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Heading to Downtown Disney? Here Are Our Top Tips (Including What's New and Where to Park)

by Leap on April 4, 2021 3 Los Angeles

Our Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney - Pinterest Need your Disneyland fix when you cannot get into Disneyland? Even though Disneyland is temporarily closed (reopening April 30!), there's always something new hoppening at Downtown Disney. It's been our home away from home on the West Coast while the theme parks were still closed. Before we get into the general tips for visiting Downtown Disney, we'll go over what you need to know about visiting right now (as things are always changing). Hop over to our Disneyland reopening post for more dates and details about Disneyland Resort!

Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney Right Now

Almost all Downtown Disney table-service restaurants have reopened. Dining and vending carts have returned. There are a few new things to add to your to-do list. Hop down to "What's New" for a complete list. Here's information for visiting Downtown Disney while Disneyland is in a transition period as the theme parks reopen and parking rates change.

What's New?

There's always something new popping up (or should we say, hopping up!). Here are a few new changes you need to know:

  • Splitsville reopened for dining.
  • Napolini and Taqueria have reopened!
  • Disneyland and Disney California Adventure reopen April 30!
  • A Raya and the Last Dragon mural is on the old ESPN Zone building.
  • The Star Wars Trading Post moved to the old Rainforest Cafe location Feb. 19. You can spot Rey's Speeder out front.
  • Stage 17 entrance has returned to the Esplanade.
  • Check out the LEGO Chewbacca in front of the LEGO Store.
  • You can get your treats a little quicker at Marceline's if you know what you want and are ordering from the case, or a few other select items. There's a register outside with a photo menu so you can order without waiting to get into the shop.
  • WonderGround Gallery reopened Feb. 19.
  • Enjoy the Mickey pineapple flavored sugar cookie — it reminds us of Dole Whip!
  • Annual Passholders get a free AP magnet (with purchase at select locations and while supplies last). Make sure your Legacy Pass is linked to the Disneyland app.
  • Free access to Buena Vista Street is no longer available.

Our Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney - Mickey Cookie in Front of Disneyland Entrance

Downtown Disney District has been sustaining us with a little Disney magic until the Disneyland theme parks are able to reopen. Before COVID-19, we never really had to think about visiting Downtown Disney. It was a convenient place to grab breakfast before entering the parks or to get a quick bite or souvenir after exiting the parks. And that time is soon to return. But Downtown Disney has been busy lately. When we visited Downtown Disney to play or dine, we never worried about parking. These days, Downtown Disney has more and more Disney fans coming to shop, eat treats and gaze wistfully at the theme park gates. With less capacity to allow for physical distancing, on certain days, it can be downright tricky to get into Downtown Disney. But have no fear — your favorite frogs are here with our very best tips for visiting Downtown Disney!

Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney

Hop along as we go over our top tips for visiting Downtown Disney, including the best times to visit, best places to park and how to get into Marceline’s Confectionery, World of Disney store or Buena Vista Street at peak times. We’ll dig in to the ribbiting details of the expansion of Downtown Disney into Buena Vista Street for shopping and dining, as well.

Best Time to Visit Downtown Disney

One of our best tips for visiting Downtown Disney is to time your visit right. Ultimately, the best time to visit Downtown Disney is during the week. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the least crowded of all, especially in the morning and afternoon. Holidays, weekends, and Fridays around lunch or dinner hit capacity throughout the day and even shortly after parking opens. People line up early to park on weekend mornings. Once the lot reaches capacity, it’s closed to new cars coming in, except for people with dining reservations.

The Downtown Disney District hours vary slightly per day. Check the Disneyland app for the latest information. Downtown Disney hours will expand in May from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. We have visited Downtown Disney on many weekdays with no problems with parking and no lines to enter security. Arrive early to beat the crowds. But there should be less of a line to get in now that the theme parks will be open and people shift their interests to the parks.

