The two best hotels in the Disneyland area in Anaheim, California are undoubtedly Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa and the Disneyland Hotel. I hear often from friends and readers who are struggling to make a decision between these two properties for their own Disneyland vacation. Disney’s Grand Californian is closer but is also more expensive. The Disneyland Hotel has a better pool and more Disney theming, but the longer walk can be inconvenient.
How to choose between the two? I’ve stayed at both the Disneyland Hotel and the Grand Californian many times over the years, including both again in 2021 after Disneyland’s reopening. Both have a lot of redeeming features, but sometimes one of these hotels is better for a certain family, their travel preferences, the ages of their kids, or the length of their trip. They key in making the right choice is knowing the differences and considering all these factors. Find out which hotel is best for you in this ultimate Disneyland Hotel vs. Grand Californian comparison guide.
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What Do the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian Have in Common?
First things first — before we dive into the differences, it’s important to know what benefits and features the two hotels both share equally. Both are Disney-owned hotels, so guests have access to the same on-property perks.
Currently, the only benefit of staying on-property is access to a separate calendar to make Disneyland theme park reservations. While the calendar for guests with regular tickets can sometimes book up early, more reservation slots are held in reserve for guests staying on-site. Practically speaking, if you book a Disneyland vacation at least several weeks in advance you will have no issues making park reservations, but this on-property perk can be important for guests planning a last minute trip at a busier time.
Historically, another important benefit of staying at an on-property hotel was access to Disneyland’s Extra Magic Hour (EMH). EMH granted guests early entry into Disneyland park on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday as well as early entry into Disney California Adventure park on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. As of late 2021, however, EMH still remains suspended. A new version of the early entry benefit has returned to Walt Disney World already (related: Tips for Walt Disney World Visits in 2021-2022), so stay tuned to see if Disneyland follows.
Other on-property benefits historically have included preferred access dining reservations, package delivery (still suspended in 2021), and room charge benefits. Sometimes, on-property guests can get special access to something new or seasonal – like guaranteed reservations into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge when it opened with capacity restrictions or extra tickets to sold out after hours events. Of course, the Disney theming and service are standard.
So now let’s get down to the nitty gritty differences between these two iconic Disney properties.
Disneyland Hotel vs. Disney’s Grand Californian: Location
When you are walking 20,000+ steps in a single day on a Disneyland vacation, hotel location matters. Luckily, both the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian are within easy walking distance of the two parks at Disneyland.
Disney’s Grand Californian is, however, closer to both parks. I’d estimate the Disneyland Hotel is about a 12-15 minute walk from the entrances to both parks, while the Grand Californian is about 5 minutes to Disney California Adventure and 10 minutes to Disneyland park.
In fact, Disney’s Grand Californian is so close to Disney California Adventure that the hotel has a private park entrance by Grizzly Peak. I’ve personally found this access to be so valuable with my son at the toddler/preschooler age. Being able to hop back over to the hotel for a nap or a swim break is huge. I also find the location ideal for a short one or two day trip where every minute counts. It also works well as for Oogie Boogie Bash during the Halloween season where this entrance has a much shorter wait to get into the after hours party!
Although the Disneyland Hotel is a longer walk from the park gates, it boasts one location benefit of its own: monorail access. Disneyland’s monorail starts from a location just inside the security checkpoint of Downtown Disney just steps from the hotel’s exit. The monorail runs directly into Tomorrowland in Disneyland park. Using it sometimes helps guests skip longer lines at the Disneyland park gates in addition to cutting down on walking time.
One word of warning – the monorail has been increasingly unreliable in recent years. Breakdowns happen on occasion and the monorail doesn’t run during very hot weather or during evening fireworks. So you can’t count on it 100% of the time for transportation.
Which hotel has the location edge? Disney’s Grand Californian
Price Differences Between the Disneyland Hotel & Disney’s Grand Californian
Let’s face it – a Disneyland vacation doesn’t come cheap, particularly for on-property hotel stays. Both the Grand Californian and the Disneyland Hotel are quite expensive. Prices have only gone up even more dramatically the last few years. The price jumps in 2021 especially have given many Disney fans sticker shock.
But just how expensive are these hotels? Historically, the Disneyland Hotel has always been a bit less expensive than Disney’s Grand Californian. The price gap is growing even greater as prices go up overall, especially during peak periods.
I priced out a few different dates over the next year when both hotels had standard room availability to demonstrate. (Note: Standard rooms are often some of the first rooms to book up, so prices will often be higher when all the room types aren’t available. Book early!)
