Disneyland (CA)

5 Ways to Start Your Day in Disney California Adventure

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All photos by Seth Kubersky

Recently, I wrote about five of my favorite ways to begin my day at Disneyland Park. Until this past summer, Disneyland’s original park was most visitors’ first destination, with its little brother Disney California Adventure an afterthought on many itineraries.

Now, how the tables have turned: since last June’s grand re-opening of DCA, headlined by Cars Land and the Radiator Springs Racers E-Ticket, the former also-ran is often drawing as many (or even more) “first click” entries as its older sibling. That means more and more visitors are starting their Disney day on Buena Vista Street instead of Main Street, U.S.A.

As a result, we advise you arrive at DCA’s front gate at least 45 minutes before the official opening time; guests are typically allowed into the entry plaza at least 30 minutes early, and Disneyland’s current ID-checking procedures can make for slow lines at the turnstiles. Most importantly, don’t visit DCA on an Extra Magic Hour morning (currently Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday) unless you are staying in a Disney resort hotel and can take advantage of the early entry.

Once you are inside the park and awaiting rope drop, what to do? Here are my top five tips for making mornings at DCA more memorable:

Do The RSR Fastpass Conga

Upon entering the park, the vast majority of DCA visitors make a beeline to one of two holding pens: the mob gathered in front of Carthay Circle, awaiting permission to speed-walk toward Cars Land; or the queue stretching towards Hollywood Land. That line leads to a Radiator Springs FASTPASS, the hottest ticket in Anaheim today.

While the line may look daunting, it will move swiftly once the opening hour arrives, thanks to the cast members who assist at the dispensing machines; on a recent visit, I began waiting at the Disney Junior theater and retrieved my Fastpasses less than 15 minutes after rope drop.

In any event, the RSR FASTPASS line will certainly move more quickly that the standby line at the ride itself, which regularly posts a 45 minute wait within moments of opening. Exacerbating the wait is the fact that this high-tech attraction frequently begins cycling guests a few (or many) minutes after the rest of the park, due to pre-opening testing.

The bottom line is that if you have any interest in riding Racers (and if you are in the park, of good health, and above 40″, you should), your best best is to hand all of your party’s admission passes to one sacrificial member and plant that person in the RSR FASTPASS line as soon as possible. Just make sure all the passes have been validated at one of the parks’ front gates first; you can’t use your family’s tickets to secure FASTPASSes while they snooze at the hotel.

Mortgage Your House for a Latte

In my previous installment, I took some pokes at Starbucks for taking over the classic Market House on Main Street, ending a tradition of free coffee refills. But I can’t deny that, refills or no, the Starbucks-serving Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe has been a huge hit on DCA’s Buena Vista Street. And if the free java in your hotel is as awful as it was in the last motel I stayed in, you may be in desperate need of an eye-opener before beginning your day’s adventures.

If that’s the case, you’ll want to be one of the first through the doors in the morning, since the combination of a substantial snack and sandwich menu with Starbucks’ complex caffeinated concoctions causes the line here to move slower than Siberian molasses.

As an alternative, try stopping by Downtown Disney’s La Brea Bakery immediately outside the Esplanade before going through the bag check. Though not as publicized as the outlet inside the park, the Express counter here serves Starbucks-branded beans as well.

Soak Up The Atmosphere on Buena Vista Street

The Imagineers did an amazing job reimagining the flat, tacky Sunshine Plaza as the richly detailed Buena Vista Street, which emotionally and architecturally evokes Los Angeles’s Art Deco era much as Main Street, U.S.A., does for late-19th century middle America. Before rushing off to Pixar’s marvel of mountain-making, make sure to take a look at signage and shop windows surrounding you, filled with Disney in-jokes and vintage memorabilia.

Better yet, strike up a conversation with one of the colorful characters who roam the street each day. Sure, you’ll find the usual chipmunks, dogs, and mice (in natty zoot suits and other period duds) out doing early-morning photo duty. But you should also seek out the Citizens of Buena Vista Street, who are always willing to share advice (sage or otherwise) with visitors. You may run into the local cop, a bike messenger, or a socialite with a playful puppy. Whomever you meet, try to chat for a few moments, and you’ll discover that (much like the Citizens of Hollywood in Orlando’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios) these improvisation actors are much more than walking photo ops.

Read the Morning Paper

All frequent theme park visitors are conditioned to pick up the park map and show times guide as the enter the turnstiles. But at DCA there’s a less familiar free publication that you should also pick up. In baskets positioned around Buena Vista Street, you’ll find complimentary copies of Buena Vista Bugle, a 4-page faux newspaper that is updated every few months.

