What Disney things are there to do outside of Disneyland? Which activities are the best to do on a rest day from the theme parks? Find out the top off day at Disneyland ideas that will keep you immersed in the magic!
This article originally published on July 1st, 2015 and has been updated and republished with a new date.
Best Ways to Spend an Off Day at Disneyland
There are tons of ways to get the Disney “magic” without stepping foot inside of the Parks! It’s recommended to build one or more “off-days” into your multi-day trip to the Disneyland Resort. You and your family can rest up, relax and enjoy the Resort without venturing into the Parks.
I’ve included my favorite day-off at Disneyland ideas in this article. These suggestions are optimal for experiencing in a vacation itinerary over the course of several days.
What’s Outside of Disneyland Park?
While Southern California is a play land of beaches, museums and parks, many vacationers head to SoCal for one reason: Disneyland!
Planning your first Disneyland vacation? Consider adding extra days into your trip to explore and relax. If you like to plan a few “off days” into your vacations, there are still great Disney-themed things to do, even without a park ticket.
Disneyland On-Site Vs. Off-Site
The Disneyland Resort consists of two theme parks, Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure park. Surrounding the two parks are three Resort Hotels – Paradise Pier , Grand California Resort & Spa and the Disneyland Hotel. There is also the Downtown Disney District, with shopping and dining.
Outside of the two parks, Disneyland has a large footprint in the city of Anaheim. Just outside of Disneyland Resort there are many locations. Within walking distance are Good Neighbor hotels, restaurants and suburban homes.
I’m giving you some ideas on what to do on an off-day of your vacation that will still keep you in the “Disney bubble”. There are also additional tips for spending time outside of the theme parks in the Southern California area.
How Many Days Should You Plan for a Disneyland Vacation?
When planning out a Disney trip, working in a few rest days can be important. It’s tempting to book something exciting for every day. But that can be a recipe for meltdowns, especially when it comes to traveling with young children.
How many theme park days are good for Disneyland?
Three days in the theme parks, with additional days for rest at the beginning, middle, and end of the trip are generally a good idea. Purchase a Disneyland Park Hopper ticket to move back and forth between the theme parks throughout a single day.
If you wish to take lots of rest time or are traveling with a special needs family member, extend the trip to 5 theme park days. This will allow you to tour the parks at a more relaxing pace while still experiencing everything you wish to see.
How many off days at Disneyland are best?
- Aim to have an off day at Disneyland on the first day of your visit. This will allow everyone to adjust to the possible time change, or just relax after a day of travel.
- Scheduling at least one additional day in the middle of your vacation for downtime is ideal.
- If you leave late on your getaway day, plan one of these rest day activities to close out your trip.
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Dine with a Character at a Disneyland Resort Hotel
Disneyland character dining is one of the best rest day activities. Guests do not need to go into the Parks to enjoy a Character meal.
Character dining is a great way to set up a meet n’ greet without using up precious theme park time. Diners have the opportunity to meet with each of the featured characters as they come to individual tables for a personal visit. Families are able to take photos, request signatures and have one-on-one character time for your kids.
Where are Disneyland Character Dining Experiences?
Two of the hotels at the Disneyland Resort feature their own unique Character meals. Vacationers do not need to be a resort guest to enjoy any of the dining inside the Disneyland Resort hotels. Simply call or book an Advance Dining Reservation online before your visit.
Disney Grand Californian Resort & Spa
Mickey’s Tales of Adventure Breakfast includes Mickey, Minnie, Chip ‘n Dale and Pluto. Storyteller’s Cafe hosts this event for daily breakfast and brunch on select days.
Napa Rose offers the upscale Disney’s Princess Adventures with princesses like Ariel, Belle, Pocahontas and Tiana for breakfast/brunch on select days.
Goofy’s Kitchen is the only hotel location that offers both breakfast and dinner. Goofy’s Kitchen is a great character meal for travel days, either an arrival day or a get away day.
A Day Spent Swimming on an Off Day at Disneyland
It’s so easy to take one of your “off-days” poolside, especially if you are staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel. The pools are fantastic, and there is definitely enough here for a day’s worth of entertainment.