Here are the results of my price sampling:
|Date||Disneyland Hotel||Grand Californian|
|Feb 2, 2022 (Wed)||$423||$526|
|April 15, 2022 (Sat)||$631||$779|
|July 13 (Fri)||$607||$795|
|Sept 20 (Tues)||$517||$682|
|Dec 24 (Sat)||$674||$958|
In short, expect an average price differential of $100-200 a night between these two hotels. Roughly speaking, you can find the most basic rooms at the Disneyland Hotel between $400s-600s and the Grand from $500s-900s. If you ever see the Disneyland Hotel priced in the $300s anymore or the Grand Californian in the $400s, then it’s time to hop on it because those are rare deals!
(Just by way of comparison, here is what the same hotels cost in 2019:)
|Date||Disneyland Hotel||Grand Californian|
|Feb 26, 2019 (Tues)||$389||$512|
|May 7, 2019 (Tues)||$445||$559|
|July 13, 2019 (Sat)||$561||$729|
|Sept 20, 2019 (Fri)||$549||$731|
|Dec 5, 2019 (Thurs)||$475||$626|
Remember too – even if you are splurging on a Disneyland vacation at one of the two priciest hotels, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be saving as much money as possible on your splurge! Save on your Disneyland park tickets with Trips With Tykes partner Get Away Today or book your entire vacation package with them. Get Away Today books rooms at both the Disneyland Hotel and the Grand Californian and always has all the seasonal sales and discounts available. If you use promo code TYKES10, you can even save an extra $10 off all package stays (hotel + discount tickets) of 2 nights or more. Check out my other money-saving Disneyland tips too.
Which hotel has the price edge? Disneyland Hotel
Disneyland Hotel vs. Grand Californian: Rooms
So what are you getting for your money in the rooms at both of these hotels?
Grand Californian Standard Rooms & Video Tour
The Grand Californian rooms were all recently refurbished in 2017-2018. In my opinion, the refurbishment was a major upgrade. The rooms are bright, and the layout works well for the modern traveler, with plenty of charging ports and space under the bed to store suitcases. Disney theming is subtle, with Chip ‘N’ Dale tastefully displayed in the wooden wall over the beds.
Bathrooms have dual sinks open to the room and a shower and toilet behind a closed pocket door. The sink area, however, cannot be closed off from the rest of the room so light and sound may bother families with sleeping kids. Rooms with tubs are in short supply so families who need a tub to bathe younger kids should make a special request.
All rooms have a refrigerator, a single cup coffeemaker, a TV, desk, a dresser with several drawers, and either a chair or a couch.
The Grand has both two queen and king bed rooms. Some of the two queen rooms include a special trundle bed under the couch that enables the room to sleep 5. Not that these rooms are not guaranteed, however, unless you have 5 people listed in your reservation. The Grand Californian also has Disney Vacation Club villas available for families who want more space and the amenities of a condo (but note that availability is always tight, particularly if you are looking to rent DVC points for a stay).
Take a video tour with me of a room at the Grand Californian, filmed November 2018:
(Note: This video tour was originally broadcast in the Disneyland with Kids Facebook Group that I co-own with three other Disneyland expert bloggers. Come join our 25,000+ member group to ask your Disneyland vacation planning questions and see more hotel room tours live!)
Disneyland Hotel Standard Rooms & Video Tour
There is a bit more variability in the rooms at the Disneyland Hotel because the hotel has three towers that were built at different times. In fact, can’t say I’ve ever had the same room layout twice! All rooms just got a minor refresh in 2021. This update includes new bedding and carpet in the rooms as well as new wallpaper in the bathrooms.
The one thing that all rooms have that truly makes the Disneyland Hotel special is a wooden headboard with Sleeping Beauty Castle carved into it. Flip a switch and the headboard lights up and plays “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” Disney magic at its finest. For a Disney super-fan like me, it pretty much trumps everything else. Hidden Mickeys abound throughout the room decor, so it’s fun to search for those with your kids.
As far as the other room details at the Disneyland Hotel go, a lot of the essential features of the rooms are the same as at the Grand Californian – refrigerators, coffeemakers, TV, desk, dresser, etc. There are king rooms as well as two queen rooms available (some of which sleep 5 with an extra sofa day bed). On average, I’d say the rooms at the Disneyland Hotel are larger, but because there is so much variability, that isn’t always the case.
In the bathroom, most rooms at the Disneyland Hotel still have showers over tubs which can matter to families. Some room layouts additionally have the entire bathroom behind a single door, which may work better if you have young kids sleeping in the bedroom while adults are using the sinks and shower. If this layout is important to you, it never hurts to make a special room request!
