The Childless Millennial’s Guide to Disneyland and California Adventure
Once upon a time, Walt Disney sat on a bench and watched his kids ride the carousel at his local park. At that moment, Walt was inspired to create an entire amusement park where both kids and parents can enjoy themselves. This famous and true story is how Disneyland was born. If you’ve always thought that Disneyland is “just for kids,” know that the entire reason for creating it was for the benefit of adults to bond with their families and have a good time doing it.
Over the years, this idea has adapted with the times. We’re seeing more adults enjoying Disneyland, whether they have children or not. In doing so, Disney has responded by adding food and entertainment to keep the attendance high and their new and modern audience engaged. As a frequent guest, I can attest there are plenty of things to do at Disneyland as an adult with or without kids! I’m here to educate you on the food and entertainment that makes Disneyland great for couples, groups of friends, and even solo trips!
P.S. This post covers Disneyland and California Adventure parks. Be sure to check out my other posts regarding more adult-friendly activities on Disneyland properties!
- Best Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotels for an Adults-Only Trip
- Downtown Disney for Adults
- 10 Disneyland Hotel Activities for Adults
Disneyland for Adults
Single Riders Lines
First and foremost! You can turn a 90-minute standby line into a 30-minute wait using the single rider queue. If your group doesn’t mind being separated, that is. Occasionally, you’ll get lucky and board together or at least in the same car. Rides that provide a Single Riders queue in Disneyland are Matterhorn, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones, and Space Mountain. Single Riders in California Adventure can queue up in Grizzly River Run, Radiator Springs Racers, and Goofy’s Sky School.
The Mountain Rides – Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Matterhorn: The classic mountain attractions have the best thrills Disneyland has to offer. Pro Tip: If you can, try to time your ride on the Matterhorn during the fireworks. You get a view of the castle and fireworks up close and it’s a pretty cool experience. I’ve somehow managed to do this twice!
Indiana Jones Adventure: This the perfect ride for 80’s/90’s babies. It has a bit of a thrill factor and throwback to some of our favorite Harrison Ford moments. The vehicle throws you around quite a bit, so if you have any chronic back pain or motion sickness, I would avoid it.
Star Tours-The Adventure Continues: Disney has been updating this ride since the new movies came out and it now features some of our favorite new lands and characters. This attraction will satisfy your Star Wars needs until the new Star Wars land, Galaxy’s Edge, opens in June 2019.
Haunted Mansion: This one is somewhere between thrill and chill. It has the “spooky” factor, but it’s not a gory horror film and very slow moving. It’s still an all-time favorite for most. The technology was very innovative at the time it was built and proves to be impressive today. I’m also a big fan of the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay that happens every Christmas!
About halfway through the day, you may start to feel overwhelmed with crowds and heat so try to seek out calming dark rides, the railroad, and log ride attractions. You gotta pace yourself a bit if you want to last until closing!
Tom Sawyer Island: This is easily one of the most beautiful and underrated areas in Disneyland. The island is hardly ever crowded and features activities or hideaways that you can explore. Buy a chimichanga at a nearby food cart and venture to the island for a quiet picnic!
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln: This attraction was Walt’s pride and joy. Abraham Lincoln was one of the first Audio-Animatronics and I can only imagine the reaction it got the first time guests saw a robot stand up by itself. This show is filled with so much American and Disney history you could just burst. It’s also highly air-conditioned with comfy theatre seats.
The Enchanted Tiki Room: If you’re already standing in line for a Dole Whip, you might as well stick around for the Tiki Room. Another classic that has been open since day one at Disneyland. The air conditioning is welcoming and there’s hardly a long wait to see the classic show.
Top 3 Places to Get Coffee
The most important meal of the day! Many of us, whether we have kids or not, depend on coffee to make our day a little more magical. If you’re looking for an excellent cup of joe in the parks check out my guide to good coffee at Disneyland.
