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Our Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney — Including When to Visit and Where to Park

by Leap on November 11, 2020 Los Angeles

Our Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney - PinterestDowntown 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. 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!

There are frogciting changes as Downtown Disney expands into the closed Disney California Adventure theme park's Buena Vista Street area for shopping and dining. Disneyland fans are hopping with anticipation for Disneyland to open up those gates. If you plan to visit this holiday season, these tips can help make it an easy and magical visit.

Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney

Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney - Sign for 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.

Downtown Disney has expanded holiday hours. The district is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. through most days of December. It closes at 8 p.m. Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. You can always find the most up-to-date hours in the Disneyland app.

We have visited Downtown Disney on many weekdays with no problems with parking and no lines to enter security. The only day that we've encountered a closed lot was the first day Downtown Disney reopened, July 9. We frogs always find a way to skip the lines, so we found alternate parking and hopped through the Harbor security without a problem. Ribbit! But our many froggy friends who visit on weekends have waited hours to park and get through security! Croak! We are here to help you avoid that fate.

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.

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 between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m., and it was free to park for a while. However, as of Nov. 19, 2020, parking is $10. You will pay upon entry to the lot. Even though we've seen new self-pay machines next to the lot as you enter and exit the path to the security area, a cast member said they are not in use yet.

Parking is limited in order to control capacity at Downtown Disney. If you’ve arrived and parking is full, you have a couple of choices. You can wait until more people exit and then enter the lot. You’ll see people circling the block and lined up along Disneyland Drive from the Mickey and Friends parking structure (which remains closed) to the Simba Lot entrance. At busier times, northbound drivers coming from Katella will be forced to head past the Simba Lot entrance all the way to Magic Way to make a U-turn. That’s why it’s best to approach Disneyland Drive from the north from Ball Road. The other options are to park somewhere else or avoid driving to Downtown Disney, which we'll break down below.

With the opening of Buena Vista Street, it seems the people who parked in Simba Lot got let in to security earlier than ones coming from Harbor Boulevard. Security paused people coming in from Harbor Boulevard several times. That may or may not differ from day to day.

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 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:

  • Tropicana on Harbor Boulevard charges $15, and parking is subject to availability.
  • Anaheim Hotel on Harbor Boulevard and Disney Way charges $25, and at times requires advance reservations.
  • Best Western Stovalls Inn on Katella (just north of Disneyland Drive and the Simba Lot) is $10.
  • 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.

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. 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.

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. If your reservation is approaching in about the next 15 minutes, just talk to a cast member 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.

How to Get a Reservation at Downtown Disney Restaurants

The table-service restaurants at Downtown Disney accept reservations. Each restaurant is a bit different in terms of the reservation process. For Ballast Point and Catal (opening for holidays events soon), reserve through OpenTable. The restaurants that use the Disneyland app for reservations include:

  • Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen
  • Naples Ristorante e Bar
  • Tortilla Jo’s
  • Uva Bar & Café
  • La Brea Bakery Café (for brunch and dinner)
  • Carthay Circle Lounge (as of Nov. 25)

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 but then have plenty of available seating for walk-ups, 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. Catal and Splitsville remain closed.

Restaurant reservations are available through the end of the holiday season. Reserve early, especially if you are planning to visit on a holiday or busy time.

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:

  • Asian Street Eats
  • Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes
  • California Churro
  • Earl of Sandwich
  • Jamba (Mobile Order available)
  • Jazz Kitchen Express (Mobile Order available)
  • Kayla’s Cakes
  • La Brea Bakery Café
  • Naples Ristorante e Bar
  • Salt & Straw (Mobile Order available)
  • Splitsville (open for dining)
  • Sprinkles (Mobile Order available)
  • Starbucks
  • Wetzel’s Pretzels
  • Wetzel’s Diggity Dog

Shopping at Downtown Disney

Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney - Star Wars Trading Post entrance

Most of the stores at Downtown Disney are open. You may see a few modifications. For example, the WonderGround Gallery has been taken over by travelers from Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge since Disneyland is closed. They've set up a trading post, so you can purchase toys, clothing, legacy lightsabers and other items usually found only in Batuu. 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.

Virtual Queues and Mobile Wait Lists

Our Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney-Mobile wait listIn order to control capacity (currently indoor shops are limited to 25% capacity), certain stores — or areas such as Buena Vista Street — offer a virtual queue to enter. Since Downtown Disney reopened, we’ve used mobile wait lists for Marceline’s Confectionery, the Disney Dress Shop, World of Disney and the Disney Home Store. The LEGO store (or others) may implement a virtual queue if the line gets too long. Now that Buena Vista Street is open, you may see the area reach capacity. You'll be able to join a Mobile Wait List so you can enjoy the rest of Downtown Disney as you wait your turn to get in. Some of the shops within may utilize a Mobile Wait List.

Another one of our important tips for visiting Downtown Disney is to hop in any virtual queues right away. Before you do anything else, take a quick stroll around the property and scout out any stores or areas that have a virtual queue. You can be on several different mobile wait lists at the same time. Marceline's Confectionery is always our first stop. If the wait is two to three hours, you can eat and dine and pick up your treats as you are leaving. It's actually a great plan to get treats at the end on a warm day so chocolate doesn't melt! But do not wait until the end to join the queue or you just might miss out.

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 a join a short line to get in.

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. Depending on crowd level, it can take hours to get into Buena Vista Street or Marceline's Confectionery. We can give you our word that they are worth the wait!

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!

