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Home / Blog / Theme Park Tips & Planning / All of the Not-to-Miss Disneyland Rides, Shows and Food

All of the Not-to-Miss Disneyland Rides, Shows and Food

by Leap on June 20, 2024
1 Los Angeles

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Summary

It’s your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disneyland and you need to know what not to miss. Have you really been to Disneyland if you have not ridden Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion or “it’s a small world?” We are here to let you in on what you need to see, eat and do to make sure you leave knowing that you have hit the highlights and understand all the references when people talk about "the Happiest Place on Earth!" This park is the OG Disney park that Walt Disney created for people of all ages, and there is something extra special about that. If you hoppen to be a Disney World fan, we’ll also point out the attractions and lands you cannot find at Disney World. Disneyland is smaller in footprint than Disney World, but with more packed in. Here’s what not-to-miss at Disneyland!

Alvin and this chipmunks

Disneyland Resort has another theme park just across from the Disneyland entrance. Disney California Adventure Park also has a lot to offer and has a toadally different vibe. Budget a day to visit that park if you can (oh, and you’re going to need our what-not-to-miss at Disney California Adventure guide to help with that). Everything below is specifically about Disneyland Park!

Not-to-Miss Classic Disneyland Attractions Without a Height Requirement

We're breaking up our top rides and attractions by 1) the most iconic rides 2) other smaller classics without a height requirement and 3) bigger thrills just for bigger frogs — because we know that Tad’s and my top rides may differ from Mommy Frog’s preferences and what our toddler Lily can access. But the beauty of Disneyland is that some of the most iconic rides are accessible to everyone. These are not considered “kiddie” rides as most adults and children love them. In fact, they have quite a strong adult fan following. If you do have a small fry, our guide to Disneyland height requirements and Rider Switch is most hopful for planning purposes. Of course, there is so much more to do than we can mention here, so we're sharing the major highlights.

What Not-to-Miss at Disneyland in Terms of Rides, Shows and Food - It's a small world

Iconic Large Classic Attractions Without a Height Requirement

These long and highly themed rides are absolute can’t-miss, must-do Disneyland attractions, or else you really didn't truly do Disneyland. They are pretty efficient at moving guests through and are appropriate for the whole family, from grandparents to tadpoles:

What Not-to-Miss at Disneyland in Terms of Rides, Shows and Food - Skippers climb a pole in Jungle Cruise

  • Jungle Cruise - Embark on a boat ride with corny skipper jokes that go on for Niles and Niles ... you'll see animals from around the world and maybe encounter some danger (let's get a closer look) and even the backside of water. And you can toadally take pictures of the bathing elephants - they all have their trunks on!
  • Pirates of the Caribbean - Yo Ho! Yo Ho! A pirate's life for me! Step aboard and set sail for a swashbuckling adventure that will have you singing along. Take a trip backwards through the lives and deaths of pirates in the famed Caribbean. There are a few small drops during the boat ride and you might get a small splash, but don't worry! This adventure is safe for treasure hunters of all ages.
  • Haunted Mansion - Your Ghost Host will narrate your tour of the Haunted Mansion from the stretching room through your time in the Doom Buggy. It's said that there are 999 happy haunts who find it delightfully unlivable inside this mansion, but there's room for a thousand. Any volunteers? From Halloween Time (which starts in late August) through Holiday Time (into January), this ride gets a "Nightmare Before Christmas" holiday layover, which completely changes the sights, sounds and even smells of the ride.
  • “it’s a small world” - This slow, cheerful boat ride with a song you'll never froget is a Disney classic. Look for Disney character dolls mixed into the attractions dolls. (You won't find them at Disney World!) During Holiday Time, this ride gets a holiday overlay with decor and holiday songs. Don't miss the holiday lights on the exterior at night. The façade of the ride is a great place to catch nightly projection show year-round.

Iconic Small Classic Attractions Without a Height Requirement

Here are some popular Fantasyland attractions that your whole family may enjoy:

What Not-to-Miss at Disneyland in Terms of Rides, Shows and Food - People ride Mad Tea Party at night

  • Peter Pan's Flight - admittedly this line gets long soon after the park opens. We suggest saving this flight for midday when all the other lines are long too, or hopping in line after the ride reopens after the fireworks end.
  • Mad Tea Party
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Dumbo
  • Snow White's Enchanted Wish
  • Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Not-to-Miss Thrill Rides at Disneyland

Disneyland has four "mountains" which are themed thrill rides with height requirements. But Disneyland thrills are not extreme, so we see kids and even older adults, who have given up huge drops and loops, enjoying them. You may not be able to hit all the thrill rides in one day ... unless that's your focus.

If you only have one day to spend at Disneyland, we recommend purchasing Genie+ and prioritizing in order to do them all. We will note which rides offer Single Rider if you want a shorter wait and do not mind being split up from your party. If you don't want to get wet, skip Splash Mountain. Don't have any interest in Star Wars? Leave those to the super fans.

