Think Disneyland park is the only park at the Disneyland Resort with things to do with the toddler and preschooler set? Think again! Disney California Adventure has really come into its own in recent years, adding a number of rides, shows, and attractions that appeal to young kids.
Once a bit of an afterthought or at least a half-day park, Disney California Adventure (DCA) has really grown with the addition of Cars Land, the conversion of Pixar Pier, and the opening of Avengers Campus. The park is still the home to some of the best thrill rides for tweens and teens, but in between those E-ticket attractions are quite a lot of engaging options for families with little ones.
Both of my kids have gone to Disneyland numerous times at the toddler and preschooler ages. In fact, this post originally dates back to when my now 12 year old was about to start kindergarten and she helped me catalog her favorites. We’ve now had a second kid pass through the toddler and preschooler stages who has different interests and a very different personality, and we made note of his choices and challenges as well.
So, without further ado, here is our family’s list of the 11 top attractions in Disney California Adventure for toddlers and preschoolers. (And if you are headed to both Disneyland Resort parks, be sure not to miss my recommendations for the Best Rides for Toddlers & Preschoolers in Disneyland Park across the esplanade!)
Last Updated: December 6, 2022.
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Best Rides & Things To Do with Toddlers & Preschoolers at Disney California Adventure
1. Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind
One of the newer additions to California Adventure, this easygoing attraction is located in Pixar Pier. Guests board small baskets magically lifted by the colored memory orbs made famous in the Pixar movie Inside Out. The ride itself may feel a bit familiar to returning Disneyland guests, as Emotional Whirlwind is actually a re-theming of the Bug’s Land attraction Flik’s Flyers.
The baskets lift a bit and spin around, much like Dumbo or Astro Orbitor in Disneyland. Families can all sit together, potentially providing comfort to more cautious toddlers and preschoolers. Emotional Whirlwind’s lines can get a little long as the day goes on since it’s still a new attraction to many guests, but wait times under 15 minutes are usually possible to find if you plan your day right.
One word of warning – the ride is located right beneath the always noisy Incredicoaster track, which may bother more sensitive little ones. We brought these noise cancelling earmuffs for our younger child to help with this area of the park (and on a couple of other attractions he always found too loud).
2. Jessie’s Critter Carousel
This is a very similar ride to King Arthur Carrousel in Fantasyland. Instead of horses, children can ride on their favorite critter inspired by Woody’s Roundup in Pixar’s Toy Story 2. Animals include turtles, raccoons, bunnies, and skunks (facing backwards, naturally, as they spray the other animals!). It is truly a bright and colorful ride that my youngest still enjoys even as he’s moving on to the more thrilling attractions.
Best of all, lines are rarely long at all, so this is a good stop if you are tired of waiting in line for some of the more popular attractions. It’s an especially strategic ride choice for families who may have both younger and older kids. We often do it while big sister rides the Incredicoaster right next door, racking up a Rider Switch pass in the process, often after we’ve all rope dropped Toy Story Midway Mania on the other side.
3. The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
This is one of the largest “dark rides” in either park at the Disneyland Resort. It opened when my older child was a toddler, so the technology to power it still feels new and improved over the many Fantasyland oldies-but-goodies. Guests cruise in a clam shell through scenes from the beloved movie, with lots of bright animatronic characters and plenty of familiar music.
Because the ride is in the dark and also because Ursula makes an appearance, make sure your little one is not easily frightened before taking this ride. But most young children who are Little Mermaid movie fans shouldn’t miss this one and won’t have an issue.
The attraction is also a people eater, which keeps lines short a substantial part of the day. If you ride this before lunch time, waits can often be just 5-10 minutes (but can swell to 30 mins in the afternoon on busier days as everyone looks to escape the heat with an indoor attraction).
4. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
If you have a toddler or preschooler who doesn’t mind a little bit of thrill, this Cars Land attraction will likely be a hit. The tractors from Pixar’s Cars movies spin and sling guests around while Mater sings and entertains everyone.
The tractors can easily seat two younger kids with one adult, making it work even for solo parents with a couple of kids. Mater’s has a height minimum of 32 inches, so it isn’t for babies. The tiniest of toddlers might not measure up yet either, so measure your little ones before you go.
The attraction has special overlays at Halloween Time and during the Holidays at Disneyland, with seasonal decor and music that keep things fresh. Lines for the attraction can sometimes be significant on busy days, but normally wait times stay in the 15-30 minute range.
5. Luigi’s Rollickin Roadsters
Just a bit farther down Route 66 in Cars Land is another toddler and preschooler favorite – Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters. This attraction is a 2016 redo of the previous Luigi’s Flying Tires that opened with Cars Land that regularly had technical difficulties. Tech challenges no more!
The new ride has cars that move on trackless ride system (much like the systems that power other new Disney rides like Rise of the Resistance), spinning and dancing to Italian music favorites with guests aboard for the ride. It offers very mild thrills, so has broad appeal.
