Disneyland and California Adventure in One Day

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Want to do Disneyland AND California Adventure in 1 day?!? Disneyland goers everywhere will say don’t do it, there’s too much to see, you’ll never get it all done. We’ve heard it before. I even say it myself. And there is total truth in that. There is tons to see. You’ll never get it all done. But the truth is, some people only have 1 day to visit the Disneyland Resort and you CAN indeed do and see a ton in one day if you do it right!Disneyland and California Adventure in one day

This article is about putting the nay-sayers behind you and focusing on what you CAN do. While a lot has changed with the introduction of Disney MaxPass, making two parks in one day even more feasible, this post is geared for people doing Disneyland and California Adventure in one day, not by doing everything, but by getting a taste of (almost) everything Disneyland and California Adventure have to offer.

My real life Disneyland in one day challenge happened to come on Black Friday when I took my not-so-little brother to Disneyland who had seriously not been there since I last took him when he was about 4 (despite living an hour away!).

Disneyland and California Adventure in One Day Game Plan

Monorail glides across the esplanade at Disneyland Resort.
Monorail glides across the esplanade at Disneyland Resort.

The basic, never break, Disneyland rules

1. Get there early! Nothing beats opening Disneyland, especially when you beat the crowds as a result. Park your car at least one hour before the official opening time and get into Disneyland before what regulars call “rope drop”.
Extra prep reading:
2. If you’re doing Disneyland and California Adventure in one day, start your day at the non-magic morning park. Magic Mornings are early admission options for guests with a 3+ day tickets, so while everyone was over at California Adventure enjoying their extra hour (and often staying longer for more fun), we opened Disneyland with a low crowd level, even on a holiday. Magic Morning days are listed here. 
3. Get one of our print at home Disneyland plans or let me create a custom VIP plan for your visit.

Disneyland and California Adventure in One Day: Disneyland Park

Like I mentioned earlier, my brother hadn’t been to Disneyland in ages. I created a plan to go easy on him (well, kinda) and to give him a feel of the park’s nostalgia as well as a taste of the thrill rides we both love. Man this picture is giving me major throwback vibes. And if you want to see Disneyland all decked out for the holidays, don’t miss this article. 

We decided to leave most of the “kiddy” stuff out which freed up our itinerary big time. This is especially smart way to do Disneyland and California Adventure in one day because most thrill rides have a FASTPASS tied to them. Extra prep reading to get the most of your day:

We started our day at the main gates of Disneyland where I gave him a few tidbits of Disneyland information as we strolled through Main Street and headed over to Tomorrowland. By noon we had hit almost every “grown up” ride at Disneyland, snuck in a couple of childhood adventures and enjoyed lunch with a front row seat to Dapper Dans.

Here’s how our Disneyland in one day morning went:
  • Star Tours
  • Photo Op in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle (note: be sure to tell the photog you’re with your brother to avoid any awkward photo moments)
  • Indiana Jones
  • Grabbed a Big Thunder Mountain FASTPASS
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Splash Mountain (I almost always ride this in the AM since waits are next to nothing)
  • Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad using FASTPASS
  • Space Mountain closed for a bit, by the time we returned all the FASTPASSES were gone and the wait was 90 mins.
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Walk Through Sleeping Beauty Castle
  • Lunch at Jolly Holiday Bakery
We walked on every ride with our longest wait being 40 minutes for lunch. I was starting to wonder where everyone was on this Black Friday that I had heard was a horrible time (crowd-wise) to visit the parks. Want budget friendly Disneyland tips? Get our book Disneyland On Any Budget here. 

Disneyland and California Adventure in One Day: California Adventure Park

Disney California Adventure gates; how to tell Disneyland and Walt Disney World Apart.
Disney California Adventure gates; how to do Disneyland and California Adventure in one day.
After lunch, we made our way to California Adventure, waved to Mickey and Daisy and headed to Soarin’. By this time, I was getting a feel for what rides my brother loved and what he wasn’t into. I made some adjustments to our plan and decided to leave out most of the kiddy rides I love to go on, with or without kids. It’s all about compromise, right? 🙂
When we arrived at California Adventure at about 12:30pm, crowds were starting to pick up over at Disneyland but generally low at DCA. 
Here’s how our California Adventure in one day went:
  • Soarin’ single rider option
  • The Little Mermaid (a Fantasyland type of ride, without the long wait)
  • Grabbed a Tower of Terror FASTPASS
  • Radiator Spring Racers single rider option
  • California Screamin’ single rider option (now Inredicoaster)
  • Grabbed Fast Pass for California Screamin’
  • Tower of Terror using FASTPASS
  • California Screamin’ using FASTPASS (now Inredicoaster)
Can you guess what ride was his favorite? We had spent about 2 1/2 hours at California Adventure, grabbed a treat and went back to Disneyland.

