You can get to Disneyland from L.A. without a car. Here’s how my family did it

A photograph, framed to look like part of a film strip, of a family walking through Union Station
If you’re trying to get to Disneyland on public transportation, you’ll likely go through Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

While brainstorming ways to save money during our family trip to Disneyland, I had a revelation: What if we ditched the rental car and took the train?

We live in Las Vegas and never take public transportation, but cutting $600 in rental car, parking and gas expenses from our vacation budget would mean we could splurge on Lightning Lane passes, book breakfast at Goofy’s Kitchen or purchase spirit jerseys and Avengers gadgets for my son and a Loungefly backpack for me. Instead, we spent roughly $100 on local transportation for our family of three during our three-day vacation.

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Getting to Disneyland from LAX without a car requires a bus ride, a train ride and another bus ride. Our son was 5 when we went last fall. He’s conquered flying around the world with us, but train travel was uncharted territory for us. I worried that it’d be complicated or that a service issue would bungle the beginning of our trip to the happiest place on Earth. Still, I’ve always wanted to try the train, and I realized that this trip would be as good a time as any, with just a 38-minute ride from Los Angeles to Anaheim.


Along the way, taking the train became less about saving money and more about turning a typical Disneyland trip into a family adventure and crossing an experience off our travel bucket list.

Union Station at dusk with palm trees in front of it.
Union Station at dusk.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Getting to Disneyland with a 5-year-old and no car

After landing at LAX, we made our way to the FlyAway Bus to Union Station. The shuttle was easy to find outside baggage claim. We didn’t wait long, as the service typically runs every 10 to 15 minutes. I bought our tickets ($9.75 each, one way) on the FlyAway app. Children under age 5 can ride free with a paying adult. It was easy to find seats on the uncrowded bus. The FlyAway Bus doesn’t require booster seats; the same goes for Anaheim Regional Transportation buses, , which we’d take on the final leg of our journey. This allowed us to pack lighter and made maneuvering much easier with a child. (Checking car and booster seat rules before taking public buses with young children is always a good idea.)

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April 20, 2023

At 11 a.m. on a Thursday, it took us 26 minutes to get to Union Station. It’s a 14-mile trip, but how long that takes with L.A. traffic can vary widely. We spent much of that time looking out the window, planning for snacks we’d buy at the train station and discussing how we needed to return to Los Angeles because there was so much to explore. My son sat patiently in his window seat, but as we neared the station, he became excited about the train and experiencing Halloween season at Disneyland. Once we arrived at Union Station, finding our platform was surprisingly easy. I worried that taking the train would be intimidating. I knew my way around an airport, but a train station was foreign to me. But my fears were unfounded; frequent signage made finding our way around easy.

With not much time to spare for our noon ride on the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, we quickly grabbed snacks. Union Station’s central plaza has a Starbucks, a Subway and a convenience store. Our train boarded on time, and before we knew it, we were on our way to Anaheim with only three stops in between.


For the record:

5:28 p.m. April 23, 2023A previous version of this story incorrectly described the views of the train ride from Union Station to Anaheim. You see greenery and parts of Fullerton not ocean views. The ocean is visible if you take the Pacific Surfliner train from L.A. to San Diego.

Sierra Redmond and her family at Disneyland.
(Sierra Redmond)

The train ride was short and offered us a way to avoid freeway traffic. Plus, my son was so excited about his first train ride. He jumped and smiled giddily as the train arrived at the platform. We all exclaimed “choo choo” as we boarded and found our seats. If we were taking the Pacific Surfliner all the way down to San Diego, I’d heard that sitting on the left side of the train would give us the best views of the water.

Our coach seats were surprisingly comfortable and spacious and offered great Wi-Fi. Before boarding, I didn’t know what to expect about coach class. Was it like basic economy on an airplane? Stuffy? Uncomfortable? We could certainly see wear and tear, but the setting was adequate for the short ride. For a few extra dollars each, we could’ve purchased business-class seats. Still, we didn’t think the complimentary snacks and beverages, extra legroom and dedicated attendant were necessary. Ultimately, we paid $76 round-trip for the three of us, saving a few bucks with my husband’s military discount.

A blue passenger train pulls into a futuristic-looking train station
The Amtrak Pacific Surfliner stops at the Anaheim station.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

After we arrived at the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center, we hopped on a city bus for the trip to our hotel. Tickets and bus schedules are available via the Anaheim Regional Transportation app. A one-day pass is $6 per adult, $2.50 per child, and a three-day pass is $16 per adult, $3.50 per child.


Like other so-called Disneyland good neighbor hotels, ours offered transportation to the parks and Downtown Disney. We found Anaheim more walkable than the area around Walt Disney World in Orlando. We spent most of our time on foot. We ate, shopped around Downtown Disney and walked to restaurants near our hotel. Our favorites were Roscoe’s House of Chicken n Waffles and Puesto, a Mexican restaurant.

Here’s where to eat in Anaheim after you leave the Disney parks, including teriyaki bowls, falafel, tacos, ice cream and pastries.

April 20, 2023

We never felt like we were missing out by not having a car. Instead, we felt elated with our decision to skip the rental car and parking fees (daily parking at Disneyland is $30 these days).

While this was our first Amtrak adventure, it certainly won’t be our last.


What to know before ditching the car rental

  • Organization is vital. It was imperative to download all the transportation apps — airline, Amtrak, Anaheim Regional Transporation and FlyAway — and put them in one folder on my phone. It helped us keep track of departure and arrival times and tickets.
  • Amtrak is not without flaws. The Pacific Surfliner shows wear and tear. We would have opted to upgrade to first class for a longer train ride.
  • Delays are inevitable. Although our trip went off mostly without a hitch, one delay could have derailed our plans. Allow room for error. For example, our FlyAway Bus from Union Station was caught in 6 p.m. traffic on the return trip. Planning cushion time gave us breathing room. (And we would’ve been stuck in the same traffic in a car.)

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