Check out this room tour of the renovated rooms at the Disneyland Hotel as of October 2021:
If you want to see what the rooms looked like before the 2021 refresh as well as see a different bathroom layout in another tower of the hotel, watch this October 2018 room tour too.
The 2021 room refresh at the Disneyland Hotel was much needed, as the rooms were beginning to feel a tiny bit dated to me. That said, this recent refresh wasn’t in depth of a remodel as the 2017-2018 update to the Grand.
Under the circumstances, it’s tough to judge which rooms are better. The Grand Californian’s rooms overall might feel a tad newer, but the Disneyland hotel’s larger and more practical layouts (on average) may trump that tiny bit of advantage. I previously gave this category to the Grand Californian, but with the Disneyland Hotel updates, I’m changing this one to too close to call!
Which hotel has the rooms edge? Too close to call.
Amenities & Atmosphere
Outside of the rooms, the hotels both have themed common areas and lots of amenities that add value to any stay.
The Grand Californian is themed in the arts and crafts style, with dark wood tones and a true luxury feel. The open lobby usually makes guests gasp a bit at the grandeur. Seasonal displays like the tall Christmas tree during the holidays add an extra wow factor.
In contrast, the Disneyland Hotel’s theming is all whimsical classic Disney. Recent 2021 updates brought the designs of Mary Blair (of it’s a small world fame) to the hotel lobby and hallways, adding even more old Disneyland touches. If there is ever a place where you can feel the spirit of Walt and really soak in the theme park’s history, it is here.
As for the amenities, let’s start with the pools. At the Grand Californian, there are several pools in the central courtyard, one of which has a small waterslide originating from a redwood tree trunk. It does the job for families, but my kids never got particularly excited about the offerings.
Over at the Disneyland Hotel, the pools are a can’t miss. Two giant waterslides shaped like the Disneyland monorails dominate the landscape. There’s a splash area underneath and a kiddie slide for little ones. This is one reason I recommend the Grand for shorter stays and the Disneyland Hotel for longer ones – because you really need the time to spend an afternoon by the pool at the Disneyland Hotel!
The Grand Californian also has a full service spa again – a feature that may matter more to the luxury traveler. It recently reopened in September 2021 with a new name – Tenaya Stone Spa. I never have time when visiting with my kids for that kind of R&R and pampering, but kudos to you if you do!
Both hotels offer tours to guests wanting to see more of the property or learn about its history. There are special events that vary seasonally as well, from holiday decor to seasonal activities.
Last but certainly not least, both hotels also offer Club Level with generous food and drink offerings, usually for a couple hundred dollars more per night. At the Disneyland Hotel, the club level is known as the E-Ticket Lounge. Located on the top floor of the Adventure Tower, the club has amazing views of Downtown Disney and both parks. Its an excellent vantage point to see evening fireworks while enjoying a snack or beverage.
At the Grand Californian, the club is known as The Veranda and has views overlooking Disney California Adventure park, with both indoor seating and an outdoor terrace. The lounge is a bit bigger than the one at the Disneyland Hotel with slightly more variety in the food offerings, but the price of the club level upgrade tends to be more.
Which hotel has the amenities edge? Disneyland Hotel
Dining at the Disneyland Hotel vs. Disney’s Grand Californian
Last but certainly not least is the food! Both hotels have multiple restaurants at a variety of prices and service levels. Even if you are staying in one hotel, it’s always possible to dine elsewhere, so the restaurants probably shouldn’t play the most important role in your hotel decision making. But nothing beats the convenience of having one of your favorites easily accessible.
Both properties have restaurants that serves a character meal, so it’s easiest to start there. Disney’s Grand Californian is home to Storytellers Cafe, which hosts the Mickey’s Tales of Adventure character breakfast every morning (with additional brunch times Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). Storytellers is also open for a non-character dinner.
As of early 2019, the hotel also began offering an second character meal with princesses at the hotel’s Napa Rose restaurant. Princess Breakfast Adventures is an ultra-premium character meal that costs $125 per person and takes several hours to complete.
The Disneyland Hotel’s has a single standard character meal held at Goofy’s Kitchen. Goofy’s serves both breakfast and dinner daily with the characters. The dinner option can work very well for families to dine on their arrival day. You can save on a park ticket that day and still have a Disney experience.
See my complete guide to Disneyland character meals for even more details about these offerings.
