When we initially planned our trip to San Diego, we had no intentions of going to Disneyland. But after having to delay our trip twice I made an executive decision that after all that waiting we were going to stay two extra days and go to the Happiest Place on Earth!

Since Disney World is really the park I’m familiar with, I had a lot of research to do for our Disneyland trip, and in the end it really paid off because we had a great time! (Side note: there are definitely some BIG differences between Disneyland and Disney World.)

So here are all the details (like ALL of them including all the rides and wait times because I’m a nerd like that…so if you are too, welcome!).

Also a couple things to note: Our trip was in October of 2021, so there was no Genie+ but the parks were starting to get pretty crowded. Also, there weren’t any parades or character meet and greets (although we did see a lot of characters out and about in the parks!).

Where We Stayed in Anaheim

We stayed at the Hilton Anaheim for basically one reason: we had plenty of Hilton points to cover our stay. The hotel was perfectly sufficient (no complaints but also nothing out-of-the-ordinary spectacular), but the best part was the view!

We had only paid for a standard view room, but I guess we were eligible for a free upgrade because we ended up with a theme park view! Such a fantastic surprise!

Transportation

The Hilton Anaheim is about a mile away from Disneyland. So while we could technically walk, we opted not to so we could save our feet for the parks. Instead, we walked over to the Toy Story Parking Lot and took the Disneyland bus (for free!) from there. This meant we walked about half a mile to and from the parks instead of the mile-plus.

Arrival Evening: Downtown Disney

After we got checked into our hotel and saw our amazing view, we headed to Downtown Disney for some dinner.

First, of course, we got to walk through the Esplanade (the plaza connecting Disneyland with California Adventure) and we could feel the magic. It was so exciting to finally be there! (I mean, seriously, when 2021 began I had no idea I would get to take my first ever trip to Disneyland!)

Then we kept walking and got into Downtown Disney and this is where…the magic faded a bit. It was SO CROWDED. Like the most crowded place I had been in a long time and all the restaurants had lines and we were hungry and in a new and unfamiliar place and it was just…not great.

I had wanted to eat at Black Tap Burger but I was not prepared for the line. Since everywhere else seemed to have a long line too, we decided to stick it out though and it ended up moving pretty quickly. The burgers were great, and after some food we felt good enough to brave the crowded at World of Disney for a bit of shopping. Then it was time to head back to the hotel though, because we needed rest for our full day at Disneyland the next day.

Day 1: Disneyland

Day 1 of our first trip to Disneyland started out with a bit of a disappointment because we didn’t manage to get a Rise of the Resistance boarding group (this trip was October 2021, so pre-Genie+).

After trying for the boarding group we headed to the parks, after getting through the gates we rope-dropped Haunted Mansion. We were not super close to the front though (we had gotten a bit of a later start than I expected), but the line moved fast and we only waited about 15 minutes.

Then we did Pirates of the Caribbean with a 5 minute wait (and loved seeing the differences between Disneyland and Disney World — a whole bayou! two drops!).

After two rides, we stopped for a quick bathroom break and breakfast. We got the Mickey Beignets at Mint Julep Bar (we mobile ordered them for a later pick-up time while we were on the bus heading to the park!) and of course we loved them.

Then we did Indiana Jones. We had to do rider switch for this one because our kiddo did not want to ride it, so it took a chunk of our morning. (But I was still glad we hit it in the morning because the line was still shorter even though they weren’t doing single rider at the time.) This was my FAVORITE ride all day. The queue is fantastic and the ride is so fun and fast. I loved it!

After this we headed to Fantasyland and did Alice in Wonderland (20 minute wait), the Tea Cups (5 minute wait), and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (20 minute wait). We loved Alice and it was so fun to see what I remembered from when Mr. Toad used to be at Disney World (and see as an adult that that storyline is BIZARRE).

By then it was getting close to noon, so we found a spot to sit behind the castle and pulled out our phones to try and get a Rise of the Resistance boarding group…which we did!

Feeling happy about this, we headed to lunch at the Plaza Inn to have their famous fried chicken. It was pretty good, but not a dish I’ll dream about or anything. The best part was that while we were waiting for Gerrit to get our food, a little Halloween cavalcade went by. I love when you catch things like that at just the right time at Disney!

After lunch we did It’s a Small World (25 minute wait) and then headed to Toontown.

