Best times to visit Disneyland

Oct 6, 2019

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Disneyland may be the Happiest Place on Earth, but it can be even happier if you know the sweet spots in sunny California’s calendar when the crowds are manageable, the weather cooperates and the resorts make offers even more magical.

As someone who visits Disneyland in Anaheim with my family many times a year, I’ve learned the best days and seasons to visit Disney’s theme park. In my travels, I’ve discovered how to avoid stressful crowds and manage cost. For your best time at Disney, here are some suggestions to help you plan your next vacation:

The essential guide to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland

The best weather at Disneyland

Entrance to Disneyland (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy.)

If you aren’t from Southern California, you might have the misimpression that the weather is perfect year-round. Although Disneyland has many more ideal weather days than Walt Disney World in Orlando, the weather doesn’t always cooperate in Anaheim.

Summers in Anaheim can be hot and humid. Unpleasantly warm weather usually continues well into the early fall. In fact, August and September are months when a brutal heatwave can hit. May, June, July and October can have some extremely warm days as well.

Contrary to the lyrics in the well-known song, it does occasionally rain in Southern California — chance of rain is most likely in January and February. But that shouldn’t keep you from visiting. Locals with annual passes stay away when it rains. On rainy days, crowds are incredibly light, and there are plenty of rides and shows at Disneyland to experience inside.

When to visit Disneyland for events

Disneyland does seasonal events as well as any destination can, so many visitors plan vacations around holidays, festivals or grand openings. Here’s what happens in every season:

Summer events

(Image by Leslie Harvey.)
(Photo by Leslie Harvey.)

There are no annual summer events at Disneyland, but visitors can usually count on a special theme or a grand opening most years. In summer 2019, Disneyland opened Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge so all things Star Wars dominated the parks. The summer of 2018 featured Pixar Fest, which celebrated some of the openings at Pixar Pier. Summer of 2017 was dubbed the Summer of Heroes to celebrate the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!

Expect the summer of 2020 to potentially return to a superhero theme as Avengers Campus is slated to open next year in Disney California Adventure.

Fall events

(Image credit: Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort)
(Photo by Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort.)

Fall is all about Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort. The not-so-spooky decorations and autumn offerings don’t start quite as early as they do at Walt Disney World, but if you plan a trip after Labor Day weekend, you will catch them all.

Both parks are completely transformed, so it’s no surprise that this is a favorite time of year for many Disneyland fans to visit. Guests can experience ride overlays like Haunted Mansion Holiday and Guardians of the Galaxy — Monsters After Dark, meet costumed characters and Disney villains, or experience Día de los Muertos.

On certain nights from mid-September to the end of October, Disneyland hosts a special hard ticketed Halloween party event that always sells out early. This year’s party is called Oogie Boogie Bash and has relocated to Disney California Adventure.

Winter events

The Disneyland Resort transforms into the Merriest Place on Earth for the holiday season, Nov. 8, 2019, through Jan. 6, 2020. Among the merriment at Disneyland Park, Mickey, Minnie, Disney Princesses and Santa celebrate the season in “A Christmas Fantasy” parade, a daily procession with floats, music and marching “tin soldiers.” (Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort)
(Photo by Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort.)

The Holidays at the Disneyland Resort are another popular time to visit. Main Street USA gets a giant tree and Sleeping Beauty Castle features snow-capped turrets and lights. The decorations begin to go up the day after Halloween as soon as the pumpkins are put away. Holiday decor isn’t fully unveiled until the long weekend around Veterans Day, but the holiday season extends through early January.

After the new year (usually in late January and early February), Disneyland also has a Lunar New Year festival. The event has grown substantially in the last few years, but it isn’t yet on the radar of many visitors. Disney California Adventure is home to the celebrations, which feature festive food marketplaces with dishes from all over Asia, as well as parades and music.

Spring events

Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival
(Photo by Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort.)

