Are you planning a trip to Disneyland?
All the attractions at Disneyland are great, but there are a few that so exceptional, they have earned a permanent place in our cultural heritage. Their creativity and attention to detail is unparalleled. Most have been at Disneyland for decades.
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 20 minutes and will share a few tips for limiting your wait time in this post.
This list does not include attractions in Disney's California Adventure Park. Get that list HERE!
Here are the best rides at Disneyland, 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.
Indiana Jones Adventure
This Adventureland ride has been my favorite for years, and now it is my son's favorite too. Indiana Jones Adventure is a fast-paced thrill ride through elaborate sets that will remind you of the Indiana Jones movies. You won't find many rides outside Disneyland like this one.
FASTPASS, Rider Switch and Single Rider lines are available for this ride.
Jungle Cruise is an original Disneyland ride. You ride slowly in a “tour boat” through the wilds of Adventureland. Your guide will keep you entertained with a corny script as you pass by animatronic animals. Late in the year, this ride transforms into “Jingle Cruise.”
Guests of all ages, including infants, can ride Jungle Cruise. Waits are usually not crazy long for this ride, so there are no shorter line options. I recommend getting there in the first hour or two after the park opens to hopefully avoid a line entirely.
This log flume ride in Critter Country is arguably the best ride at Disneyland. The animatronic telling of the Brer Rabbit story inside the Mountain is delightful and the drop at the end is thrilling. You'll get a little wet – but not soaked. You need to go twice to get your real reaction the first time down the hill, and pose for the camera the second time.
FASTPASS, Rider Switch and Single Rider lines are available for this ride. Lines are shorter on cool days when people don't want to get wet. Solve that problem with ponchos or garbage bags.
The Haunted Mansion in New Orleans Square is more funny than scary, so most kids will like it. My 12-year-old daughter is the exception, but I make her go anyway so nobody else has to miss this classic and creative ride. From September through December, Haunted Mansion gets a Nightmare Before Christmas makeover that is really fun.
Guests of all ages, including infants, can ride Haunted Mansion. FASTPASS is available, but outside the busiest days, you may not need it.
Pirates of the Caribbean
“Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!” Pirates of the Caribbean is a slow boat ride through a series of elaborate pirate scenes. Watch the first movie right before or right after your trip to pick up references from the ride. After the movie became a hit, Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow was inserted into several scenes in the ride.
Guests of all ages, including infants, can ride Pirates of the Caribbean. There are no shorter lines for this ride, but you can usually get in quickly early in the day or during fireworks.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a fun, family-friendly coaster in Frontierland. You ride a speeding train through a mining town, craggy hills and a treacherous mine. They don't call it the “wildest ride in the wilderness” for nothing.
FASTPASS and Rider Switch are available for this ride.
Peter Pan's Flight
Peter Pan's flight is a nostalgic dark ride for many Disneyland fans, including myself. You ride high above London and Neverland in a pirate ship gently suspended from the ceiling. The scenes throughout are magical. I love it, but my husband thinks it's overrated.
There are several dark rides like Peter Pan in this part of Fantasyland, but Peter Pan's wait is usually at least double the others'. There are no shorter line options. I recommend getting there immediately after the park opens, or just enduring the wait later in the day after using all the short line strategies on your other priority attractions. It's worth doing once.
“it's a small world”
The song from this classic ride will be stuck in your head for hours, but its message of unity is timeless. “it's a small world” is a whimsical boat ride featuring animatronic children from around the world – all singing the same song over and over and over… Characters from Disney movies like Toy Story and Lilo and Stitch have been inserted in recent years.
Guests of all ages, including infants, can ride “it's a small world.” There are no shorter line options for this ride, but lines are usually not crazy long. Go early or late in the day or during special events like parades or fireworks for shorter lines. The parade route passes right by this ride's entrance.
Fantasyland's Matterhorn Mountain dominates the Disneyland skyline and it's the home of one of the park's classic coasters. Ride in a bobsled up, down and through the mountain. Watch out for the abominable snowman! Now that I've hit middle age, this old-school coaster just isn't smooth enough for my comfort. My kids love it, though.
Rider Switch and Single Rider Lines are available for this ride. On a trip with my son last year, we arrived in the afternoon when lines were long everywhere. He used the single rider line three times in a row in the same time it would have taken to wait once in the standby line.
Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
If you don't ride Tomorrowland's Star Tours right after the park opens, be sure to pick up a FASTPASS early because they may run out by afternoon. Star Tours has long been a MUST attraction at Disneyland for Star Wars fans, and now more than ever. The Force Awakens version of the ride was recently added. This thrilling motion-simulation ride through the galaxy has several different versions, so it's worth doing more than once if you're a fan.
FASTPASS and Rider Switch are available for this ride.
Space Mountain/Hyperspace Mountain
Space Mountain is a beloved Tomorrowland coaster. It is all indoors, with very little light so you can't see where you're going. A futuristic soundtrack plays in your headrest. In late 2015, a Star Wars version of Space Mountain was unveiled, and this ride is currently known as Hyperspace Mountain. It's SO cool! You'll feel like you're flying through a Star Wars space battle. In the fall, there is a Halloween version of the ride – Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy.
FASTPASS and Rider Switch are available for this ride. No matter which version is on when you're there, this is a can't-miss attraction.
- 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.