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Dining experiences have grown increasingly important for many travelers on their Disney vacations. When you are spending as much as a trip to Disney costs, you naturally want to be sure you are enjoying the best of what they have to offer. While Disney World’s restaurants are the most talked about, dining in Disneyland has undergone a transformation as well.
When families are looking to dine at Disney, what makes a restaurant great is not necessarily just offering the very best foodie experience. When you are feeding three, four, five or more people, value factors in. And when you are traveling with young kids who might be tired or be particularly picky eaters, restaurants that have their favorite foods or make logistics easier on parents can be the perfect choice. Also, Disney is all about the magic, so a sprinkle of magic is at least as important as a dash of truffles.
I’ve dined at dozens of Disneyland restaurants over the years with my family, from the smallest of snack carts to the fanciest white tablecloth restaurants. Here is what families need to know about dining at Disneyland as well as my picks for the best restaurants at Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure.
Related: Use promo code TPG10 to price Disneyland vacations via Getaway Today.
Tips for Dining at Disneyland With Kids
As with all things at Disneyland, guests who are prepared will have a much less stressful and more enjoyable experience. Here are a few tips you need to know before you make your dining plans and restaurant reservations.
1. Make Use of Mobile Ordering
Over the past year, Disneyland rolled out mobile ordering to the vast majority of counter service restaurants in both parks. There is no longer a need to wait in a food line with hungry or tired kids. Make sure you have the Disneyland app downloaded and place your order in advance of the mealtime rush. As you approach the restaurant with your crew, click in the app again to indicate your arrival. Your food is then usually ready in minutes at a separate window.
2. Remember the 60-Day Reservation Window
If you plan to visit a table service restaurant during your Disneyland vacation, reservations are often a must. While visitors headed to Disney World need to plan dining 180 days in advance of their trip, Disneyland thankfully has a much more humane 60-day reservation window. The competition is also nowhere near as fierce. If you want the best times at some of the most popular restaurants, however, I’d recommend making at least a reservation or two 60 days in advance of your trip.
3. Don’t Forget About Dining Packages
Disneyland has a number of popular shows and parades that many families want to see. Finding a good seat for them may require camping out an hour or more in advance. One solution is to secure reserved seating areas for these shows by booking an associated dining package. These packages do come at a premium price, but they save families substantial time in addition to providing a meal that they’d be paying for anyway. Check the Disneyland website or app for availability, as there are often changes to the offerings.
4. Think Beyond the Parks
While there are so many family-friendly restaurants within Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure, don’t forget to look beyond the park borders for the best restaurants. The Downtown Disney district has undergone a major transformation and has a lot of restaurants and dining experiences. There’s even a brewery!
The three Disneyland on-property hotels also are home to several restaurants, including quite a few character meals. Scheduling a meal on your arrival or departure day at one of these restaurants can give you a Disney experience without the cost of a park ticket on that day.
Best Restaurants in Disneyland Park for Families
Here are some of the best Disneyland Park restaurants to enjoy with your family.
1. Plaza Inn (Main Street USA)
As the home to the only Disneyland character meal located within either of the two parks, Plaza Inn is a favorite for families. During morning hours, Plaza Inn hosts “Breakfast in the Park With Minnie & Friends.” Breakfast is buffet style, with kid-friendly favorites like Mickey waffles available. While visitors are always guaranteed a photo opportunity with Minnie, other regular characters include Winnie the Pooh, Captain Hook, Chip ‘n Dale, Max, Fairy Godmother and Tigger.
Reservations go quickly for this meal, so make your plans as soon as the 60-day advance reservation window opens. Remember though that early morning hours are the best time for short ride lines. Don’t waste these hours sitting down for a meal! Make your reservation for Plaza Inn a few hours after park opening (10:30am is ideal on days with an 8am park opening).
2. Hungry Bear Restaurant (Critter Country)
Located in a quiet corner along the Rivers of America in Critter Country, Hungry Bear is a favorite counter service restaurant for families with young kids. Families can find lots of shaded outdoor seating, so it’s an ideal place to take a much-needed break for lunch midday. Food choices are a pretty straightforward fast food line-up: burgers, chicken nuggets and the like.
I can’t promise that Hungry Bear will remain quite so secluded once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in summer 2019 in Disneyland Park. One of the soon-to-be entrances or exits to the new land is nearby and will send many more guests in its direction. So enjoy the quieter pace while you can.
3. Bengal Barbecue (Adventureland)
For a very quick bite, Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland has always been one of my family’s favorites. The menu choices offer a lot of lean meats and a few veggies — probably a welcome change from all the churros and Mickey ice cream bars that otherwise makeup a kid’s diet at Disneyland. Many of the food items are on skewers, so you can take them to go as you race off to your next FastPass reservation time. If you have more time, sit and take a break at the new adjacent shaded and themed seating area.
