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.
The Disneyland Resort consists of two theme parks, Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure park. Outside of the two parks, Disneyland has a large footprint in the city of Anaheim. Surrounding the two parks are three Resort Hotels (Paradise Pier, Grand California Resort & Spa and the Disneyland Hotel). There is a Downtown Disney District with shopping and dining.
Just outside of Disneyland Resort, 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”.
1. Dine with a Character at a Disneyland Resort Hotel
You do not need to go into the Parks to enjoy a Character meal! Each of the three hotels in the Disneyland Resort feature their own unique Character meals. You also 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.
Character dining is a great way to get in a meet n’ greet without using up precious Park time. Diners will have the opportunity to meet with each of the featured characters as they come to individual tables for personal time. You’ll be able to take photos, request signatures and have one-on-one character time for your kids.
- Disney’s PCH Grill (Paradise Pier Hotel) for Donald Duck’s Seaside Breakfast offers characters like Minnie, Donald, Daisy Duck and Stitch for breakfast daily and brunch on select days.
- Storyteller’s Cafe (Disney Grand Californian) Mickey’s Tales of Adventure Breakfast includes Mickey, Minnie, Chip ‘n Dale and Pluto for daily breakfast and brunch on select days.
- Napa Rose (Disney Grand Californian) offers the upscale Disney’s Princess Adventures with princesses like Ariel, Belle, Pocahontas and Tiana for breakfast/brunch on select days.
- Goofy’s Kitchen (Disneyland Hotel) is the only hotel location that offers both breakfast and dinner.
2. Swimming 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. Nearly year-round in Anaheim, the weather may be appropriate for swimming. Most Good Neighbor hotel pools are heated or have hot tubs.
Disneyland resort hotel guests can rent a cabana, receive poolside drinks and meal service and slip down a water slide. During the day, kids can play organized games with resort cast members. Plan to relax in a whirlpool hot tub or lounge on a chaise and catch some rays. The pools are ideal for down time and we make sure to reserve a day of our trip for plenty of water play!
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! RELATED: All About the Disneyland Resort Hotel Swimming Pools.
Looking for More Ways to Save on a Disneyland Vacation?
Purchase discount Disneyland tickets and vacation packages from my travel partner Get Away Today. Use the Promo Code REWRITTEN and receive an extra $10 off any 2-night or longer Southern California package. (Hotel and 2 ticket minimum purchase to qualify for the discount).
Feeling a little sluggish after the 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. Consider signing up for a guided morning walk, the Get Up & Go Power Walk, through the Park. This fills up fast and must be done in person at the Grand Californian (Disneyland Resort guests are welcome, ages 14+).
4. Explore the Disneyland Hotel Resorts
Leave time on an off-day to explore the three different hotels of the Disneyland Resort. Outside of Disneyland, these hotel resorts are the best place to stay inside the “Disney bubble”. Restaurants and gift shops are open to all, so you don’t have to be a resort guest to shop and enjoy. I’ll outline some of the highlights of each hotel.
- Disneyland Hotel is my favorite! Each hotel towers offers a different theme in their lobby. The Fantasy check-in tower has cute Mad Tea Party teacup chairs. You might also meet a character in the lobby (Goofy is often here, greeting guests). Stroll through the convention center area (near Goofy’s Kitchen restaurant) to see the wall of historical photographs and memorabilia. 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.
Family dining options here include the character dining Goofy’s Kitchen, grab and go Coffee House and quick service Tangaroa Terrace. There’s an comfortable outdoor seating area here as well, next to an fireplace. Ideal for temperate nights to chat about your vacation thus far under the stars.
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is breathtaking inside and out, with a towering lobby. Anyone can sit here, enjoying the art deco decor, listen to the music on the grand piano or enjoy the roaring fireside hearth. Seasonally, this area is decorated to the max. Christmas is particularly stunning with an enormous tree and holiday treats for sale. Disneyland’s Santa Claus is stops here, greeting any visitors for a chat and photos. Family-friendly dining locations include GCH Craftsman Bar & Grill and Storyteller’s Cafe.
Disney’s Paradise Pier
The Paradise Pier is fun…and Goofy (there is a Goofy statue inside, perfect for selfies). Disney’s PCH Grill has a family friendly buffet (character dining for breakfast and Italian food for dinner). The Surfside Lounge offers casual dining for all three meals, including giant Kitchen Sink sundaes. Outside of dining, there’s not as much to do at Paradise Pier for visitors not staying at the hotel. A stop inside during Halloween Time offers some cool seasonal decor in the lobby. Cartoons are shown all day inside the beach-themed viewing area.
5. Disneyland Resort Hotel Guest Activities
If you are a Resort guest, there are exclusive activities to take part in outside of Disneyland. 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). Just check with Guest Services on the days and times of your visit. These are a few of the highlights:
- 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)
6. A Day at the Spa
*editor’s note – the Mandara Spa has been remodeled and renamed, Tenaya Spa. The renovated spa was expected to open spring 2020 but grand opening has been delayed* 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.
7. 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!
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Sweet Treats
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.
- Sprinkles – gourmet cupcakes including their popular red velvet.
- 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.
11. 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.
- La Brea Bakery Cafe – great selection of family favorites including a grab & go quick counter for food you can take back to the hotel.
- 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.
12. 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:
- For a fancy meal or date night try Steakhouse 55 at the Disneyland Hotel.
- 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.
- Catal inside Downtown Disney offers Mediterranean dishes for all three meals.
13. Fireworks Spectacular
If you just want to soak in a bit of the Disney atmosphere at the end of the night but don’t have a Park ticket for the day, stroll into the esplanade. This is the wide open space between the two Parks. Just before the fireworks show starts at Disneyland, other travelers will gather in this area and sit down to enjoy the show.
If you’re a Disneyland resort guest, head to the Paradise Pier for a roof top fireworks viewing. Music is piped in to the pool area for an awesome view of this nighttime spectacular. Even though you can’t catch all of the action like you would from inside the Park, it’s still quite magical and a great way to close out your off-day before heading back in to the Parks.