Our time at Disneyland was magical! My almost five-year-old and I spent a wonderful day-and-a-half at the park and it just wasn’t enough time. While we loved pretty much everything about the experience, we had to have our favourite rides and experiences, right? Here they are, through a mix of photos from our last trip as well as our time at Disneyland in 2014:
Fantasyland ride: Mad Tea Party
So much fun we went on it over and over and over again.
Fantasyland: Kind Arthur’s Carousel
It’s a gorgeous carousel and rarely has a queue.
Fantasyland: Dumbo The Flying Elephant This is just fun. Best to visit in the morning when the lines are short.
Character meet and greets
Ask at guest services for a schedule of character meet and greets so you’re always the first one there.
The hot ticket at Disney California Adventure Park this year is the brand new stage show, Frozen – Live at the Hyperion.
The show is exactly what you would imagine it to be: a very closely followed adaptation of the movie Frozen, performed live on stage by excellent performers on some seriously stunning staging.
The show is one hour in duration (the movie is 1 hr 49 minutes) and as a result there are small cuts in places – a few minor characters are either missing or have their parts shortened significantly, but the changes I noticed the most were to take away anything remotely “scary”.
As a result, the show is billed as “suitable for all ages” – and I have to agree, it was extremely mild and even my scaredy cat Cheese who refuses to see the movie at the moment because she deems it “too scary”, didn’t find a single moment of the show anything other than thoroughly entertaining.
As per all of Disney’s productions, Frozen – Live At The Hyperion is of the highest standard. I was particularly impressed with their Elsa, considering the difficulty of the song Let It Go, (which she nailed, by the way).
The set design for the show is incredibly impressive, particularly the scenes from the sisters’ childhood, where the props are made larger than usual to make the “child” Anna and Elsa really look small, even though they are played by adults.
Even with the show significantly shortened from the original movie, it seemed a perfect length, with all the major songs and moments covered beautifully. It was also a great length for all of the small children in the audience, who were happily belting out the lyrics to each number and wiggling joyfully throughout the show.
Tips on how to see the show:
As the show is so popular, I advise getting tickets using the Disney FASTPASS Service, which provides first-come, first-served tickets to same day Frozen – Live at the Hyperion shows.
Tickets are available when the park opens at the Disney FASTPASS Service machines located to the left of the Hyperion Theater. Tickets are distributed for the first show of the day via the machine until all the tickets run out. After the first show is sold out, tickets for the second show are made available, and so forth. Guests are not able to choose a specific time show.
At the FASTPASS machine, insert your park admission ticket and you will be given a Disney FASTPASS ticket printed with your Frozen – Live at the Hyperion showtime and recommended arrival time. Pay attention to the suggested time and turn up as early as possible. My ticket suggested I arrive 40 minutes before the show started. We arrived 30 minutes before showtime and we were among the last people seated at the end of the queue.
If you have a stroller with you, be very aware of where it is parked when you go into the show. Our stroller was taken from us and parked by a Disney cast member and we didn’t see where it was taken. As a result, at the end of the show it took us a very long time to search for our stroller among a sea of about a hundred or so.
Get more information on Frozen – Live At The Hyperion and the latest show times here.
The Frozen sisters have found a permanent home in California Adventure Park’s Hollywood Land. The meet and greet isn’t anywhere near as crazy popular as it was when we visited two years ago. Back then, if you didn’t get to the link as soon as the park opened you were in for an all-day wait.
This time, we did the rounds in the morning to get FastPasses for our fave rides and then came back to meet the sisters. Anna and Elsa’s Royal Welcome is located deep inside the Animation Academy within the Disney California Adventure Park.
From the outside, it’s unclear that this is even the place to meed the Frozen duo as there are no clear signs that say so. We asked a helpful Disney cast member outside who confirmed that this was the place and pointed where to go.
The Animation Academy has several experiences inside, just one of which is the Anna and Elsa Royal Welcome. it’s a huge space with Disney films playing all over the walls, which makes waiting to meet the sisters much more palatable. The queue wasn’t too bad – maybe 10 people before us, and we waited in total about 30 minutes to meet the pair.
