Downtown Disney at Disneyland Guide
Downtown Disney is Disneyland’s entertainment district and a popular spot in Anaheim, California for dining, shopping, and more. In this guide, we’ll cover tips for where to eat, what to do, how much time to budget for Downtown Disney, and more. (Updated July 20, 2020.)
For starters, Downtown Disney has reopened as part of Disneyland Resort’s phased opening. During this initial reopening phase, guests will be instructed to self-park (currently free of charge) in the Simba Parking Lot and make their way to the Downtown Disney District entrance adjacent to the Disneyland Hotel, near Earl of Sandwich. All other Guest parking locations are closed. (Note that on weekends, the Simba Parking Lot has filled to capacity a few times already.)
Prior to entering, guests are required to undergo temperature screening, and anyone with a temperature of 100.4 F or above will be directed to an additional location for re-screening. Additionally, all guests ages 2 and older are required to bring and wear face coverings when visiting Downtown Disney. Physical distancing guidelines, enhanced cleaning, cashless transactions, and capacity limitations are other health safety measures that’ll be taken at Downtown Disney.
Restaurants at Downtown Disney have begun to reopen with physical distancing, the use of face masks by employees, increased cleaning procedures, and limited-contact. At this time, no indoor seating is permitted–all seating is outdoor patio only. Due to capacity reductions, reservations are highly recommended for table service restaurants.
At some retail locations, including the World of Disney, a mobile wait list system to manage the number of guests shopping when the location and/or physical queue are at capacity. This has happened several times already, as demand for new products has led to long lines some days since Downtown Disney reopened.
The following shopping and dining locations are currently operating at the Downtown Disney District. Additional locations may reopen or close at any time in light of California’s changing recommendations. We recommend contacting the shop or restaurant you’re planning to visit for more info:
- Asian Street Eats by Chef Hung Huynh
- Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes
- California Churro
- Curl Surf
- Disney Dress Shop
- Disney Home
- Disney’s Pin Traders
- Earl of Sandwich
- Kayla’s Cakes
- LEGO Store
- Marceline’s Confectionery
- Naples Ristorante e Bar
- PANDORA Jewelry
- Rinse Bath & Body Co.
- Salt & Straw Ice Cream
- Sugarboo & Co.
- Sunglass Icon
- The Disney Dress Shop
- UVA Bar & Cafe
- Wetzel’s Pretzels
- WonderGround Gallery
- World of Disney
That about covers it for Downtown Disney’s reopening. If you’re in need of additional info, check out Disneyland Resort’s “Know Before You Go” page for Downtown Disney. What follows is our normal guide to Downtown Disney, including a variety of restaurant recommendations, shopping tips, etc., all for “normal times.”
When we originally published this, we didn’t really recommend bothering with Downtown Disney. It was outside Disneyland’s security perimeter, and between that hassle and the lineup of restaurants, we rarely bothered with it. What a difference a few years makes!
Since then, Downtown Disney has moved inside the bag check area (meaning you can dine at Downtown Disney without going through bag check again) and a ton of excellent new restaurants have been added, giving Downtown Disney a truly formidable lineup. Exceptional newcomers include Salt & Straw Ice Cream, Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes, Ballast Point Brewing Co, and Splitsville Luxury Lanes.
Note that this post covers Downtown Disney at Disneyland (in Anaheim, California), not Walt Disney World’s version of the same, which is now called Disney Springs. In terms of a quick overview, Downtown Disney abuts Disneyland and California Adventure on one side (it’s a 5 minute walk from the parks), passes by Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, and ends on the other side at Disneyland Hotel.
Downtown Disney admission is free, and parking is also free for 3 hours with a $20 minimum purchase and validation from any Downtown Disney location. Up to 5 hours of parking is free with validation from any Downtown Disney table service restaurant. Hours are typically 7 a.m. until midnight, with most stores opening after 7 a.m., and closing before midnight.
There are a mix of retail stores and restaurants at Downtown Disney, much like what you’d find at any outdoor mall in Southern California. The unique anchor tenants at Downtown Disney are World of Disney and Splitsville. Popular restaurants include Earl of Sandwich, Catal, Naples & Napolini, Sprinkles Cupcakes, and Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen.
