I recently found myself in the Anaheim area but without a full day to spend in the theme parks. I really needed that Disney feeling though, so I decided our family should at the least spend half a day at the Downtown Disney District – which I include the Disneyland Hotel and the Grand Californian Hotel into since their entrances attach to DTD. Even though you aren’t in the Magic Kingdom you are still on resort property which, I think, still makes it part of the “happiest place on earth”. There’s music throughout the area (sometimes live), special treats everywhere, of course lots of Disney merchandise to be had (including the rare and exclusive), there are a few things, Disney related things worth seeing, and if you are lucky you might even get to say hi to Mickey or one of his pals. Here is how we make the most of our time at Downtown Disney (you’ll see we use the Disneyland App a lot, it covers everything you can find throughout the whole resort.)
Plan a fun meal!
All of the restaurants in Downtown Disney are delicious, but we have found that ones at places like the ESPN Zone, Rainforest Cafe, and the upper terrace at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen have a little something extra special with their added theming. If you really want a Disney experience though, go for one of the restaurants in the hotels connected to Downtown Disney – the Disneyland Hotel or Grand Californian Hotel. The Tangaroa Terrace is a quick service restaurant in the center of the Disneyland Hotel grounds, surrounded by the pools and tropical vegetation, it also affords some tasty food (similar to what you could find in the parks) along with the great views. This time, we chose the Storyteller’s Cafe in the Grand Californian, a table ser vice restaurant with an extra special California folklore theme. The details in the this place are everywhere and they are phenomenal. A nice touch is the cute little Disney activity booklet that the kids get. You really feel like you are in Disney when you are here.
Shop, of course!
There are so many great places to shop, but for the Disney fan the World of Disney is the absolute best! We also always have to stop in Vault 28, D Street, and the WonderGround Gallery to check out their extra special Disney merchandise. Don’t overlook the cute shops to be found in the Disneyland Resort hotels as well. You can find a lot of the same merchandise found in the theme parks here in these stores. *Don’t forget to get your parking ticket validated here and at the restaurants so you can get free parking!
Work on that Pressed Penny collection!
If you or your kids love to collect pressed pennies then don’t overlook Downtown Disney! There are several pressed penny machines to be found throughout! You can find a couple machines in a few locations at the Disneyland Hotel, near White Water Snacks in the Grand Californian, near Marceline’s Confectionary, and at the World of Disney Store – a more specific location of each machine can be found on the Disneyland app (just search pressed penny).
Visit the hotels!
The Grand California is truly a grand hotel – the lobby alone is enough for you to want to visit it. The arts and crafts style, the comfy couches, and giant fireplace with rockers – it all works together to really wow you. The Disneyland Hotel has three towers – Adventure, Frontier, and Fantasy – that you can stop into each with something to see on the main floor (the scale model of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the Frontier tower is one of my favs). The Fantasy Tower is where the main lobby is, not only is there an interesting giant map of Disneyland on the wall (with a surprise), but a great gift shop, and you just might get lucky enough to find a character there. Don’t forget to stop in to Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar (adults only), but you can even find a Dole Whip Float in The Coffee House – a treat only found elsewhere at the Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland Park.
Find a Disney food treat!
A must-stop is Marceline’s Confectionery if you are looking for a tasty treat. They carry many of the very same cookies, cupcakes, candied apples, marshmallow pops, etc. that you can find in the parks. You can even find a Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Bar! There are other places to find sweet treats such as the Sprinkles Cupcakes, and several kiosks throughout that sell items like macarons, churros, cotton candy, and more. (And see above for tips about treats found at the Hotels.)
Say hi to Mickey & Co.!
Is there anything more Disney than that?! Besides potentially spotting Mickey and company in the main lobby of the Disneyland Hotel you can definitely find them at the breakfast buffet at The Storyteller’s Cafe and at the breakfast and dinner buffets at Goofy’s Kitchen – but make sure to check the prices and make reservations for these popular meal times!
And we can’t forget the Holidays!
If you happen to be here between November and January you have to pop over for all the holiday feels! The Downtown District and Hotels are all decorated up for Christmas – the Grand Californian’s enormous Christmas Tree and real Gingerbread House are my favs, but we had to take a picture at the Gingerbread castle photo op over at the Disneyland Hotel, you can even do some ice skating in front of the AMC Movie Theater.
**As of 8/16/2017 Downtown Disney no longer has free 2-hour parking, you will now need to spend a minimum of $20 and get your parking validated to get “free” 2-hour parking – OR – if you get your parking ticket validated at the AMC Theater or a Downtown Disney table-service restaurant you can be validated for 4 hours.**