What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

Must-Do Disneyland- Perfect Itinerary for First Timers

As a first time Disneyland visitor, you’ll want to get the best feel of what makes the Park “tick” and where its heartbeat lies. These recommended attractions are classic Disney and will completely immerse you in the magic! For anyone visiting Disneyland for the very first time, this is what I’d call the definitive list of “must-do Disneyland” attractions. This is a one day Disneyland itinerary. After you’ve experienced these things, everything else is just a Disney bonus!

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Must-Do Disneyland List of Attractions

You’ve never been to Disneyland before but wondering how to do Disneyland in one day? Here’s my must-do Disneyland attractions for a first time visitor. These ideas will give you a great feel of the park and allow room for plenty of magic. It’s not everything, of course. You’d need a lot more than one day at Disneyland to experience it all. But these are the essentials that are do-able for a visitor’s first Disneyland day. Get out your Disneyland checklist!

What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

Photo Credit: Jeff Holz

1. Start Your Day on Main Street U.S.A

When you enter Disneyland Park you’ll pass through the tunnels (there’s one on each side of the entrance) and be deposited into the hub. Follow Main Street U.S.A towards Sleeping Beauty Castle and the various Lands will branch out from here. If you arrive at “rope drop” before the Park actually opens (which you should!), you’ll be able to enter Main Street U.S.A. and visit some of the shops.

  • Disneyland Railroad – Hop aboard on Main Street U.S.A. and take the grand circle tour around the Park, a total of 1.2 miles. Not to be missed is Primeval World, a large diorama that takes you back to the prehistoric times and features dinosaurs and volcanoes!

What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

  • Main Street Vehicles – No thrill rides here, just a good ol’ fashioned ride down Main Street U.S.A. to get you in the mood of the Park . Hop aboard a horse-drawn car, jitney, fire engine or omnibus. Our travels have always included a chat with the drivers, who are knowledgeable about Disneyland facts.

What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

  • The Mad Hatter – It’s the place to find a hat for every occasion! What better way to start your Disney vacation than with a pair of Mouse Ears that reflects your personality? We bought my son’s Pluto hat here. He’s continued to wear on nearly ever Disneyland trip for the past 6 years.

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  • Silhouette Studio – Get into the vintage Victorian vibe by having the artists hand cut your silhouette out of paper for the perfect souvenir. I have my silhouette from when I was about four years old, curly ponytail and all!
  • Carnation Cafe – Serving up classic American comfort food, this is where Walt used to eat. In fact they still serve his favorite chili. We sat outside on the patio and ate dinner here one evening and it was relaxing and sweet under the striped umbrellas. Breakfast at the Carnation Cafe is a lovely way to enjoy a Disneyland morning. However if you only have one day to spend in the park, I would just grab something quick from Jolly Holiday instead so you can take advantage of the first two hours at Disneyland when crowds are lighter.


  • Plaza Inn – Walk by during lunch or dinner and it will be hard to resist the urge to go in and order yourself a big plate of fried chicken! Perfectly crispy, this is a large dish that we share. The ornate Victorian designs inside, especially the beautiful stained-glass ceiling are best appreciated in the daytime. Breakfast is also served here, as the fun buffet, Minnie & Friends – Breakfast in the Park.

What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

2. Fantasyland

Head straight across the drawbridge and into the most whimsical Land in the entire Park! There’s a lot packed into this small area but these are the 6 essential attractions. I suggest visiting Fantasyland either first thing in the morning or late at night after the fireworks spectacular. This is when crowds will be at the lightest.

What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

This lovely statue is just in front of the entrance to the Sleeping Beauty Castle walk-through at Disneyland

  • Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough – The story behind the iconic castle comes to life with three-dimensional displays. The attraction is beautiful done but it’s awesome enough on its own just to be inside the actual castle!
  • Peter Pan’s Flight – Arguably the best Disneyland dark ride. Don’t miss all the beautiful details, like flying over a miniature London and tiny Neverland with twinkling lights above and below. The line for Peter Pan’s Flight is always 30+ minutes so expect to wait.

What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant – If an elephant can fly, then what can YOU do? Music played on an authentic fairground organ built in 1915 accompanies your flight! Little ones direct the flight with a knob that makes Dumbo rise and dip in the air.
  • Mad Tea Party – Go ahead, spin it if you dare! This is sone my favorite areas in the entire Park. From the festive lanterns hanging over head to the bright colors and patterns of the twirling teacups, this is one bright spot in Disneyland that can’t be missed!
What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

Photo credit: Jeff Holz

  • Storybook Land Canal Boats – At times overlooked because of the gentle, slow pace this tour of fairy tale lands has always been one of my favorites. Your guided boat with glide past the Seven Dwarves cottage, the royal city of Agrabah from Aladdin, King Triton’s underwater oasis from The Little Mermaid and even the land of Arendelle from Frozen.
What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

The castle from Cinderella (look closely and you’ll see the pumpkin carriage on the path!)

