The hotel with a private entrance at Disneyland: Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
Imagine a high-end hotel with a cozy fireplace in an oversize lobby, a top-notch spa, a fancy restaurant, private cabanas by two of three pools and a concierge-level floor with exclusive perks. Now imagine that hotel at Disneyland Resort — with special Disney touches like a private theme park entrance, an on-site character buffet and an extravagant three-course princess breakfast — and you've got Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.
While the historic and iconic Disneyland Hotel has been around since the 1950s, Disney's Grand Californian is a much newer addition to the Disneyland landscape that offers its own charms worth experiencing.
First opened in 2001, this property is the fanciest of the three true Disneyland resort hotels. If you're familiar with Disney’s Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World Resort, then the vibe of this resort will likely remind you of its Disney World counterpart, as Disney's Grand Californian was also designed by architect Peter Dominick to look like a national park lodge.
But with several hotel options that are walkable to Disneyland, you may find yourself wondering if splurging for a stay at Disney's Grand Californian is worth the cost. Fortunately, TPG is here to help.
Here's what it's like bedding down at Disney's Grand Californian, the grandest (and often priciest) option by Disneyland.
All three Disneyland hotels — Disney's Grand Californian, Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel (currently being reimagined as the Pixar Place Hotel) and the Disneyland Hotel — are on the pricier end when it comes to staying by the parks, but Disney's Grand Californian is easily the most deluxe of the three. As such, you should expect to pay a pretty penny when staying here, whether you're using cash or points.
Cash rates usually start around $700 or $800 per night for a standard room but quickly climb above $1,000 a night when choosing an accommodation with a special view (think: Downtown Disney or the parks) or club access. While this may seem excessive, know that it's not totally unheard of. Even the nearby Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance hotel charges at least $500 per night.
If you can't quite stomach these rates, you can use fixed-value credit card points and miles from programs like Capital One and Bilt Rewards to pay for a room here. Or, you can book a stay using discounted Disney gift cards.
Perhaps the best option, though, is to rent Disney Vacation Club points. Doing so can sometimes help you save up to 50% on the retail price, depending on the dates you choose.
Standard studios start at 17 DVC points per night, with points from services such as David’s Vacation Club Rentals typically costing $21 to $23 per point. At this rate, you'd spend about $357 to $391 per night to stay at Disney's Grand Californian with DVC points, an often much cheaper rate than paying with cash. As an added perk, you'll also avoid paying $35 a day for self-parking, though you won't get the benefit of daily housekeeping.
Related: Best credit cards to use for Disney and Universal vacations
Situated between Downtown Disney (the shopping and eating area that does not require a park ticket to visit) and Disney’s California Adventure Park (where you'll find Cars Land and the Avengers Campus) in Anaheim, California, Disney's Grand Californian is one of the most convenient lodging options at Disneyland. You can clear security and directly enter the heart of Disney’s California Adventure Park from the grounds of the hotel in a matter of minutes.
To get to Disneyland's other top destination, the original Disneyland Park, you can either walk for five to seven minutes or take the monorail from Downtown Disney to the park's Tomorrowland section.
When visiting Disneyland Park, keep in mind that the line to clear security from the hotel to get into Downtown Disney will usually look very long in the mornings and can therefore take some time to work through, though it usually moves quicker than you may expect. My family and I waited in line for about 10 to 15 minutes each morning when we recently visited.
From the moment you step foot in the lobby, you'll instantly feel transported away from the hustle and bustle of the parks to a rustic retreat in the woods. Massive pillars made of boulders, thick wooden arches fixed to the ceiling and decor in various shades of outdoorsy colors like green, blue and brown set the scene for a cozy (but elevated) take on the typical Disneyland vacation.
Toward the back of the spacious lobby is where you'll find the reception desk. Here, friendly cast members are on hand to check in guests as they arrive.
While checking in or sitting around the lobby's fireplace, kids can watch cartoons in a small area with a built-in TV and pint-size chairs and rockers.
The lobby also serves as an entertainment venue at night, so if you're checking in late (or just want a place to soak up the special atmosphere), be sure to lounge by the piano, where a pianist plays a number of Disney tunes.
Related: 9 real-life destinations that inspired Disneyland
As you may expect given the lodge-like setting, the rooms at Disney's Grand Californian are simple but cozy, with extremely comfortable beds that are high enough for storing luggage underneath.