What Not-to-Miss at Disneyland in Terms of Rides, Shows and Food - Train heads into tunnel on Big Thunder Mountain

  • Space Mountain - This high-speed coaster is in the dark and zooms through space. This ride has Single Rider.
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds - Hop into a bobsled for a thrilling ride down the icy slopes of the Matterhorn. Watch out for the Yeti (and your back — we suggest adults lean forward instead of resting on the seatback to take on less force of this rougher ride). This ride has Single Rider.
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - This "wildest ride in the wilderness" is a must-do roller coaster.
  • Tiana's Bayou Adventure (formerly Splash Mountain) - This log flume ride is undergoing a re-theme to a "Princess and the Frog" storyline. It opens in 2024! But if you don't like to get wet and need to skip a ride, this is a good one to drop. Literally. There's a big drop. This ride has Single Rider.
  • Indiana Jones Adventure - This wild vehicle ride is an adventure in the dark. Watch out for snakes and other dangers while you are dropping and turning suddenly.

Thrills for "Star Wars" Fans

If you are a huge "Star Wars" fan, you should add an extra day to your journey because the addition of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at the back of Disneyland will definitely take a few hours to explore, ride the attractions and eat the food. To conquer this land means to remove some other attractions from your itinerary, so you’ll have to set priorities. Stay Wars fans may especially enjoy visiting during the Season of the Force, when Space Mountain becomes Hyperspace Mountain.

All of the Not-to-Miss Disneyland Rides, Shows and Food - smugglers run cockpit

  • Star Tours (located in Tomorrowland) - This older classic attraction has a much shorter wait than the other two "Star Wars" rides, but it's toadlly fun. Each time you ride, you might have different adventures with different "Star Wars" characters, both new and old. New adventures get added from time to time making each experience you have unique.
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run - Step into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. You'll be assigned the role of either pilot, gunner or engineer. Smugglers Run is an interactive game style attraction where the whole group must work together to complete the mission. This ride has Single Rider (psst ... Single Riders usually get assigned as engineer.)
  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance This highly immersive, massive ride puts you in the "Star Wars" story. It's full of incredible scenery and surprises. It's a must-do for "Star Wars" fans. Even non-fans will be blown away, but the popularity of this ride means long wait times. We have a whole post on the best strategies to ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.

Disneyland Things You Cannot Find at Disney World

What Not-to-Miss at Disneyland in Terms of Rides, Shows and Food - Entrance to the Matterhorn Bobsleds

This is for our Disney World fans coming to the Land for the first time (BTW, we have a Disney World fan’s guide to Disneyland just for you!)

Rides

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
  • Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
  • Storybook Canal Boats
  • The Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway (check out the immersive queue filled with Disney Easter eggs and hidden Mickeys)
  • Roger Rabbit’s CarToon Spin
  • Jr. Circus Train
  • Indiana Jones Adventure (similar to DINOSAUR)
  • Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes
  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
  • Adventureland Treehouse
  • Disneyland Railroad (you’ll want to make sure to at least ride it all the way to the Main Street, U.S.A. station so you can pass the Grand Canyon and dinosaurs!)

What Not-to-Miss at Disneyland in Terms of Rides, Shows and Food - Mickey Beignet

Lands

  • Toontown - This reimagined land has so much to explore and a new ride, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway which is an absolute must do! Just being the first and only ride specifically dedicated to Mickey and Minnie Mouse makes it worth the ride. The fact that it's also a trackless ride with beautiful sets and animatronics and a wild adventure with a catchy tune makes it even better. Plus, it has one of the coolest queues in the park!
  • New Orleans Square - Home to Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, this land is also where to find good food. We are talking Mickey beignets, Mint Julep, gumbo, clam chowder in a bread bowl, Monte Cristo sandwiches and tasty pommes frites.
  • Critter Country - This is where you'll find Tiana's Bayou Adventure (opening in 2024) and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. You can meet Pooh and his pals, or hop into Pooh Corner for a Tigger Tail or Hunny Pot caramel apple.

Not-to-Miss Disneyland Entertainment

What Not-to-Miss at Disneyland in Terms of Rides, Shows and Food - Castle view of fireworks

Our guide to the best Disneyland shows has everything you need to know about shows and parades. You'll always want to check the entertainment calendar to see what shows are available on the day you visit. Sometimes fireworks are only available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

  • Fireworks - Sometimes fireworks are only available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. In summer, some weeks of spring break and Holiday Time, fireworks hoppen nightly. But don’t despair if you visit during the week, as there is a projections show with music, lasers and special effects. Our Disneyland fireworks post will provide all the best viewing areas.
  • Parades and Character Cavalcades - Parades can come and go with the seasons, but they are very popular. That means getting in place early if you want to see them. The Character Cavalcades are mini parades with Disney characters, but you can hop in place as you hear them coming. They are short and sweet and take almost no time out of your day. They only run when parades are between seasons.
  • Disneyland Band - Times and locations are subject to change. (Catch the band marching down Main Street, U.S.A. with Mickey and pals, usually kicking off sometime between 11:45 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. but subject to change.)
  • Fantasmic! - This magical show takes place on Rivers of America. Mickey has some imagination as he dreams up stories and even conquers some villains. You will enjoy magic, characters, projections and special effects. Hop over to our Fantasmic! post with tips for viewing this amazing nighttime show.