The signature restaurant at Disney’s Grand Californian is Napa Rose, almost universally mentioned by foodies as Disneyland’s best. If a fine dining experience is on your Disneyland bucket list, this is the place to do it. Children are welcome, but it’s probably better enjoyed by guests with older kids given the prices and atmosphere.
Sadly, Disneyland’s equivalent higher-end restaurant Steakhouse 55 closed in 2021, with no word yet on a replacement.
For more casual dining, the Grand Californian has the tried and true Hearthstone Lounge. Hearthstone is off the lobby and is a popular place for evening snacks and drinks as well as for morning coffee. There’s also the brand new outdoor poolside restaurant GCH Craftsman Bar that has fun drinks and appetizers/bar food ideal for any time of day. The grab-and-go location nearby that used to be Whitewater Snacks is now GCH Craftsman Grill, with similar counter service food options where guests can pick up a quick breakfast before rope drop or enjoy a burger poolside.
Over at the Disneyland Hotel, the main casual dining restaurant is the Tangaroa Terrace, which just finished up renovations and added a new menu not long before the parks close. I’d be remiss not to also mention Trader Sam’s Tiki Terrace next door. This tiki bar is nothing short of amazing with its unique drink concoctions, themed decor, and humorous special effects. Kids are allowed inside until 8pm. See my complete look at Trader Sam’s for more details.
With Steakhouse 55 closed at the Disneyland Hotel and with the opening of GCH Craftsman Bar & Grill, the Grand has more dining options at a variety of prices – for now at least!
Which hotel has the dining edge? Grand Californian.
What About Paradise Pier?
If you know your Disneyland basics, you probably know that there are three Disney-owned on-property hotels in Disneyland. The third is Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. So why have I not included Paradise Pier in this comparison post?
The first reason is simple. When I originally wrote this post way back in early 2019, I had never stayed there! As much as possible, I try to provide first-hand in-depth experience and advice on this blog. So I didn’t feel a full three way comparison was possible with only partial information from just my touring and dining.
I have stayed at Paradise Pier since that time, but decided to keep this post as a two way hotel comparison. Why? Paradise Pier is just not close to being in the same tier as the other two Disneyland hotels. Even before this year, luxury travelers or travelers looking to really have a truly special splurge Disneyland vacation usually decided between the Grand Californian or the Disneyland Hotel.
This is even more true in 2021 since Disneyland reopened. PCH Grill, the character meal and only restaurant at Paradise Pier will not reopen. With Extra Magic Hours suspended, the hotel has few on-property benefits. The lobby is dark and dated and the rooms have not had more recent refreshes like the Disneyland Hotel or the Grand. Yet Paradise Pier somehow still commands a pretty hefty Disney price premium with many fewer perks and amenities than the other two hotels. On the dates I priced out above for the other two hotels, Paradise Pier still charges on average 74% of the price of the Disneyland Hotel, never dropping below $300 a night. It is usually more expensive than several nicer and newer off-property hotels that are equally close to the parks.
I just can’t fully recommend the hotel right now to my readers until Disney makes some updates or returns some of the benefits and amenities Paradise Pier had before. If you are comfortable paying Paradise Pier prices, I’d recommend several off-property deluxe hotels nearby — like the Westin Anaheim Resort or Courtyard Marriott Theme Park Entrance (see my guide to the Top 15 Walking Distance Disneyland Hotels for several suggestions!).
Disneyland Hotel vs. Disney’s Grand Californian: The Bottom Line
As someone who has happily stayed in both the Grand Californian and the Disneyland Hotel many times, I think most guests will be very happy with both hotels. True luxury travelers used to a certainly level of hotel service and amenities as well as fine dining are probably going to be most comfortable at Disney’s Grand Californian. Guests on shorter stays may also appreciate its location advantage.
Disney super-fans, however, are probably going to prefer the Disneyland Hotel with its extra themed touches and Disney history and magic. In addition, its less expensive price makes it accessible to that many more families. Those factors are what tip my personal scale in favor of the Disneyland Hotel on most trips, but my preferences have definitely evolved over the last several years. I imagine they will continue to do so as prices change and hotels get various upgrades and renovations.
Headed to Disneyland? Check out one of these related articles to help you plan your trip:
- Value of Off-Property Hotels at Disneyland
- Guide to Genie+ and Lightning Lane at Disneyland
- 20 Tips for Disneyland with Toddlers
- Everything You Need to Know About Flying to Disneyland
- 7 Must-Have Disneyland Apps
Disclosure: I’ve stayed at the Disneyland Hotel and at the Grand Californian on my own dime many times, but some of my stays over the years have been hosted by Disney. I’ve also sometimes received upgrades as media. All opinions are my own.
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