’s hop to it. View the 9:00 p.m. Fantasmic! then stay in place for Together Forever fireworks show at 9:30 p.m. As soon as the show ends, hop over to Disney California Adventure for the 10:30 p.m. Paint the Night. You score bonus points if you can get out of Fantasmic! a few minutes early as soon as the Mark Twain Riverboat passes by, hop over to the middle of Main Street U.S.A. to watch the fireworks and beat the crowd out of the park (this is not the ideal plan if you are dealing with a stroller and slow movers).

If you want to start your evening in Disney California Adventure, it doesn’t play out as smoothly. Once the first Paint the Night of the evening ends, the fireworks may have already started at Disneyland. You can exit and see some of the larger bursts of the show from the esplanade between the parks or maybe catch a tiny bit of the show’s end in the other park. If you can't move quickly enough to catch the fireworks, you can definitely hop in place for the later Fantasmic! There is a standby viewing section down near the water below French Market. You may be get in place there or another standby area just above it. You can pick up a FastPass for Fantasmic! earlier in the day to have a reserved area, but to be honest, we prefer the standby areas.

If you are seeing Paint the Night first, knowing the parade direction is key for a smooth exit strategy. If the parade starts by Silly Symphony swings, choose a viewing location closer to the start of the parade on the Goofy's Sky School side of the street. While it seems like you would want to sit closer to the park entrance, we found a faster way out of the park that allows more time before fireworks. If you are a fast walker or hopper, then you can try this. View Paint the Night somewhat near Goofy's Sky School. When the last parade float passes, walk behind the parade viewers following the direction of the parade. Make a left at Ariel's Undersea Adventures and follow the road past Grizzly River Run to the park entrance. You'll see that the parade is still going strong as you pass Carthay Circle. We found that we were able to exit the park by 9:15 (after an 8:45 parade) that way, just in time to land in Main Street U.SA. in Disneyland for fireworks.

Decide How Late You Can Stay Up

The late parade is definitely past Lily’s bedtime, but it can be worth it to have a good seat. We try to see the later Paint the Night Parade because we do not enjoy spending several hours waiting for the first parade. (You know we frogs are always trying to save time.) We choose to go on rides while other people are waiting for and viewing the first parade, because Tad likes taking advantage of the significantly shorter wait times during the first parade. If we are watching the late parade, we hop on a bench or curb after the first viewers vacate it.

Lily usually take a stroller snooze and once she hears that music starting, she rallies, literally hopping up and down to see Tinkerbell, Woody, Buzz, Lightning McQueen, Sulley, Belle, Ariel, and other favorite movie characters, as well as Mickey and all of his friends all lighting up the night. The music is upbeat and even includes a little bit of the original Electrical Light Parade music, which brings back many happy childhood memories for Mommy Frog and me. Tad recorded the parade so he can relive it over and over. We all sleep in the next day. If you have an early morning the next day, the late parade may not be a good choice.

You will need to decide which parade time is right for your family. If you have young children or find that an earlier parade is the only one that will do for you, then plan ahead, bring a blanket or lily pad to sit on, and provide food and maybe some activities to occupy the kids. We enjoy some snacks from our favorite quick-service restaurants and stands in the area. One parent might take Tad and Lily to do some souvenir shopping at the light-up toy souvenir kiosks. We play with the Buzz Lightyear Bubble Blower and light-up toys. We still have our magical wands and paintbrushes that interact with the parade from last time, so the tadpoles enjoy bringing those out to play with other guests’ light-up ears and bows or light-up toys. That makes the time fly quickly. Just before the parade, the crowd is usually very entertaining and excited. Cast Members might play some crowd games to get people excited or even teach people the Paint the Night dance. Photographers might come by to take some fun shots. That’s always a great opportunity to ask for Magic Shots, especially if you have MaxPass, which includes unlimited photo downloads for the day.

You can also think up some games, people watch or encourage them to take a nap — we know that spending a day in the park is exhausting. One parent can even take kids on some rides while the other holds the spot. If you can stay up late, then the later show is definitely easier to catch and you will be part of a much thinner crowd as you exit the park. If the later Parade starts in Hollywood Land, view it between Hollywood Land and Carthay Circle. Hop in place behind the parade and follow it to Carthay Circle. Hop in place behind the parade and follow it to Carthay Circle and hang a right towards the park exit. We tried this and it's super fun to feel like part of the parade and even extends your time with it, because we never want it to end (whoa-oh-oh-oh). Sorry. Can't help it! But that will help you be one of the first to exit the park so you can get to the parking shuttles.

Paint the Night at Disney California Adventure

No matter where and when you watch Paint the Night parade, you and your family members will be asking, “When can we do this again?” Seriously, the music must be part of some Disney mind trick to get you addicted to this awesome parade. And you'll want to do it all again after June 23, when they add a new Incredibles float!

