Looking for something to do in SoCal this holiday season? Want to plan the perfect day in Downtown Disney? Don’t have time to make reservations in advance? I’ll share how we spent a chill day in Downtown Disney with my family, including a 1-year-old, without planning much in advance!
My family and I are huge Disneyland lovers but we haven’t been back since the parks reopened, mostly for safety reasons. We’re waiting for my son to get a little older before we make his first trip. I am so looking forward for when that day comes! My sister suggested visiting Downtown Disneyland this year since we were planning on being in LA anyways for the Thanksgiving break. It turned out to be the perfect intro to Disney for my Mickey-lovin’ baby boy! What makes it even better is that this time of year, all of the Christmas decorations are up making it really festive and magical. Plus there are lots and lots of photo ops if you love taking photos!
When to go to Downtown Disney
Day of the week: Tuesday – Thursday
Weekends are generally the busiest days in Downtown Disney so you’ll want to avoid Saturdays and Sundays if you can. Because of our packed schedule, we ended up going on a Friday (Black Friday to be exact) and we were still able to have an amazing time! No matter what day of the week you go, try to go during December so you can catch all the beautiful holiday decorations!
Hours: Downtown Disney opens up at 8am, so obviously the earlier you can get there, the better. We arrived at the early hour of 11am :D. While it was busy, it was still before noon when everything became very crowded. If you plan on eating lunch here, a good rule of thumb is to arrive before 12pm so you can get a spot at one of the restaurants. Especially if you’re coming with a bigger party!
Address and Parking for Downtown Disney
The official address for the Downtown Disney District is 1580 Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, CA 92802.
For parking, the best place to park if you’re only there for the day would be the Simba Lot. Upon entering the lot, you’ll be prompted to receive a ticket. Take this with you into the park, you’ll want to keep it on hand for validation. Parking is $10 for the first hour and depending on what you purchase, different validations can apply afterwards.
Food & Snacks in Downtown Disney
Depending on how early you plan your visit, you can make reservations with the Disneyland app. We did not look into reservations until the day before, so naturally, everything was already booked. However, we were still able to get seated right away at one of the larger restaurants!
Pro tip: Send someone from the group to check in at the restaurant as soon as you arrive so you can plan accordingly with your party size and wait times.
Our good friends recommended Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen so that was the one we knew we wanted to go for! My sister checked-in with the front desk and they told us that our party of 8 + 1 baby could be seated right away! We waited about 10 minutes for our table to be prepared and were seated promptly afterwards. It was a little after 12pm noon at that point. 20 minutes later, the whole inside of the restaurant was completely filled. I mentioned it earlier but I’ll say it again, if you’re planning on eating lunch in Downtown Disney, make sure to arrive before 12pm!
What we ordered:
- Popcorn Calamari
- Louisiana Crawfish Spring Rolls
- Pasta Jambalaya
- Gulf Shrimp A La Creole
- NOLA BBQ Shrimp and Grits
They also have a selection of non-alcoholic beverages so the whole family can enjoy! I highly recommend splurging a little more for a refreshing drink to balance out the savory dishes.
For our 1-year old we ordered the Crispy Chicken Tenders which comes with a side of either fries or fruit. The restaurant provided us with a baby highchair that was smaller than most I’ve seen and absolutely perfect for my son.
Other Sit Down Restaurants in Downtown Disney
- Ballast Point Brewing Co
- Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes
- La Brea Bakery Cafe
- Tortilla Jo’s
- Uva Bar & Cafe
- Naples Ristorante e Bar
- Catal Restaurant
- Splitsville Luxury Lanes – Dining
Quick Bites/Snacks in Downtown Disney
If you can’t find a sit-down restaurant or need something to-go, there are a variety of vendors with express options to choose from:
- Earl of Sandwich
- La Brea Bakery Express
- Napolini Pizzeria
- Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express
- Salt & Straw
- Taqueria at Tortilla Jo’s
- Wetzel’s Pretzels
For a snack/dessert after lunch we ordered the famous NOLA beignets from Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express!
Shops in Downtown Disney
We spent the rest of our time window shopping. We avoided the crowds inside most shops but did venture into a few, including the LEGO store and World of Disney!
I’ll also note that the Press Coin Machines are noted on the official Downtown Disney website as a shop and it was one of the most entertaining activity for my 1-year-old. He had a blast cranking the little machine and seeing a little shiny pressed penny come out. It was a great activity to avoid big crowds and is entertaining enough for your younger kids.
Here’s the complete list of current shops in Downtown Disney:
- California Sole
- World of Disney
- Disney Home
- The Disney Dress Shop
- Disney’s Pin Traders
- The LEGO Store
- Marceline’s Confectionary
- Pandora’s Jewelry
- Press Coin Machines
- Star War’s Trading Post
- Sugarboo & Co
- Sunglass Icon
- Wonderground Gallery
Photo spots in Downtown Disney
Alright, I’ll admit that the thing I was most excited for was ALL THE PHOTO OPS! I had forgotten that all of the holiday decor would be out this time of year so there was plenty of good spots for photos. Here are my top three photo spots for Downtown Disney!
Disney Balloons – Use the Disney balloons as a backdrop! Have the photographer squat down and angle the camera up for a beautiful capture.
Store displays – Most people would skip over these but they make gorgeous Disney backdrops! These are best for taking portrait close-ups.
Christmas trees & Giant Nutcrackers – Beautiful holiday decor to take pictures with. There is a giant Christmas tree upon entering Downtown Disney.
Pro-tip! – Use portrait mode (or a low f-stop for DSLR) with Christmas lights in the background for a beautiful bokeh!
Hope these tips were helpful with preparing you for your upcoming trip to Downtown Disney! For avid Disney-goers, what else would you add to the list?