In this Disney’s California Guide with toddlers guide we round up the best rides at California Adventure for toddlers along side some out our favourite tips and of course our favourite California Adventure itinerary with toddlers to make sure you have the most magical day in the park.
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Visiting Disney California Adventure with toddler tips
You might be wondering whether Disney’s California Adventure with toddlers is worthwhile. I would say that it absolutely is having been to California Adventure when both my daughter and son were toddlers.
The one thing I would say however is, like a day at Disneyland with toddlers, a day at Disney’s California Adventure does take quite a bit of planning.
Go to California Adventure in the Off Season
One of the best things about travelling with a toddler is the ability to travel in off-peak times. If you travel off season then you are likely to face less queues which is a sure fire win when travelling with a toddler.
It will also reduce your costs as hotels near California Adventure will be cheaper in the off season compared to the prices when you are travelling in in school holidays or during peak season.
However, if you like us have a toddler and an older child you may not be able to travel in the off season. If that is the case I recommend you checking a Disney Crowd Calendar that separates Disneyland Crowds from Disneyland California Adventure as they can be very different.
Avoid Going to Disney California Adventure during Graduation
Following on from the above, you want to try and avoid crowds whenever you travel with toddlers. Graduation season usually in May, will see the crowds soars due to the Graduation Nights held in the park. Try and avoid these nights if you can.
Decide if you want to visit Disneyland and California Adventure
There are lots of ticket combinations from single day tickets to park hoppers. Depending on how long you are going for, if you are going to Disneyland on a budge and also the business of the park will depend whether you decide to get a park hopper ticket.
If you are going to the parks at a very busy time you may want to consider a park hopper ticket in case one park is busier than the other you could choose to alternate for the afternoon.
If you decide to only visit Disney California Adventure there will be more than enough for a toddler to do in just this park.
Buy Your Tickets in Advance
It is absolutely essential to book your tickets online in advance. Tickets for Disney California Adventure are currently selling out and when I checked for tickets a month in advance there were some days that were already full.
My advice is to book your tickets as soon as you start the Disneyland vacation planning process. And definitely check availability for your dates before you book other parts of your trip if you are solely going for the purpose of visiting the parks.
Go Before Your toddler turns 3
There is absolutely no bad age to go to Disney. But if you are traveling to Disney California Adventure with toddler you may want to consider going before they turn 3.
The reason – it’s much cheaper. Toddlers under the age of 3 are not required to pay for a ticket – or have their own genie+ reservation.
If you are going to California Adventure on a budget then this will be a huge saving for your Disney budget.
When you are travelling with a toddler to Disney, you always need to pace yourself. However do not be tempted to skip the California Adventure rope drop.
I know rope drop means an early start but you can get on a lot of rides in a short period of time by doing rope drop. You may even get to do one of the big queue time rides like Radiator Springs by rope dropping at the park depending on the California Adventure itinerary you go for.
The key thing yo know about California Adventure is that the crowds get larger as the day goes on so don’t miss this low queue time.
To effectively rope drop with toddlers at California Adventure you will need to be at the park gates a minimum of 30 minutes before opening but you Amy want to go even early especially at busy times.
Do I need Genie+ for California Adventure with toddlers?
Genie+ is the replacement for the traditional fast passes at California Adventure. It is an add on to your ticket at 20USD a day and has been quite contentious since its launch.
So do you need Genie+ at California Adventure with toddlers? I would say this depends. If you are travelling with older children or adults in your party you may want to buy this as there are a lot of rides that you can use Genie+ on in California Adventure.
However saying that there are not lots of California Adventure rides for toddlers included in Genie+. When we were in the parks recently with our toddler we could only go on the following rides using Genie+;
- Monsters Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue
- Toy Story Midway Mania (a ride I love but found stressful with our toddler – read more about that later).
Therefore if you will only be going on rides with your toddler then I would say Genie+ is not worth it for you at California Adventure but if you plan to utilise rider swap or are going with older children then it is definitely worthwhile.
Should I buy lightening lane tickets at California Adventure with toddlers?
Like Genie +, Lightening lanes have replaced the old fast pass system but are an additional cost to Genie+ even.
There are two rides that have lightening lane passes at California Adventure. They are
- Radiator Spring Racers
Radiator Spring Racers despite being a cars ride has a height restriction of 40 inches and therefore unlikely to be ridden by toddlers.
Webslingers on the other hand has no height restriction but this is a dark ride that may cause distress to sensitive toddlers.
Therefore, I personally don’t think it is worthwhile getting lightening lane passes at California Adventure unless there is someone else, other than your toddler that wants to ride these rides.
Decide if you want to stay on site
There are three onsite hotels at Disneyland California
- The Disneyland hotel
- Disneyland’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa
- Disneyland’s Paradise Pier Hotel – soon to be renovated with a Pixar theme
When we travel to Disneyland Paris with toddlers I always recommend staying on site however when we visit Disneyland with toddlers we never stay on site. The cost of these hotels is quite high and there are little added extra benefits such as long early magic hours and character meetings currently provided. Therefore we recommend staying at a nearby hotel that is in walking distance.
When we visit Disneyland California we usually stay at Holiday Inn Express & Suites Anaheim Resort Area. It is a short 10-15 minute walk into Downtown Disney and we have always had good experiences there.
Other nearby hotels that provide similar ease are;
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott Anaheim Maingate
- Best Western Plus Anaheim
- Fairfield by Marriott Anaheim Resort
- Howard Johnson by Wyndham Anaheim Hotel & Water playground – which has the added bonus of a great water play area for toddlers
Know Where to Find Characters
You might assume that Disneyland would have more character meet and greets than California Adventure however that is not the case. There are lots of character meet and greets at California Adventure that your toddler will love.
For instance my toddler loved
- Meeting Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde between Ariel and Grizzly Gulch
- Frozone and Toy Story Characters at Pixar Pier
- Classic Disney Characters on Buena Vista Street in their 1920s outfits.
- Superheroes in Marvels Avengers Campus
If you want to ensure great character interactions check out our best questions to ask Disney characters post. We also have a post on the best questions to ask Disney Princesses but there are more of these at Disneyland than California Adventure though we have met Anna and Elsa in this park.
Look out for toddler meals
Don’t underestimate the heat
California is undoubtedly a hot place especially if you are travelling to California Adventure in summer. Be sure that you pack plenty of drinks for your toddler, take your reusable water bottle with you and do not forget plenty of sun cream.
We were surprised with how many of the toddler friendly rides at California Adventure that didn’t have much shade cover. Be sure to reapply your sunscreen before long queues and regularly throughout the day.
What to Pack for Disney’s California Adventure with toddlers
Bring Pull Up Diapers
Pull Ups were a life saver for us at California Adventure. We found the changing tables to be very small for our tall 18 month year old. We were very pleased that he was wearing pull up diapers as this made changes on small changing tables easier.
Although there are Baby Change Centers for you to use at Disney California Adventure where nappies are available we recommend bringing your own with you.