When vacationing in California, planning a pool day is an easy and inexpensive way to spend your off day. Pack snacks to eat at the pool, take a break mid-day for a nap on the chaise, and bring plenty of sunscreen!
Nearly year-round in Anaheim, the weather may be appropriate for swimming. All Disneyland Hotel pools and many Good Neighbor hotel pools are heated or have hot tubs.
Disneyland Resort Hotel Pool Perks
The Disneyland Resort Hotel pools are ideal for down time because there’s so much to do. These are a few of the perks that hotel guests can access:
Entertainment – Themed pools are a major perk. Each of the Resort hotels have at least one water slide. During the day, kids are invited to play organized games with resort cast members.
Poolside Cabana – Disneyland resort hotel guests can rent a cabana for a half-day or full-day.
Dining Service – Resort guests can take advantage of poolside drinks and meal service.
READ MORE: Disneyland Resort Hotel Swimming Pools
Disneyland Resort Fitness Centers
Feeling a little sluggish after too much theme park food? Get up and get moving. Each of the three Disneyland Resort hotels has a fitness center that’s complimentary for adult guest use. *Editor’s Note* The Disneyland Resort Hotel fitness centers are temporarily closed.
Consider signing up for one of the one-of-a-kind exercise programs. There’s a guided morning walk through the theme park, a yoga class, or even a paddleboarding session in the hotel pool.
There is a nominal cost per person, and the classes fill up fast. Guests ages 14-17 may participate with an accompanying adult.
Explore the Disneyland Resort Hotels
Other than the Disneyland theme parks, the Disneyland resort hotels are the best place to stay inside the “Disney bubble”.
The hotel lobby, restaurants, and gift shops are open to all. Visitors don’t have to be a resort guest to shop and enjoy. There are some activities, including swimming pools, that only Disneyland Resort hotel guests can participate in.
Leave time on an off-day to explore these three different hotels of the Disneyland Resort. I’ll outline some of the highlights of each hotel that are ideal for a rest day.
Visitor Highlights of the Disneyland Hotel
The Disneyland Hotel is my personal favorite Anaheim hotel. There’s so much history here, making it ideal for Disney fans.
Explore the Disneyland Hotel Towers
Each of the hotel towers offers a different theme in their lobby. The Fantasy tower has Mad Tea Party teacup chairs and cartoons playing on a television at the check-in area. Characters often meet ‘n greet guests in the lobby.
The convention center area is near Goofy’s Kitchen restaurant. There’s an Autopia vehicle and a wall of historical photographs and memorabilia. Check out the celebrity visitors photos near the elevator.
Exploring the other towers, the Frontier Tower has a scale model of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The Adventure Tower lobby has Animatronic models and drawings from The Jungle Cruise attraction.
Disneyland Hotel Dining
Family dining options here include the character dining experience, Goofy’s Kitchen (more on that restaurant in the character dining section). The grab and go Coffee House is perfect for breakfast items.
One of our favorites is the quick service Tangaroa Terrace. Tropical dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Dole Whip floats with rum are available at the patio bar.
Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar is located next door. This Jungle Cruise-inspired location is open to all ages until 8:00 pm. After this time, guests in this area must be 21+. The menu is identical to Tangaroa Terrace.
There’s an comfortable outdoor seating area here as well, next to an fireplace. It’s an wonderful location for temperate nights, to chat about your vacation while resting under the stars.
Must-See Features of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
This Craftsman-style hotel is grand indeed. There’s plenty here for visitors and guests alike to explore, starting with the colorful stained glass doors into the lobby from the carport.
Grand Californian Lobby
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is breathtaking inside and out, with a towering main lobby. A major feature of the Grand Californian lobby is the fireside hearth and rocking chairs. Guests are welcome to relax and warm themselves near the fire.
Nearby is a row of small rocking chairs, reserved just for children, along with a television showing cartoons. A musician is often playing at the grand piano, which adds a whimsical touch to this glorious space.
Step outside the lobby into the outdoor green space. There are several covered patios that encourage guests to sit and rest.
Seasonally, the lobby area at the Grand Californian is decorated to the max. Halloween time and Christmas are perfect seasons in which to visit this beautiful hotel.
