Updated: May 21, 2015
Disneyland and Downtown DisneyAny trip to Disneyland in California is not complete without strolling through their outdoor promenade called Downtown Disney. What is Downtown Disney? Mostly an outdoor mall with shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and more. Designed partially as a local attraction to draw upon the huge population of the Los Angeles area and partially as a late night activity area for adults visiting Disneyland, Downtown Disney can be fun for the entire family. It came into being when Disneyland became "Disneyland Resort" and they took over the old parking lot, converting it into California Adventure Park and Downtown Disney, while moving the parking area to a new remote garage location serviced by shuttle.
What are the best things to see in Downtown Disney?The old monorail stop that took you to the Disney Hotel complex now drops you off at the far end of Downtown Disney - so that is one way to get there from the park. You can also walk out the front gates of Disneyland and make a right - you walk right into Downtown Disney. Of course there is a gigantic Disney Store that kids and adults love - Mickey Mouse golf balls, Snow White combs, Donald Duck pajamas - you name it, they have it. Also a big Lego store that kids enjoy, and Build A Bear for making their own stuffed souvenir. The AMC Movie Theater is here as well, with all the latest films playing day and night. They have a variety of options for fine dining like Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen or Catal Restaurant, as well as fun loud places like the ESPN Zone and House of Blues.
For kids, we recommend a dinner or lunch at the Rain Forest Cafe. This is a chain restaurant found around the US, but it makes for a fun dining experience if you have kids in tow. TIP: dinner time is VERY crowded - you may want to send someone out to put their name on the waiting list before bringing the whole family out of the park - the wait can easily be 1-2 hours or more. Alternatively, make it your first stop when you hit Downtown Disney, then spend an hour or more strolling and browsing among the other shops and sights. If you walk all the way to the Disney Hotel complex, you'll find Goofy's Kitchen, which is another fun dining event for kids, with costumed Disney characters roaming the restaurant. This one gets crowded as well, and the buffet style meals are not inexpensive. Another spot you must visit is the Grand Californian Hotel, Disney's most upscale hotel at Disneyland. You'll find it right in the middle of Downtown Disney - it is the large brown and green multi-story log-cabin lodge-style building that stretches a good length of the area - you'll find the Downtown Disney entrance to it pretty easily. You don't have to be a hotel guest to stop in and enjoy the ambience. Make a point of stopping in and sitting by the fire (a nightly storyteller wanders around and entertains kids), have a drink, listen to the live piano player, and relax - it is an amazing experience, and it is FREE (hmmm.. maybe the only really good FREE experience at Disneyland!). This is a must see.