How to have the best day ever at Disneyland — all by your damn self

(Viktoria Cichoń / For The Times)


Disneyland has built its brand since 1955 as a place to visit with friends and loved ones. I would never dispute the joy of going to Disneyland with family or a partner. But I have also long held the belief that any Disney fan with the means to do so should do themselves the favor of visiting the park solo at least once. Yes, alone.

It’s not weird. Well, maybe it can be a little weird at first. But that feeling soon goes away when you discover the freedom that comes with exploring the park at your own pace, along with the realization that no one is actually paying attention to you.

Over the years, I’ve written extensively about visiting Disneyland as a solo guest: the emotions behind it, the motivations to do so. But the first time I ended up there alone was somewhat by accident.


Single rider lines are a great way to maximize a solo Disneyland day.
Single rider lines are a great way to maximize a solo Disneyland day.
(Todd Martens / Los Angeles Times)

Craft an epic visit to Disneyland and California Adventure with our comprehensive guide.
It’s full of expert tips and fresh perspectives.

About 15 years ago — long before I could afford an annual pass — I visited the park with friends on a day when rain was in the forecast. We expected passing sprinkles. But once it started raining, it didn’t stop. It poured. By midafternoon, my companions had decided to bail. Since I had the chance to get to the parks only once or twice a year at that time, I opted to stick it out.

I remember bolting straight for Pirates of the Caribbean and feeling scared when I got to the front of the line and had to say, “Just one.” But 20 seconds of awkwardness soon was replaced by having my own row on the boat, and the opportunity to simply get lost in my thoughts amid the life-size dioramas of drunken marauders. It was revelatory. I began to focus on the attraction in ways I hadn’t before, noticing little details that had previously eluded me. As much as I had enjoyed Disneyland with friends, there was always a schedule to keep, a conversation to be had or a nostalgic story to tell. In solitude, it was just me and the park. Suddenly, I felt like I was really seeing it for the first time.

On your own, there’s no need to rush from ride to ride. You can truly treat Disneyland as a park. It’s a sensation I encourage every fan to experience.

Today, alone is often my preferred way to visit the park. Alone, Disneyland becomes not just a theme park but also a work of art. Or a place to work, catch up on a book, enjoy a long lunch or just ride a favorite attraction multiple times in a row (thank you, single-rider line at Radiator Springs Racers).


After about a decade of visiting Disneyland a couple of times per month, I’ve put together the ultimate solo day.

Genie+, Magic Band+ and other add-ons have introduced a new feeling at the Happiest Place on Earth: the sense that you could be having more fun if you shelled out more cash.

April 20, 2023

10 a.m.: Grab a coffee and explore the secret spots most guests ignore
I like to start my day by with a cup of coffee, either at Main Street, U.S.A.’s Jolly Holiday Bakery or Frontierland’s Stage Door Cafe, whichever has the shorter line (it won’t be Starbucks), and then settling on a bench in front of the castle. If it’s a workday, I’ll spend time checking and answering emails, eventually hopping on the horse-drawn streetcar back to the front of the park. Then it’s time to either stroll the shops of Main Street or hop on the Disneyland Railroad.

Starting the day by steeping yourself in Disneyland’s past can help ground you. If traversing Main Street, take a moment to reflect on areas most guests will walk past, such as side alleys ringing with the frenzy of the make-believe dentistry. Or hop in the Market House — the Starbucks — and head to the vintage antique phones on the wall. Pick one up and listen in on re-creations of turn-of-the-last-century party lines. This has been here for decades, but I would bet even most Magic Key holders have rarely paused to listen. At a place visited by so many millions, Disneyland doesn’t really have any secrets anymore, but it does have small details most of us just walk past.

Then, head to Main Street’s Penny Arcade to have the Great Esmeralda tell your fortune. It costs only a quarter and gives you a simple souvenir of your day. Later, head to New Orleans Square and compare your Esmeralda fortune with one from Fortune Red. I can’t vouch for their accuracy, but I trust Esmeralda more than my daily horoscope.

For the record:

10:32 a.m. April 20, 2023An earlier version of this post referenced the Disneyland Kennel for dogs. The kennel closed in the summer of 2022.

11 a.m.: Indulge in a cute couple activity — with your pet

No, don’t bring your pet. But just because you’re solo doesn’t mean you can’t take part in cutesy couple activities like having a caricature done in New Orleans Square. A friend recently suggested this to me and I was horrified that I didn’t think of it myself, but you can load up some shots of your furry friend back home and have one of Disneyland’s fine sketch artists create a work of art with you and your pet. Just get there early. Slots tend to fill up.


