My family has taken our kids to Disneyland at nearly every age and stage. Some might find it a bit crazy to take babies, toddlers, and preschoolers on a theme park vacation. But our trips have been so worthwhile even at the ages where our kids are too young to remember them. In fact, the toddler and preschool age is often the most magical time for Disney vacations. I have found it is when the kids really believe in the characters and have the most genuine interactions when meeting them. Seeing my kids live the Disney dream has so memorable for me as a parent.
That said, preschoolers can get a bit antsy when forced to stand in long ride lines for hours on end. While there are lots of line-avoidance strategies I use at Disneyland, some times of day and some times of year are harder to hack. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. Instead, make time to seek out all the other kinds of non-ride Disney magic. After dozens of Disneyland trips here are my top 25 activities that are perfectly geared to the preschool set that don’t require standing in a ride line.
Non-Ride Fun at Disneyland with Preschoolers
1. Watch Movies at Main Street Cinema
Right in the middle of Main Street U.S.A. is a theater showing classic Disney cartoons like Steamboat Willie. Pop in and experience some Disney cartoon history and enjoy the air conditioning on a hot day. My husband and now 7 year old started making this a tradition to do together back when she was a preschooler and we never miss it on any trip.
2. Party with the Pixar Play Parade
All the parades at Disneyland are excellent fits for preschoolers, but the Pixar Play Parade is probably the best fit of all. With characters from Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., and The Incredibles as well as upbeat music, expect to see your preschooler partying in the streets.
3. Share a Dole Whip. Or a Churro. Or a Mickey bar.
Best way to avoid a preschooler meltdown after a long day? A little sugar! I will confess to giving my kiddos a mid-morning churro for “brunch” and we almost never miss the chance to split a Dole Whip to cool off on a hot afternoon. Healthy eating can wait for a non-Disneyland day.
Trips With Tykes Pro Tip: Avoid the wait for a Dole Whip by entering the turnstiles for the Tiki Room show. There you can access a special back counter queue where the line is much, much shorter!
4. Enjoy the Golden Horseshoe Saloon Show
The Golden Horseshoe is a bit of a hidden gem but it’s a great place to stop for a meal or a snack on a hot day with younger kids. The theater inside is air conditioned and has a food counter. Plus, a slapstick Western comedy musical revue takes the stage several times a day to entertain everyone.
5. Play in Toontown
Toontown is an area that is totally geared to the preschool and toddler set. There is lots to explore during free play time, like Donald’s Boat and Goofy’s House. When Minnie Mouse is not in residence meeting kids in Minnie’s House, you can also stroll in and play in her living room and kitchen.
6. Try to Pull the Sword from the Stone
Are your preschoolers strong enough to break the spell from the classic movie? Test their strength right between the castle and King Arthur Caroussel in Fantasyland. Makes for a great photo opportunity too.
7. Ride the Monorail
The monorail that goes from one end of Downtown Disney into Tomorrowland does double duty for preschoolers – transportation for tired feet as well as entertainment.
8. Watch the Dapper Dans
The nation’s most famous barbershop quartet puts on quite a show along Main Street several times a day. The show features songs little ones will love to dance along with, plus visually engaging costumes, fun choreography, and the occasional wacky instrument.
9. Grab an Ice Cream at Gibson Girl
Some of the most decadent ice cream sundaes can be found along Main Street U.S.A. at Gibson Girl Creamery. Grab one to split for the whole family for maximum fun or stop in for a single scoop cone for a quick treat.
10. Get Soaked in Bugs Land
Hot day at Disneyland? Pack a bathing suit and towel and head for California Adventure to Princess Dot Puddle Park in Bug’s Land. This splash pad is made for toddlers and preschoolers.
11. Explore Launch Bay
Season of the Force is still going strong at Disneyland (at least until Star Wars Land opens, I suppose). So if you have a little one who adores BB-8 or C3PO, make a beeline for the Launch Bay in Tomorrowland. There you can explore movie memorabilia and even meet a Star Wars character or two (note: there are most definitely lines for the character meet-and-greets, so plan accordingly).
12. Spin the Kugel Ball in Tomorrowland
The kugel ball in Tomorrowland is one of those spots that adults will totally overlook while kids can’t get enough. This ball is a giant granite sphere supported by a thin film of pressurized water that young kids can push and rotate. It’s a great waiting spot if big siblings are riding Space Mountain, with ample seating all around as well as shade. We stop here for a rest with my 3 year old and 7 year old every trip.