Do you have an annual pass or a Disney Visa? Your AP discount will only apply if your pass is still active in your app. If you have a Disney Visa or your AP has expired during the COVID-19 park closure, pay at a register to get your discount.

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.

Holiday Season at Downtown Disney

Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney - Holiday merch and decorations at World of Disney

'Tis the season to be jolly at Downtown Disney! We've already hopped though World of Disney to see the Christmas decor and merchandise. Holiday treats are slowly being rolled out at Marceline's Confectionery. A few holiday events are hoppening at Downtown Disney restaurants.

And the most exciting news of all is that Downtown Disney has expanded this holiday season. We can hop into Disney California Adventure Park as of Nov. 19 for shopping and dining on Buena Vista Street ... including food carts to grab those Disneyland snacks we've been missing! The tadpoles were so excited to eat churros, popcorn, Mickey ice cream bars and corndogs. No, the rides are not open, and characters are not there to greet us (Mickey and Minnie are 92 years old and in a high-risk group after all), but it still brought us joy to be inside the theme park. We were hoppy to do some holiday shopping and enjoy our favorite Disneyland treats. I feel like some normal theme park days we are just there for the treats anyway!

Our Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney -Gingerbread Mickey cookieBuena Vista Street Restaurants 

The following dining establishments and vending carts will be open as of Nov. 19 on Buena Vista Street inside Disney California Adventure:

  • Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe — Grab a cup of Starbucks coffee, some hot cocoa, a cookie or a scrumptious artisan sandwich and just enjoy being inside the park.
  • Carthay Circle Lounge — Unwind in the expanded outdoor seating area. Carthay Circle presents an all-new menu of cocktails and food. Dine on the patio as you and enjoy small plates and shared items of Mediterranean-California light fare. The seasonal menu features the Carthay shrimp roll, harissa-roasted lamb, soy-glazed salmon, lemon-crusted fish of the day and an artisan cheese board. Kids can dig into orecchiette pasta with marinara and orange dragon chicken skewers. Unwind with a glass of wine, craft beers or a cool cocktail, enjoying amazing views of Buena Vista Street. (Reservations went live Nov. 25.)
  • Smokejumpers Grill — Get your tasty American classics for lunch and dinner with a streamlined menu of burgers, fries, onion rings, chocolate and vanilla shakes, and craft beer. The primary way to place your order at this dining location is through Mobile Order on the Disneyland app. If you have an expired AP that's no longer showing up in your app, order in person to get your discount. You can find Jingle Bell sippers here!
  • Award Wieners — Have you missed your Disneyland corn dogs? Us too! The wait is over as corn dogs (and cheddar cheese sticks) take the stage at this Hollywood Land hot dog stand! Add apple pie funnel cake, beer or the popular Backlot Michelada. Mobile Order is recommended, but if you have an expired AP that' snot in your app, order in person to get your discount. You can find Jingle Bell sippers here!
  • Vending Carts —The food carts are open so you can get your Disneyland popcorn, churros, ice cream and other classic Disney snacks we know you miss so much. Oh boy! You can purchase Jingle Bell sippers at the carts. There are two light-up popcorn buckets: The white Christmas tree (also available at the World of Disney store) and the Jack Skellington annual passholder bucket (also available at the Backlot Premiere Shop and Kingswell Camera Shop). You may encounter Mobile Order at the Grizzly Peak Airfield popcorn cart.

Keep in mind that even though Smokejumpers Grill and Award Wieners offer Mobile Order, you'll want to wait until you get into Buena Vista Street before you order. Having a Mobile Order does not grant you entrance into Buena Vista Street if it hits capacity. Hop over to our holiday treats at Disneyland post so you can add some must-eat treats to your wish list.

Our Top Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney-Minnie Holiday Crispy TreatBuena Vista Street Shops

Buena Vista Street shops open as of Nov. 19 include:

  • Trolley Treats — Sweet treats
  • Kingswell Camera Shop — Gift ideas such as frames and photo albums
  • Elias & Co. — Headware, handbags, vintage-style clothing, Disney dresses, jewelry and more for the whole family
  • Julius Katz & Sons — Home decor, kitchen gadgets, Disney pins, art and collectibles
  • Off the Page — Gallery with art, figurines and collectibles (opened Dec. 3)

Keep in mind that shop capacity is limited to 25% indoors, so expect to wait in lines to enter shops at busy times. If the store lines get too long, there could be a Mobile Wait List.

Downtown Disney is decorated for the holidays with colorfully lit Christmas trees, nutcrackers and presents. A larger tree is located between Downtown Disney and the Esplanade. Even though Buena Vista Street is decorated for Christmas and holiday music fills the air, there is no tree this year on Buena Vista Street. We are hoppy to see the Red Car Trolley is out in Hollywood Land.

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. Guests may remove masks to eat or drink when stationary. 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.

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. The locations where you may have to join a mobile waitlist include Marceline's Confectionery and Buena Vista Street, but other shops also use the virtual queue at peak times. Join those first and then dine and shop while you wait your turn to enter. Carthay Circle Lounge does not take reservations, but does will offer a Mobile Wait List. Hop on it early in case the wait gets long. Since Orange Country moved from Tier 2 (Red) to Tier 1 (Purple), indoor store capacity moved from 50% to 25%. Capacity may move to 20% as the government tightens up restrictions even further in December. That can lead to longer than usual waits to get inside.

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.

Tips for Visiting Downtown Disney - Chadwick Boseman Mural

You can use the Disney backgrounds on the former ESPN Zone building as backgrounds for your photos. The one on the corner changes. It's most recently been a popular mural tribute to Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther.

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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