Help! A Walt Disney World Vet’s First Time at Disneyland – Part 1

| January 19, 2013

My family and I know Walt Disney World like the backs of our hands.  Well, my husband would maintain that I sometimes get lost in the back section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios (I can’t argue, it’s true), but in general, we’re pros!  We could plan a spontaneous trip to the World leaving tomorrow and not have any problem knowing what to pack, where to go and how to best tour the parks.  This summer, we will be taking our first trip to Disneyland and the Southern California area and we’re overwhelmed.  Help!

Luckily, as the Senior Editor on the DIS, I know this great group of people on the Disneyland edition of the DIS Unplugged podcast.  So, I asked them to start helping me walk through the planning stages of this trip, which resulted in a new series of segments on the podcast.

Let me begin by walking you through what we know already.  My family is made up of my husband David and I, plus our three kids.  Jacob is 7, Jonah will be 5, and Lydia will be just about 2.

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We live in Illinois, and are flying from St Louis to Los Angeles on Wednesday, May 22.  We’ll spend the next few days in the L.A. area, then will check into the Disneyland Hotel on Monday, May 27th, spend that week at the Disneyland Resort and check out Saturday, June 1.  So, figuring in a nap and some time difference adjustment the first day, we’ll have four full days to tour around Southern California.  We have always wanted to visit California, but the cost of the airfare is really steep, so we’re kind of looking at this as not really a “once in a lifetime” trip, but definitely a “once in a long time” trip.

The first thing the team asked was what kinds of things we are looking to do in Southern California.  My husband and I have a few things in mind, but we haven’t narrowed them down yet.  Some loose “guidelines” that David and I discussed are -

  1. Unless necessary, avoid theme parks (other than Disneyland).  In addition to those costs adding up quickly, a theme park would take out a whole day of our limited available time.
  2. Try to find things that are uniquely California.  For example, people keep telling us to go to SeaWorld in San Diego.  Though different, there is a SeaWorld in Orlando that we would be able to fit into one of our regular visits, so options like that probably won’t make the list.
  3. Take the kids’ ages into consideration.  I had really wanted to do a tour of celebrity homes, but at these ages, that’s probably something our kids aren’t going to want to do.

Nancy began by saying we needed to make a list of the places we want to visit, so we can decide what kind of vacation we want to have.  We are big fans of movies and TV, so a tour of Hollywood and the “cheesy, touristy” things would be fun for us.  As I mentioned above, with the ages of our kids, I thought that would never be able to happen.  Nancy had a great suggestion and she said to go ahead and check out some of the tours offered.  They often take place on open-air double-decker buses, so while the kids may not care about the subject matter, just being on the bus may be entertainment enough for them.  I was excited to hear this idea, because I think she’s right and I may still get to do my cheesy Hollywood tour!  We’re definitely going to do some research on this.  Tony also suggested that since we will have a car, we could probably do one of these tours on our own.  We just need to come up with a list of landmarks we want to hit and then use an Internet mapping site to create our own tour.  This would actually work really well for us, because we wouldn’t be confined to someone else’s timetable.

Something else I would like to do is to drive on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).  I’ve heard that it’s beautiful and being from Illinois, I know that we have nothing like it here.  The team gave some great suggestions about stopping in Malibu (I could see my huge celebrity mansions there!) and stopping at Santa Monica Pier.  We’re not really beach people, but it would be a shame to be in California and not at least step foot in the sand for a few minutes!  Combining driving the PCH with a beach stop would be a great way to see the ocean without having to spend a whole day there.


Image: The Pacific Coast Highway, Southbound.

My husband is a huge baseball fan – Go Cubs! – and is interested in possibly seeing a baseball game while we’re in L.A.  Tony was able to give us some good advice from a local and said that the Angels’ stadium is by far the easiest to get to from Disneyland.  A fan of baseball history might prefer the Dodgers’ stadium, but it’s much more difficult to get to, so if we want to go there, we need to do some time management planning.  Another option he mentioned would be to drive an hour and a half to San Diego and check out the Padres.  We wouldn’t have even though of that, so were glad to hear that it would be a possibility.

While on the topic of San Diego, we discussed whether or not it would be worth it for first timers to spend any time there.  The team had varying opinions, and everyone presented their case well, so our family needs to do a little research and see if that’s something we are interested in.  Right now, I would say that we’re learning towards not going to San Diego, since there is so much to do already in the Los Angeles area.  But, as I said on the show, everything is still an option for now!

We had an interesting discussion about Universal Studios Hollywood and Legoland.  I had originally said we weren’t interested in any other theme parks (though Universal was the one that would sway us, if any), but after hearing the reasons for and against each, I’m still keeping these on the “to research” list.