I really loved the Toontown area…it’s just so adorable and a lot of characters, including Mickey and Minnie, were out waving in front of their houses. We did Gadget’s Go Coaster, which was a 20 minute wait we normally would not have waited…but our kiddo didn’t have a great experience last time she rode Barnstormer and we wanted to give her the chance to redeem herself with its Disneyland equivalent. (She did! She didn’t love it, but also wasn’t too scared!)

Then back to Fantasyland for Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, which was a 20 minute wait I did not feel was worth it.

And here’s where I’ll tell you what we would do different next time: we would rope drop Fantasyland. The spaces in Fantasyland are TIGHT and I’d imagine at rope drop you could knock out most of those rides back to back with minimal waits and minimal crowds. I think I would rather have longer waits for some of the more popular rides in the afternoon in areas that have more room than have mediocre wait times in the super crowded queues of Fantasyland.

Here you can see how squeezed some of the Fantasyland lines are!

We were mid-afternoon by this point and our Rise of the Resistance boarding group got called so it was time to head there. We did Rider Switch again, and I went first. Honestly, I loved this ride but I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I hadn’t had to wait AN HOUR even with the virtual queue in effect. All I wanted to do by the time I got to the ride was sit down, so some of the magic was lost on me.

Then G got a turn to ride it, so while E and I were waiting we got churros (I get the hype now! they were so good!) and rode the Casey Jr. Circus Train (5 minute wait). And honestly at this point, I was feeling a little disappointed. The Fantasyland crowds were getting to me, and I felt like we had bounced around the park all day and there was so much we still hadn’t gotten to (we hadn’t even walked into Tomorrowland yet!).

Once we were all back together we decided to ride the Disneyland Railroad a bit of the way around, which was really nice. But then the evening went off the rails a bit. (Oops, honestly did not intend a pun there.) We went to Frontierland and were going to ride Pooh, but by the time we got there the wait had jumped up too much for us. Then I wanted to get a specific snack at Pooh Corner, and they were sold out.

View from Disneyland Railroad

We ended up at Pizza Planet for dinner which was…not my first choice. It was okay, which is all I really have to say.

We were feeling a little discouraged by the wait times (they were especially high because California Adventure was having Oogie Boogie Bash, so a lot of people had park hopped over to Disneyland). But as we were finishing dinner we noticed that Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin had dropped down to about a 15 minute wait, so I made my family quickly throw away our trash and rush over there before the line got too much longer. It made for a perfect last ride of the day!

Honestly, by the end of the night I was feeling a little discouraged. Why hadn’t I felt more Disney magic? Had something changed about *me*? Or was it the park? Or did I just not like Disneyland? Sure, we had had some fun times and gotten on some great rides, but it hadn’t been even close to my favorite day of our SoCal trip. Were my expectations too high?

Here is where the Disney magic gets you though. On the way out of the park I decided I clearly needed to end my evening with a Mickey Premium Bar. So we got some at a cart near the park exit and sat on a bench near the train station to eat them.

Characters were out in the Halloween costumes waving to the kids from the train station steps, the Main Street music was playing, I was eating a Mickey Premium Bar and I unexpectedly found myself crying because everything was suddenly perfect.

So sure, it may not have been the best Disney day we had ever had. But it was still pretty great. (And next time we go, I think I’ll have a better plan of how to move through Disneyland!)

Day 2: Disney’s California Adventure

Here’s were things turned though because the next day we headed to Disney’s California Adventure and, spoiler alert, we LOVED IT. It was seriously the best day of our trip, although it didn’t seem like it was going to be at first because it started out RAINING. I mean, who expected rain in Southern California in October? I don’t think we had even brought and umbrella on our trip.

Luckily it was a pretty light drizzle that looked like it would let up soon so we braved it (after standing under a tree in the Esplanade for a bit before we got in line for the park) and made it into California Adventure.

I immediately loved it. Much like Hollywood Studios at Disney World, the front of California Adventure has that old Hollywood vibe, which is honestly one of my favorite park vibes.

While most of the rest of the crowd headed to Radiator Springs Racers, we knew we didn’t want to waste valuable morning time and opted to head to Pixar Pier and Toy Story Mania first which was a great choice because it was a walk on. Then we rode Jessie’s Critter Carousel (another walk-on) and got some Jack-Jack Num Num Cookies for breakfast. Honestly, Pixar Pier was my favorite area of all of California Adventure. It’s just so cheerful!

