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. In fact California Adventure is one of my favourite California theme parks with toddlers to visit. 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.
I also recommend bringing these even if you have potty trained your toddler. While my advice is to make sure you take a toilet break after every ride, you never know when your toddler may need the bathroom so having some pull ups with you for extra long queues is always a good idea.
Snacks are expensive at Disney thought they are plentiful around the park. In my opinion there is nothing worse than a Hangry toddler in a queue. Be sure to pack plenty to keep your toddler happy and save your pennies.
Take Layers and Blankets
While California is known for its great weather, there are times it gets chilly and if you are taking your toddler to the evening World of Color light show – which I really recommend you doing at least once during your Disney California stay even with toddlers if you can.
I recommend taking blankets and layers as although you need to reserve your place at noon via the Disneyland app you will still need to get there early to make sure you get a good view.
Buy Costumes in Advance
One of the things I noticed was that when my little girl got the best Disney character interactions when she was dressed as a character.
If you decide that you want your toddler to dress up while at Disney then I recommend buying the costumes in advance as it was way cheaper than the dresses available in the park.
The best prices we found for Disney costumes were on amazon and there is a great range of characters. Click here for details.
Even if you don’t use a stroller at home it is worthwhile taking one when at California Adventure. There is lots of walking in the park and a stroller can also be used for naps.
If you are looking for the best stroller to take to Disney check out this post but don’t forget to also get a stroller lock.
Are you looking for the best stroller for Disney – check out this post.
Comfortable Kids Shoes for Disney
And even if you are taking a stroller with you be sure to have comfortable kids shoes for your toddler. Even with a stroller they will do a lot of walking while at California Adventure.
Comfortable shoes with good support is a must. Click here to shop Disney shoes for kids or click here for our post on best comfortable kid shoes for Disney detailed guide.
Now we have given you our top tips for visiting California Adventure with toddlers and what to pack for toddlers at California Adventure we can turn our attention to the rides.
For our full what to pack for Disneyland with toddlers guide click here!
Best California Adventure Rides for Toddlers At Pixar Pier
In my opinion one of the best rides for a toddler at any theme park is a carousel. While Disneyland has the traditional carousel, California Adventure has Jessie’s critter carousel.
The animals on Jessie’s Critter Carousel are inspired by animals that feature in Woody’s Roundup as featured in Toy Story 2 which is sure to delight toddler toy story fans. Animals you can ride on Jessie’s critter carousel include Rattlesnakes, turtles, skunks, racoons and rabbits.
And perhaps best thing of all about this line is that it is one of the shortest lines in California Adventure so it is a quick and easy win even during peak ride times in the park.
Also it’s proximity to Incredicoaster means that you could easily do this while older members of your group can ride this big rollercoaster.
This ride is also close to meet and greets for Incredible Characters and Toy Story characters which is an added bonus.
Toy Story Midway Mania
Toy story Midway Mania is one of the parks most popular rides and is one of the few toddler rides at California Adventure that has a genie + pass. This makes it a good choice to do on Genie+ if you have it.
Toy Story Midway Mania is a take on the Buzz Lightyear Astroblast but better in my opinion. Rather than just one game in midway mania you play four.
It is a dark ride with 3d interactive games that can be completed by even young toddlers. I love this ride. However if you have a slightly nervous child who doesn’t like the dark this may be a bit scary for them.
When we rode this with my son it was one of our last rides of the day. My son was tired and he was ready to go.
Unfortunately the restraints on this ride make it quite difficult to constrain a grumpy toddler so I would try not to do this too late in the day if your toddler is like mine and gets a bit unwieldy when tired.
If you don’t have genie+ then this is the ride you may want to rope drop this if you are travelling with a toddler as this queue is going to get long.
If you do have genie+ then be sure to reserve this ride early in the day as it is very popular and is likely to get booked up early.
Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind
This is a lovely gentle ride even for toddlers who are of a more nervous disposition. This is a take on a traditional balloon ride.
Each of the balloons is one of the emotional balls that feature in the film and offers lovely views of the park.
The line for this tends to get longer as the day goes on so try to ride this early in the day if you can.
I hate Ferris wheels. They are the only theme park rides I refuse to go on but this is another Disneyland California ride without a height restriction so one that can be ridden by toddlers at California Adventure.
The Pixar Pal A Round Ferris wheel has an added element to normal Ferris wheel rides as some of the gondolas actually slide as the ride rotates.
My family (minus me) loved this ride but note the swinging gondolas might be scary for toddlers of a nervous disposition and also the ride length is on the longer side so toddlers with short attention spans may not enjoy this one. You have been warned.
Best California Adventure Rides for Toddlers at Paradise Gardens
Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
This was my son’s number one favourite ride at California Adventure. It is technically a dark ride but I would say is the least scary ride in both parks.
In this ride you take a journey under the sea in a shell and watch the story of the little mermaid unfurl as told by scuttle.
It has lovely music and animatronics and is a joy for toddlers.
The other big bonus to this is that the ride is constantly loading which means the queue keeps moving and usually has a relatively short queue.
