Unlike Disneyland, Disney California Adventure is very much a one-day park. That’s not to say you couldn’t spend more days there—especially if you wanted to experience rides multiple times, were visiting during a festival, or like to sleep in—but just to say you can almost fully experience it in a single day during all but the busiest times of the year.
While 2019 brought Jessie’s Critter Carousel and Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind, these rides haven’t added much to the park. The real changes are expected in 2020—or maybe later—when we’ll start to see what the new Marvel-themed land has to offer. Until then, here’s our one-day itinerary for Disney California Adventure.
Tips For Touring Disney California Adventure
We’ll start with a few tips for touring Disney California Adventure.
First, you can ride the major rides multiple times. If it’s 4PM and there’s a FASTPASS for Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT! available and a FASTPASS for Goofy’s Sky School available, pick Guardians even if you’ve already ridden it.
Relatedly, we’ll often push our FASTPASS selections for Soarin’ or Grizzly River Run a little later in favor of doubling up on Radiator Springs Racers, Toy Story Midway Mania!, or Guardians of the Galaxy. You should read more about FASTPASS and MaxPass at Disneyland Resort—including Disney California Adventure—here.
Second, four rides have single rider lines. Incredicoaster, Radiator Springs Racers, Grizzly River Run, and Goofy’s Sky School have single rider lines that will allow you to ride with a shorter wait. Groups will be broken up (that’s the point, after all), but it’s a good way to double up on some fun rides.
Third, Monster’s Inc. usually has a Buddy Pass system. Buddy Pass is like single rider line but for groups of up to two adults and a lap child. These groups can ask for a buddy pass. They’ll be directed down the exit and used to fill the third row of the three-row vehicles.
Fourth, rides can go down. Be prepared for things to break down or to open late during your visit. Don’t panic, because you’ll have enough time for everything, just always try and be aware of your backup plans.
Fifth, mind height requirements. If you’re traveling with little ones, you’ll want to check the height requirements for every ride at Disneyland (including California Adventure). The majority of rides in this park have height requirements, so you strategy will be impacted if you have smaller children.
One-Day Disney California Adventure Itinerary
Unlike our other itinerary posts, we’re going to break this one up by time of day and include example, but not actual schedules in each section.
Most days we tend to use the above tips to create really hectic, ride-packed days with two, three, or even four visits to some rides, and while we want you to be able to build those schedules, they aren’t exactly clean examples. If you’d like to learn more about the rides we cover in this itinerary, check out our guide to the rides of Disney California Adventure.
Early Morning at Disney California Adventure
Mornings are always the slowest times at theme parks, but mornings at Disney California Adventure are especially slow. Park-hopping families usually start their days at Disneyland, which has a higher concentration of family-friendly rides.
Groups like teenagers, people coming to Disney California Adventure for food and alcohol, and people looking to ride one or two thrill rides won’t go through the trouble of waking up early. They will arrive later, though, and create crazy wait times for the popular rides later in the day. Evenings are much better for taking in the scenery than waiting in lines.
We have a separate post on rope drop at Disney California Adventure, and if you’re interested in some alternate strategies (including tips for visiting without MaxPass), you should read that. We also have a separate post on Extra Magic Hour at Disney California Adventure.
This post assumes you are visiting on a day without Extra Magic Hour. We have a trip report from 2019 that covers a day we spent here arriving after Extra Magic Hour.
For our part, we’re going to start with our preferred approach. To being your day, arrive at least 30 minutes early. As soon as you’re in the park use MaxPass to book a FASTPASS for Radiator Springs Racers.
At rope drop (when the park officially opens and you can go to rides), go ride Incredicoaster, Toy Story Midway Mania!, and Pixar Pal-A-Round. After rope dropping those three attractions, you’ve got five goals.
If the park opens at 8AM, your FASTPASS window for Radiator Springs Racers should be something like 8:30AM to 9:30AM or 8:45AM to 9:45AM. Don’t stress if it’s later (like ours above) because your first goal is to use that FASTPASS as late as possible.
Your second goal is to ride Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters with a short wait. As families get off Radiator Springs Racers, they’ll start to build a line for Luigi’s, and it will get long quickly. You’d like to catch this ride with less than a 20 minute wait. Use the app to keep an eye on it in the morning.
Your third goal is to use MaxPass to grab your FASTPASS for Guardians of the Galaxy. This isn’t really a goal, it’s just something you need to do.
Your fourth goal is to ride as many of the rides around Paradise Gardens Park and Pixar Pier as possible before heading to Cars Land (for Luigi’s and Radiator Springs Racers). The only thing to note is that Goofy’s Sky School is skippable early since it is the least popular FASTPASS in the park.
Your fifth goal is to grab a FASTPASS for World of Color. The machines are located next to The Little Mermaid on the path to Grizzly Peak. This FASTPASS is completely disconnected from the rest of the FASTPASS system—don’t worry about how it impacts your other FASTPASS reservations. In 2019 Disney added the ability to grab these in the app via MaxPass, so feel free to do that if you can.
Here’s an example of what a morning at Disney California Adventure might look like (FASTPASS activity bolded):
7:30AM - Arrive
7:45AM - Enter Park, use MaxPass to grab 8:45AM - 9:45AM FASTPASS for Radiator Springs Racers
8:03AM - Ride Incredicoaster
8:10AM - Ride Toy Story Midway Mania!
8:17AM - Ride Pixar Pal-A-Round
8:20AM - Ride Silly Symphony Swings
8:30AM - Ride Golden Zephyr
8:40AM - Ride Jumpin’ Jellyfish
8:45AM - Grab 10AM - 11AM FASTPASS for Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission - Breakout
8:45AM - Grab World of Color FASTPASS
8:50AM - Ride Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters (with, say, a 15 minute wait)
9:10AM - Ride Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (with, say, a 15 minute wait)
9:30AM - Ride Radiator Springs Racers with FASTPASS
We’ve done essentially this schedule several times. On busier days, you might not get as many Paradise Gardens Park rides in, which is fine.
Before Lunch at Disney California Adventure
We’ll often have a 10AM breakfast and coffee at this point, pushing Monsters, Inc. until later (we just use Buddy Pass to get on quickly). But if you can push until lunch, you’ll want to go ride Monsters, Inc. and Guardians of the Galaxy, hopefully finishing these by 11:00AM.
You also should grab a FASTPASS for Soarin’ or Grizzly River Run as soon as possible:
10:00AM - Ride Monsters Inc.
10:00AM - Grab 12PM to 1PM FASTPASS for Soarin’
10:30AM - Ride Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT! with FASTPASS
Afternoon at California Adventure
During breakfast or lunch is when you’ll want to look at the Times Guide and the entertainment schedule to see what entertainment you’d like to fit into the afternoon. Other than that, you should have something like the following left:
FASTPASS: Soarin’ (already booked), Grizzly River Run, Goofy’s Sky School
Standby: The Little Mermaid, Jessie’s Critter Carousel, Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind
Leisure: Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, Activities of the Animation Theater, Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar, Bakery Tour, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Frozen Live at the Hyperion
None of this should be difficult to accomplish in your remaining time at the park. A sample schedule might look like:
11:00AM - Lunch
12:00PM - Grab 3PM to 4PM FASTPASS for Grizzly River Run
12:00PM - Use Soarin’ FASTPASS
12:30PM - 3:00PM - Entertainment / Leisure Activities
3:00PM - Grab 6PM to 7PM FASTPASS for Goofy’s Sky School
3:00PM - Use Grizzly River Run FASTPASS
3:30PM - 5PM - Entertainment / Leisure Activities
5:00PM - 7:00PM - Rides around Pixar Pier / Paradise Gardens Park
7:00PM - Use FASTPASS for Goofy’s Sky School
As you can see, there’s a lot of free time in there to work with. Even if you rode nothing in Paradise Gardens Park in the morning, you’d probably be able to fit it all in by 7PM.
Most challenging is probably Frozen Live at the Hyperion, which is roughly an hour long. While we recommend trying to fit this into most days, it is more or less exactly what you’d expect from a Frozen stage show.
Evening at Disney California Adventure
About five minutes after sunset, Cars Land will do its nightly lighting. This is one of our favorite experiences in Disney parks. The land lights up in the same order as in the original Cars film, and there’s a small street party celebrating the event.
The feature piece of entertainment at Disney California Adventure is World of Color, which typically plays at park close (10PM in our example itinerary). Prior to that, you can visit rides you missed, get dinner and drinks, or experience more entertainment / leisure attractions.
This itinerary targeted riding each ride once. If you read our Disneyland FASTPASS and MaxPass strategy post, you’ll see that you can pack your evening with great rides if you start grabbing FASTPASS reservations for later slots earlier in the day. This is definitely how we prefer to spend our evening, sometimes riding Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Toy Story Midway Mania!, and Incredicoaster in the last two hours of the day.
Disney California Adventure Itinerary — Conclusions
Like all Disney parks, Disney California Adventure will have crazy waits. You’ll see the major attractions—Guardians of the Galaxy, Radiator Springs Racers, Toy Story Midway Mania!, and even Incredicoaster regularly over one, two, or even three hours.
But much of that happens after noon. And even on busier days, an active, early morning and paying attention to FASTPASS are usually going to be enough to have a comfortable day at Disney California Adventure.
All Your Other Disneyland Planning Questions Answered
Don't be overwhelmed by Disneyland planning! Take a second to check out our most important content and you'll not only be an expert, but you'll save big $$$ along the way.
When it comes to hotels, we’ve got reviews of all three Disney hotels: Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. As for tickets, check out where to find discount Disneyland tickets.
Know what to ride with our: Disneyland Rides Guide and Disney California Adventure Rides Guide. And just as important, know how to get on the best rides without the wait with our Disneyland and Disney California Adventure FASTPASS and MaxPass Strategy! For the complete guides to a day at the park, we have a One Day Disneyland Itinerary and a One Day Disney California Adventure Itinerary.
We always recommend arriving at the parks early. If you can get access to Extra Magic Hour at Disney California Adventure or Extra Magic Hour and Magic Morning at Disneyland, you’ll have the most time in the parks. Even without those bonus hours, you’ll need to know Rope Drop Strategy at Disneyland and Rope Drop Strategy at Disney California Adventure.
Finally, before you head out, be sure to check out our to-the-point packing list, 10 essentials you forget to pack for every Disney trip. And if you're interested in saving, there's no better list than our 53 Ways to Save on your Disney trip from start to finish.