During the day, Downtown Disney is less crowded than Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. At night and on weekends, in particular, it can get quite busy with a mix of tourists, locals, and people walking from their hotel or the Mickey & Friends Parking Structure to the parks.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s delve into some of our Downtown Disney recommendations…
Disneyland’s Downtown Disney has a number of dining options, ranging from snack stands to counter service spots to fine dining table service restaurants.
Here are our recommendations for each tier…
Counter Service – The best options here are Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes, Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express and Napolini. While ice cream isn’t technically a meal (challenge accepted) Salt & Straw is a must-try counter service.
Everyone loves Earl of Sandwich, and while we like it, we think it’s a bit overrated. The portion size is pretty small for the price. Pretty much all of the other counter service restaurants are afterthought windows at table service restaurants.
Table Service (Less Expensive) – When it comes to table service, our top pick is Naples, which is the west coast cousin of Via Napoli. Sarah claims it doesn’t taste quite as good as Via Napoli in World Showcase, but I think it’s nearly identical. In any case, we both agree that it’s excellent pizza. A group sharing a 1/2 meter pizza can make this a fairly reasonable value, too.
Table Service (Fine Dining) – The fine dining restaurant in Downtown Disney is Catal. We really like this, as we mention in our recent review. However, if you want other outside-the-park fine dining options, consider Steakhouse 55 and Napa Rose.
Downtown Disney also now has two Starbucks, giving credence to the ole joke about one on every street-corner. In this case, there’s one near the entrance to the Grand Californian, and one near the entrance to Disneyland Hotel. This is definitely convenient for guests of those hotels, and we’d highly recommend they go to Starbucks over drinking the coffee served at the hotels.
When it comes to dining, that’s about all we recommend. If you are considering Downtown Disney because you don’t have a park ticket, you could just as easily consider eating at one of the Disney hotels. In that regard, both the Grand Californian and Disneyland Hotel have dining options that we prefer to most of what’s offered in Downtown Disney.
Downtown Disney features a mix of Disney and third party retail. Nowadays, that mix skews much more towards Disney, as many of the third party stores have closed in the last few years. Aside from the LEGO store, the ones that remain don’t interest me in the slightest.
If you can’t get your fill of Disney shopping in the parks, there are a few stores in Downtown Disney that might scratch your itch. Here’s a current list of noteworthy stores:
- World of Disney – If your goal is to get lost amongst Disney souvenirs, this sprawling store has you covered. Pretty much any Disneyland souvenir sold in the parks is available here.
- Pop-Up Disney! A Mickey Celebration – Technically entertainment, this is a paid photo op with Disney backdrops for people who are thirsty for likes on Instagram.
- Disney Dress Shop – Dresses.
- Disney Home – Home goods.
- LEGO Store – LEGOs.
- Disney’s Pin Traders — The name says it all…
- Marceline’s Confectionery — Candy shop named after Walt’s hometown.
- Di— Makeovers and clothes for tweens.
- WonderGround Gallery — Trendy, contemporary Disney art showcasing specific artists. Pretty cool to browse.
That’s about it in terms of Downtown Disney shopping. Really, most of the above is redundant to what’s in the parks. You can look at that two ways: save all of your shopping for a non-park day so you can maximize your attraction time, or if you do your shopping in the parks, you don’t need to bother with Downtown Disney.
If you are in need of travel accessories, I would recommend skipping Downtown Disney and instead heading out of the parks the other direction, towards Harbor Boulevard. From there, walk towards Katella Ave. On the corner of Harbor and Katella, you’ll find large, new Walgreen’s and CVS stores that border on being mini-Targets (there is also an actual Target if you keep walking, but it’s like a mile farther and isn’t that nice). We highly recommend both the CVS and Walgreen’s.
How Much Time?
Our take on Downtown Disney is that it’s a place to go after both parks have closed if you’re not ready to go to bed, or a place to have dinner or drinks outside of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Downtown Disney is a nice ‘change of pace’ option, not an ‘entertainment destination’ that needs time budgeted to it before your trip.
It’s starting to gain some worthwhile dining and retail, but still needs a few more options to rival other nearby outdoor malls in Southern California. The good news is that Downtown Disney at Disneyland is currently in the midst of a multi-year re-imagining that has already added several additions listed in this post, and those have helped dramatically alter the vibe of Downtown Disney.