On the walls, art that pays homage to both California's orange groves and woodland Disney characters like Chip and Dale is on display. There are ample outlets near the beds, too, which you won't always find at Disney properties.
If you choose a standard room with two queen-size beds but need a little more sleeping space, you can rest easy knowing that some accommodations also come outfitted with sofa beds — and they're some of the best (and easiest to use) in the business. Not every room has this sofa bed arrangement, though, so be sure to request one of these rooms during the booking process. Rooms with sofa beds can accommodate up to five adults.
We only had four people in the room during my recent stay, but my youngest was more than happy to make good use of the sofa bed, as opening it revealed "Bambi"-themed art along the backside.
More cute and practical touches, such as a child step stool with its own version of a Hidden Mickey, are available inside the bathroom.
At the long vanity with two sinks, we found a selection of crowd-pleasing Disney H2O+ bath amenities and some fluffy, white towels. Just beyond the vanity area was an open pocket door revealing a separate room with a toilet and a tiled walk-in shower.
Additionally, on a wall was a set of wooden hooks with two white bathrobes.
Much to my surprise, there was no tub in this room for five. However, some rooms at this family-oriented property do have combined showers and tubs, so if your kids are younger, you'll want to request a room with a tub since it's not a standard amenity.
Related: How to save money at Disney so you don't go 'bibbidi-bobbidi-broke'
Food and beverage
Disney’s Grand Californian has a pretty wide variety of restaurants, ranging from pricey sit-down establishments to above-average quick-service venues.
On the entry-level end of the spectrum, there is GCH Craftsman Grill, which accepts mobile orders, is located near the pool and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Both indoor and outdoor seating is available.
We ate here for breakfast one day and loved everything we tried. Some standouts were the $14 breakfast burrito featuring eggs, bacon, potato bites, salsa, queso fresco, cilantro and more rolled into a flour tortilla and the $18 huevos rancheros breakfast flatbread. The latter was expensive and messy, but it was a delicious concoction of fried eggs, chorizo, black bean spread, roasted salsa, avocado drizzle, cheese and tortilla strips large enough to feed more than one person.
A step up from GCH Craftsman Grill is Storytellers Cafe, a buffet restaurant where characters parade around the venue and stop by your table for meet-and-greets as you eat breakfast or brunch.
We didn't dine here during our most recent stay — though I did peek inside to see the characters dressed in adorable hiking outfits as they engaged with guests. But on a previous visit, I found the food to be quite tasty for a buffet and the service to be very good. Meals will set you back $49 to $51 for adults and $29 for kids, depending on whether you visit for breakfast or brunch, and reservations are highly recommended so you can dine at your preferred time.
For a special occasion or a more formal meal, there's Napa Rose.
Offering both a princess breakfast experience that costs $125 per person for everyone 3 and up and a dinner service that's dressier but still approachable to families, Napa Rose is a crowd pleaser ... and for good reason. While the restaurant isn't as high-end as, say, Victoria & Albert's at Disney World, it isn't somewhere you should roll straight into after a busy day at the parks.
Given that the recommended attire for dinner here is "dress pants, jeans in good condition, collared shirts, dress shorts, sweaters, blouses, dresses and lifestyle shoes," I personally wouldn't dine here with young kids, as it's a restaurant meant to be savored. That's exactly why I skipped it on our most recent trip to Disney's Grand Californian.
However, on a previous visit, I thoroughly enjoyed the spring harvest salad and wood-fired pizzetta that were on the starters menu at the time.
The main course of Scottish salmon was also quite tasty, though it was wholly unnecessary due to how large the starters were.
If you'd rather linger in your room instead of venturing to one of the property's eateries, you're in luck, as Disney's Grand Californian also offers room service. While it's far from the standard set at Disney hotels before the coronavirus pandemic, it's still a luxury to have, especially on days when you're looking for a bite to eat before or after visiting the parks.
We enjoyed some Mickey waffles, pastries, bacon, a yogurt parfait and even hot chocolate before one of our mornings in the parks. Overall, the food was pretty fantastic (who doesn't love a warm Mickey waffle?), though we were surprised by how busy the line was to place our order.
We started calling when room service became available at 6 a.m. but couldn't get through until more than 10 minutes had passed. That really ate into our park plans, as our food didn't arrive until 7:05 a.m. Once we scarfed down our $100 breakfast, got through security and made it into Disneyland Park to take advantage of the early entry perk we received as Disney resort guests, we only had about 10 minutes to enjoy the park before it opened to the public.