Digital message boards on Disneyland Drive and Katella Avenue indicate when entry is paused due to capacity limitations. Foot traffic may also be paused at times. The Disneyland app also indicated when the district hits capacity. At busy times, you'll find a much shorter wait if you enter security at the Harbor Boulevard side. As more and more people stay at hotels off Harbor Boulevard, the lines to get in may be longer.

Where to Find Parking at Downtown Disney

Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney - New Self Pay Stations at Simba Lot

One of the challenges to visiting Downtown Disney is the limited parking. Here are all of your options for parking at Downtown Disney (or nearby).

Park On-Site at the Simba Lot

Downtown Disney parking moved its lot from Magic Way to a new location. The Simba Lot is just south of the Paradise Pier Hotel off Disneyland Drive. Parking opens at 9:45 a.m. when Downtown Disney opens at 10 a.m. or 8:45 when it opens at 9:00 a.m. If you arrive too early you will have to drive around the block. Parking is $10 through April 29, 2021, but prices change April 30, 2021, and we will once again pay upon exiting.

Here are the new parking prices:

  • The first hour of parking costs $10. Validations apply after the first hour of paid parking.
  • Enjoy an additional 3 hours of same-day parking with a $20-minimum purchase and validation from any Downtown Disney location — or up to 5 additional hours of same-day parking with validation from any Downtown Disney table-service restaurant.
  • Beyond these validations, each additional hour costs $14, charged in 30-minute increments, with a minimum $7. The maximum daily parking and lost ticket fee is $66. Parking is subject to capacity.

Note that restaurants and lounges within Disneyland Resort hotels do not validate for Downtown Disney District parking areas.

Even though we've seen new self-pay machines next to the lot as you enter and exit the path to the security area, we do not know if they are in use yet.

Get Your Steps In

If you can catch a ride and be dropped off (or stay at a nearby hotel if you are from out of town), that solves the parking dilemma. You can arrive at one of two drop-off areas near each security entrance to Downtown Disney. One drop-off area is off Downtown Drive (near Magic Way and Downtown Drive by the Disneyland Hotel). The other is the Harbor Boulevard guest drop-off and pick-up location. If you are staying at a nearby hotel on Harbor Boulevard, you can simply hop in! If Downtown Disney reaches capacity, you will not be able to walk in until other guests exit.

Park Off-Site 

There are other parking options in the area besides the Simba Lot. Now that parking is no longer free at Downtown Disney, these certainly seem more attractive and may even save time if Simba is closed. You can find off-site parking at locations along Harbor Boulevard or near the Simba Lot. Several hotels across the street from the Harbor security entrance offer paid parking. Here are a few options through April 29, 2021:

  • Tropicana on Harbor Boulevard charges $15, and parking is subject to availability. (It's just across the street from Esplanade.)
  • Anaheim Hotel on Harbor Boulevard and Disney Way charges $25, and at times requires advance reservations. It’s about a 5- to 10-minute walk to Harbor security.
  • Best Western Stovalls Inn on Katella (just north of Disneyland Drive and the Simba Lot at Katella, by the Coco's) is $15. It's about a five-minute walk from the lot to temperature check.
  • Best Western Plus Park Place Inn sometimes offers parking for $15. If the sign is out, pull in! (It's just across the street from Esplanade.)
  • GardenWalk off Disney Way charges $3 an hour for parking (the first hour is free, with a $30 daily maximum). Some GardenWalk locations validate parking. It’s about a 10-minute walk to Harbor security.

Once Disneyland theme parks reopen, some of these locations will no longer allow parking. Others will raise their prices.

ARTIC Lot A is a bit further away and is free. It has short-term parking via Katella Avenue or Douglas Road. You will have to catch a bus to Disneyland from there (on demand for now). The Fullerton Park & Ride has free parking, but you would need to catch a bus or pay for car service to get you to Downtown Disney. You'll need to plan extra time for this.