The bad news is that a more comprehensive plan to add a new resort with first-floor retail and dining near on the Disneyland Hotel side of Downtown Disney was canceled last year. Prior to that being canceled, ESPN Club and Rainforest Cafe permanently closed. We’re still holding out hope that a new hotel concept will be built, but for now, that end of Downtown Disney could use some help.
In the meantime, we like Downtown Disney as a nice change of pace for places to eat during or after a day at Disneyland. There’s some great food, snacks, and fun things to do in Downtown Disney that simply did not exist a few years ago. The options here are now starting to rival out-of-park options in the Disneyland Resort hotels–but Downtown Disney still has some work to do if it wants to ‘compete’ with the likes of Trader Sam’s, Napa Rose, and Steakhouse 55.
If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
Do you agree or disagree with our take on Disneyland’s Downtown Disney? Any shopping or dining recommendations? Questions about where to eat or anything else? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!
My husband and I go pretty much every year, and stay for a number of days at the Disneyland Hotel each time, so we’ve become pretty familiar with DD during our walks to/from the park if we miss the Monorail. I rather like DD as an area, and it has a really great Disney ambiance that gets me hyped for the parks each morning. Fair warning though – I LOVE window shopping. So if that’s not your jam, you may not enjoy DD the way I do.
Our three fav dining options: Tortilla Joe’s is a must-do for brunch every time we stay over a weekend. It’s a can’t be beat deal for a delicious and filling brunch (and the option to add on bottomless mimosa service is a big plus too.)
Ralph Brennan’s is a great late afternoon lunch option. I love the cheesesteak type sandwich that they make with filet mignon. Also the jalapeno bacon potato salad is delicious.
And we almost always stop at UVA Bar for a couple of drinks on the day we arrive. I guess that doesn’t really count as “dining”, but it does make for great people watching while we wait for our room at the hotel to be ready.
With a daughter who has Celiac Disease and is a picky eater to boot, planning a day at Disney can be challenging. We live on the east coast but actually prefer Disneyland over WDW for the simple reason that you can walk everywhere and you don’t feel like you’re spending half of your vacation on a Disney bus. So for all of the above reasons our first stop at Disneyland after a long travel day has always been Naples in Downtown Disney. They have a good gluten free menu, and my daughter has never had a bad experience. Unlike inside the parks, the choice of gluten free options are limited, so we were very happy to have Naples as our “go to” restaurant.
I’ve always really enjoyed Downtown Disney. It’s not big but big enough for the two resorts. I would never go there just to shop (because yeah, SoCal has great malls) but as part of a Disney vacation, it’s convenient, well designed, nicely themed and manicured. I really enjoy Tortilla Jos, love the World of Disney store and the Disney Vault for more boutique-type items. DD is not a destination in itself but a nice place to walk around when you arrive for your vacation, before heading into the parks and a nice place to grab food and coffee in the morning before starting your day. There’s usually live music in the evening (mostly on weekends I think). Overall, I’m a fan 🙂
My favorite thing about Downtown Disney is Jamba Juice! When staying at the GC, I loved picking up a super-sized juice/smoothie and starting my day in Disneyland with it.
I love the energy of Downtown Disney.
As a huge sports fan, the ESPN Zone is a favorite spot. I find the World of Disney to be much easier to browse through than it’s WDW cousin. The Uva Bar at the center of DD is unlike any other Disney Bar/Lounge in Anaheim or Orlando, a true hub for drinks or food.
And the theme parks & Disney Hotels being literally “right there” adds to the Disney Magic.
While certainly smaller than Disney Springs at WDW (which I also love), it’s still much, much more than a “pass through” location for my wife & I.
We enjoyed Tortilla Jo’s on our departure day for a nice lunch before heading to the airport. Food was fresh and delicious. Skipped the table side Guac which some have enjoyed but seemed a bit gimmicky and overpriced to us. We spent a good part of the morning (after sleeping in and a room service breakfast at GCH) shopping at World of Disney, that place is enormous.
The Haagen Dazs Shop has Peet’s coffee, which is far superior to the watered down, short serving, over sugared Starbux stuff.
The Uva Bar & Café has decent burgers and drinks, it is connected to Catal. We found Catal Ok, but not in the same league as Steakhouse 55 or Napa Rose.
Napoli has pretty darn good pizza, but their lasagna, etc is just meh.
