Disney’s California Adventure with Toddlers: A Complete Guide

Disney’s California Adventure with Toddlers: A Complete Guide

pin radiator springs with wordsIt seems to be a truth universally acknowledged that once you have kids, you must take them to visit the Mouse. The Mouse is pretty awesome and Disney really caters well to families. I would advise, though, if you only have a day or so, take them to California Adventure instead of Disneyland. I think Disney’s California Adventure toddler-friendliness way exceeds the Disneyland park.

If you don’t really think your little one may be ready for the full park experience, but you still want them to meet Mickey, check out my #1 Tip for Disneyland with a Toddler. But we’re here to talk California Adventure, so let’s get going.

California Adventure with Toddlers: Why It’s the Best

  • It’s a lot quieter. Especially since toddlers don’t meet height requirements for Guardians of the Galaxy or Soarin’ the other rides have much shorter lines.
  • Toddlers and young kids are more familiar with Pixar characters. I’m sorry, but it’s true. It’s just their generation.
  • You will find more Pixar characters at California Adventure. If your kid (like mine) adores Toy Story you will find Buzz and Woody at California Adventure, not Disneyland. They usually have Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde from Zootopia, too.
  • This may not apply to you, but there are places to find a beer or glass of wine at California Adventure, unlike at Disneyland.
  • It’s a little smaller, so you can accomplish a little more in a shorter amount of time. Let’s be honest: you and your toddler will want to leave the park for a nap.
  • Anna, Elsa, and Olaf live at California Adventure.
  • I like it better if I am visiting Disneyland alone with my toddler. For whatever reason, I feel less fatigued and have a lot more fun than when I’ve visited Disneyland alone with her. Maybe it’s the shorter lines or the cool breeze over by the Grand Californian.
minnie balloons
balloon love

Favorite California Adventure Toddler Activities

  • The Disney, Jr. Dance Party. First of all, it’s air-conditioned (major win in the Southern California sun), and it’s fun for kids. The colors are bright, the music is upbeat, the actors engage the kids really well, and the characters are easily recognizable. They have a clean bathroom right at the back of the theater, too, if you’re potty training. BONUS: If you’re nursing, it’s a quiet, cool place to sit and feed your baby.
  • A Bug’s Land and the Princess Dot Puddle Pad. What little kid doesn’t love a splash pad on a hot California Day (or even a cold one). You can even take infants on Flik’s Flyers, Francis’ Ladybug Boogie and Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train (all are “any height” restricted).
  • The Little Mermaid themed rides are here. Though my daughter will not watch the movie, she loves King Triton’s Carousel and Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.
Triton's Carousel
Triton’s Carousel
  • Toy Story Midway Mania! OK, this one is my favorite, but kids of any height can ride it, and they can play with the 3D glasses while you play. Just get there first or get Fast Passes, as the lines are LONG.
  • Cars Land. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi’s Rollick’ Roadsters are for kids 32″ or older and a lot of fun. Plus, in Cars Land they can meet their favorite Tow Mater or Lightning McQueen.
  • Turtle Talk with Crush. Again, I love anything air-conditioned, especially after waiting in a few lines. Your toddler or little kid will love watching the interactions with Crush and other Nemo characters. If you have a budding artist, they will enjoy the other activities in the Animation Building, too.

Single Rider or Rider Switch Opportunities

I know you want to make the most of your experience, and some rides just are not toddler-friendly.

The following rides offer single rider queues if someone will watch your kid: Grizzly River Run, Goofy’s Sky School, and Radiator Springs Racers.

Guardians of the Galaxy–Mission Breakout! does have rider switch, as do several other attractions.

Where to Eat at California Adventure with Toddlers

Basically, anywhere is kid-friendly. It’s Disneyland after all. The vegetable bake at Flo’s V8 Cafe is pretty delicious, Bayside Brews has some killer pretzels and beer (the former for the toddlers, the latter for you), but we always go to Smokejumper’s Grill by Soarin’ for some reason. The food is good, it’s quick, air-conditioned, and pretty easy. Plus, one kids meal feeds my daughter for 3 days. Wins all around.

You can buy a special dining package for the World of Color show, but we have not done this yet. If you have, please leave a comment and let me know how it is!

Annual Passholder Bonus Perk at California Adventure

So, I have a serious confession to make. I am an Annual Passholder at Disneyland. I know, I never thought I would get to this stage, either, but we took our daughter for the first time when she was two, and she LOVED the rides. It’s so convenient from our home around Los Angeles, we can just pop down for a few hours to enjoy a few rides and grab a churro. It’s been worth it to us to have the passport, and we’ve discovered some fun perks.

At the AP Corner at Paradise Gardens, they have a station where you can charge your phone for free. Hey, that Disneyland app really saps your battery.

waterfalls at California Adventure

Keep in Mind if Visiting California Adventure with Toddlers in 2018

A lot of activities and restaurants are closed right now while they’re working on Pixar Pier. We were there at the end of January, and the Cove Bar, Ariel’s Grotto restaurant, and the roller coaster are all closed for refurbishment. Last time we visited, Grizzly River Run and the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail were also closed (and still are at the time of writing this). So check the Disneyland app and/or website before you go so you don’t get disappointed. King Triton’s Carousel and Toy Story Mania are still open.

This summer, Pixar Fest begins. This means Pixar Pier will open with a new Incredicoaster (I’m sure it will be thoughtfully timed with the opening of Incredibles 2), the return of the Paint the Night Parade, and more activities. So if you’re thinking about going and have older kids (or adults, honestly) who don’t want to miss out, plan your trip for later this summer or fall.

Grizzly Peak at Disney's California Adventure
Grizzly Peak

Final Thoughts

Trying to find toddler-friendly destinations in general can be challenging to say the least. Disney generally makes any family travel much easier, and honestly Los Angeles is a great family destination. Adding on a day or two at Disney can make it memorable for you. Happy Travels.


If you LOVE all things Disney, make sure you check out #MouseFanMondays Link Up! 


14 thoughts on “Disney’s California Adventure with Toddlers: A Complete Guide

  1. Such great recommendations! My youngest was 4 by the time we made it to the California parks, but I affirm that if I had gone with him as a toddler DCA def would be a better choice. Of course, I always suffer from Disney FOMO so I would have never been satisfied with just one park LOL. Thanks for linking up on #mousefanmondays

  2. This sounds so fun, and you provided really great tips. Although my children aren’t little anymore, I could see applying some of these same tips for when I take my husband ;).

  3. We went to DL last Sept – our kids were 8 and 6 and we only had one day so we went for the main theme park and not CA. Def want to go back to try the other park! So jealous that you are so close to a Disney park. it seems like annual pass is the best way to go!

    1. We tried not to buy one, but then after we took our daughter once, she kept asking to go back. We realized with the slight food and merchandise credit, it would be more financially sound to get the pass. But once we bought it, I was DETERMINED to use it to the fullest haha

  4. I don’t have kids but I love DCA and always encourage people not to skip it. I do like that it’s quieter and even though I like more of the rides in DL Park, I love Paradise/Pixar Pier and Cars Land. It’s good that the quieter park is more kid friendly.

  5. I love California Adventure! And I completely agree with you, it is a great park for toddlers. Bug’s Land offers amazing shade and great bathrooms. I also love how interactive the characters are on Buena Vista Street!

    1. Good point! Plus, for mothers of infants, the infant care center is so centrally located–makes it a lot easier.

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