4. Red Rose Taverne (Fantasyland)
If you have little ones, chances are good that you’ll spend a lot of time in Fantasyland. The quick service restaurant there (currently rebranded as Red Rose Taverne but known to many guests as Village Haus) works well for families with babies, toddlers and younger children.
You can count on Red Rose Taverne for the staples many picky children will eat — macaroni and cheese, hamburgers and cheese pizza. There’s ample indoor and outdoor seating and even enough room to maneuver a stroller up to many of the tables. The food for adults is nothing particularly memorable, but park-weary parents will remember and be grateful for the easy logistics.
5. French Market (New Orleans Square)
French Market is one of the higher-end counter service restaurants in Disneyland, so it’s a smart choice for families who want a nicer dining experience without quite as much expense. Menu choices are naturally Creole- and Cajun-inspired, with choices like a shrimp po’boy and a French dip sandwich on the menu. There are less adventurous options on the kids menu if you have picky eaters in the family.
Dining is outside on a mostly shaded veranda where a jazz band, the Royal Street Bachelors, perform throughout the day. Kids are often invited to participate in the musical entertainment and may even be rewarded with Mardi Gras beads. Be sure to stop by the Mint Julep Bar adjacent to French Market where you can grab a (nonalcoholic) mint julep to accompany your meal or a Mickey beignet for dessert.
6. Blue Bayou (New Orleans Square)
My husband and I have made dinner at Blue Bayou our date-night tradition, starting when we first visited the park together nearly 18 years ago. For that reason, I have always hesitated to recommend it to families. But I’ll let family travelers in on our secret, too, as I think it can be a very special higher-end Disney dining experience with older children or teens.
The restaurant is entirely indoors but is lit to give the illusion of alfresco nighttime dining overlooking the bayou. Boats from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride float by on the water while fireflies dance overhead. Lunch is less expensive than dinner, and is the only time that you can order the famous Monte Cristo sandwich as well as my personal favorite, the jambalaya. Reservations are an absolute must.
Best Restaurants in Disney California Adventure for Families
Here are the best Disney California Adventure restaurants for families.
1. Flo’s V8 Cafe (Cars Land)
Flo’s is Disney’s take on the classic American diner, just like you might find along Route 66. The theming and setting in Cars Land is immersive and so much fun for families. And for a quick service restaurant, the food is downright delicious. Flo’s is often where my family stops midmorning for breakfast to grab eggs or Mickey waffles. Lunch and dinner include items like a blue plate special, fried chicken or a turkey club. Kids can find plenty of variety from turkey sliders to chicken strips.
2. Lamplight Lounge (Pixar Pier)
Lamplight Lounge is currently the hottest dining ticket in Disneyland, so it’s a must to make a reservation well in advance if your family wants to dine here. The decor is Pixar themed, with tons of memorabilia and details to explore. Like Blue Bayou in Disneyland Park, Lamplight Lounge is probably better suited to families with older children and teens due to atmosphere and price. But younger kids who love their Pixar movies will feel right at home here, too.
The sentimental favorite menu item is the lobster nachos that were available at the predecessor restaurant in this space, Cove Bar. The menu choices are definitely more varied and interesting for foodie parents than many Disneyland restaurants. The drink menu (both alcoholic and non) is full of whimsical choices.
3. Food Festival Marketplaces (Various Locations)
Disney California Adventure is home to multiple food festivals throughout the year. When these food festivals take place, food “marketplaces” pop up along the pathways of the park, usually at least from Grizzly Peak to the end of Paradise Gardens. The food options at these festivals are fun and unique, and a great place for families to try a lot of new flavors.
The largest of these is the Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival in the spring. Look also for the Festival of Holidays during the November and December holiday season as well as the Lunar New Year Marketplaces during the annual Lunar New Year Celebration. Families can get a lot of value out of sharing a Sip ‘n’ Savor pass when available, which gives you tickets to redeem for a number of dishes for a single set price.
No matter what the ages of your kids, their taste preferences or your budget, Disneyland has a wide variety of restaurants to experience on your next vacation. And, if paying by credit card for these meals, be sure to use a card that rewards you with extra miles for dining, like the Citi Prestige Card (5x), American Express® Gold Card (4x), Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express (7x) or Chase Sapphire Reserve (3x). (Learn more about the best credit cards for dining.) Alternatively, you can also pick up some discounted Disney gift cards before your trip to save on meals at the best restaurants in Disneyland that way.
If you are planning a family vacation to Disneyland, be sure to check out these other articles as you craft the perfect trip:
- 9 Things Families Should Know Before Visiting Disneyland
- Where to Stay at Disneyland: On vs. Off-Property Hotel Comparisons
- Skip the Lines at Disneyland: 10 Line-Busting Tips for Less Waiting and More Playing
- 10 Tips for Visiting Disneyland With Toddlers and Preschoolers
- This Disneyland Meal Costs $15,000
- How to Save Money Buying Discounted Disney Gift Cards
- The 10 Best Disney Thrill Rides Around the World
- How to Use Points for Disney Tickets
Featured photo by Disneyland Resort.
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