My husband and I would love to see a show taping while we’re in the area and the team had some good input on this.  We had really only thought about the late-night talk show tapings, but they suggested also looking into game show tapings as well, which would give us more options.  They said it would be best to look into shows that offer tickets ahead of time, that way we don’t have to waste any of our vacation by waiting in line to secure tickets.

The last thing we discussed was where we should stay. We don’t want to stay at the Disneyland Hotel for the whole vacation, but we weren’t sure where to go for the first part.  We’d rather not switch hotels other than the move to Disneyland.  The consensus was that we wait to decide that once we nail down our itinerary a little more.  The two choices seem to be between Burbank/Hollywood and Anaheim, depending on where we think we’ll spend more time.  Nancy lives in Burbank, so I am currently working on trying to get some free babysitting during this trip…

That pretty much sums up what we discussed on this first planning segment.  It sounds like we have a lot of thinking to do!  I’ll check back in after the next segment where we will discuss park touring at the Disneyland Resort.  You can listen to our trip planning segment on The DIS Unplugged: Disneyland Edition.

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Category: Disney World, Disneyland

About the Author ()

Leah grew up in a little farming town in Illinois, right on the Mississippi River. Her Chicago-born husband, David, left the city for her, and they're now raising their three children (Jacob, Jonah and Lydia) just 12 miles from her hometown. As the Senior Editor of the DIS (, Leah spends a lot of time writing about, reading about, and discussing Disney. So, it should come as no surprise that one of her family's favorite ways to spend time is going to Walt Disney World and traveling on Disney Cruise Line. She also enjoys shopping, watching movies with her husband and doing crafts with and for her kids.
  • OKW Lover

    Looking forward to following your progress! We found that Hydroguy’s thread on the DIS has some really helpful info for us WDW vet’s that are going to DLR.

  • souzasteph1

    If you want to visit San Diego, go to the San Diego Zoo or Old Town! A fun and educational place for the kiddos is the La Brea Tar Pits in the LA area. How much more California can you get than Pre- Historic Cali? Universal backlot tour is fun, I think! Haven’t been for a long time! I’m a Northern Californian so I haven’t gotten the chance to go back.

  • DonnaL

    Our family also are WDW vets and we just returned late last night from our first visit to Disneyland Resort. We stayed at VGC….absolutely loved it. We arrived the evening of Sat 1/12 and departed mid morning Fri 1/18. We did 4 day PH passes…..loved the fact that we could walk back to the our resort within 10 minutes from anywhere on Disney property. Food options are not as plentiful as at WDW….we didn’t mind….I ordered groceries from Von’s (wonderful grocery delivery service…they also were offering free delivery on first grocery order) and we had most meals in our room since we had the full kitchen. There were four of us… husband, myself, our 23 yr old son and our 11 yr old grandson….. it did take him a day to get used to the time change. We also flew to Orange County airport, not LAX…..OC airport is literally less than 15 minutes from Disneyland….smaller airport (I think maybe 24 gates) and very user friendly. We did not rent a car, but, chose to use Express Shuttle (cost was about $100 plus tip for round trip) Both drivers were great. On renting a car…….don’t know what kind of traffic you’re used to…….but, we live in Northeastern PA…….we’re used to driving interstates (95, 81, 80 in the PA/NJ/DE/MD areas) and also on I 4 when in Florida…..none prepared us for the freeways in CA….I was very glad we chose NOT to rent a car. We went to LA one day on a Grey Line tour to Universal Studios (which was awesome) . The bus picked us up in front of the GC and dropped us off there 12 hours later. The traffic from Disneyland Resort to Universal was mind boggling……we left at 9:15 a.m. so it was bad with leftover rush hour, but, coming back we left Universal at 6:00 p.m. and got back to Disneyland at 8:15 p.m……’s about 36 miles. I have never seen so much traffic……even on 95 in the Philadelphia area at rush hour! And, crazy drivers……cutting lanes, etc. So, if you are renting a car make sure you build lots of travel time in your schedule when driving in the LA area. We just loved our trip and plan to go back, just my husband and myself, when he retires in about a year and a half….but, I think we’ll combine it with a trip to Arizona to visit some family and friends there……maybe spend a few days at Disneyland and then fly to Phoenix for a few days there.

  • poohj80

    We are also WDW vets but I grew up on DL living in San Diego. I took DD to DL for the first time in October 2012 and went through a lot of the same dilemmas you are dealing with. We did spend the first few days in San Diego because I wanted to show DD my home town, but we did not do anything around LA except DL. That said, I would recommend considering the SD Zoo as worth the day trip…there’s no other zoo like it!

    Around LA, I would highly recommend the CA Science Center especially with the ages of your kids. It’s newest resident is the Space Shuttle Endeavour. When else will they have the chance to get up close and personal with a vehicle that has flow million of miles around the Earth?