Top tip: we will often ride this while older members of the party ride the nearby Grizzly Gulch River Run.
This ride is inspired by 1920s Science Fiction Films. For the queue you climb stairs until you reach the ride platform and board a retro rocket ship that spins around.
We love this ride because it has quite a short queue and has absolutely
no height restrictions so is one of the best Disneyland California rides for toddlers.
Best California Adventure Rides with no Height restriction in Hollywood Land
Monsters Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue
This may be a controversial opinion but Monsters Inc Mike and Sulley to the Rescue is one of my least favourite rides in the park.
The queues get long so if you have genie+ use it for this, and I find the ride itself a little disappointing.
You effectively jump a cab in Monstropolis and go through the story of the first Monsters Inc film.
The other reason I am not a great fan of this ride is because it can be quite loud and dark and can easily scare toddlers. If you do have a sound sensitive toddler who wants to go on this ride it might be worth packing ear defenders .
Best California Adventure Rides for toddlers in Carsland
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
This ride was a hit with both of my toddlers. This ride features the tractors that Mater and Lightening McQueen frighten in the first cars movie.
The cars swing and and spin all the while Mater is singing which fans of the films will love.
The queue for this ride can get up to 30 minutes long so the earlier you go in the day the better.
Note: this ride does have a height restriction. The height restriction is 32 inches so most toddlers will be able to ride this ride but smaller toddlers may struggle.
Luigi’s Rollickin Roadsters
Another Carsland ride toddlers will love is Luigi’s Rollickin Roadsters.
The Italian cars that feature in this ride are on a trackless system and they dance along to Italian music. It swings slightly less than Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree so may be better for sensitive toddlers.
Note: this ride does have a height restriction. The height restriction is 32 inches so most toddlers will be able to ride this ride but smaller toddlers may struggle.
Best California Adventure Rides with no Height restriction in Avengers Campus
Webslingers A Spiderman adventure
This ride is one of the two rides that have lightening lanes in California Adventure. This is another dark ride where you help Spiderman battle spiderbots.
If you have visited Legoland California with toddlers then you could compare this ride to Ninjago as you use your hands to fight the spiderbots.
Despite the loud noises and flashes, no spider man villain actually makes an appearance during this ride which is an added bonus for those travelling with toddlers.
I personally would not recommend Webslingers for those coming to Disney California Adventure with toddlers of a sensitive disposition. There are lots of loud bangs and flashes and it is a dark ride so has some scare factors for toddlers.
If you decide you do want to ride this and don’t want to buy the lightening lane then you should definitely rope drop this ride.
Best things to do at California Adventure for toddlers other than rides
Disney Junior Dance Party
The Disney Junior Dance Party is not a ride but a show aimed at toddlers in California Adventure. The show features some of Disney Junior favourite characters such as
- Doc Mc Stuffins
- Mickey Mouse Racers
Toddlers will love this show as they get to dance along with their favourite characters. It is also a great way of seeing Mickey and Minnie Mouse without joining big queues as they come in for the final dance.
This is a great thing to do with toddlers at Disney California during the hottest part of the day as this show is indoors and air conditioned.
We first saw this show when we visited Disneyland Paris with toddlers. We love this ride because you only ever wait a maximum 0f 10 minutes to get inside and it is completely air conditioned so it isa good thing to during the heat of the day.,
Both this ride and the above are in Hollywood Land so can be done together.
Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is a play area in the Grizzly Gulch are of California Adventure. It is a great place for toddlers to burn off steam and get away from the crowds. You may also see Raya nearby.
I love the theming of this area based on the national parks of California.
However please note there are lots of plants in this area and my son’s hay fever got really bad here so we had to leave. I wish we had brought his anti allergy meds with us as he was having such a good time here.
Character Meet and Greets
While you might associate with Disneyland with meet and greets more than California Adventure but there are plenty of meet and greets you can do. The best locations to find characters are:
- Buena Vista Street – the classic characters like Minnie, Mickey, Daisy and Donald in their 1920s Hollywood outfits
- Near Grizzly Gulch – Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde
- Avengers Land – any of the avengers characters
- Near Midway Mania – Toy Story and Incredibles Characters
- Next to Monsters Inc ride – we saw Goofy here but character can change
- Round the corner from Soarin – we saw Pluto but characters do rotate
Guardian of the Galaxy Dance off
Although toddlers might know the characters of Guardians of the Galaxy my toddler loved the Guardian of the Galaxy Dance off in Avengers Campus. The music is great and he loved the atmosphere and dancing along with the characters.
Disney’s World of Color
Disney’s World of Colour is a water and light spectacular that is simply stunning. The only problem is it is on quite late in the evenings so your toddlers might be tired.
My little one didn’t make it to this but my daughter is but if you can work naps so the whole family can watch you will not be disappointed.
Note: there is a splash zone, it is worth standing in this zone as you get the best view but on a windy night you will get wet.
If you are traveling to Disneyland in October why not check out our post on Is Disneyland Crowded on Halloween
Have you been to California Adventure with toddlers? What was their favorite ride?