Disneyland and Beyond: A Picture Perfect Disney California Itinerary
Theme Parks and California Beaches are an Ideal Combination for a Family Vacation
Disneyland Resort in California is a great family destination. If you’re a Disney Parks fan from anywhere in the east, a trip to Disneyland in Anaheim is worth the effort. However, unlike Walt Disney World—which has a massive footprint and can take many trips to explore to its fullest—Disneyland Resort is much smaller and more compact and you can easily have a great experience there in three or four days.
So with that in mind I developed a California itinerary that has proven to be an excellent combination of Disney experiences and California sightseeing. The best part about this vacation is that the seven nights and eight days actually felt like two weeks—in a good way. By the end of the second leg of the trip we all felt like we had been away for two weeks. We had seen and done a great deal, but we weren’t ridiculously exhausted or feeling like we had pushed so hard that we didn’t enjoy ourselves.
I highly recommend this itinerary if you’re planning a trip to Disneyland Resort and also want to experience a taste of Southern California.
Disney California Trip Itinerary
The first half of the trip takes place at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California.
For the second half I came up with a creative approach that will appeal to both Disney-obsessed fans and non-Disney-obsessed travelers alike.
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World is modeled after the historic Hotel del Coronado on beautiful Coronado Island in San Diego. So this became my go-to destination for part two of our vacation. After three nights enjoying the sights and sounds of Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, we hopped aboard the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner in Anaheim and took a beautiful scenic trip down the California coast to our second stop in San Diego. The result is a perfect blend of Disney magic and pure California—something to satisfy the travel wishes of everyone in the family.
This was our day-by-day itinerary; feel free to adjust to your liking.
Day 1: Arrive in L.A.
Arrive at LAX airport and make your way to Disneyland Resort via taxi. A taxi is my recommended method. I would not mess around with shuttles or other services, all of which have wildly mixed reviews. For three people or more a taxi costs nearly the same and is far more efficient.
Note: If you can fly to John Wayne Airport from your home base, this is even closer to Disneyland and is a better option.
- Checked-in at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel.
- Visit Disney California Adventure Park in the afternoon via the direct entrance from the hotel.
- Dinner at Blue Bayou, Disneyland Park (or restaurant of your choice) and a few attractions there to round out the evening.
Day 2: Two Disney Parks
- Begin the day at Disneyland Park and cover your park itinerary. Walk back to the hotel for a mid-day break and a swim.
- Dinner and shopping in Downtown Disney in late afternoon.
- Visit Disney California Adventure Park in the evening for more attractions, rides and perhaps stay for the nighttime show.
Day 3: Disney Parks and Downtown Disney
- Up early for park opening at Disney California Adventure. Spend half the day here before an afternoon break at the resort.
- Spend additional time in Downtown Disney in the afternoon then back to California Adventure for a few more attractions.
- Later, head across the pedestrian boulevard to Disneyland Park to catch the fireworks display at Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Day 4: Travel Day to San Diego & Hotel del Coronado
- Downtown Disney for breakfast and some final souvenir shopping.
Check out of Grand Californian and take a taxi two miles to the Anaheim Amtrak station. Catch the Pacific Surfliner down the coast to San Diego. Rent a car for this portion of the vacation and drive to Coronado Island to check-in to the Hotel del Coronado.
- Explore the resort and beach and later walk to a local restaurant for dinner.
Day 5: Beach and Explore Coronado
- Enjoy morning time at the hotel and at the beach.
- Walk around Coronado to explore the shops and restaurants further.
- Drive into San Diego for some sightseeing and shopping.
- Have dinner at the hotel that evening and stroll the promenade after dark. Have smores on the beach after dark at the hotel campfire.
Day 6: Sea World, Beach, Coronado
- Morning time at the beach before heading out to visit Sea World in the late morning. Or, pick the San Diego Zoo or other destination of your choice.
- Return to the hotel in late afternoon and spend more time at the Del Beach and pool.
- Walk into Coronado to explore more shops and have dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 7: Beach Time and Road Trip to La Jolla
- Morning time at the beach before heading out for a road trip to beautiful La Jolla. Walk the waterfront in La Jolla, see the amazing sights and have lunch in a local restaurant.
- Return to the Del for an afternoon swim in the pool and a beach walk.
- Dine at the Del and explore the resort shops in the evening.
Day 8: Beach and Farewell to San Diego
- Morning time at the beach before heading back to the return the rental car and catching a taxi to the nearby San Diego airport.
- Catch your flight home and think about the amazing week you just had!
This seven-night itinerary is just one example of a great way to experience two picture perfect pieces of California history and beauty. We have also done variations of this trip where we substituted Coronado with Huntington Beach at the Hyatt Regency there. Whatever works for you and your family, an itinerary like this is a great way to make the most of your California Disney vacation.
You can also read my blog post about Disneyland for the Walt Disney World traveler.
Planning a Disneyland or California Vacation?
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Mike Belobradic: The Finer Side of Disney Travel
Luxury Travel Blogger – Deluxe Disney Travel Specialist
The Finer Side of Travel™ #LuxuryDisney