A portrait of the author's cat, Sleater, painted by one of Disneyland's caricature artists.
A portrait of the author’s cat, Sleater, painted by one of Disneyland’s caricature artists.
(Todd Martens / Los Angeles Times)

Noon: Embrace your phone and explore the app

When you’re at Disneyland by yourself, the phone is your friend. One of the many gripes of visiting in this modern era is that one has to spend too much time on their device. Alone, however, the phone can be a key benefit. The Disneyland app is home not only to the line-skipping feature Genie+, which generally starts at $25 (prices fluctuate based on crowds), but also is where one can make dining reservations or learn some park facts. Genie+ can be bought as an add-on when one buys their ticket or can be purchased at any time from within the park. It is, however, possible for Genie+ to sell out on the busiest of days. For first-time users, the Disneyland app can be a bit confusing, so I’d recommend downloading it in advance and getting familiar with its free sections before arriving at the park.

Jeff Reitz of Huntington Beach set a Guinness World Record for most consecutive daily visits to Disneyland: 2,995 days.

Feb. 25, 2023

I also recommend buying Genie+ to navigate the lines. It’s pricy if you’re springing for a full family, but definitely worth the extra cost for one. By using single-rider lines (more on that below), along with Genie+, I can regularly get on 14-plus attractions on a solo day — that is, if I’m not just spending the day reading or working. It’s worth noting that Disney’s PhotoPass program is currently included in the purchase of Genie+. That means your on-ride pics, or any photos shot by Disneyland’s professional photographers, are included in the cost of Genie+.

Also packaged with Genie+ are quality audio tours that will call out design details and stories behind the park’s various attractions and lands. One will need to scroll down to find them, but these so-called Audio Tales range from a history of Sleeping Beauty Castle to stories of building New Orleans Square. Over in Disney California Adventure, one can hear from Disney’s designers on the landscaping in Cars Land or how the parks use framing to tell stories with architecture. Bring a pair of headphones and listen to the tales, which one can really do only if visiting the parks solo; we wouldn’t encourage anti-social behavior among pals.


1 p.m: Snag a spot at your favorite Disney restaurant

Snaring a dining reservation here can be a struggle. They often fill up 60 days in advance at in-demand eateries, though the app can tell you whether any walk-up slots are available. I rarely have trouble as a solo guest if I’m willing to refresh the app for a few minutes. Just click on “check dining availability” and see what’s available for a party of one. If nothing is available, keep refreshing, as slots will come up regularly at in-demand locales such as Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge.

Tip: If it’s a place with a bar, such as Lamplight Lounge or Carthay Circle, go straight to the host stand and plead your case as a solo diner. Additional tip: When checking for a reservation, try searching for a party of three. You can adjust your party when checking in via the app, so reserve a table for three and turn it into a table for one when you get the notification that it’s time to check in.

The writer, Todd Martens, at Oga's Cantina on a solo Disneyland trip.
(Todd Martens / Los Angeles Times)

2 p.m.: Speed through your favorite rides in the single-rider line


If you spring for Genie+ and use single-rider lines throughout the park, you can accomplish quite a bit as a solo guest. Not every attraction has a single-rider line, and they may not always be up and running, but typically, one can find single-rider availability in Disneyland for the Matterhorn Bobsleds, the Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run and the soon-to-be refurbished Splash Mountain. (It used to be regularly offered for Indiana Jones Adventure, but Disneyland has currently curbed that. Here’s hoping that it returns some day.) Numerous attractions in California Adventure also offer single-rider lines, including Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure, Radiator Springs Racers, the Incredicoaster, Grizzly River Run and Goofy’s Fly School.

At the time of writing, Disneyland had been testing a single-rider option for Space Mountain, but this one currently runs a little differently. Instead of filling in open seats, singles will be paired with a group earlier in the line. This is slightly less desirable, as it forces parties to awkwardly hang out for a few minutes before getting on the attraction. But the more single-rider lines, the better, and I believe their use lessens any stigma that those going to the park solo may feel.

Ranking the rides and attractions at Disneyland and California Adventure from best to worst is hard — but not impossible. Here is the ultimate Disneyland ride ranking.

April 20, 2023

4 p.m.: Play a game

The Play Disney Parks app, which is separate from the Disneyland app, is filled with exploration-focused games, especially for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. While one will need to purchase a Magic Band+ (about $40) to play a games like Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters, it can be a worthwhile investment if you’re planning to visit the parks more than once as a solo guest. I like the game, which is essentially a digital scavenger hunt. Galaxy’s Edge is filled with details you won’t notice if your group is always sprinting to the next attraction. Batuu Bounty Hunters allows you to pretend to be Boba Fett or Din Djarin and spend time exploring its nooks.

