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Local San Diegans head to the Magic Kingdom for day trips all the time and so can you. Here are a few tricks to successfully navigate a successful day.
Since opening in 1955, Disneyland has been near the top of most vacation wish lists. Situated only 90 minutes away, you can experience the best of a San Diego vacation and still touch the magic that is Disneyland.
Located in the Southern California community of Anaheim, Disneyland sits 95 miles north of downtown San Diego. The commute will vary depending on the time and day you travel, but a conservative estimate is about an hour and forty-five minutes from downtown. Families often opt to stay in San Diego's North County, which shaves off 30-plus minutes on the drive. Your return trip should be about 20-30 minutes faster because there will be virtually no traffic if you leave later at night.
Weekends mean larger park crowds, but less freeway traffic. Insider tip: weekdays are when locals visit Disneyland, as fewer people fill the park, so you’ll spend less time standing in lines and more time making memories.
Many of the rental car companies will pick you up at your hotel but one of the tricky things to consider is that they generally bill a day rate for each 24-hour period and most of the locations are open normal business hours. So, you'll probably want to pick up your car the night before and drop off the next morning (paying for 2 days rental). If you're near downtown, then you can choose one of the airport locations and get by with a one day rental as those locations generally open early and close late. Parking at Disneyland is $20 per car (prices subject to change); parking outside of Disneyland in Anaheim is nearly impossible so you're locked in to paying for parking.
It's no mystery that Walt Disney loved trains and another great option when traveling to Disneyland is Amtrak California. Trains run hourly from downtown San Diego with additional station locations at Old Town, Solana Beach and Oceanside. Cost is around $28 per adult and $14 for children under 13 (under 3 free). The ride to the Anaheim station by train is approximately 2 hours. From there, you can take Uber or a cab to the park (have them drop you off at Downtown Disney) or catch the Anaheim Resort Transportation bus, which is low-cost and will drop you off at the Disneyland park entrance.
After arriving at the park, grab a bite at La Brea Bakery Café and Express in Downtown Disney. Located just outside the park entrance, it opens at 8:00 AM most days and is a good place to recharge with fresh baked pastries and cappuccino on the patio before hitting the parks. On days when Disneyland opens early (weekends and summers typically), just inside the park on Main Street, you'll find the Jolly Holiday Bakery Café, which also offers very good fresh baked goods and gourmet coffees. The California Adventure Park has equally good breakfast bites just inside the gates. Check the Disney calendar for park hours on the day you plan to visit.
Once fueled up, it's time to explore the Magic Kingdom. For kids under 10, Disneyland is pure magic. They love to live-out their favorite movies and TV shows and meet the characters. Frozen, Star Wars, Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, Toontown and Finding Nemo's Submarine Voyage are a few favorites in Disneyland. California Adventure is home the magnificent Cars Land and the new Soarin' Around the World for a multi-sensory flight around the planet. Insider tip: Make your very first stop California Adventure and grab a FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers, Cars Land's signature attraction. They go quickly and have the longest standing lines in the park.
Tweens and teens at Disneyland love the Star Wars rides, Indiana Jones Adventure, Splash Mountain and Space Mountain for high-adrenaline fun. California Adventure is home to the only looping roller coaster in either park, California Screamin', plus the brand new Guardians of the Galaxy–Mission: BREAKOUT!, maybe the two best thrill rides at Disneyland.
For the rest of us, it's just a great time to step inside the Disney bubble and indulge your inner child. Old favorites include Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World and you don’t want to miss the the Enchanted Tiki Room on your way out. Riding the Matterhorn during the fireworks is also a fantastic experience.
Dress casual and take a sweater or jacket for cooler nights. Lockers are available so you don't have to carry them with you all day. Also be sure to wear comfortable shoes as an average day of park-hopping can easily clock in at 8-10 miles or over 20,000 steps!
Another tip is to access the Disneyland Railroad that runs throughout the main park with stops at Main Street, Mickey's Toontown, New Orleans Square and Tomorrowland, as it can be a life-saver for little legs. It's also easy to hop on and off with generally short wait times.
Disney has a free app and a couple of third-party apps that crowd-source wait times. Crowds at the park vary by day and season but Disney does a great job of moving people around and through lines. Parents should familiarize themselves with the Fast Pass system to minimize long waits for rides, which eases small fry frustration.
All of that fun will leave you ready for some quality R&R so plan for a day after of relaxing by your hotel's sparkling pool or on one of San Diego's world-class beaches. Most of all have fun and may the force be with you!
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