We had wanted to do Incredicoaster too, but it was down all morning, so it would have to wait.

Then we headed to Carsland, which was all decorated for Halloween and is just amazing. We did Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (15 minute wait).

Then back to Pixar Pier where we did Emotional Whirwind (a 15 minute wait which would not have been worth it except our kiddo REALLY wanted to do it).

We HAD managed to get a WebSlingers boarding group this morning, so it was time to head there next. We waited about 25 minutes and we all loved this ride. It’s super fun and interactive, but not so intense that young kids can’t ride it.

Then Gerrit went to ride Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout (I don’t do drop rides so I was out for this one) and E and I rode The Little Mermaid (5 minute wait) and Jumping Jellyfish (5 minute wait).

We had expected to need to kill a lot more time, but G got lucky with Guardians of the Galaxy. He went to ask if they did single rider line (they don’t) and while he was standing there a family with a disability pass just realized most of their group didn’t want to go on the ride and asked G if he wanted to join them. So he got to ride a ride that had a 60 minute wait with basically no wait. I mean who does that happen to? I’ll tell you: the person in our family that has all the luck. (It seriously became a big joke on this trip how things just seemed to work out for Gerrit.)

By now Incredicoaster had finally opened so we both rode that in the single rider line (I waited about 10 minutes).

And this is where I also realized I had made the mistake of leaving my phone with G, and when I got off the ride I had NO IDEA where they were. I panicked and didn’t know what to do for a few minutes until I remembered, UHM HELLO ERIN the cast members are there to help you. So I went to a nearby kiosk, explained what had happened, and the nicest cast member called Gerrit for me so I could find out where they were. (Also lesson for everyone: make sure you have your significant other’s phone number memorized! Or whoever you are traveling with!)

For lunch we had a reservation for al fresco dining at Carthay Circle and it was incredible. We got to sit down and relax, enjoy the music, watch the characters by the fountain on Buena Vista Street, and the food was just amazing. I had the salmon with soba noodles and I kept dreaming about it after we got back from our trip.

During lunch though, we were (ok *I* was) stressing about the wait times. I don’t think there was a wait under 40 minutes in the park. But again, as we were wrapping up, Monsters Inc. dropped down to 20 minutes so we headed there fast, and got there just before the line went back up.

Then we did Soarin’ which was 40 minutes (which is really my threshold for a wait time, but we were committed and we didn’t have a ton left to do for the day). This was another ride where our kid needed some redemption, and she actually loved it this time!

Then we did Goofy’s Sky School (20 minute wait).

Then it was time to head to Radiator Springs Racers because that was just about all we had left that we REALLY wanted to do. The line said 70 minutes, and we were prepared to just suck and up and deal with it. But the wait only ended up being 35 minutes and we all loved the ride! It’s the perfect combination of cute + thrill + beautiful theming.

Since we were in Radiator Springs, we rode Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters because it had finally opened for the first time all day…only for it to close again right as we were about to get on. We stayed in line though and they fixed the issue in not too long. The ride was okay, but I wouldn’t rush back to that one or anything. It’s trackless, which is cool, but you can tell it is early trackless technology, both for the trouble it seems to have and the fact that it was not as smooth as I expected.

For dinner we mobile ordered Pym’s Test Kitchen. The chicken sandwich was great but the tator tots were maybe the best I’ve ever had. We also got the candy bar (which was not on mobile order…we had to go inside and ask for it) which we also loved. I mean…there were SO MANY layers of chocolate and caramel and peanuts, so what’s not to love?

The rest of the evening was just us exploring…seeing a bit more of Avenger’s Campus, watching Carsland light up, and seeing Pixar Pier at night. We ended with one more ride on Jessie’s Critter Carousel because it was a walk-on, and then slowly made our way out of the park (stopping for a few more churros on the way).

Honestly, we didn’t want to leave. We had the BEST day at California Adventure and loved it so much. It was one of those Disney days where everything felt exciting, things seemed to go right, and we were just happy to be there.

The magic wasn’t done yet though because I had completely forgotten what day of the week it was and that Disneyland was supposed to have fireworks. So we got to watch them from our hotel room before bed. Obvious a great way to end the trip before hopping on our plane home the next day.

It was really was a great two days, (even with a little bit of disappointment). I have no idea when we’ll get back to Disneyland, but going back sometime is definitely on my list now!