Seasonal Entertainment

All of the Not-to-Miss Disneyland Rides, Shows and Food - Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay

The two biggest seasons at Disneyland are Halloween Time from late August through Halloween and Holiday Time from mid-November through early January. If you hoppen to visit during one of them, you’ll be treated to special entertainment, character interactions, decor, food and beverage.

In the fall, Halloween Time jack-o-lanterns take over Main Street, U.S.A. Characters are in costume and Haunted Mansion transforms into the Nightmare Before Christmas. (At Disney California Adventure, Paradise Gardens has Plaza de la Familia — plus Cars Land and Carthay Circle are highly decorated, especially when lit up at night. The Oogie Boogie Bash, a separately ticketed Halloween party, takes place on select nights at Disney California Adventure during September and October.)

The year ends with the most entertainment-filled festival of them all — Holiday Time! There is so much entertainment and "it's a small world" gets a holiday overlay, both inside and out! These seasonal events might help you choose the best time to visit Disneyland.

Not-to-Miss Disneyland Food & Beverage

What Not-to-Miss at Disneyland in Terms of Rides, Shows and Food - Clam Chowder in a sourdough bowl

The good news is that there are so many delicious foods that there is not just one item you HAVE to try. The tough part is narrowing down your dining or snacking interests. Just remember that everything tastes better when Mickey-shaped. The whole family can enjoy themed eats and delicious frozen treats. You cannot try them all in one visit, but if you share, you can try a lot of Disneyland’s most iconic tastes. You can mobile order in the Disneyland app to save time and skip the food lines at most quick-service dining locations. Here’s a look at our favorite dining locations or tasty items!

  • Plaza Inn Fried Chicken (this location is also available for character dining in the morning)
  • Café Orleans Monte Cristo, Pommes Frites and Mint Julep
  • Mint Julep Bar for Mickey beignets and Mint Julep
  • Ronto Wrap from Ronto Roasters
  • Caramel Apple and Churro Toffee from candy shops
  • Mickey Pretzel or Churro
  • Dole Whip and Mickey Ice Cream Bar
  • Clam Chowder (in a fresh sourdough bread bowl) at several New Orleans Square Locations
  • Jolly Holiday Combo at Jolly Holiday Cafe
  • Corn Dog at Little Red Wagon
  • Garlic, cheesy pretzel bread at Maurice's Treats and Edelweiss Snacks.

What Not-to-Miss at Disneyland in Terms of Rides, Shows and Food - Minnie caramel apple

I cannot mention food in this park without pointing you to the churro toffee in the two candy shops: Candy Palace and Pooh Corner. It's our latest addiction, and luckily, you can find it year-round. Yum! Of course, Mommy Frog cannot turn down a themed caramel apple. Hop into the candy shops for some take-home treats to make the magic last after you leave the park. Check out our favorite Disneyland snacks and where to find them.

Not-to-Miss Disneyland Characters

What Not-to-Miss at Disneyland in Terms of Rides, Shows and Food - Mickey and Pluto wave on Main Street in Town Square

You cannot go to Mickey's house and not see Mickey or other characters. There are roaming characters who pop up when least expected, but here are a few known places you'll likely catch up with characters:

  • Mickey, Minnie and pals in Town Square
  • Tinker Bell at Pixie Hollow
  • Princesses in Fantasy Faire
  • Winnie the Pooh and friends in Critter Country
  • "Star Wars" characters in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge
  • Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Clarabelle, Donald, Daisy, Pluto and Pete in Toontown

There are so many more, so hop over to our blog post on meeting characters at Disneyland. Even our post on spotting unscheduled character experiences will send you on your way to meeting your favorite Disney and Pixar pals in the park.

As you can see, there is a lot to cover. If you want to hit most of the not-to-miss Disneyland attractions, food and entertainment you'll need a solid plan. Hop over to our posts on tips to maximize time at Disneyland and Disney Genie+/Lighting Lane Multi Pass  to find out how to save time on your visit. And you can also save time with our Disneyland touring plan!

Do you have any not-to-miss Disneyland fun we didn't mention? Let us know in the comments below. Ideally, you would take a couple of days to explore Disneyland Resort. If you need Disneyland Resort theme park tickets or hotels, you can save some green through your favorite froggy friends. We even sell tickets pre-loaded with Genie+/Lightning Lane Multi Pass so you can skip the lines for key attractions. Ribbit!

Related: All of the Not-to-Miss Rides, Experiences and Food at Disney California Adventure Park

Related: The Ins and Outs of Disneyland Dining Reservations

Keep hopping!

Keep hopping, Leap!
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May 5, 2024 at 1:50 a.m.
Terry Says...

Good

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