Skip to content

7 Amazing Ways to Celebrate the Holidays at the Disneyland Resort

sleeping-beautys-castle-decorated-for-christmasIt’s the most wonderful time of year – and, boy does Disney know how to plus it up! If you’re a regular at Walt Disney World at Christmas, you know how special it is.

Here on the West Coast, we do it up right too!

I love Disneyland at Christmas so much that I wanted to share some of my favorite do-not-miss holiday adventures at the Disneyland Resort with you!


Let’s get started at Disney’s California Adventure


Festival of Holidays & Festive Food Marketplace

This one might not be as special for the WDW crowd because it’s somewhat similar to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival and the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. However, in the kiosks-with-food starved climes of the Disneyland Resort, this is a game changer.

Someone in management out here finally figured out that we DL folks should all have as many opportunities to eat on top of trash cans as our sister park-goers do.

And I’m glad they did!

The food offerings on this row of deliciousness celebrate the rich holiday traditions of many different cultures. I’ve included pictures from every single kiosk below.

california-adventure-festival-of-holidays-4 california-adventure-festival-of-holidays-3 california-adventure-festival-of-holidays-2 california-adventure-festival-of-holidays-1


I tried, well, a lot of them. (Don’t judge!)

My favorite so far was the Chicken Cilantro Tamale. The masa was a white corn masa, so it was less mealy than most Mexican tamales and a little sweeter. It paired beautifully with the tang of the lime, cilantro, and tomatillo. Fantastic.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to every stop, so I plan to go back and try a few more. I hope you can come try them out, too!


Lighting the Neon at Cars Land

Cars Land is amazing any time of day, any day of the year. It is beautiful, detailed, rich in story, and completely immersive.

That said, there’s a very special moment around sunset each day that all of the neon lights come on with typical Disney flair. Great music plays and the lights turn on one by one starting at Radiator Springs Town Hall and working their way up to the main entrance to Cars Land.

This is an all-year-round event, but it’s especially awesome during the holidays. Christmas music blares and the whole street springs to light.

I’ve included a few before & after pictures below!

Cars Land During The Day

cars-land-during-the-day-3 cars-land-during-the-day-2 cars-land-during-the-day-1

Cars Land After the Neon is Lit

cars-land-light-the-neon-1 cars-land-light-the-neon-2 cars-land-light-the-neon-3


Cocktails at Carthay Circle Lounge

I know, I know. This is another all-year-round event, but there’s something especially nice about coming in out of the (relative) cold and enjoying a delicious appetizer and well-crafted cocktail in old Hollywood splendor at the Carthay Circle Lounge.

The lounge is an inviting, quiet room and, with its understated Christmas décor, it’s a nice place to sit, relax, and muse about the holiday cheer that’s being spread throughout the parks.

My husband recommends the gin martini with extra olives. I’m partial to the pisco sour or tequila daisy.

Side note: I recommend the lounge as a quick stop as opposed to the full-blown restaurant experience at Carthay Circle. I find it to be tastier, quieter, and more cost effective. 😉


Our holiday journey isn’t over yet! Ready to head over to Disneyland? Me too! Let’s do this…


haunted-mansion-holiday-1Haunted Mansion Holiday

While the Jungle Cruise and it’s a small world” both get festive holiday overlays, my favorite by far is the Haunted Mansion Holiday.

If you’re a die-hard Disney fan then you’ve probably heard about it, but it is so special that it tops my list as a not-to-be-missed attraction.

haunted-mansion-holiday-2From the reimagining of the stretching room, to the integration of the Danny Elfman score, to the incredible Jack Skelington animatronic complete with his faithful pal Zero, this overlay is so thorough that you feel like you’re in the middle of Tim Burton’s classic, but it leaves enough of the original attraction you love that it’s not unrecognizable.

I cannot say enough about the incredible Imagineering that went into this attraction.

Friends, it is absolutely worth timing your Disneyland visit to see it.



A Christmas Fantasy Parade

When it comes to parades, I can usually take them or leave them, so it’s odd to me that half of my must-sees for Christmas at Disneyland are parades.

They are just. that. good.

I found the Christmas Fantasy Parade so charming that I had to include it here as a must-see for your holiday travels to Disneyland. It’s framed as though you’re reading through a storybook. Each chapter has a different theme.

Some chapters are distinctly Disney – like when Pooh and Tigger come sliding down the parade route on their sleds with Eeyore pulling his upset sled on foot close behind. (Poor Eeyore.)

christmas-fantasy-winnie-the-pooh-3 christmas-fantasy-winnie-the-pooh-2 christmas-fantasy-winnie-the-pooh-1

Other chapters are renditions of less Disney-fied holiday favorites – most notably Santa’s sled being pulled by 8 reindeer as the final float. 

It’s a lovely holiday treat that the whole family can enjoy!



Paint the Night

The only Christmas wish I’ve really hoped for in a long while came true!

Paint the Night is back for the holidays!

If you haven’t seen it yet, now’s your chance. It is running most Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from now through the end of the holiday season. (You can check the official schedule here.)

The iconic new parade created for Disneyland’s 60th anniversary has the catchiest music and the most eye-boggling array of colors of anything I’ve ever seen. Each float is more incredible than the last.

Incidentally, this parade is incredibly hard to photograph, but here’s a YouTube video that does it justice.

My favorite float is Mac from Cars. If you have a chance to come see it, take special note of him. He’s so awesome.


Believe…in Holiday Magic Fireworks

I adore Disneyland fireworks. Our petite castle makes the experience quite different than Magic Kingdom fireworks. You can appreciate the height on those gorgeous pyrotechnics in a brand new way. 

Take that and add in a peppermint hot chocolate, garland around the gas lampposts on Main Street, the beautifully lit castle, and snow?

It all makes this SoCal girl’s heart very happy.

This is the quintessential Disneyland at Christmas experience. To get the most out of it, I recommend watching Believe…in Holiday Magic Fireworks on the right-hand side of Main Street anywhere between the Starbucks and the Hub.

It gives you a great view of the castle. And, for a different experience entirely, you can turn around as the fireworks end and the snow begins. You’ll feel like you’re standing on a bustling avenue in a small town while the snow falls.

Be sure to listen to the chatter around you. Most people don’t know about the snow at the end of the show. It’s magical to hear the delight from small and big kids alike! It’s a great way to end a lovely day at the park during the holiday.



I hope this list helps bring a little bit of the Disneyland holiday magic home to you wherever you are.

Cheers to you and yours this holiday season, and here’s to a magical new year!


(Photos are from the author’s personal collection.)