Are you planning a Disneyland trip?
If this is your first Disneyland trip, or it's been a long time since your last visit, California Adventure will probably be a whole new experience. I've talked to families who know all about the magic of Disneyland, but wonder if Disney's California Adventure next door is really worth their time and money.
I say YES!
California Adventure is a separate Disney park, located just steps away from Disneyland's turnstiles. Disneyland will always be my favorite Disney park, but California Adventure is a close second. It has a fun atmosphere and enough top-notch attractions to fill at least one full day of your Disneyland vacation. You haven't really done Disneyland Resort unless you've experienced Disney's California Adventure's top rides.
The only problem with many of these top rides is that wait times can be an hour or more, especially in the middle of the day. For me, that’s a deal breaker. I rarely wait more than 15-30 minutes and will share a few tips for limiting your wait time in this post.
Here are the best California Adventure rides, roughly in the order that I would do them – arriving before the park opens and using FASTPASS – along with tips for limiting your time in line. Find definitions for FASTPASS, Rider Switch and Single Rider at the end of this post.
Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT
Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT just opened in May 2017 and I was there! This ride replaced Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. I know that many fans of the old ride were not thrilled about the change, but we are Marvel fans so my family was excited about the new ride.
Mission: BREAKOUT has all the gravity-defying vertical shoots and drops of the old ride, with a new Guardians of the Galaxy story and classic rock soundtrack that are less spooky than the old ride. This is a ride for the next generation of Disney and Marvel fans.
Mission: BREAKOUT has six different sound tracks, videos and motion sequences, so every ride is a different experience.
Tower of Terror was already popular, and wait times Guardians of the Galaxy will be INSANE for a while because it is new. Be sure to get a FASTPASS early in the day to avoid a long wait. Rider Switch is available.
Radiator Springs Racers
Radiator Springs Racers is one of the best rides in any park, anywhere. Part dark ride and part thrill ride, it's an enchanting immersive experience that you'll only find in a Disney park.
Riders are seat belted into a six-seat convertible and treated to a scenic tour of Ornament Valley, followed by a twisting and turning nighttime adventure through the Cars universe. The finale is a high speed race against riders in the next car. It's always exciting to see which car is the winner!
Radiator Springs Racers always has a long line and FASTPASSes always run out early in the day. I recommend that you arrive at the park before the gates open and get your Cars FASTPASS first. FASTPASS distribution is not located at the ride. It is on the left side of the main thoroughfare just past Carthay Circle Restaurant. If your Radiator Springs return time is hours away, you can usually get a second FASTPASS for another ride.
Another way to get on Radiator Springs Racers fast is through the Single Rider line. The 3-and-3 seating arrangement means that 1-2 single riders get on nearly every car. Kids need to be at least 7 years old and able to ride independently to be single riders. Rider Switch is available for families with young children.
You can often ride in 15-30 minutes as a single rider. Waits may be longer in the afternoon when FASTPASSes are gone, but you'll still ride in at least half the time.
Soarin' Around the World
Soarin' Around the World is another of my favorite rides in all of Disneyland. It used to be Soarin' over California, but a 2016 update means new sights, sounds and smells for virtual travelers.
This ride is exhilerating and gentle at the same time. Your seat will rise into the air in front of a huge screen and move smoothly throughout the ride to simulate the experience of flying over the world's most famous landmarks.
FASTPASS and Rider Switch are available for Soarin'. Generally, I recommend FASTPASS for this ride, but it is a high capacity ride and not as popular as some of the other top rides in California Adventure. You may be able to get on early or late in the day with little wait in the Standby line. On our last trip, Soarin' opened before the morning rope drop and we practically walked on while other guests were still waiting behind ropes to enter other parts of the park.
Grizzly River Run
Grizzly River Run is a classic water raft ride – similar to those you may have seen in other parks – but with Disney's attention to detail. The scenery is exquisite as you run rapids in and slide down a waterfall in a circular raft that turns freely throughout the ride.
Expect to be completely soaked on Grizzly River Rapids. Bring a Ziploc bag for your mobile phone or leave your day pack with a non-rider. The water will feel good on a warm day, but consider packing a plastic poncho if you don't want to get very wet.
FASTPASS and Single Rider lines are available for this ride. Lines will get long on warm afternoons, but you may find short standby lines early and late in the day and on days when the weather is cool – any time that most people don't want to get soaked.
Toy Story Midway Mania!
Toy Story Midway Mania! is so fun for families of all ages! It's a moving carnival midway where you get to hit virtual targets with shooters in your car. The colorful ride hosted by characters from the Toy Story movies keeps score so you can compete against other riders.
Toy Story Midway Mania! is a lot like Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters in Tomorrowland. LEGOLAND California and Knott's Berry Farm have installed interactive rides like it, but I think that Toy Story Midway Mania! is the reigning champion.
FASTPASS is new and long overdue for Toy Story Midway Mania! You used to have to scurry to get on this ride first thing in the morning or else resign yourself to a long wait, but FASTPASS now opens up your options. Single Rider and Rider Switch are not available for this ride.
The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure
The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure is a classic Disney dark ride on a large and lavish scale. It retells the familiar story from The Little Mermaid movie, featuring familiar scenes, songs and characters. If you love the movie, you'll love the ride.
One of the best things about The Little Mermaid is that wait times rarely exceed 15 minutes. The ride loads quickly so the line moves constantly. Save it for the afternoon when lines are long everywhere else. We find ourselves riding it even when we didn't plan to, just because it's so easy.
Goofy's Sky School
Goofy's Sky School is a wild and crazy ride tucked away in a corner of Paradise Pier. It features lots of fast twists, turns and drops. This thrill ride will not be a favorite for most adults, but my kids were delighted to ride it three times in a row (without us) one morning because there was no line at all.
Goofy's Sky School has FASTPASS, so save it for later in the day when FASTPASSes for more popular rides are all gone and lines are long everywhere else.
- FASTPASS – FASTPASS allows you to scan your park pass at a kiosk and get a ticket to return to a popular ride within a scheduled one-hour window. FASTPASS waits are around 15 minutes. Disneyland regulars always have a FASTPASS in hand and a plan for the next one. Get more information about FASTPASS HERE.
- Rider Switch – Rider Switch is a great option for families with young children. You stand in line once and request a Rider Switch pass when you get to the front. Adult 1 rides and then gives the pass to Adult 2 who stayed with the non-riders. Adult 2 can then go with two other riders (even if they just finished the ride with Adult 1) without waiting. Get more information about Rider Switch HERE.
- Single Rider – Single rider lines are a great option for families with older kids who would rather ride more than ride together. You can usually ride within 15 minutes if you’re willing to fill an empty seat and meet up at the exit. Learn more about single rider lines HERE.
How else can we help?
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It was really tough to leave a few great rides off this list. Did I miss your favorite? If so, please share it in the comments, along with your tips for doing it right.