During the Halloween season, guests will find an edible, Halloween-themed display. At Christmas, this display is a gingerbread house, decorated to resemble the hotel.
The Christmas season is particularly stunning, at the Grand California, with the addition of a towering Christmas tree in the lobby. Disneyland’s Santa Claus also stops here, greeting any visitors for a chat and photos.
The Grand Californian Great Hall Cart is set up in the lobby to serve up Halloween and Holiday treats and specialty drinks. Some of the offerings are unique to the Resort, making the Grand Californian a destination for those seeing out specific items.
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel Dining
There are several family-friendly dining locations here, as well as upscale experiences. Check the Disneyland app to verify which restaurants recommend advance dining reservations.
GCH Craftsman Grill is a walk-in location that serves hearty meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This restaurant also offers a number of grab-and-go items, including salads, muffins and yogurt parfaits.
The Hearthstone Lounge is an indoor bar, nearby the poolside GCH Craftsman Bar. These locations have varied menus, with the bar offering more extensive offerings.
Storytellers Cafe offers a delicious buffet dinner, with a large variety of hot and cold dishes. Mickey’s Tales of Adventure Breakfast is a character meal that takes place in the Storytellers Cafe during the morning hours.
Napa Rose is the most elegant of all restaurants at the Disneyland Resort. There is a dress code and both a prix fixe and a la carte menu. Children are welcome to dine, and there is a kid’s menu.
The Disney Princess Breakfast Adventures is another character dining experience, held at Napa Rose on select days. Both character meals will be discussed further in this article.
Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel (Pixar Pier Hotel)
There’s not as much to do at Paradise Pier for visitors not staying at the hotel. The lobby has recently been remade into a full Pixar theme. This is in anticipation of its transformation into the Pixar Pier Hotel.
Dining has yet to reopen, but
Pixar Pier Hotel Hotel Dining
Disneyland Resort Hotel Guest Activities
There are definite guest perks when comparing the Disneyland Resort hotels versus the Anaheim Good Neighbor hotels.
If you are a Resort guest, there are exclusive activities that take place at the hotels. Check with Guest Services on the days and times of your visit to find out times and locations.
Sign up at check-in if any of these sound interesting, as most of them fill up quickly. There are several other offerings (including summer pool parties).
- Art of Craft hotel tour (held at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa)
- The Grand Quest, a scavenger hunt through the Resort hotel for families with kids aged 3-12 (held at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa)
- Trivia challenge (all three hotels have paperwork at concierge desk)
- Fireworks viewing with piped-in music (on the roof top pool area at Paradise Pier)
A Day at the Spa
Tenaya Spa at the Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is a heavenly way to recharge on your off-day. Enjoy a massage, facial, mani-pedi or a cleansing sweat in the sauna. There are dozens of special treatments to choose from that will have you rested, relaxed and ready for your next Park day.
Shopping for Souvenirs
Shopping, dining and entertainment; you could spend a lot of time (and money) at Downtown Disney. When it comes to souvenir shopping, this outdoor shopping center is an awesome place to get your Disney fix. I highly suggest doing your shopping outside of Disneyland parks in an effort to maximize park time.
- World of Disney -you can’t miss this enormous store that includes hundreds of fantastic Disney souvenirs.
- LEGO Store – bright and colorful, this shop has many kits on display and plenty of blocks to play and build with.
Many of the Anaheim area Good Neighbor hotels have also Disney souvenirs inside their gift shops. The Courtyard Anaheim has an extensive collection of fun items to take home!
Pressed Penny Machines
Go Bowling, Disney-Style!
One of my family’s favorite Downtown Disney hot spots is Splitsville Anaheim. Lots of great menu items, including cocktails and kid-friendly food. Splitsville will offer your family hours of off-day fun dining and bowling. Bowling balls are given a Disney-spin with themed bowling balls, so you don’t forget you’re at Disneyland!
Even without the bowling, there’s plenty of fun and entertainment here. Come for pizza, appetizers or just dessert (their sundaes are huge). Listen to live music at Splitsville’s outdoor Kingpin Stage, grab a cocktail, or watch a live sports event.
