Intro to the Magic Kingdom for Disneyland Newbies

Walt Disney’s original West Coast wonderland, less than 50 miles from his animation studios in Burbank, is truly a magical kingdom. Disneyland offers an awful lot of excitement for children of a certain age – actually any age, really. Resident Disney fanatics enjoy the annual pass and swarm the kingdom year round, but it’s really not that unmanageable for vacationing families on holiday for a few days or a week, either.

While Disneyland Park trades on familiar Disney film characters, American landmarks, and popular figures in history, California Adventure Park adds in Pixar attractions and big-kid rides like the Tower of Terror. Between the two – with open access to all – is the Downtown District, in Disney style.

With plenty of fun for the whole family, it’s time to start planning and get the most out of your magical kingdom tour.

LAX airport


Getting There

Drive for 35 miles (about 45 minutes) from LAX airport in west Los Angeles or 14 miles (about 20 minutes) from John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana to get to there. While John Wayne is surely a closer commute, its limited airlines and direct routes might put you off. LAX has the advantage – and disadvantage – of being larger and more accessible from everywhere.

Nonetheless, Disneyland Resort Express shuttle buses can transport you directly from both of these airports, as well as from the smaller Long Beach, Burbank, Ontario, and San Diego airports. Just wait outside the terminal at the “Long Distance Buses” area and climb aboard. No reservation required.

Space Mountain 


In Classic Fashion

Disneyland the Original is home to eight distinct worlds of wonder: Adventureland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Toontown, Critter Country, New Orleans Square, and Main Street, USA. With many of the rides here dating from the park’s 1955 opening, there are a lot of all-ages choices that rely more on identification with character than physical chills and thrills.

Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and a smattering of real-deal thrill rides and scary spots are distributed through the park, but for the most part, slow and gentle wins the day and these rides provide great entertainment for young kids and real Disney enthusiasts.

Zip along on the famous monorail, the original high-speed train and the prototype for Walt Disney’s proposed Los Angeles transportation system in the 1950s. How’s that for a vacation-based history lesson?

Meet and greet your favorite Disney characters – such as Cinderella!

Meet and greet characters like Mickey, Minnie, Tinkerbell, and the Disney princesses at a character experience show or at an evening show. Fireworks displays, musical interludes, and nighttime spectaculars are just par for the course at the Magic Kingdom. Each season brings new tours and experiences, too.

Despite a fair bit of themed diversity at the various cafes and restaurants around the park, food sticks pretty close to kid-friendly American fare, sometimes with Cajun spices or barbecue tendencies. Mexican is the only ethnic food on offer. It’s available at Rancho del Zocalo Restaurant. 

Disney California Adventure


Bold New Adventures

Pixar movies join the story at California Adventure, the second Disney park in Anaheim. The park is home to Buena Vista Street (the real Disney Studios home in Burbank), the hotly-anticipated Cars Land, Grizzly Peak, Paradise Pier, Pacific Wharf, A Bug’s Land, and Hollywood Land.

Famous for the screams of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the many rides modeled after Disney and Pixar movies from the 1980’s and beyond, this is definitely a place where younger kids not familiar with the entire Disney oeuvre will feel the most at home.

Radiator Springs at Disneyland's California Adventure

Likewise, character experiences at California Adventure are more slanted towards Pixar characters from Toy Story and Cars, with some Aladdin and Frozen themed entertainment to boot. You’ll find the staple diet of Mickey, Minnie, and friends here as well.

Parents might find more interesting food options here than at Disneyland. Although there’s plenty of themed places to get American food, you can also find the green juice mob at a healthy-fare vegetarian restaurant, indulge your spice tooth with Asian or Mexican, and relax with pasta and wine at Wine Country Trattoria. There’s even a bar and lounge category here. Kids can find character dining at a few of the restaurants, too.

Ridemakerz at Downtown Disney


Las Vegas for Kids

Whining for a quick trip to Disney as we’re passing by? Maybe you don’t have the time, money, or wherewithal to spend the full day or the full fortune on a Disneyland vacation, but you still want to soak in some of the atmosphere: Downtown Disney District to the rescue!

Like Las Vegas’ “mini-me” versions of so many more exotic locations, Downtown Disney gives you a “mini-me” feel for the magic of the parks for simply the cost of dinner and a shopping trip. Dine at Mediterranean, Mexican, Italian, Cajun, or American eateries, many of which are local Southern California favorites.

There are always extra-special events going on in the Downtown Disney Promenade, where live bands, character shows, performances, and demonstrations fill the walkable space rather frequently.

Listen to live music at the House of Blues outside on the Promenade. Drink up at the VooDoo Lounge or feed your sweet tooth at Haagen Dazs. Children not required! But seriously – if your kids are around, you may want to shield their eyes from the Disney Vault store, or you’ll be bringing more of Disneyland home than you’ve probably seen in the past several days.

Planning a trip to Disneyland? Will you go all out or for the more simple downtown adventure? 

Tags : travel   Los Angeles   California   Disneyland   

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