If walking is a challenge for you, you can rent wheelchairs at several off-site locations across from the Disneyland Resort on Harbor Boulevard. One Stop Mobility or Select Mobility are two nearby choices.

Dining at Downtown Disney Restaurants

Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney - Diner at Jazz Kitchen with food and plexiglass barrier

Making a reservation for dining is the easiest way to access Downtown Disney on the weekend or busy times. If you can only visit on the weekend due to work or school, another one of our top tips for visiting Downtown Disney is to make a dining reservation. People who have reservations can enter the Simba Lot even when it temporarily stops letting people in. Show the police your reservation and they will let you in. Plus a reservation is kind of like a FASTPASS for getting to the front of the security line if there’s a long wait.

At security, if your reservation is approaching in about the next 15 minutes, just talk to a cast member wearing plaid about jumping to the front of the line. You can’t miss the cast members: They line the path from the parking lot through security to wave and welcome you back to Downtown Disney.

While we have enjoyed free access to Buena Vista Street and its yummy restaurants for the past few months as an extension of Downtown Disney. Buena Vista Street is now closed for a new sold-out ticketed event called A Touch of Disney.

Downtown Disney vending carts are open, including:

  • California Churro Carts
  • Kayla's Cake
  • Wetzel's Pretzels Stand
  • Diggity Dog
  • Blue Ribbon Corn Dogs

How to Get a Downtown Disney Restaurant Reservation

The table-service restaurants at Downtown Disney accept reservations. Each restaurant is a bit different in terms of the reservation process.

For Ballast Point, reserve through OpenTable or call (714) 687-9813. Ballast Point serves brunch on the weekends from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

The restaurants that use the Disneyland app for reservations include:

  • Catal (open for dinner as of May 6, 2021, for select days)
  • Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen
  • Naples Ristorante e Bar
  • Tortilla Jo’s
  • Uva Bar & Café (now open for breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays)
  • La Brea Bakery Café (for brunch and dinner)
  • Splitsville (now open!)

Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney - Person using phone to scan QR code at Ballast PointIf you cannot get a reservation but have a particular dining establishment in mind, just show up and ask in person. We’ve seen the app have no reservations for Downtown Disney locations but then have plenty of available seating for walk-up, so reservations are not always necessary. But they definitely help with guaranteeing you'll get in during busy times! Book early for the best availability.

All of the restaurants have expanded outdoor seating with space between tables. Plexiglass barriers are installed in some locations. Plexiglass dividers separate diners at Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen from people passing by. At table-service restaurants, be prepared to scan a QR code to pull up the menu on your phone. We've noticed that the menu items are more limited than normal, so check out the menus online before visiting. At Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen, the hostess handed us plastic bags for our face coverings and a hand wipe. At Ballast Point, you can also order and pay on your phone. All wait staff and other employees wear masks.

Quick-Service Dining and Vendor Carts

Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney - Earl of Sandwich french Dip

You do not need a reservation for quick-service Downtown Disney restaurant locations. Look for signs with QR codes for Mobile Order for select quick-service locations. The following quick-service restaurants and food stands are open except where noted:

  • Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes
  • CrazyShake Window by Black Tap
  • California Churro
  • Earl of Sandwich
  • Jamba (Mobile Order available)
  • Jazz Kitchen Express (Mobile Order available)
  • Kayla’s Cakes
  • La Brea Bakery Café (currently closed)
  • Napolini
  • Salt & Straw (Mobile Order available)
  • Sprinkles (currently closed)
  • Starbucks
  • Taqueria at Tortilla Jo's
  • Wetzel’s Pretzels
  • Wetzel’s Diggity Dog

Note that if you are looking to apply a passholder discount, do not use mobile order. Pay at the counter or window and present your card.