    We learned to definitely make use of the early entry for resort guests. That said, you will be amazed by the lines of people waiting to get into the parks even prior to opening time. Never seen anything like it at WDW!

    The guests at DL were much different that we were used to at WDW as well. With so many locals having passes and the DL park physically being so much smaller than MK, the weekend crowds were overwhelming at times especially on the narrow pathways around New Orleans square. That said, we just took a break during the busiest part of the afternoon and came back later in the day. You’ll be there long enough to see everything you want to see.

    You’re arriving on my birthday so I will be keeping up with your blogs to ensure you celebrate appropriately! :-)

    Best of luck!

  • diskid

    Would think about the car rental. You have no idea what the freeways are like in Sou.Cal. And they are 24/7. The train is not far. Very close to the A’s stadium.

    Do make the most of getting into Disneyland as early as possible. When we last went, we were able to get through all of Fantasyland easily before noon. After that it is extremely crowded. Some of the Fastpass rides were already distributed by 10am.

    California Adventure is somewhat slower pace. But the new Cars Land is jamned. Another one I’d hit as soon as it opens.

    For meals, we enjoy the Carnation Cafe and the Plaza Inn (enclosed and offers a character meal) on Main Steet and don’t forge the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor.

    In California Adventure we head for the Pacific Wharf Cafe. Good for shellfish salads in Sourdough Bread bowls. Very Californian. Within a short distance there are some kid friendly ideas. And it is all outdoor seating. Now they have Ghirardelli soda fountain and Chocolate shop as they do at WDW. And of course, there’s the Golden Vine Winery (a little pricey last time).

    If you head for San Diego, the freeways are alittle less confusing so a rental car wouldn’t be a bad idea. San Diego Zoo is a must. Don’t forge the Pandas if you go. Weather has changed quite abit. Don’t be surprised if it is humid some days like the Midwest. The fog is prevelant in the early am and cool sea breezes when the sun goes down. So don’t forget a light jacket. Both parks have alot to offer. It’s hard for us to say which we like better.

    If you have the time, be sure to take in a California Mission. Kids will like it too.

    Knott’s Berry Farm in nearby Buena Park is fun. But it is pricey. There’s everything from Gold paning, stage coach rides, calico mine train and the old west to thrill rides and Camp Snoopy. It’s an entire day’s adventure.

    Pacific Coast highway is beautiful. It goes along the shore line, cliffs on one side and ocean on the other and very winding roads. It has never bothered us, but our neice who was about 10 at the time, kept getting sick looking at the sheer drops.

    Whatever you decide, I’m sure you will have a wonderful time!

  • jodistrock

    Excited to have found this edition of the DIS podcasts as we will be following you to DLR in July! I am having fun planning this trip but it is more work than WDW planning since we have been there so much more! Any ideas &/or tips are very appreciated! Thanks for thinking of doing this!

  • RachelleB

    If you are a big fan of movies and TV shows I would suggest the Warner Brothers Movie Studios Tour….It’s short so the kids won’t become too distracted and it’s a great combination of prop museums and warehouses, a studio backlot tour and actual walking onto sets. We saw the Big Bang Theory and Hart of Dixie sets when there, as well as a set up of the Central Perk set from Friends – it was a wonderful tour!

  • ter-moo

    Just to let you know–you won’t see many mansions in Malibu. Most of the beach houses are inaccessible from the road and don’t look like much from there. If you want to see some mansions, drive around in Beverly Hills. Particularly cool are the old streets that are all named for trees south of Sunset and north of Wilshire. Notice that each street has just one kind of tree planted all the way down–they’re so pretty!

    One particularly neat house that your kids would like is called “The Witch House” on the corner of Walden and Carmelita.

  • Auxerre

    For the beach culture, consider a few hours at Venice Beach and, in addition to (or in place of) Malibu, try Laguna Beach and Newport Beach (Balboa Peninsula) in Orange County.

    You might look into tickets to a TV show while in L.A. Generally, tapings are in the afternoon.

    Huntington Gardens in San Marino are exceptional, and plan on having a real Mexican meal in a real Mexican restaurant. One that comes well recommended is El Tepeyec in Boyle Heights (on the edge of East L.A., just east of downtown). Here is the yelp page on them:

    San Diego is very cool, maybe the best zoo in the U.S., and great restaurants in the Gaslamp District south of downtown, adjacent to the Padres’ stadium.

    Disneyland is about three or four miles west of Angel Stadium, so if you like baseball, that’s not a bad night out. Knott’s Berry Farm is very cool (had many friends in HS and college who worked at D’land and Knotts — almost everyone who was a D’Land employee hated it; everyone at Knotts loved it), and Universal Studios is a great day.

    Have fun!




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