Things to Do Outside of Disneyland without a Park Ticket

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Planning a California vacation and wondering what Disney things there are to do outside of Disneyland? There are tons of ways to get the Disney “magic” without stepping foot inside of the Parks! I recommend building one or more “off-days” into your multi-day trip to the Disneyland Resort so you can rest up, relax and enjoy the Resort without venturing into the Parks. I’ve included my favorite day-off ideas which you can actually do in one day or stretch them out over several days.

Little girl posing at Paradise Pier hotel wearing a polka dot dress

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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.

Little girl looking out window of Paradise Pier to see theme park
Park view from Paradise Pier hotel room

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. 

Disneyland directory sign and map

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.

Little girl in Minnie Mouse dress at Goofy's Kitchen with sign in background

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.

Minnie, Stitch, Donald and Daisy pose with mom and girl at Donald Duck's Seaside Breakfast
Rare photo op with all 4 characters since we were the last ones in the restaurant!
  • 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. 

Toddler posing with Minnie Mouse at Goofy's Kitchen

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 swimming pool and monorail slides

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!

Disney Grand Californian Hotel poolside menu
Disney Grand Californian Hotel poolside menu

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.

Rooftop pool at Disney's Paradise Pier hotel and California Streamin' water slide
Rooftop pool at Disney’s Paradise Pier hotel

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).

3. Work Off Those Extra Churros

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+). 

Minnie and Mickey statues outside of the Disneyland hotel entrance

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.

Sorcerer Mickey hat outside of the Disneyland Hotel

Disneyland 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.
Classic memorabilia on display at the Disneyland Hotel
Classic memorabilia on display at the Disneyland Hotel

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.

Front entrance of Disneyland Hotel Tangaroa Terrace restaurant
Disneyland Hotel Tangaroa Terrace restaurant

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. 

Lobby of Disney Grand Californian hotel
Grand Californian lobby

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.

PCH Grill at Paradise Pier Hotel

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)

Directional signage at Disneyland hotel

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. 

Little girl in Minnie Mouse dress holding a Tigger plush at World of Disney

  • 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!

Inside of Courtyard Anaheim gift shop
Courtyard Anaheim gift shop

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! 

Disneyland Splitsville Anaheim bowling ball with Mickey engraving

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.

Splitsville Luxury Lanes sausage pizza

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.

Packaged treats inside of Marceline's Confectionary at Downtown Disney District
Marceline’s Confectionary
  • 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.

Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen Express in Disneyland Downtown Disney

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.

giant pizza with family at Naple's in Downtown Disney

  • 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.

La Brea Bakery Restaurant and Express

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. 

Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar sign

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.

Disneyland espanade between the two theme parks
Wide open esplanade between the Parks is perfect for viewing fireworks at night.

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.


 

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “Things to Do Outside of Disneyland without a Park Ticket

  1. This is such an extensive list! We just got back from Disneyland earlier this summer, and one of our favorite days was when we started at Storytellers for the Critter breakfast (soooooo fun!) and then swam, etc. And on SoCal trips we are never at a loss for beaches, etc to visit! 🙂

  2. I have never been to Disneyland so I am not as familiar with it as I am with Disney World, but I didn’t realize there was so much to do outside of the parks! Great list! I hope to make it over there one of these days 🙂

    1. It’s not as easy to be completely immersed in Disney like you can at WDW, but it’s great that they still have a lovely resort where you can stay and not deal with the “outside world” 🙂

  3. Great tips, I am planning a West Coast vacation for 2016 and hope to visit Disneyland for the 1st time. Didn’t realize how similar Disneyland & Disney World are with the same “Downtown Disney” and Mandara Spa, etc.

  4. I am amazed on the activity outside the parks at Disneyland. My favorite moment was waking up at the Disneyland Hotel and looking out the window to see Goofy walking alone along the path and stopping to smell the flowers. What a place! I could just spend time exploring.

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