Shopping at Downtown Disney

Heading to Downtown Disney? - New Star Wars Trading Post LocationMost of the stores at Downtown Disney are open. You may see a few modifications. The Star Wars Trading Post has moved to the old Rainforest Cafe location. Many more Star Wars items have been brought over from Galaxy's Edge to the much larger new location. You can purchase toys, clothing, legacy lightsabers and other items usually found only in Batuu, as well as other Star Wars merchandise. That move means the WonderGround Gallery has reopened. The LEGO Store no longer has play or self-serve areas to minimize contact. You can take a closer look at all of the retail therapy available right now in our Ultimate Guide to Downtown Disney at Disneyland.

The stores have to limit capacity to allow for social distancing. If a store is full, an employee will have you wait in a short line before entering. There are usually markers on the ground to tell you where to stand to allow 6 feet between you and the parties ahead of and behind you. For select popular stores, you may join a virtual queue.

Marceline's Confectionery has an outside register for people who know what they want and do not need to go into the shop. That moves the line a lot quicker. Access to the Disney Backlot Premiere Shop at Stage 17 is from the esplanade to the left of Disney California Adventure.

Even though Disneyland Annual Passes are canceled, bring your old pass with you because you can still use it for discounts for food and merchandise at select Downtown Disney and Buena Vista Street locations until Disney announces new membership offerings. You'll also need to make sure it is linked to your app. Hop over to our Disneyland reopening post to learn more about the pass cancellation and more. Once your Legacy Pass is linked, you can get your discount even when mobile ordering and doing mobile checkout.

Virtual Queues and Mobile Wait Lists

Heading to Downtown Disney? -Virtual Queue Code for Star wars Trading Post

In order to control capacity (currently, indoor shops are limited in capacity), certain stores — or areas such as Buena Vista Street — may offer a virtual queue to enter.

The latest use of the virtual queue is for the new (and popular) Star Wars Trading Post. In order to scan the QR code and join a Mobile Wait List, make sure your phone is set to "Allow Location Access" for Safari. You will enter your name and number and party size. You'll receive an initial text. The second text indicates it's time to check-in and join a line to get in. For the shop's opening weekend, people waited hours to enter Downtown Disney from the Simba Lot, and then joined a virtual queue. It took hours to receive the return text and then the physical queue took over an hour. So budget plenty of time to visit Star Wars Trading Post.

Here's a hop tip. Use another device to scan the QR code in the above photo as soon as you arrive on property. You may be able to save yourself a few hours of waiting. Ribbit!

Our froggy tip is to make sure you plan for the Mobile Wait Lists and give yourself enough time to visit all the locations on your wish list. Our Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney - Mobile Order Sign and BagsMobile Checkout

World of Disney is testing a new Mobile Checkout system via the Disneyland app. To use it, grab a Mobile Checkout shopping bag. Scan items with your phone as you add them to the bag. Tap Check Out when finished to pay on your phone. Show your QR Code to a cast member as you exit!

Did you have an annual pass that was active when the parks closed or a Disney Visa? If your pass was linked to your Disneyland app on March 14, 2020, you may see it reappear again so you can use it in the app for discounts. Hip HOP Hooray! You may need to get assistance if you cannot link it.

Limited Shopping Events

If you enjoy acquiring rare and limited Disney items, you might be lucky enough to hop on a reserved shopping event. At times, you may make a reservation to do some Disney shopping in Downtown Disney. You can make an online reservation at the Disneyland site to purchase featured products in the former ESPN Zone. Each event is usually offered for a couple of days and reservations fill up quickly. You can usually book the week before an event goes live.

What You Need to Know About Visiting Downtown Disney Right Now

Our Disneyland reopening post has all of the details on the health and safety protocols and rules for visiting the property. The same theme park rules that apply in the theme parks apply to Downtown Disney, as you pass through the same security and health screening as you would if the theme parks were open. Here are our tips for visiting Downtown Disney right now.

Follow the Disneyland dress code.