- Cappuccino Cart: Near Sleeping Beauty Castle – Serves hot and iced coffee with unique pastries
- Market House (Starbucks): Main Street USA – Full Starbucks food and beverage menu
- Jolly Holiday Bakery: Main Street USA – Hot or iced coffee, pastries, desserts, sandwiches, and other snacks
Dining, Drinking, and Snacks
Tropical Hideaway: This a brand-new marketplace is attached to the Tiki Room with a view of the Jungle Cruise. The tiki hub serves flavored dole whips, bao, lumpia, and the famous Loaded Whip which comes topped with crystallized hibiscus and pocky. Be sure to visit Rosita, the parrot! Just like the tiki birds from the attraction, she tells stories and cheeky jokes.
Blue Bayou: The coolest thing about this restaurant is that it’s located inside Pirates of the Caribbean. The “nighttime” environment is dark, moody, and incredibly romantic. One thing to note is that you’re paying for the atmosphere, not the food. It’s a beautiful environment, but the only menu item I prefer is the classic Monte Cristo sandwich, which you can also find across the path at Cafe Orleans.
Carnation Cafe: This restaurant has been around since the park’s opening in 1955. It’s lead by Chef Oscar Martinez, the longest-tenured Cast Member who just celebrated 60 years with Disneyland. If you’re a Disney nut like me, you’ll love the sentimental values of this restaurant. If you’re a foodie (also like me) you’ll love the food here. They serve comfort foods like fried pickles, baked potato soup, and Walt’s Favorite Meatloaf.
Cafe Orleans: What this place lacks in atmosphere, it gains in food quality. The menu is absolutely incredible and catered to an adult appetite. This is where you can find the infamous Mickey beignets served with vanilla bean crème dipping sauce. Just outside, they have a special window for beignets and non-alcoholic Mint Juleps to-go.
Fantasmic! Dining Package: If you plan on having dinner at either Blue Bayou, River Belle Terrace, or Cafe Orleans, you might as well book it in the Fantasmic! Dining Package. The package includes a 3-course meal and a reserved spot in the preferred viewing area. Unless you want to camp out for an hour, it’s difficult to find a clear viewing spot for the show so the dining package is the way to go.
Tomorrowland Skyline Lounge Experience: For an extra price, you can indulge in some Disney snacks and watch the fireworks from a private viewing area in Tomorrowland. The reservation allows you to come and go as you please, from 8:00-10:00 PM at night. This is a great option for a group of friends!
Insta-Snacks: It seems like every week Disney is cooking up another trendy dish for people to snatch up and post on Instagram. Many will scoff at those who #doitforthegram, but I say bring it on! People love looking at pictures of food, especially when it’s Mickey shaped. The most common place to find beautiful treats are Jolly Holiday Bakery and the cappuccino cart. The cappuccino cart near Sleeping Beauty often features limited-time doughnuts like the coffee-flavored and the infamous Dole Whip Doughnut sold last year.
Walt Disney once intended Disneyland to be a “dry park,” meaning no alcohol was to be served inside the park. This will all change in June 2019 when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens. Og’s Cantina, inspired by the cantinas from the movies, will be the first place to serve beverages in Disneyland. In the meantime, you can find cocktails in the incredibly exclusive Club 33, the nearby hotels, and Disneyland’s sister park: California Adventure.
Things to Do
Disneyland After Dark: In 2018, Disneyland launched a special-ticket event series where they kept the park open late to host a themed night-out. The first theme was Throwback Nite where guests were encouraged to wear their Dapper Day best and the second was Star Wars Nite. Each event hosts themed entertainment and photo ops. You can check out the official website here for any updates regarding upcoming events.
Late-Night Shopping: Don’t rush home after the fireworks because the shops on Main Street usually remain open after close for about an hour! It’s the perfect time to peruse the stores and collect souvenirs. It’s also the best time to get your castle pictures with fewer crowds in the background.
VIP Tours: This is a fantastic idea for big Disney fans or frequent visitors who are looking for something unique to do. The most popular tour is Walk In Walt’s Foot Steps, which takes you on a guided tour through the history of Disneyland. I hope to someday take The Grand Circle Tour which explores Walt’s love for trains and also where you’ll get to ride in the special parlor train aboard the Lily Belle. Tours are about $109 per person and you can check them out here.
