Best Strategies for Disney’s California Adventure

California Adventures is easily my favorite Disney Park, for so many reasons. DCA has such an assortment of rides, food, and shows that it stands out against the rest. Animal Kingdom is a close second for me, but I think California Adventure has more (and for the most part better) rides and much better food. Maybe it’s the SoCal in my blood, but this is the pentacle of a Disney Day for me.

Now because California Adventures has so much to do, it’s important to have a game plan. Especially since it closes earlier than Disneyland on most nights. What makes me the person you should listen to when it comes to your next trip? Well I’ve been going to Disneyland Resort nearly every weekend for the past 12 years. I know both parks inside out and can help you get the most out of your days.

Let’s Talk About FastPasses and MaxPass

If your not familiar with Disney’s FastPass program, it is basically like making a reservation for a ride. Unfortunately though, you don’t get to pick the reservation time. FastPasses are available for most of the busy rides throughout the day, and are distributed in chronological order. Reservation windows are 1-hour and are set in increments of 15 minutes. Disneyland has recently introduced the MaxPass program which allows you to grab FastPasses via your mobile device, rather than running all over the parks. The cost for MaxPass is $10 per person, per day, but also includes unlimited downloads of PhotoPass photos (those ones you take on rides or with characters). If you’re interested in my honest opinion of the program you can read all the details here. If you are spending the full day in California Adventures only, I do not recommend MaxPass, unless you would like the photos.

Maybe it's the SoCal in my blood, but this is the pentacle of a Disney Day for me. Click To Tweet

California Adventures is unique because it is one of the last Disney parks in the United States to have been built. So Disney was able to make some changes that allow for better flow, namely the Single Rider line. This is something that most Disney parks have, but DCA has it for nearly every popular ride. With this option in play, FastPasses are not needed for most rides. This guide is based upon the premise of using the Single Rider line.

What About the Grub


DCA has some of the best food I’ve ever had at a Disney Park, hands down. I don’t want to take up too much time in this post about all the options, but there’s definitely some worth mentioning.

Carthay Circle Lounge + Restaurant: Located at the very front of the park, this is a table service restaurant with refined fare. The restaurant is rather expensive but offers 5-star quality meals. The lounge boasts an equally impressive appetizer menu with a smaller price tag.

The Cove Bar: deserves a post all it’s own, but I do not have enough pictures. Oh no! I’ll have to go back, darn. Located on the bridge between Paradise Pier and Fisherman’s wharf, this casual restaurant has been making quite the name for itself. What originally started as a small bar that you could easily pop into, has grown a cult following and can often have a 30 minute wait. The location was recently expanded, but it still gets busy and is totally worth it. Here you will find beautiful secret menu drinks that are ready for Instagram, as well as some delicious eats. I highly recommend the Lobster Nachos. I don’t even like seafood, and I order this every time.

Paradise Pizza and Pasta: is a quick service location situated behind Mickey’s Fun Wheel. It’s got pizza and pasta, and beer. 🙂 The Pasta with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Chicken is amazing. If you can’t stand the wait for the Cover, pop over here for a quick meal.

Early Morning

As always, my number 1 tip for any Disney park is to get up and out of bed as early as possible. Being inside the parks for rope drop will give you a distinct advantage as many others will sleep their vacation away. If you can manage to arrive before the parks open you’ll have plenty of time to knock out most of the big rides, before the crowd gets too bad. Head directly to Guardians of the Galaxy at rope drop. You will be one of the first people on and the wait time shouldn’t exceed 15 minutes. If you enjoyed the ride and have any interest in doing it again, grab a FastPass on your way out. If you’ve had your fill, head over to Carsland and snag a FastPass for Radiator Racers.Your next stop should be Soarin’, using the single rider line, and Goofy’s Fly School, again using single rider. While you are in the Paradise Pier area grab a FastPass for World of Color, kiosks are located near the entrance to Ariel’s Journey. Around that time your FastPass window should be open so you can head over to whichever ride your pass is for.

Lunch and Break Time

I told you these drinks at Cove Bar are Instagram worthy!

Since you were a trooper and got the family to the parks well before rope drop, you’ll all be ready for lunch around 10:45ish. I 10,000% suggest heading to the Cove Bar, even if you are traveling with kids. While you have to be 21+ to sit at the bar, anyone can sit at the regular tables. This is a great place to rest your feet, indulge in some colorful concoctions, and enjoy a light bite to eat. If that’s not your scene, there are several other great options in the park to eat or you can head to Downtown Disney, or even head back to your hotel for a little nap.

If you have Frozen fans in your group, head over to Hyperion theater and catch the first show at 12:00pm. As you probably know if you follow MySoCalStyle, I hate Frozen. So. So. So. Much. But, if that’s your thing this is the time slot to fit it in.

The park will be filling up around this time and the temperature will rise as well. It’s the perfect part of your day to step away from the action and chill out before heading off to the next adventure!


Once you are rested, re-charged, and ready to go it’s time to squeeze in the last of the big-kid rides. Grizzly River Run is the best water ride short outside of an actual water park, and people know it. On a hot day the line for this can top 2 hours, and no one’s got time for that. Cut the line by heading straight to the single rider queue. For this one, you will need to first get a single rider ticket from the cast member to the left of the staircase, then enter through the exit (up the staircase) and you should be on a boat within 10 minutes or less. Honestly, we usually hit this up 2 or 3 times in a row. Then head over to Paradise Pier and use the single rider line for California Screaming. The Single Rider Entrance is again through the exit, slightly uphill, just past the main queue. I’ve seen the wait for single rider here get up to 30 minutes at times, but it’s still considerably shorter than standby.

The last major attraction at DCA is Midway Mania, be sure to check throughout the day to snag a FastPass. If you are not able to, then you will have to stand in line which can be 90-120 minutes on busy days. Now, the reason that this ride is not a priority is that a) it does not have a single rider option and b) the line is in the shade. A good portion of queue for both Guardians and Radiator Racers is outside, and even Single Rider at Radiator Racers can surpass an hour. Since it’s not likely that you’ll be able to snag a FastPass for all three, the Toy Story line is the most bearable. This is a good time to grab a snack from one of the nearby carts (or a margarita, yes I like booze. Don’t judge me), and eat while you’re in line.

After that you can hit up all the small rides throughout the park, including Mickey’s Wheel of Death – I mean Fun Wheel. They usually have 10-15 minute wait times, so you should have no problem getting through them all.


World of Color. World of Color. World. Of. Color. You HAVE to see this unique night-time show that is like no other. Check your FastPass for the meet time and location. Get there early, as it will fill up – every night. Stop at one of the quick service restaurants for a snack or dinner and eat this while you wait for the show. About an hour before the action starts, cast members will lead crowds into the designated viewing areas. Be careful where you set up camp, you will get wet if you are in the first 5 rows. Like a lot wet.

And that is how to do California Adventures in a day, SoCal Style. Congrats if you were able to complete it all! Honestly, not everyone can say they rode and saw everything in a single day. You can hit the shops up as you exit the park or in downtown Disney.

And THAT is how you do California Adventures in 1 day! Click To Tweet




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