Our Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney - Mom and daughter dressed vintage DisneyThe Disneyland costume and dress code guidelines apply to Downtown Disney, as well. As a refresher, adults 14 and up may not wear costumes or clothing that drags on the ground. They can, however, DisneyBound to use street clothes to channel a favorite Disney (or Marvel or Star Wars) character’s colors or patterns. We saw some salty pirates “walking the plank” when they were turned away from entering Downtown Disney around Halloween. Your Disney clothes, ears and Disney masks are always welcome at Downtown Disney.

Wear a face covering.

The mask policy is nonnegotiable. Everyone from employees to guests age 2 and up must wear a facial covering made with at least two layers of breathable material. It must cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly against the sides of the face. The covering must be secured with ties or ear loops. Gaiter-syle coverings, open-chin triangle bandanas and face coverings containing valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are not allowed. Even if you receive the COVID-19 vaccine, you will still need to mask up.

Signs and cast members will remind guests to follow the social distancing guidelines and wear a facial covering. If you somehow forget your mask, you can purchase a disposable mask from a vending machine outside security for $2, so you can get into Downtown Disney. Once inside, you can purchase Disney-themed cloth masks at World of Disney and other locations.

You cannot remove the mask to take a pic. A cast member told us to make sure we could “only see our smiling eyes in photos.” You may remove the mask once seated in a restaurant (Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen provided mask bags and a hand wipe). You may also remove the mask when stationary and physically distant from other guests to enjoy food and treats.

Be prepared to undergo temperature checks and changes to security.

Prepare to have your temperature checked by a health professional. If you have a fever of 100.4 or above, you and your party will be pulled aside. You may encounter a sniffing dog. Carry your items past the dog and do not interact with the working dog. Bring as little as possible so security does not need to search through all your belongings. You’ll place your items on a table, slide them forward and walk through the metal detector. At times, Disney has been testing a contactless security screening. Selfie sticks are not permitted at Downtown Disney.

Bring credit, debit and gift cards for contactless transactions.

The stores prefer contactless forms of payment. Annual passholder discounts still work, so bring your annual pass card even if it expired during the pandemic. Look for Mobile Order opportunities for contactless ordering (but make sure your pass is in the app if you want to apply discounts).

Scout out which stores require a virtual queue upon arrival.

Depending on the day and time of your visit, the stores or areas you want to access may or may not have a virtual queue, especially at peak times. Join those first and then dine and shop while you wait your turn to enter.

Be prepared for limited capacity for physical distancing.

Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney - Bench with Physical Distancing Signs

As mentioned, capacity in Downtown Disney is limited to promote physical distancing. That means at peaks times, you may experience delays getting in. Mostly this occurs on holidays, weekends and Friday nights. Buena Vista Street has its own capacity limits. Plan extra time to park, make reservations and try to visit during weekdays if you can to avoid crowds.

Pay attention to where you sit and stand. There are markings on benches and on the ground to separate parties. Take advantage of hand washing stations and sanitizer stations throughout Downtown Disney.

Get those photo-ops.

You can use the Disney backgrounds on the former ESPN Zone building as backgrounds for your photos. The one on the corner changes. The latest is a Raya and the Last Dragon mural.

Hopfully, our tips for visiting Downtown Disney help you prepare for your visit. If you are looking to stay at one of the hotels near Disneyland when you visit Downtown Disney, your froggy friends can help you jump on a hoppin' deal.

Related: Disneyland Reopening

Keep hopping!

Keep hopping, Leap!
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Apr 24, 2021 at 8:39 p.m. Stacie Says...

Hi, thank you so much!! I was planning a trip to come here with my boyfriend in the weekend. I would rather wait until a week day to go. Less crowds, less stress. May God bless! (:

Reply
Apr 10, 2021 at 3:10 p.m. Sarah Says...

Thank you for this! So much great info presented perfectly

Reply
Apr 11, 2021 at 2:13 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

That is high praise, Sarah - thank you so much! Thanks for taking the time to share with us! :)

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Reply
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