Golden Horseshoe Review: If you’re looking for a fun date-night this campy dinner show might be a good fit. Although, if your party is full of introverts, you might want to try Blue Bayou! The show involves a little bit of audience interaction, so don’t be surprised if they call you out!
California Adventure for Adults
This park was a little easier to write about than Disneyland proper. First off, California Adventure is not a “dry park” like Disneyland. Meaning, alcohol is sold in this park and there’s a lot of it. If you don’t like to drink, there are plenty of thrill rides and entertainment to pique your interest. Now that Cars Land has been added and the transformation of Paradise Pier to Pixar Pier is complete, this park is becoming a rival to Disneyland.
In 2020, California Adventure will feature a land devoted entirely to the Marvel canon. They’ve already transformed Tower of Terror into Guardians of the Galaxy and they’ve closed Bug’s Land to make way for more action-packed attractions. In the meantime, there are plenty of rides suitable for adults.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Listen, I’m a Tower of Terror purist. When I heard they were transforming it into Guardians of the Galaxy, I was not amused. However, the Imagineers did a great job with the re-imagining of this attraction. The technology is fantastic, the ride is smooth, and I’d say it’s more thrilling than Tower of Terror. I approve of this reinvention, but if they change it in Disney World, I will protest.
Incredicoaster: The Incredibles hype made it possible for Disney to transform California Screamin’ into an incredible roller coaster. Overall, the ride is the same as it once was with some elements added to fit the Pixar Pier environment. It’s the only large coaster on property with an upside loop!
Radiator Springs Racers: This ride is like Epcot’s Test Track on steroids and an absolute must-do. The architecture and rock work alone is magnificent and the attraction features animatronic cars that look almost lifelike.
Animation Courtyard: This calm and cozy hidden gem is tucked away near the Hyperion Theatre. The building houses Turtle Talk with Crush, Sorcerer’s Workshop, an animation studio, and meet n’ greets with Anna and Elsa. More importantly, the central hub features large projection screens, couches, and ample floor space to watch clips of Disney movies and listen to Disney’s sweeping orchestrations. It’s the perfect place to catch your breath before heading back out into the sweltering sun.
Soarin’ Around the World: There are plenty of attractions that will help you wind down after a morning of coasters and high-speed rides. Soarin’ is a spectacular ride for all ages, but adults seem to appreciate the technology and incredible views. This ride is a definite must-do!
Pixar Pal-Around: This ferris wheel offers truly awesome views of the park and the rest of Anaheim. If you seek a bit of thrill, try the swinging cars that rock in and out while you rotate.
Top 3 Places to Get Coffee
- Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical Cafe (Starbucks): Next to Clarabelle’s Hand-Scooped Ice Cream – Full Starbucks food and drink menu
- Schmoozie’s: Across from Animation Courtyard – Best iced coffee available at California Adventure
- Gourmet Coffee Cart: Pixar Pier entrance – Hot or iced coffee served with breakfast pastries and alcoholic coffee cocktails
Dining, Drinking, and Snacks
Carthay Circle Restaurant and Lounge: “Hollywood, 1939. Amid the glitz and the glitter of a bustling, young movie town at the height of its golden age.” This swanky and smooth restaurant is inspired by the real Carthay Circle in Hollywood. If you’re looking for a cocktail, the first floor has a lounge that does not require a reservation. Up the stairs is the main dining room which splits off to secluded dining areas and private dining nooks reserved for large groups.
Wine Country Trattoria: The atmosphere of this full-service restaurant is inspired by wine countries in Italy, complete with an extensive wine list. I love the outdoor seating, covered in winding vines and perfect for people watching.
Alfresco Tasting Terrace: Before you enter Wine Country Trattoria, take the stairs on your right. There you will find a rooftop lounge that feels like a secluded hideaway, removed from the park hustle. You will have access to the same wine and appetizer menu from Wine Country Trattoria, plus a great view!