How it works: Once we officially sign up and have a bounty, our Magic Band+ will change colors depending on whether we are nearing our target or getting farther away. Capture and return, and we’ll be rewarded with a short animation as we level-up our bounty hunter selves. It’s rather simple, once you get the hang of it, but it’s unique in that it further turns Galaxy’s Edge into a living game board, and you’ll likely notice that dozens of others are running around Galaxy’s Edge also playing. It’s a good way to avoid lines, get in a little walking and maybe even meet fellow players.


For those who don’t want to spring for the Magic Band+, there are other free games to be played throughout Galaxy’s Edge. Open the Star Wars: Datapad within the Play Disney Parks app to access a series of mini-puzzles that allow guests to hack droids or tap into radio towers. Some will inspire small interactions in the land. Don’t overlook the shooting gallery in Frontierland or the carnival games at Pixar Pier in California Adventure. These are an added cost but a good way to break up your day with playful exploration.

5 p.m.: Relax in a quiet spot

In a park known for crowds, there are a surprising number of serene spots. Disneyland has free Wi-Fi, and these days, it’s relatively solid — solid enough for me to do my job from the park. I like to write in Cars Land, at a table in the back of Flo’s V8 Cafe. But I also have friends who will find a seat on the Disneyland Railroad and just ride the rails half the day with their laptops. Other good spots to work: the tables near the boarding of the Mark Twain and Sailing Ship Columbia riverboats or Fowler’s Harbor on the border of New Orleans Square and Critter Country. The latter is worth a stroll through if you haven’t already, as it’s a well-themed nook with views of Disneyland’s Rivers of America.

If you don’t want your job to intrude on your time at the Happiest Place on Earth, read a book, listen to music or just people-watch. The goal here is to enjoy a moment of total peace and quiet, something most people never get to experience while they’re in the parks.

6 p.m.: Explore the hotels


The California Craftsman-inspired lobby of the Grand Californian is a good place to cool off and grab a small snack (it has cookies on the menu). The bar off the lobby, Hearthstone, generally gets packed in the early evening, but it is a terrific option for a walk-up meal, even if there is a short wait. The Disneyland Hotel is home to the best bar at the resort, Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar. An outdoor seat is easier to score — use the app to check the walk-up wait times for inside — and then let the bartenders make you a custom tropical-inspired drink.

Disneyland’s Splash Mountain attraction, themed to the problematic ‘Song of the South,’ will close at the end of May. It will be reimagined with a ‘Princess and the Frog’ theme and debut in 2024.

April 12, 2023

8 p.m.: Skip the fireworks

By now, it should be time for one of the resort’s nighttime shows. This is time I like to use to get on some attractions, as there’s a decent chance there’s a shorter wait while people find a spot for evening fireworks. Star Tours and Jungle Cruise are usually good bets to check around this time. Be warned that on fireworks nights, some attractions in Fantasyland will close, but after the show, waits here are usually a little shorter. Try something you may have overlooked earlier in the day, such as Dumbo the Flying Elephant. It belongs to families in the morning and afternoon, but waits are minimal later in the evening. It’s a joy to experience the nighttime glow of Sleeping Beauty Castle and King Arthur’s Carousel from a height, as it adds to the fairy-tale nature of the area.

One final tip: The best thing you can do solo at Disneyland, regardless of what’s on your agenda, is to allow yourself to feel. Disneyland is a place where emotions are heightened, a world of fantasy tales and high drama. We see humanity’s sins on Pirates of the Caribbean, grapple with mortality in the Haunted Mansion and witness the joys of love after trauma on Snow White’s Enchanted Wish. There are life lessons in all these rides, and they appeal to us not simply because of the happily ever after; we relate to the drama, as the drama is what’s real and what we experience outside the gates of the park.

Going it alone also can be an opportunity to reflect on past moments we’ve shared in the parks, with friends or loved ones or long-lost family members.


A few months ago, for instance, I was standing in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and I started to cry. I had stood in nearly the same spot a few weeks earlier with my then-significant other, who found a corner to tuck herself into for a break. I dug up the photo I had snapped of her and basked in the memory, and I lost it. A Disneyland cast member was soon at my side, asking if I was OK. I was. I think.

As much as I missed the moment, I was happy it had occurred. And while I had felt truly alone at that second, Disneyland allowed me to regroup. Looking around, I was surrounded not just by people from all walks of life but also friends, lovers and probably some soon-to-be-ex-lovers (Disneyland can be stressful too). I was part of not just a community but a Southern California tradition. If you allow Disneyland to touch you emotionally, those memories will stay with you forever. Embrace them every time you go.

Get your copy of The Great Big Highly Specific Guide to Disneyland back issue today.


More Disneyland Ideas