We hope you'll find these tips help you find the best viewing of Paint the Night Parade at Disney California Adventure. If you have more tips, be sure to share them below. And if you have questions about the parade, let us know those too.

Related: 'Friendtastic' Guide to Disneyland Pixar Fest

Keep hopping!

Keep hopping, Leap!
View Comments
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Apr 27, 2018 at 4:55 p.m. Holly Says...

Can you still buy the paint brushes? And what do they do exactly? :)

Reply
May 3, 2018 at 12:44 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Holly!

We haven't seen these paint brushes for sale since Paint the Night returned. But you can learn more about what they do here!

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Reply
Apr 19, 2018 at 7:32 p.m. Julie Says...

Do the dining packages include tax and tip for PTN

Reply
May 3, 2018 at 1:23 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Julie!

We don't believe the Paint the Night dinner package prices include tax and tip.

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Reply
Jul 2, 2016 at 12:27 a.m. Kathy Says...

Thanks for all the info! Just trying to clarify... We are going July 12-14. Did you say that seating near the preferred area is easy enough to get without paying for the meal and special voucher (in your experience anyway)?

Reply
Jul 18, 2016 at 10:16 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Kathy,

Sorry for the delay, but your comment ended up in our spam filter. We generally recommend FastPass as the free way to get seating for shows because the added expense is not worth it. For Paint the Night, you can get viewing near Small World easily and but you have to camp out for other spots.

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
Jul 18, 2016 at 10:16 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Kathy,

Sorry for the delay, but your comment ended up in our spam filter. We generally recommend FastPass as the free way to get seating for shows because the added expense is not worth it. For Paint the Night, you can get viewing near Small World easily and but you have to camp out for other spots.

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
Oct 18, 2015 at 10:07 p.m. Amber Says...

Where does the parade begin when there is only one showing? Does it begin by It's a Small World?

Reply
Oct 20, 2015 at 9:33 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Amber,

Yes, if there is only one parade, it begins at It's A Small World.

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
Jul 28, 2015 at 1:10 p.m. Hazel ross Says...

Am travelling to Disney at Xmas alone with an 8 yr old. Any tips for getting good space for parade?

Reply
Aug 3, 2015 at 2:33 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Hazel,

There is plenty of space, but if you want to be in the very front row with no one in front of you, you would need to line up likely about an hour and a half for the first parade during the week of Christmas. If you can wait until that second parade, wait times will be much lower. If being right in front isn't that important, you can probably figure half that time.

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
Jul 2, 2015 at 5:27 a.m. Nikki Says...

Whoops- I mean sat on the curb for the parade right after the fireworks

Reply
Jul 2, 2015 at 5:25 a.m. Nikki Says...

I was just there with a girlfriend June 25-29th and would agree 1000% to catch the second parade. We did the same as you, waited for the first parade to pass, hopped to Main Street for the fireworks, then sat right down on the curb for the 11pm fireworks. A great strategy! If you have more than one night, head over to watch the fireworks from Small World. I'm still in awe of that show, especially when viewed from standing between the stores on Main Street!

Reply
Jun 15, 2015 at 9:55 p.m. MellyMel Says...

Thanks for the tips. Headed there tonight and trying to decide a plan of attack for both the parade and fireworks.

Reply
Jun 15, 2015 at 8:47 p.m. Bonnie Says...

Thanks for the article. We saw Paint the Night last week and thought I'd just add that the wheelchair viewing area has moved. It used to be in the hub in front of the Partners statue but is now in front of Pixie Hollow. The new spot is terrible for wheelchairs. The area is on a slope so the chairs are leaning down hill and it's hard to park the chairs like this even with the brake on. The area is also much smaller, so not many wheelchairs can park here. There are two other spots, one in front of the Disney Showcase and another by it's a small world. I haven't tried out the other two spots but would recommend checking those areas out if you need them instead of the Pixie Hollow location. Also, you mentioned cast members will tell you to pick up blankets and stand up prior to parade time, well they never told anyone around us. It looked like a refugee camp for about 4 hours prior to the parade and no one ever moved or stood up. I suspect if this continues they may instigate a FP system for the parade like they did for Fantasmic. I certainly hope not though.

Reply
Oct 25, 2015 at 10:31 p.m. CMH Says...

Thank you so much for this tip-we are taking our 7 year old soon (she uses a wheelchair) and we would be devastated if she were uncomfortable. Tipping forward would be very uncomfortable! We will try one of the other areas.

Reply
Jun 23, 2015 at 6:29 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Bonnie,

Thanks for sharing your feedback. There is a wheelchair accessibility area near Small World, another near the Matterhorn, and one more by the Mad Hatter near the entrance to the park. They are first come first serve, and the one near us at Small World was not filled up at all so they took the ropes down just before parade and let others (like Lily) move in as well.

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Reply
Jun 22, 2015 at 6:44 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Bonnie,

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
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