Sonoma Terrace: If you’re not in the mood for a lounge setting, there is a quick-service bar with outdoor seating near Wine Country Trattoria. They serve some snacks like cheese plates and Bavarian pretzels, along with wine and beer.
Lamplight Lounge: We said goodbye to Cove Bar in 2017 and greeted Lamplight Lounge with open arms in 2018. The re-conceptualized lounge is stunning and features unique cocktails, sushi, and the old Cove Bar favorite: Lobster Nachos. There’s even a secret door that leads to a private dining area. I’d give this place a 5 star rating if they didn’t charge $20 a dish. Yikes!
World of Color Reception Party: Much like the Tomorrowland Lounge, for an additional cost you can indulge in specialty cocktails and snacks then watch World of Color from a private viewing area. Great way to beat the crowds and have a unique experience!
You can find cocktails just about everywhere you turn in California Adventure. I suggest creating your own “Drink Around California” checklist akin to the “Drink Around The World”challenge at Epcot. Best of all, you can get your drinks to-go and carry it around the park. Just like Vegas! Here’s an abbreviated list of places that serve yummy drinks.
- Pacific Wharf Cafe: Grab an infamous soup in a bread bowl and either a “hazy” unfiltered IPA or a blood orange blonde beer.
- Rita’s Baja Blenders: Frozen or on the rocks? These margaritas go great with some tamales from Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill.
- Mendocino Terrace: I’ll take a cheese plate and sparkling white wine with a view, please!
- Bayside Brews: A Mickey pretzel and beer kiosk. Perf!
- Karl Strauss Beer Truck: Need I say more?
- Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta: Pizza and beer or pizza and sangria. The choice is yours.
- Lucky Fortune Cookery: The quick-service spot serves tofu, noodles, and Sapporo.
- Paradise Garden Grill: Two kinds of Dos Equis and red sangria!
- Smokejumpers Grill: This is where you can find huge burgers, barbecue chicken, and beers!
- Flo’s V8 Café: The 50’s style diner serves wine and beer, but I’d opt for their milkshakes and fries.
Things to Do
The best activities Disneyland has to offer are the yearly festivals celebrated in California Adventure. Better yet, they appeal to an older demographic because they tend to be food & beverage-centric. For yearly dates of all the festivals, check out Disney World’s official website for updated info.
Food & Wine Festival (Yearly Between March-April): This is the baby version of Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival in Disney World. Instead of featuring snacks and cocktails from around the world, this festival highlights California-inspired food and beverages. During the event, you can experience adult-exclusive events like wine pairings and winemaking receptions. Every year, celebrity Chefs like Guy Fieri stop by for private seminars too!
Festival of Holidays (Yearly Between the First Week of November – First Week of January): This festive celebration highlights multi-cultural holidays with special holiday bites, entertainment, and street parties with The Three Caballeros for Viva Navidad! For more on Christmas in Disneyland, check out my ultimate guide to Christmas in Disneyland.
Lunar New Year (Sometime between the end of January through mid- February): Starting in 2018, California Adventure rang in the Year of the Dog with food, entertainment, and characters inspired by this Chinese tradition. This event returned in 2019 by celebrating the Year of the Pig and will most likely be a new yearly occurrence.
My generation was born in the height of Disney’s second golden era with classics like Beauty & the Beast, Toy Story, Lion King, and so on. It makes our heart melt when we hear the sweeping orchestration for “I Can Go the Distance” or watch Ariel and Prince Eric dance together in Fantasmic! More grown-ups are visiting without children and those with children are enjoying the parks more than ever.
Maybe you think I’ve drunk the Disney Kool-Aid, but I think the parks have a lot to offer to those young and old! Whether you seek thrills, a relaxing day out, or frozen margaritas, you have a ton of options. Make it a honeymoon, a trip with friends, or go rogue and do a solo Disney trip. All you need is a touch of magic, a shot of tequila and a sprinkling of pixie dust to make the perfect Disney vacation for grown-ups!
Also, if you’re looking for tips for visiting Disney World in Florida as an adult, head over to Lissy Through the Looking Glass for Disney for Adults -7 Things to Try if Thrill Rides Aren’t Your Thing.