Like Mater’s, Luigi’s gets special theming at both Halloween and Christmas. It usually posts similar wait times to Mater’s as well and has the same 32 inch height requirement.
6. Disney Junior Dance Party!
If your little ones like Disney Junior shows, Disney Junior Dance Party is a can’t-miss. Favorite characters from Mickey & the Roadster Races, Vampirina, and more perform a live action interactive show. Kids can get up and dance along to the songs included in the show.
On a hot day, this is a great activity and chance for a break, especially when lines for other attractions get longer mid-day. The theater is nicely air conditioned and you and your little ones can rest your feet while they are mesmerized.
7. WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure
The newest ride in Disney California Adventure is part of Avengers Campus, the Marvel-themed land that opened in summer 2021. WEB SLINGERS is an attraction where guests join Spider-Man to battle spider bots (a Peter Parker invention that went a bit sideways).
No equipment or devices are necessary on ride vehicles, as riders simply sling their hands like Spider-Man to cast webs at the screens and score points. If your toddlers or preschoolers has already seen a video game or two, they will get the hang of it pretty easily. And if they know Spider-Man at all, it’s a fun chance to join forces with a beloved hero.
The attraction does have a lot of loud noises and busy and fast on-screen scenes. But one thing it doesn’t have that Spider-Man movies do is a villain. That makes it less scary for little ones to view, and ultimately makes this an attraction the family can have fun doing together. Plus, ride vehicles seat four so it’s an attraction that even a single adult with three young kids can do together!
The details on how to line up to ride this attraction continue to change, so check out my guide to riding WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure for the latest updates
8. Monsters Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue
The Monster’s Inc. Ride has been around in California Adventure for awhile, but it is still one of the highlights even after the park many expansions. Located in Hollywood Land, this is another slow dark ride. Guests are taken into the world of Monstropolis and get to see some favorite Pixar characters from the Monsters Inc. movie franchise.
Be aware that the ride gets a little loud, so you might want to wait on this ride or use ear protection if you have a sensitive toddler. Our daughter covered her ears and kept smiling at the preschool age, and our son wore his earmuffs and had a blast.
9. Toy Story Midway Mania!
Toy Story Midway Mania combines the best of a Disney dark ride with an interactive 3D gaming experience. Riders play a variety of old-style carnival games using screen-based technology as they cruise through Toy Story scenes.
Midway Mania improved upon the technology like Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters and was the inspiration for a lot of the higher tech game play in WEB SLINGERS. In our family’s opinion, this is still the best of any Disney interactive gaming ride! It is just as exhilarating for toddlers and young kids as it is for teens and adults, so this is a can’t-miss for families.
The own downside is that the attraction can often have one of the longest waits in California Adventure. If your kids want to do this ride, plan accordingly! My younger child and I often choose to rope drop this attraction (while big sister and dad split off to ride another popular rope drop choice, Radiator Springs Racers). Disney Genie+ now gives guests a way to cut most of the line for this attraction for a fee. But this is one of the rides in DCA that books up the speediest with Genie+, so snag it earlier in the day to avoid getting a very late return time or even a sell out.
10. Pixar Pal-A-Round
As long as your little one doesn’t have a fear of heights, the giant ferris wheel with Mickey’s face is an attraction the whole family can join together. Formerly known as Mickey’s Fun Wheel, the Pixar Pal-A-Round has a new theme in keeping with its place on Pixar Pier. Each gondola is themed with a different Pixar character. The views of the entire park from the top are simply stunning.
Unless you have a thrill seeking toddler, you will want to ride the non-swinging gondolas. The swinging ones are pretty thrilling and are sometimes challenging for even adults (for what it’s worth, my kids love the swinging ones). Bonus that the non-swinging gondola usually have shorter lines!
11. Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
Last but certainly not least is Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. This is not a ride but is more of a play area. When your kids are done with crowds and lines and just need some room to roam and engage in some free play, this is the place to go.
Located in Grizzly Peak Airfield adjacent to the Grand Californian Hotel, this attraction is inspired by national parks and the great outdoors in California. There is a meandering paved trail to “hike” and play structures to climb with nets and shaking bridges. And there’s plenty of shade for parents to sit down and watch. Think of it as a little slice of a Yosemite right within Disneyland.
During the holidays Santa greets guests in this area and it is also transformed into the very popular Villains Grove during the Oogie Boogie Bash Halloween parties each year.
Need more tips for Disneyland with Toddlers?
Check out these related articles with all the best information for visiting the Happiest Place on Earth with little ones.
- 20 Tips for Disneyland with Toddlers
- 25 Fun Things to Do (That Aren’t Rides!) at Disneyland with Preschoolers
- Best Walking Distance Disneyland Hotels for Families
- Best Strollers for Disney Parks