Location: Anaheim: 1515 Disneyland Drive
Hours: Store and restaurant hours vary, but generally 10 a.m. to midnight
For ages: All
While a day at Disneyland is something you need to save your pennies for, a day at Downtown Disney can fulfill your need for Disney-themed background music and mouse-shaped candy treats for free.
Located next to the “real Disney,” the single street is a big date-night place for locals on Friday and Saturday nights. Date-nights can include making each other bears at Build-A-Bear, racing remote-control boats in front of Rainforest Café, or leaning in together while you listen to street performers before indulging in some Cajun creations or a beignet dessert at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen. Other hot date-night places are Tortilla Jo’s or the sometimes-mellow, sometimes-rockin’ House of Blues.
Families are just as welcome, and kids will delight in the LEGO Imagination Center store (where they can see a roof-high giraffe, a man-sized Bionicle and a life-sized R2D2 all made from LEGO blocks). At the end of the street is the enormous World of Disney Store, where kids can spend their allowance on every Disney item imaginable, from T-shirts and pens to jewelry boxes and stickers.
If you’re a big sports fan, a visit to ESPN Zone is in order. A small downstairs shop sells unique ESPN items, while the upstairs arcade is an older-child’s delight. Be sure to peek inside the dining rooms, where patrons can watch televised sports from 175 televisions (including one on the table and a few in the bathroom!) or check out the recording-studio windows where sports shows and interviews with sports stars are filmed live.
Families also love to bring their kids to Rainforest Café to eat amid mechanized giraffes and gorillas, or build their very own teddy bear at the Build-A-Bear Workshop. If your child is more into things with wheels than stuffed animals, then head over to RIDEMAKERZ, where your little racecar fan can build his or her very own car starting at $10. Little girls will also love Studio Disney 365, where they can get their hair styled with all the glitter and glamour of Hannah Montana or Selena Gomez.
Even if you don’t plan to shop, and want to come to Downtown Disney as a completely “free” outing, you can easily spend an afternoon sauntering up and down the shops with your kids and enjoying the “Disney feel.”
Teens can come and find things to do for not-to-much money, either — even if it’s just feasting on hot pretzels and watching the live street performers.
At night, the almost-constant street entertainment (usually from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.) ensures that everyone has a good time. On the weekends, there are often day performers. (Check out a video and photos of the 2010 “Downtown Disney Freeze,” where hundreds of performers “froze” in the middle of the bustling streets to the confusion — then delight — of onlookers.) Within walking distance, behind the Disneyland Hotel, is the free Fantasy Waters Show with 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. performances.
What to bring: Camera, money for snacks if you like.
Best time to go: Any time, but in the evenings there’s usually free street entertainment, typically from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Where to park: Parking free for up to 3 hours. An additional 2 hours can be validated at the AMC Theaters or at table-service dining. After that, the cost is $6 for each hour.
For more information: Disneyland website
Do you have a favorite part of Downtown Disney or a fun tip to share?