What happened to the rest of our one day at Disneyland Resort? It was 3:00pm by now and everyone had apparently realized Disneyland was indeed open on Black Friday. We decided we had been so spoiled, with our longest wait record still being held by the Jolly Holiday for lunch and second place being a 30 minute wait for Radiator Spring Racers.

My brother was worn out and this sister was happy to have had such a great day with rare one-on-one time bonding. We took a stroll past it’s a small world holiday, checked out Mickey’s Toontown, did a little souvenir shopping, then did some more shopping at Downtown Disney and called it a day.
You’re appalled aren’t you? We didn’t even spend a FULL day at both parks and we still did so much! My sister said it was almost against her religion to not close the parks. She couldn’t believe I let our brother wimp out like that ;). Had we stayed a little longer, we would have done some Fantasyland, maybe a night show and been good to go.

Disneyland and California Adventure in One Day: Bonus Tips

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Surprisingly, our day wasn’t hectic or rushed and we had a blast! Here are a few more tips to help your one day at Disneyland and California Adventure be a success too:
  • Know the ropes. If you haven’t been there before, read whatever you can get your hands on about the attractions and decide what will work for you and what you absolutely can’t miss. Our What to Ride First Guide is a great place to start.
  • Don’t stress when something goes wrong. We missed out on Space Mountain because of a temporary closure. Just go with the flow and don’t let the little things ruin your day.
  • Keep it simple. One reason we were able to get so much done is having 2 adults in our group. It would have been a lot more difficult if we brought 3 kids or a larger group.
  • Pick your favorites. I made a plan based on my absolute favorites, then adjusted once I knew what my brother loved to do.
  • Take a break. It may sound counter productive, but our hour or so break having lunch while watching the Dapper Dans was a perfect recharge to hit California Adventure.

Your turn! What do you think about doing Disneyland and California Adventure in one day? Am I crazy for advocating such a thing? Is it as crazy as our 10 Rides in 2 Hours schedule? What are your tips for doing the most in the least amount of time?

9 thoughts on “Disneyland and California Adventure in One Day

  • Erica

    We’re doing Disneyland and DCA in one day on the 16th of December. It’s my son’s 10th bday and the first ‘day’ of our 2 week CA road trip, hence why we’re only able to go for the one day.

    I have made a spreadsheet of all the rides I want to hit, but reading this is also super helpful. It’s my son and husband’s first time at any Disney park.

    We plan on opening (and closing) the parks as we are staying at a hotel across the street (15/20 min walk)

    Quick Q… I have one ticket purchased online from Disney and 2 guest passes. Do you know if I’ll be able to pick up the tickets prior to rope drop, etc in the AM?

    • Hi Erica, it looks like you are well prepared and ready to go get ’em! Yes, you will be able to pick up those tickets before rope drop. I usually suggest arriving at the gates about 30 minutes before park opening. In your case, I suggest leaving your hotel at 7 am, since the parks open at 8 am that day. Put your husband and son in line at the gate and you go grab the tickets. You’ll be back before they open the gates. Enjoy your magical day as a family and please let me know if I can help in any other ways.

  • Thank you! We are just about to take our first trip over to LA and have 3 days to spend at Disneyland over Christmas. We are so excited but I admit to feeling a little anxious – will we get to see much over those days? Your post has enlightened me! We will see it ALL in three days!

    • If you're spending 3 days at Disneyland you will definitely get to experience a lot of the park! Crowd levels will be high but with a plan in mind, you'll do great! Be sure to check out my other posts under the "What to Ride First" tab to help you get an idea of where to head first each day of your visit. Mornings are your best bet for getting tons done. Have a great time!

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