Planning a visit to Mickey’s Southern California home? Even though my family lives in Northern California, we fly to Anaheim much more often than we drive. Flying to Disneyland is a totally different ballgame than flying to Walt Disney World in Orlando. Numerous airport choices, big city LA traffic, and more challenging (and often more expensive) parking will likely make you reevaluate your usual air travel strategies.
Here’s what you need to know to make your flight arrival and departure logistics on your Disneyland trip much, much easier.
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Flying to Disneyland: Which Airport?
The Los Angeles area has a lot of airport choices. And traffic can be really, really bad in LA. This means you really need to choose your airport carefully or you may find yourself stuck on the freeway rather than in line for Space Mountain.
Here are the major airport options to consider:
Orange County’s John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana is my personal pick for the best airport to use when headed to Disneyland. Located just about 13 miles from the main gate, you can often make it from the airport to your hotel in under 20 minutes.
SNA is a small airport, meaning that walks are short and lines are reasonable. I’ve never waited for checked bags for more than 5-10 minutes and am usually out the door and at my hotel in record time.
Long Beach is a close second choice. LGB is just about as close to Disneyland than SNA, but it usually takes a but longer to drive it because the route options are more congested with traffic many times of day. Like SNA, LGB is small and easy to navigate which makes for shorter TSA lines and quicker bag handling in most instances.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is one of the largest airports in the United States, so it goes without saying that it will have the most flight choices from the most destinations. Its larger size also means more airline competition so prices may often be cheaper here.
LAX is huge and at times, incredibly inefficient. Give yourself extra time for security and check-in lines and plan for generally tougher logistics. At about 33 miles from Disneyland, plan for about an hour from the airport to your hotel, although it can sometimes be shorter if you are traveling at a very low traffic time.
LA’s Ontario airport is 35 miles away – not much further than LAX – but that trip usually takes longer given LA traffic patterns. Ontario is smaller and easy to navigate like SNA and LGB but I personally wouldn’t recommend using it for Disneyland due to distance (and fewer ground transportation options) unless prices are much, much cheaper than your other options.
Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport is the furthest of the bunch at 41 miles, but the trip is often well over an hour because of traffic. I’d consider using it in the same circumstances as ONT – for great deals only – because the distance and ground transportation is harder.
Seriously, San Diego? Yes! I wouldn’t recommend this airport to someone flying in for a quick weekend trip to Disneyland, but visitors who plan a longer Southern California trip should consider it if prices are right. If you are headed to Legoland in Carlsbad (just north of San Diego) in addition to Disneyland, keep SAN on your radar.
Flying to Disneyland: Rental Car or Not?
If you are only planning to visit Disneyland during your trip, you almost definitely do NOT need a rental car. There are numerous other ground transportation options to get you from the airport to your hotel. In addition, most hotels in the vicinity of Disneyland have their own shuttles or are on the Anaheim resort shuttle stop system. These same hotels almost always charge for parking, so you’d be paying twice if you rented a car. Save yourself the money!
If you are planning to visit other attractions in Southern California before or after your Disneyland visit, a rental car is nearly a necessity. Let’s face it: the Los Angeles area is not known for its spectacular public transit. You’ll need a car to get around.
Quick tip: If you are staying at Disneyland for most of your visit and only need a car for a day or two to go elsewhere, there’s another option: rent from Alamo located right in Downtown Disney. That way, you avoid parking fees and can have the car for the day or two you need it.
Flying to Disneyland: Other Ground Transportation Options?
If you decide to opt out of a rental car, there are a lot of other options for getting from the airport to the parks and your hotel. Not all airports have all options, so choose carefully.
1. Disneyland Resort Express
A third-party company offers scheduled motorcoach service via the Disneyland Resort Express to and from LAX and SNA airports. If you are used to the Magical Express at Disney World, just be aware that this is definitely not the equivalent and it is not run by Disney (Disney licenses the name only). You’ll need to pay separately ($30 1 way or $48 RT for adults from LAX and $20 1 way/$35 RT from SNA) and handle your own bags. Up to 3 kids are free with a paying adult.
We found the once an hour departure times inconvenient, particularly from SNA where the trip could otherwise be quite quick. There are also no savings to be had for groups with more than 1 adult at SNA – a cab, ride-sharing service, or other shuttle service would be competitively priced or perhaps cheaper at SNA. That said, the Disneyland Resort Express is definitely the most economical LAX option for larger families. Additionally, because service is on a motorcoach, you don’t need car seats for kids which is a bonus.
At long last, Uber and Lyft can operate at all Southern California airports (after years of being banned at LAX, ONT, and LGB), for both pickups and drop offs. My family has used Lyft at SNA several times and found a car pulling up to the curb to get us within a matter of minutes. The ride was cheaper than a taxi or shuttle service for our family of four – roughly $20-25 from SNA to the hotels right by Disneyland.
As with all passenger vehicles, you’ll need a car seat or booster for kids under the age of 8 as required by California law. I highly recommend the inflatable and very compact Bubble Bum Booster Seat for travel with kids who are over 4 years old and 40 pounds. For younger kids needing a convertible car seat, my top travel pick is the Cosco Scenera NEXT, which is very inexpensive and lightweight. Make sure to get the full scoop on using Lyft and Uber with kids before your trip.
There are numerous other shuttle companies operating in the LA area that offer flat rate transportation from area airports to your Disneyland hotel. Most of these companies operate 15 passenger vans, so you’ll need a car seat for your little ones if you use them just like you would in ride-sharing vehicles or rental cars. You’ll also be sharing space with others and may have to make a few stops along the way, but those are usually quick. Here are a few options:
- Prime Time Shuttle: $15 per person each way to/from LAX.
- SuperShuttle: $17 per person each way to/from LAX, $11 each way to/from SNA.
Taxi service is available from all area airports, but the cost is simply prohibitive from airports other than SNA or LGB that are very close to Disneyland (SNA and LGB fares are about $40-45). From the next closest airport (LAX), a cab would cost about $100.
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Make sure to follow my Disneyland board on Pinterest for even more great Disneyland tips:
Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail Blue | Disneyland 101 Loop:
- 1st Stop – Trips with Tykes | Tips for Flying to Disneyland – YOU ARE HERE
- 2nd Stop – What’s the Point? | Official Disneyland Hotels
- 3rd Stop – Saving Up for Disney | Adventurer’s Guide to the Disneyland Resort
- 4th Stop – Mousekatools | Tips for Bringing Babies to Disneyland
- 5th Stop – Bibbidi Bobbidi Booze | Tips For Traveling To Disneyland With 20 Somethings