Movies Under the Stars
On select nights the Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa and Disneyland Hotel host a Disney movie outside for their Resort Guests. Bring your own food and drinks to enjoy during the show.
One of my favorite Disneyland splurges is treating my kids to a fun dessert that we don’t get at home! Even outside of the Disney parks, there are lots of places to get treats including themed candied apples, giant lollipops and sundaes.
- Black Tap Craft Burgers and Shakes – grab a CrazyShake from their walk-up window and share with the family.
- Marceline’s Confectionary – watch them create amazing themed candy apples through the window. Then take home freshly made packaged treats like fudge and peanut brittle.
- Salt & Straw – unique flavors of premium ice cream in a cup or cone.
- Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express – craving Disneyland beignets like the ones sold in the parks? They can be found made fresh and warm at this Downtown Disney location.
A Night on the Town
Hit the town…Downtown Disney, that is. You can take in the nightlight in the Downtown Disney District by enjoying a free outdoor concert. There are often musicians stationed throughout the mall playing live music. Eat dinner at one of these great restaurants with your family.
- Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen – New Orleans style dining, with live entertainment nightly during your meal. Request a seat inside the piano room to get an up-close view and participate in the sing-a-longs.
- Naples Ristorante and Napolini Pizzeria – large family-style pizzas made fresh to order.
- Earl of Sandwich – reasonably priced sandwiches to please everyone. This is also a great spot in the morning to grab breakfast sandwiches when you’re maximizing the first two hours at Disneyland.
Have a Disney Date Night
Did you bring the babysitter with you on vacation? Having grandparents with you on the Disneyland trip means they can watch little ones on an off-day! Having a grown-up date night at Disney is extra magical. Here are date night options outside of Disneyland that still offer a subtle Disney touch. Any of these options are open to non-resort guests and most require advance dining reservations:
- A dining highlight at the Disneyland Hotel is Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar. Sip a tropical cocktail inside or sit on the tiki-torch lit patio and enjoy the live music.
- Grab upscale snacks and cocktails at Hearthstone Lounge, located next to the Disney Grand Californian pool.
- For diners looking for a fancier meal, Napa Rose at Disney Grand Californian is highly elegant.
View a Nighttime Spectacular
Want to soak in a bit of the Disney atmosphere at the end of the night, but don’t have a Park ticket? There are a few ways you can watch fireworks or a nighttime show without entering the parks.
When do Disneyland fireworks shows take place?
Fireworks spectaculars and other nighttime entertainment do not take place every night. Check the Disneyland app calendar to find out if fireworks will be shown on the evening of your visit.
Also, inclement weather including rain, lightning storms, or heavy winds may cancel fireworks shows on short notice.
What will you be able to see?
Keep in mind, when watching fireworks you won’t be able to see the entire show, including the castle or facade projections and pyrotechnics. But, you will be able to see the actual fireworks show in the sky.
In regards to a show like World of Color, the view may be limited. Even though you can’t catch all of the action like you would from inside the Park, it’s still quite magical!
Fireworks View from the Esplanade
The esplanade is the wide open space between the two theme parks. Just before the fireworks show starts at Disneyland, other guests will gather in this area. Many sit down on the concrete to enjoy the show.
Disneyland Resort Hotel Nighttime Show Viewing
If you’re a Disneyland resort guest, there are several fireworks viewing options. Music and dialogue is piped in for an awesome view of this nighttime spectacular.
At the Disneyland Hotel, choose a hotel room with a “theme park view”. You’ll receive a decent view of the castle with fireworks.
When staying at the Paradise Pier Hotel (soon to be called Pixar Pier Hotel), guests go to the pool area for a roof top fireworks viewing.
Guests at Disney’s Grand Californian are treated to a view of the World of Color show, presented within the Disney California Adventure park. The private patio for viewing is on the top floor of the hotel, and is only accessed with a hotel room key.
Other Places to Visit on an Off Day at Disneyland
If your family wants to spend vacation days exploring other areas in Southern California, try some of these additional suggestions. Keep in mind, these may not be ideal for a “rest day”, as these ideas may include travel outside of the Anaheim area.
Southern California beaches
Other SoCal theme parks
Knott’s Berry Farm
Universal Studios Hollywood