Despite the delays with ordering and receiving our food, I'm still thrilled that the hotel has real room service when so many don't. Just know that the seemingly convenient perk may not be that much of a time-saver in the end. Nevertheless, if you have a morning when you are not rope-dropping and can savor those Mickey waffles and hot chocolate, then room service is a delicious and indulgent treat you should definitely work into your schedule.
Related: The best restaurants at Disneyland
As far as amenities go, Disney's Grand Californian provides many ways to pass the time. One of the standout facilities is undoubtedly the property's themed pool complex, which has a waterslide, lifeguards, loaner life jackets and padded chaise lounges (some with umbrellas).
All three pools are heated, but if they are not warm enough for you, you can take a dip in the resort's hot tub.
Cabanas are available to rent by the Mariposa and Fountain pools, but know that they go for several hundred dollars per day. If you do decide to treat yourself to one of the cabanas, you'll enjoy access to a 32-inch TV, some private lounge chairs with umbrellas, bottled water and a fruit platter.
A couple of wellness-focused amenities are available, too.
At the Eureka Fitness Center, guests can break a sweat on machines like treadmills and ellipticals or sign up for a fitness class. Options range from yoga to boot camp.
Additionally, there's the Tenaya Stone Spa, which accepts appointments online. While I considered making a last-minute appointment during my latest stay, I couldn't quite justify spending more than $200 on a treatment, so I decided to pass. Based on how impressed I was with other parts of the property, I suspect I would've enjoyed a spa service here, especially after running around the parks all day.
Disney is known for its service, but the service here was truly above and beyond that already high standard. The cast members were not only extremely kind, but they also went out of their way to make some extra "magic" for us and other guests.
One example of this is when one of my kids happened to lose a tooth while in the parks. It was late by the time we got back to the resort, and since we were outside our normal tooth fairy's jurisdiction, I was a little concerned that there would be some under-the-pillow disappointment the next day. However, I stopped by the desk to see if there were any local tooth fairies we could contact and sure enough, the front desk staff working late that night happened to know how to help. The next morning, a little magic from the fairy department appeared.
It's moments like these that keep me and my family returning to Disney.
Disney is generally above average with wheelchair and other accessibility considerations. At Disney's Grand Californian, the same is true.
There are accessible paths throughout the parking lot and Downtown Disney.
Plus, there are accessible lifts in several areas within the pools.
You can also reserve designated rooms that are wheelchair or hearing accessible.
Related: Planning an accessible trip? These travel resources can help
Staying at Disney's Grand Californian gives you the best of the best when visiting Disneyland. It may not be as luxurious as The St. Regis New York or the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, but it is a high-end option that will elevate your typical theme park vacation and make it much more enjoyable.
In addition to having great on-site amenities and dining options, you'll be as close as possible to Disneyland's two theme parks. The latter point alone is a major draw of staying here, as having a private entrance to Disney's California Adventure means you can quickly get in to take a turn on park favorites like Radiator Springs Racers and Soarin' Around the World. Plus, you'll enjoy an extra 30 minutes inside the parks as a Disney resort hotel guest, which goes a long way in helping you get on more rides without Genie+.
While the fresh look the property received in 2017 is now starting to show signs of wear and tear, the hotel is still an eye-catching and comfortable place to hang your hat, with generally excellent service to boot.
The main challenge in staying here is, without question, the price, as room rates are regularly close to (if not more than) $1,000 per night. It can be tough to feel like you're getting your money's worth at Disney's Grand Californian if you're spending every day of your stay in the parks, so if budget is a concern, consider limiting your visit here to just two nights and allot at least a half day at the resort per night. For the rest of your trip (if you're staying longer), offset some of the cost of this resort by staying off-property at a more budget-friendly hotel ... preferably one that accepts points. That way, you get the best of both worlds: a quintessential Disneyland experience at a price you can afford.
Are you planning a trip to Disneyland with your family? Here are more resources:
- 9 things families should know before visiting Disneyland
- Skip the lines at Disneyland: 9 line-busting tips for less waiting and more playing
- 10 tips for visiting Disneyland with toddlers and preschoolers
- The essential guide to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland
- Best (and worst) food and drinks at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge