Editor's note: Disneyland Resort is closed until further notice in response to COVID-19.
Those 500 Anaheim acres can give you just as big a jolt of happy as a grownup as they did when you were a kid. And when you go as an adult without kids (whether they’re staying back at the hotel or back at home), some great new possibilities open up.
Stay up late.
Disneyland is packed with amusements even after many kids go to bed.
You probably know that Disney puts on a fireworks show most nights. But those who’ve seen these world-class spectacles firsthand know that they can still drop adult jaws wide open. The pyrotechnics themselves are wow-worthy, but then Disney adds iconic music and cutting-edge lasers and projections, and times the combination so expertly that you’ve got an immersive, only-in-Disneyland experience that, for many people, is worth the price of admission.
Disneyland’s other not-to-be missed nighttime productions include the villain-packed Fantasmic and California Adventure’s expansive water-and-fire extravaganza World of Color. And those aren’t the only reasons to hang out past early bedtimes. Up-high attractions such as the Matterhorn, Thunder Mountain, and Guardians of the Galaxy offer amazing views of the park when it's all lit up. And if you stay really late, you can enjoy the closing-time tradition when Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald bid park-goers a heartwarming musical goodnight.
Indulge in grown-up food.
Disneyland upends the stereotype of theme-park food with three restaurants in particular: Carthay Circle, Napa Rose, and Steakhouse 55. Added bonus: All three have great lounges as well, where you can enjoy adult beverages as well as food.
Hidden in plain sight, Carthay Circle looks like a theater on California Adventure’s Buena Vista Street. But head inside and you’ll find a glittering dining room worthy of Hollywood’s Golden Era, with menu options like Korean chili-glazed steak and spicy shrimp “a la Plancha.” Ordering a special, prix-fixe package gets you an appetizer, entree, dessert, and beverage as well as reserved viewing for the World of Color show.
Napa Rose, in the Grand Californian Hotel, showcases fare influenced by the Golden State from chef Andrew Sutton including Maple Leaf Farms duck à l'orange, and iron-roasted filet mignon. Decor is modern Craftsman with an open kitchen; book the chef’s counter to see food pros carry out their craft.
Steakhouse 55, in the Disneyland Hotel, also offers meaty dinners along with breakfasts and a Disney-infused British afternoon tea.
If you want atmosphere, make reservations at Blue Bayou (in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride), or at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen (in Downtown Disney) for the rollicking jazz brunch and powdery beignets.
Shop in peace.
Shopping isn’t always on the top of kids’ to-do lists, but the parks offer plenty of opportunities if that’s your thing. There are some lovely unique treasures to be found throughout the parks.
Main Street USA’s 15 shops offer everything from sparkling treasures at Crystal Arts and original art at Disneyana to Mickey ears of every persuasion at the souvenir-laden Emporium. There are also some great stores hidden in New Orleans Square, such as Pandora, a dress-and-perfume shop. Downtown Disney is another mecca of merch, with 20 acres of shops offering fashion, jewelry, cosmetics, accessories, and plenty more. (Don’t forget to pick up something for the littles in your life.)
See a show.
The Disney parks are home to some of the world’s most talented performers, including those who star in Hyperion Theater’s Frozen, an elaborately produced stage adaptation of the beloved movie, belted-out songs and all.
Opened in June 2019 and running through September, Tale of The Lion King plays on California Adventures’ outdoor Palisades Stage, with an 18-person cast of actors, singers, dancers, and drummers whose energetic artistry tells stories of Africa’s pride lands.
There’s also the new Mickey’s PhilharMagic show in California Adventure’s Sunset Showcase Theater, the roving entertainment throughout both parks, and of course those nighttime spectaculars.
Sip a drink.
Adult beverages are now readily available throughout Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort.
The long cocktail list at elegant Carthay Circle Lounge includes Scotch Mist and, at Halloween, a glowing Poison Appletini. The new Lamplight Lounge (formerly the Cove Bar) serves dry-ice drinks with views of Pixar Pier and Paradise Gardens Park. And at Disneyland Hotel’s tiki-themed Trader Sam’s, ordering drinks like the Shipwreck triggers a faux thunderstorm.
Looking for beer or wine? You can quaff a tasty pint at the walk-up Bayside Brews in California Adventure or sample a flight at Wine Country Trattoria’s upstairs tasting terrace.
If coffee’s more your speed, grab a latte from the stand on Main Street in front of the castle—Disney uses Joffrey’s coffee, which is quite good. There are also a couple of Starbucks in the parks, plus super-strong java at Flo’s V8 Cafe, chilled nitro coffee at Downtown Disney’s La Brea Bakery, and a New Orleans-style dark roast at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen.
Do the rides you want.
On your own, you’re free to indulge in all the thrill rides—Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout, say, or Incredicoaster—that kids might be too timid (or too short) to enjoy. That said, you’re still free to enjoy quieter attractions, such as Small World, if that’s what you want. (The latter is a great place to cool off when the weather’s warm.) The point is, it’s entirely up to you.
Make room for self-care.
While many people come to Disneyland to make their kids happy, there's no reason grownups can't also take care of themselves.
Each of the three Disneyland Resort hotels have well-stocked gyms and inviting swimming pools with hot tubs. (The Grand Californian and the Disneyland Hotel rent poolside cabanas too.) There are plenty of free fitness activities, including "Rise and Stretch," a 45-minute early-morning exercise class in California Adventure, "Grand Morning Stretch" at the Grand Californian, and an outdoor pilates class. Hotel guests can also take the free "Get Up & Go Power Walk," a quick-paced two-mile circuit through California Adventure before it opens—no kids allowed.
Take a tour.
Kids might roll their eyes if you mention “history,” but adults can learn all about the backstories of the Disney parks through guided tours.
"Walk in Walt's Disneyland Footsteps" will teach you all about the man's life and how he built Disneyland. (AAA members can get 15 percent off if they book it as part of a package.) After summer, there’s also the “Grand Circle Tour” aboard the Lilly Belle train car and the spooky “Happiest Haunts Tour” in the fall.
Architecture buffs will want to take the Grand Californian’s free “Art of the Craft Tour,” an entertaining lesson about the turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts movement that showcases the hotel’s handmade artifacts, furniture, plein-air paintings, and hidden Mickeys.
For a major splurge (starting at $2,975 for up to 10 people), Disneyland’s VIP tours get you a personal guide to the parks, who can share stories about what goes on behind the scenes. The tour also provides reserved show seating and the ability to skip every line.
To get a Disney gift card worth up to $150, plus other perks and discounts, book your Disney travel package through AAA.