Spring is when the annual Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival takes place and about a dozen booths are set up featuring California-inspired cuisine that is offered at no other time of year. The dates fluctuate, but the event usually starts in early March and runs through late April, covering most school spring break dates.

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When to visit Disneyland to avoid crowds

Disneyland has had some epic crowds in recent years, so many visitors want to time their vacations for when lines are shortest. If 2019 taught us anything about Disneyland crowds, it is that they are wildly unpredictable. Crowd calendars have never been more wrong than they were this year. Guests can do their best to avoid them when picking a date, but it’s essential to have a good touring plan as a backup if you stumble into a higher crowd time. (See TPG’s guide to skipping lines at Disneyland.)

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Light crowds in Disney California Adventure. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

That said, there are some helpful guidelines to follow. If dodging crowds is your main goal, avoid the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day at all costs. The parks often reach capacity on several days during this time.

Also take a peek at the annual passholder blockout calendars. Locals make up a huge portion of the crowds at Disneyland. The dates when many of the cheaper annual passes are blocked out can often result in much more room for out-of-town vacationers to play.

Times of year when crowds are traditionally lower include:

  • Early and mid September: After Labor Day Weekend, there is a lull in attendance before the Halloween parties start (with the exception of the opening day of Halloween Time itself, when locals flood the parks to grab the new food and merchandise).
  • Mid-November: After Veterans Day but before Thanksgiving week is another sweet spot in the crowd calendar most years.
  • Early December: There’s another lull in crowds after the Thanksgiving travelers go home but before schools start letting kids out for the winter holidays.
  • January and February: Crowds are lowest this time of year, but this is also the time when Disneyland traditionally takes several rides out of service for refurbishment, so you may miss some of your favorites. Park hours are also shorter.
  • Early March: Spring break crowds are spread out over multiple weeks at Disneyland in March and April, but if you can come about a week before the critical mass begins, the payoff is usually quite high.
  • Late April and early May: This time of year is traditionally quieter, but was not in 2019 because Disneyland made a spring ticket deal available that drew record numbers of locals.

The cheapest times to visit Disneyland

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

The cost of a Disneyland vacation can be substantial, so many visitors want to travel when they can get the best deals, crowds and weather notwithstanding.

Affordable airfare

There are deals for flying to Disneyland year-round. According to historical 2018 data from Skyscanner.com, the best months to book cheap flights to Los Angeles include January, February and September. There are half a dozen airports in Southern California. If you have nonstop service from your home airport into other SoCal airports, the best and easiest airports to use are Orange County’s John Wayne Airport (SNA) or Long Beach International (LGB). Sometimes finding a deal to these airports is as easy as watching for Southwest Airlines or JetBlue fare sales.

Affordable hotels

Disneyland Hotel
The Disneyland Hotel. (Photo by Leslie Harvey.)

Disneyland draws travelers from many western states who fly or drive in for quick weekend visits. For this reason, hotels are usually more expensive on Friday, Saturday and even Sunday nights. If you can visit midweek, you’ll find cheaper hotel prices.

If you are on the hunt for less expensive hotel prices, take a look at the schedule of major conferences held at the nearby Anaheim Convention Center. Rates soar when a large conference is in town.

According to travel agency Get Away Today, an agency specializing in Disneyland and Southern California travel, the cheapest months for Anaheim hotel prices include the following:

  • January (excluding the dates of the National Association of Music Merchants trade show)
  • February
  • May (excluding Memorial Day Weekend)
  • August
  • November (excluding the week of Thanksgiving)
  • December (first half)

Not surprisingly, these cheaper times roughly track many of the time periods when Disneyland historically has lower crowds.

Bottom line

There’s no bad time to visit Disneyland, but there are certainly times when travelers can minimize the inconveniences and maximize their time and money. Dates when weather, crowds and special events all align can be some of the very best options. Two of my favorite times to visit are during early December and early March, times when the crowds die down, the weather is great and Disney spins its seasonal magic.

For more information relevant to planning your visit to Disneyland vacation, check out these stories:

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