While a Disneyland vacation is special any time, the resort is known for multiple special events, festivals, and holiday celebrations that happen at different times every year. These celebrations often feature unique decorations, special foods, and one-time only entertainment. Naturally, many Disneyland guests want to time their vacation for when one of these special offerings are happening.
I’ve been to Disneyland in every season and can compare and contrast all of these choices. If you are trying to pick just the right time to visit Disneyland, here is an overview of all the events, food festivals, and holiday celebrations that happen each year to plan for your next trip.
Note that Disneyland often doesn’t announce the exact dates for special events and holiday festivals until maybe 3-6 months before they start. This makes things a bit challenging for guests who want to plan much farther in advance. Luckily, those of us who watch Disneyland carefully have noticed trends over the years that can really help predict when the events will happen.
Editor’s Note: Although I’m publishing this post at a time when Disneyland’s reopening has been delayed, I know a lot of travelers want and need something to look forward to and are already planning for 2021. Hopefully this helps with that long term Disneyland vacation planning. Use it to look ahead to what seasons have a special event happening that could make your Disneyland vacation even more special when you are able to take it.
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Disneyland Special Events Happening Every Season of the Year
Lunar New Year at Disneyland (January & February)
The first special event of each new year at Disneyland is Lunar New Year. The event is held at Disney California Adventure park and includes lots of special entertainment as well as multiple food marketplaces featuring a wide variety of Asian dishes. My guide to Disneyland’s Lunar New Year has all the details.
This celebration is smaller in scope but has really grown from even a few years ago. The holiday used to be commemorated only on a single weekend with just a couple of special offerings that mostly catered to locals. It’s now a full fledged festival running for several weeks worthy of planning a vacation around.
The Lunar New Year event usually runs for about 3 weeks in late January and early February. Disneyland usually only announces dates for it a few months prior in the fall or early winter. For example, the dates for the 2020 event (which was held January 17 through February 9) were announced on October 29, 2019.
Since the date of Lunar New Year is variable and the festival is shorter than many other Disneyland festivals, predicting the timing of this event is a bit harder than with most other Disneyland events. The date of actual Lunar New Year can fall anywhere between the third week of January and mid-February. This means Disneyland adjusts the dates of the festival a bit each year. Sometimes the event falls over the Presidents Day weekend holiday (as it did in 2019), but does not run that long when Lunar New Year falls in January (as was the case in 2020). So consult the lunar calendar carefully while planning and aim for the 2 weeks or so prior to the actual holiday.
Bonus in February: Valentine’s Day! Although Valentine’s Day isn’t a major celebration, the holiday isn’t overlooked at the Disneyland Resort either. Blink and you’ll miss it most years. But if you happen to be able to go to the parks in the couple of days leading up to February 14, you’ll see some decorations, special food, and photos opps. (The Happiest Blog on Earth keeps an updated guide to Valentine’s Day at Disneyland to bookmark.)
Food & Wine Festival & Spring Break at Disneyland (March & April)
Disneyland’s largest annual festival, the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival, happens every spring. Spring at Disneyland is one of my favorite times to visit, and I’ve been lucky enough to attend the festival every year for the last three years to really see it evolve.
The festival usually starts right around the beginning of March and runs about 6-7 weeks well into April. It’s timed to encompass almost all the spring breaks for school districts in California and neighboring states, and always includes Easter weekend as well.
The festival features around a dozen food kiosks set up along the walkways of Disney California Adventure park. Home-grown California ingredients like garlic and berries take center stage in every dish. It’s a huge highlight for foodies but definitely has enough to offer families with kids as well. See my complete guide to the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival for all the specifics.
Bonus in March/April: Easter! Easter isn’t overlooked in the spring at Disneyland either, but you have to more closely to find the offerings. The major thing to do is Easter Egg-stravaganza where guests can purchase a map and go hunt for eggs displayed in hidden spots through the parks and in Downtown Disney. There are a few unique Easter foods as well as dining experiences on Easter Sunday itself at some restaurants. My friend Gavin over at MickeyVisit.com keeps an updated guide to Easter at Disneyland with all the specifics.
Summer Festivals at Disneyland (June, July, & August)
There is no recurring special festival during the summer at Disneyland, but Disneyland always does something special each and every summer to bring something new to the parks.