The idea hearkens back to the early days of Disneyland, when Imagineering legend Marty Sklar was hired by Walt to write a promotional newspaper sold in the park. Today, that newspaper’s descendant is distributed gratis to DCA visitors. Inside, you’ll find puff pieces extolling attractions and seasonal offerings around the park, all amusingly ghostwritten by eccentric imaginary journalists.

Amid the unsubtle advertising, the Bugle contains solid info, especially on finding character encounters around the park, and does it in a more entertaining way than the antiseptic Times Guide. Be sure to pick up a copy on your way in for reference during your visit, and another non-rumpled copy for a souvenir on your way out.

Go Anywhere Except Cars Land

If you follow our recommended Touring Plans for DCA, you’ll head directly to Luigi’s Flying Tires after securing your Radiator Springs Racers FASTPASS. If you are intent on experiencing this unique attraction, that’s certainly the best advice, since this visually attractive but short and slow-loading ride can quickly develop a lengthy queue second only to that of Radiator Springs Racers.

Due to its “cycle loading” nature, you can wait twenty minutes or more for Luigi’s with only a few loads of guests ahead of you, burning valuable early morning touring time. So, unless you are among the first through the FASTPASS distribution and enter Luigi’s queue within fifteen minutes of opening, you may want to consider spending the remainder of your first hour in a more efficient manner.

The upside of Cars Land’s phenomenal popularity is that it draws most guests away from the park’s other headliners until hours after opening. Tower of Terror, California Screamin’, and Toy Story Midway Mania often have minimal waits in the morning while the herd heads down Route 66. If you can stand to skip Luigi’s (try back at the end of the day, when it and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree are sometimes walk-ons), you’ll get a great return on your time investment at these other E-Tickets.

A final tip: remember that your Radiator Springs Racer FASTPASS is “disconnected” and won’t interfere with getting a FASTPASS for another attraction. You could snag a FASTPASS at Soarin’ Over California (if you don’t just use its Single Rider line) on your way to getting a viewing ticket for World of Color (also disconnected), or grab one for Tower of Terror before hopping across to Disneyland to pick up FASTPASSes there. Just be aware of the the ending time on your tickets; return windows are now being strictly enforced, though you may get 15 minutes of grace (i.e., arrive up to 15 minutes after your window has passed) if you ask nicely.

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Seth Kubersky

Author of The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. Co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and Beyond Disney. Contributor to Unofficial Guides to WDW and Las Vegas. Live Active Cultures columnist for the Orlando Weekly. Travel and arts journalist. Theatrical director and producer.

20 thoughts on “5 Ways to Start Your Day in Disney California Adventure

  • Brilliant thanks Seth. Loving the plans 18 more sleeps until we arrive from Australia, can’t wait.

  • Thanks for the tips have been reading your book and we head to disney and CDs in three weeks! The only day we can do dca is a Monday though and we aren’t staying at a disney hotel. Any tips on varying the plan with kids for this scenario? Cars land obviously still important! 🙂

    • If you have to go to DCA on an early entry morning as a regular guest: arrive early, get a RSR FP at rope-drop, and consider skipping Luigi if the wait is over 15 min. Hit Toy Story, Soarin, and ToT (if the kids are big enough) as early as possible, and follow the remainder of our touring plan. Good luck!

  • Great post. I will be facing many of these issues as well..

  • If I am staying on property and get the extra magic hour, can I get a do during that time? Or do I have to wait until the park opens?

  • Ok, I know this is probably not the place to ask…but, is there ANY way to get extra morning hours on a 2 day park hopper. I am willing to pay but it seems that the only way is to purchase a 3 day park hopper. Help! Thank you in advance!

    • Short answer: no, absolutely not. 3 to 5 day park hoppers get you early entry to Disneyland only. The only way to get into DCA early is by staying at a Disney hotel.

      • Thanks Seth…time to recalculate…:)

  • Is there a way to find out what fast pass attractions are “disconnected”?

  • Is there a way to find out what attractions for fastpass are “disconnected”?

  • Good advice – taking our 4 yr old grandson in July and need all the help we can get to make sure he does not miss his number one choice for his first choice – CARS! CARS! CARS! We have the book and will be watching the blog so we can be as prepared as possible to make sure the whole family has a great time.

  • Lots of helpful tips. Great post!
    One question. I keep hearing the boo hoo’s about no free refills from Starbucks. Does this mean that they don’t honor the Starbucks rewards cards, which give you a free refill automatically??

    • That’s a good question! My wife has a rewards card & was unable to get free soy milk at Fidler Fifer Practical last month. I assume the same is true for refills but I’ll try to find out for sure.


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