If you dont have kids, dont bother with Rainforest. 🙁
Really surprised to see your top dining pick to be Naples. Myself, and many of my friends, have actually been sick after eating there and we avoid it like the plague! Our go-to spot when arriving is always ESPN zone. They have good food – albeit overpriced – and a good atmosphere – sports and beer, can’t go wrong.
Definitely agree with Catal, and Uva bar has some great appetizers too. But, for fine dining, skip DTD and hit Napa Rose.
I am in Anaheim on business (convention center) at least once a year, sometimes more. There isn’t always time for a park, nor is there usually a car involved. Downtown Disney gives me a chance to grab some goodies for the kids quickly and without admission (no AP) and get caramel apples and other delights for myself. If I have time to eat I’ll be at Trader Sam or Napa Rose- but it’s a great way to bring home goodies without going into parks.
When we are visiting Disneyland? We stay DVC @ GC so It’s first thing for Starbucks, last thing for sweet treats or ice cream, and of course the Disney themed shops. Sometimes a sandwich at EOS or some such.
Before WDW Downtown Disney became Disney Springs, my husband and I went to a concert at House of Blues and then afterwards started walking around to find a place to eat, and it was still during construction. It ended up being one of the longest, most frustrating walks, we were completely uneducated about how big and how confusing it was with construction and trying to navigate on a busy night following maps on our phones… Overwhelming and off putting.
Disneyland’s Downtown Disney, it has a smaller feel but definitely love the ambiance at night. I would never spend a whole day there. We have eaten at Rain Forest Cafe and had one good experience and one really terrible experience. The shops are not worth it, but the World of Disney has the best souvenirs, we always go on the first night and the last night to get things we didn’t find in the park. The most fun we had was going to Trader Sam’s then walking through Downtown Disney and exploring the shops and searching for a Star Wars mug my husband eyed earlier in the week, and we never saw it again until we found it on a shelf in World of Disney, it was the last one left and we definitely bought it. We have learned it is not always the best idea to “wait” if you really like something, the next day it might completely disappear.
For those only going on a short trip, I think it is a great place to spend the evening you arrive in Anaheim, and if you have kids or teens who are anxious, it is a great place to find get introduced to Disney, burn off some energy, look at souvenirs, enjoy the lights/fountains/music and then head back to your hotel and start on the parks the next day. It’s free entertainment without having to buy a park ticket for the evening if you don’t have an annual pass.
WDW regulars will probably think it is quite lame, and DLR regulars will think Disney Springs is overwhelming.
World of Disney store has many things all in one place. We usually make it our last stop after breakfast the day we leave. Night time brings music and entertainment. My kids love Tortilla Joes!. It’s a great place to spend the evening on the day you arrive- without using a full day ticket. You can even see the fireworks from Disneyland!
I have a completely different view of Downtown Disney than you do. But I haven’t been to Walt Disney World or Disney Springs. I grew up in Southern California and moved to Oregon when I was 21. I never visited Downtown Disney when I lived in California and only went to Disneyland a couple of times because my dad hates theme parks and would never wanted to take us or pay for us to go on our own. I got my first taste of Downtown Disney when my husband and I took our kids to Disneyland in April 2013 (that’s also when I discovered I am a full on Disneyland addict. They say admitting it is the first step.) But we didn’t fully experience it until the following year when we left the kids behind and celebrated our third year anniversary at Disneyland.
We absolutely love ESPN Zone! But we’re sports fans so I that helps. Their loaded cheese fries are sooo good!!! (And probably two meals worth of calories even when splitting it, but totally worth it when on vacation). I think the beingets at Jazz Kitchen express are better than the Mickey shaped ones in the park, so we always go there for our beinget fix. And I just like walking up and down Downtown Disney on a non park day just to get the Disney experience!
Having said all that, my feelings may change if we ever make it to Walt Disney World.
I agree that our go to places are elsewhere for on property shopping and dining. Not sure when you last visited Catal but our last two visits were not acceptable (this past weekend was a disaster). Naples will be our recommendation going forward for DTD.
We always look forward to biegnets at the Jazz Kitchen Express with chicory coffee. Makes my “anticipation” of a morning in the park reach a higher, sugar-fueled level. As this place opens earlier than the parks, it lets us have a special treat on the way into the park.