  • “it’s a small world” – If pressured to choose a favorite attraction, I’d have to say that this one is it. It’s happy and colorful and carries a message that simply uplifts your heart. Curmudgeons give this one a bad rap because the song by the Sherman brothers is slightly catchy. I love the addition of classic Disney characters throughout the attraction, they are fun to spot throughout.
What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

“it’s a small world” is a must at Disneyland (be sure to watch the clock for the show!)

3. Tomorrowland

  • Disneyland Monorail – Get the aerial lay-of-the-Land and take the 2.5 mile Monorail route. Jump on in Tomorrowland, pass through Disney’s California Adventure and hop off and on at Downtown Disney, if you wish. You’ll need a valid ticket to get back inside the Park.
  • Space Mountain – The fastest coaster in Disneyland Park and it’s also completely indoors and in almost total darkness! Lots of sharp twists and turns, this one will make you feel like you’re riding a rocket through the stars.
  • Autopia – Though you’re only driving about 7 miles per hour, you’ll feel the freedom of the open road! This attraction dates back to opening day in 1955, before there was a center guide rail keeping your car on the road. I love the little bridges, lush landscaping and “off road” section. Being tall enough to drive your own Autopia vehicle is a rite of passage!

What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

4. Frontierland

  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – When this first opened, my parents literally dragged my brother and I to get on the ride! We were scared of what looked like a runaway train. Of course, we’ve come to love the “Wildest Ride in the Wilderness” and new additions to the attraction make it better than ever. It’s my favorite Disneyland Mountain!

What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

  • Mark Twain Riverboat – The tour will take you around the Rivers of America. Coast past Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer’s Island where you can spot frontier fun along the way. The ride features a narration by an actor reading as the author Mark Twain, whom this paddle wheel steam engine riverboat is named after.

What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

  • Golden Horseshoe – Order up a sundae with the works and enjoy a silly show in what is one of the original buildings from 1955. I still miss Billy Hill & the Hillbillies, who headlined here for years but the Laughing Stock Co. gang will give you a giggle. It’s a nice place to take an ice cream break. Sit back and imagine when Walt Disney himself was sitting in the upper right reserved box.
What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

Lunch and a show at Disneyland’s The Golden Horseshoe (they have huge sundaes, too!)

5. Adventureland

  • The Enchanted Tiki Room – Let’s all sing like the birdies sing! 200+ Audio-animatronics perform before your eyes in this tropical paradise. The show is lively, the music is charming and you may find yourself singing along (go ahead, everyone else will be singing too!). And you can have Dole Whips inside from the Tiki Juice Bar…enough said!

Two Disneyland secrets about the Enchanted Tiki Room. 1. If you’re going to buy a Dole Whip, do so from the line inside the Tiki Room waiting area. It’s always a shorter queue than the line outside. 2. There’s also a hidden bathroom here if you need to go (and it’s never busy!)

What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

  • Jungle Cruise – Another 1955 original, this one evolved over the years from a serious African jungle tour into a slightly silly romp through the rain forest, complete with jokes from the skippers. Each skipper puts their own spin on the tour along with incorporating classic gags from year’s past.

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6. New Orleans Square

  • French Market Restaurant – The New Orleans Square feeling is alive here! After choosing your meal in the buffet line, take a seat outside to enjoy the Dixieland Band. The meatloaf and mashed potatoes are divine and my son can’t miss the corn chowder in a bread bowl. It’s my favorite dining spot. Treat yourself to Mickey Mouse shaped beignets and a mint julep from the Mint Julep Bar for dessert!

What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

  • Pirates of the Caribbean – Truly one of the best amusement park rides, the detail and special effects are incredible. New additions based on the movies have been added to enhance the story line. Floating through the foggy battle scene, you will feel completely transported…it gives me goosebumps every time!
  • Haunted Mansion – I was in my 20s before I actually rode through this attraction with my eyes open! Appropriately spooky, the Haunted Mansion has just the right amount of fright and fun (but you’ll only catch the humor if you have your eyes open!) From around mid-September to early-January you can see the Haunted Mansion Holiday version (inspired by Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas).
What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!

The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, done over Nightmare Before Christmas-style.

7. When Night Falls

  • Fireworks Spectacular – Okay, so you’ve seen fireworks before. But if you haven’t seen them at Disneyland before! And this show is not to be missed! Over the years we’ve watched the shows in the sky from where ever we were in the Park. I’ve even sat outside the Park on the esplanade to watch. But absolutely nothing beats watching them from the center of Main Street. I cried, seriously. It’s the perfect way to close out a Disney day!

If this is your first Disneyland vacation, I highly recommend you do pre-vacation research to maximize your time and expenses. Be sure to read this post, 5 Things You Need to Do Before Your First Disneyland Vacation. Then order your FREE Disney Parks vacation planning video to watch before your trip! CLICK THE IMAGE TO RECEIVE A FREE DISNEY VACATION PLANNING VIDEO.


 

Did I miss including your favorites? Tell me in the comments what rides and attractions are “can’t miss” in your book!

What are the must-do Disneyland attractions for first time visitors? See my one-day itinerary of must-do Disney in California!