13. Hunt for Hidden Mickeys
Hidden all over the parks are hidden renderings of Mickey’s iconic three circled silhouette. Show your preschoolers how to spot them and go on a hunt. Snap pictures of your finds!
14. Walk Through Sleeping Beauty Castle
I visited Disneyland for over a decade before I realized that that there was a walk-through exhibit within Sleeping Beauty Castle! Wind through narrow passageways to view dioramas featuring Aurora and Maleficent. Great for preschoolers who are deep into the “princess phase.”
15. Laugh at a Show at Fantasy Faire’s Royal Theater
One of the newer additions to Disneyland in the last several years is Princess Fantasy Faire. It features an outdoor theater showing comical renditions of Disney classics. Preschoolers will love the antics of the actors and can even sit up close in the floor seating for the best view.
16. Character Meet and Greet til Ya Drop
Even when lines are long for rides, it’s often easy to find character meet-and-greets with reasonable lines. Use the Disneyland app to find when characters are appearing to seek out your preschooler’s favorite or find a hidden spot where waits are shortest.
17. Collect Pressed Pennies
By the time your child reaches preschool age, they may start to be interested in collecting things. Get an inexpensive folio at one of the Disney gift shops and fill it with pressed pennies from the machines scattered throughout the parks. At just $.51 for each, they are one of the cheapest souvenirs you can find at Disneyland so it’s not a bad one for your child to get hooked on!
18. Visit Shrunken Ned, Pirate Red, or Esmeralda
There are three historical fortune telling machines hidden in a few nooks and crannies in Disneyland that are a lot of fun for the preschool crowd. For $.50, these machines will deliver a wacky fortune card to your child to collect. Look for Shrunken Ned in the gift shop directly across from the Jungle Cruise, Esmeralda in Penny Arcade on Main Street U.S.A. and Pirate Red in New Orleans Square near the exit of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
19. Trade Disney Pins
Yet another fun collecting tradition is trading pins at Disney parks. Get a lanyard and a starter kit for your preschooler and teach him or her how to approach cast members and ask for trades.
20. Play Boardwalk Games in DCA
Over in the Paradise Pier area of California Adventure is a row of classic boardwalk games that you can play for an extra fee for the chance to win prizes. When the line for Toy Storia Midway Mania gets too long, this is a smart second choice.
21. Hit your Hotel’s Pool
It cannot be all-park, all-the-time on a Disneyland vacation with preschoolers. Luckily, the mild Southern California weather means that it is pool weather most months out of the year. Make sure to book a hotel with a nice pool and schedule mid-afternoon pool breaks. My kids are particularly partial to the monorail pool at the Disneyland Hotel if you can splurge for an on-property option.
22. Dine with the Characters
While character dining at Disneyland is a bit more expensive than most other meals, the upcharge is SO worth it with preschoolers. The meals offer a great way to get in a lot of photos and meet and greet opportunities with no lines because the character simply arrive at your table while you eat. My family schedules one character meal every trip for that reason.
23. Sing Along to Disney Junior Live On Stage
One of the best shows for preschoolers at Disneyland is Disney Junior Live on Stage at California Adventure. The show clocks in at about 30 minutes and features characters Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Doc McStuffins, and Jake and the Neverland Pirates in puppet form. My kids have been mesmerized every time.
24. Run Through the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
Another place to blow off preschooler team to explore and engage in free play is Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in California Adventure. Grab a map and explore at your leisure.
25. Pose for a Silhouette
One of the most reasonably-priced and most memorable souvenirs at Disneyland is a silhouette of your child, hand cut at the studio on Main Street. Several lovely artists have made it their life’s work. Silhouettes are cut in a matter of minutes which make them perfect for antsy preschoolers!
Bonus: Play Pirate on Tom Sawyer Island
While Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island is closed right now while Star Wars Land is under construction, it is one of our family’s favorite stops with preschoolers. Uncrowded with room to roam, it’s the perfect mid-afternoon free play adventure. And what preschoolers doesn’t love pirates?!?!
Have you taken a preschooler to Disneyland? What other non-ride finds have worked for you?