Summer is traditionally when many new attractions are launched. In 2019, Disneyland opened Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge right before Memorial Day Weekend (and the summer of 2020 was when Avengers Campus was slated to open before Disneyland’s closure resulted in a postponement).
Often, Disney gives the summer a theme that is in keeping with a new attraction opening. For example, 2017 was the Summer of Heroes featuring all things Marvel after Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! opened earlier that spring. Similarly, the summer of 2018 was dubbed Pixar Fest as the first part of the new Pixar Pier expansion including the Incredicoaster opened that year.
On years when Disney is celebrating a major milestone birthday, the celebration usually is themed around that anniversary. Disneyland’s 60th anniversary celebration actually lasted from the beginning of summer 2015 until the end of summer 2016. You may just get two summers out of one anniversary!
The bottom line is that if you go in summer, there will be something fun to celebrate, even if you don’t always know the exact theme. Disney always releases new foods with each of these celebrations all over the parks, so there will be new things to taste too.
Bonus on July 17: Disneyland’s Birthday! Even if you aren’t visiting Disneyland on a major anniversary year, there is always something special done every July 17 to commemorate Disneyland’s opening day.
Halloween Time (September & October)
The fall brings one of the most beloved holiday celebrations to Disneyland. In September and October, both parks celebrate Halloween Time. The pumpkin and villains decor is over-the-top all over the resort, making it one of my favorite times to head to Anaheim.
When do the Halloween decorations go up? The pumpkins and villains start to appear right after Labor Day weekend. Last year, Labor Day fell on September 2, 2020 and Halloween Time officially launched on September 6, 2019. Usually, the seasonal ride overlay Haunted Mansion Holiday is ready to go on the official Halloween Time opening day.
Disneyland also has a special Halloween party during the fall multiple nights a week. Now called Oogie Boogie Bash and held in Disney California Adventure park, the parties don’t start until a bit later into the fall season a few weeks after the decor appears. Last year’s first party was on September 17, 2019. This stands in stark contrast to Walt Disney World which starts its own Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in August every year! So if the party at Disneyland is a must-do for you, then definitely wait until a bit later in the fall to visit.
Speaking of Oogie Boogie Bash, visitors who want to attend this event need to plan early and watch for tickets to go on sale. After they do, act fast! Parties sell out quickly. In 2019, tickets went on sale earlier than they ever had before in April. The parties were almost completely sold out by the end of August, with some parties sold out as early as late July. You absolutely have to plan early for fall vacations and book those tickets ASAP!
(Note for 2020: Disneyland has not made any announcements about Oogie Boogie Bash for this year due to the uncertainties around reopening. Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, however, has been canceled at Walt Disney World, so it seems likely Disneyland’s comparable event will suffer a similar fate.)
Holidays at the Disneyland Resort (November, December, & early January)
Last but certainly not least is the winter holiday celebrations at Disneyland. The holiday decorations and treats are usually up by the Veterans Day holiday in early November and stretch into early January, usually ending right around the time most kids return to school.
The offerings are too many to list, from ride overlays like it’s a small world Holiday to Mater’s Jingle Jamboree to special holiday parades and evening fireworks. The holiday season also features a food festival of its own in Disney California Adventure. See all the details in my guide to the holidays at Disneyland.
One thing to watch out for: the holidays definitely do bring out crowds. The two busiest times to visit the Disneyland Resort are Thanksgiving week and the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Veterans Day weekend can also be extremely busy (and even more so if the holiday falls on a day where school districts schedule 3-4 day weekends). If you can go other times in the season, you can experience more of the magic without the crowds. I particularly love going during the early December lull.
How to Save Big on a Disneyland Vacation Any Time of Year?
No matter what season you visit or special event you plan to attend, you can save big money on a trip to Disneyland by booking your tickets or vacation packages through Trips With Tykes partner, Get Away Today. Use promo code TYKES10 for an extra $10 off all package stays of 2 nights or more. Get Away Today works directly with Disney and a number of Anaheim hotel partners to lock in awesome pricing that they can pass along to clients.
Do you have a favorite season to visit Disneyland? What event are you planning to attend on your next trip?