Anna and Elsa share an Arandelle-themed room in the Animation Academy for meeting their royal guests. I really think the pair are best as a dual act – they play off each other, make witty jokes, and in general are so much fun when they’re experienced together.
The princess and queen really took their time talking to Cheese. They wanted to know all about her kingdom and commented on her beautiful hair.
After the meet and greet, with Frozen stars in our eyes, we head off to the new show, Frozen – Live that is now playing at the Hyperion Theatre next door. If you have an avid artist on your hands, drop by the Royal Academy (it’s tucked inside the Animation Academy) where a real-life artist is on hand to teach you how to sketch characters like Olaf and Marshmallow.
Get more information about Frozen experiences at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park here.
Disneyland is magical for adults and kids alike. It’s such an incredibly designed place that keeps the magic of childhood well and truly alive, through rides, entertainment and live characters. Disneyland is also a place that requires a lot of planning to get the most out of. I hope my tips will help you plan your perfect Disneyland holiday.
What age is best for Disneyland?
Honestly, any age! Disneyland caters to all ages from 0-100 as long as you love Disney. I’ve been as an adult without kids, with a 2 year old, and most recently with my almost 5-year-old. Each time is different but equally enjoyable.
What time of year should we go?
Disneyland is gorgeous to visit all-year round. They have special seasonal events around Halloween and Christmas in particular, making these two times of year a really special time to visit. Check out the crowds at the time of year you’re considering visiting at this website – if you can visit during a slower time, I would suggest doing so. We have visited twice in June or July and both times it has been very hot and very busy.
Where should we stay?
There are so many choices! Disneyland have their own hotels that are on the park grounds and give you special benefits – the biggest two being early entry into the parks every day (an hour before general admission) and a special entry to Disney California Adventure Park through Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa so you’ll never have to line up. While the Disneyland hotels also offer other great features that carry the Disney magic to all areas of your stay, they are also the pricey accomodation option – so if you’re on a budget you’ll want to consider staying at a “good neighbor” hotel instead.
We have stayed at two different “good neighbor” hotels, the Howard Johnson Hotel and Water Park, and the Carousel Inn and Suites. Both were half the price of the Disneyland hotels and had excellent locations – directly across the road from Disneyland, making our commute each morning a mere 5 minutes walk.
How long should we stay for?
We have stayed for three days both times we visited, and this was the perfect amount for us. We spent one day each at Disneyland and California Adventure park, and one day hopping between the two. If you buy tickets for three or more consecutive days, you get a magic morning included, where you can enter Disneyland an hour early (7am!) on a designated day.
What’s a “magic morning”?
Magic mornings are the days when you can enter the park at 7am instead of 8am, which is when the parks usually open. You need to have a 3+ day pass to be able to use a magic morning early entry. Magic mornings are held on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays. It’s recommended that you arrive an hour and a quarter before the regular park opening. We didn’t have magic mornings with our trip this time around, and we went to California Adventure park that day instead – which turned out to be a brilliant choice as the park was pretty much empty – everyone was at Disneyland using their magic morning!
What tickets should we get?
You have a choice between single park passes, which allow you entry into one park per day, or “park hoppers” which let you go back and forth between the parks. If you buy multi day passes (which is the cheapest way to buy tickets), you will have to choose between the two types, you can’t mix and match. With older kids, I’d recommend park hoppers, particularly if you will be there three days. I found a full day at each park was perfect, plus that extra day to jump between the two and finish up a few things we missed or wanted to do again.
I always advise buying tickets at least a few days in advance. While the queues have always been short to buy tickets when we’ve arrived, it just cuts out one extra step to get into the park. When you buy a ticket online you can choose an eTicket which you then present on your phone (or printed out) at the gates for entry.
What time of day should I arrive?
The parks open at 8am (with the exception of magic mornings when it opens at 7 if you have valid tickets). My best advice on getting the most out of a Disneyland day is to arrive well before the park opens. It can take quite a while to get through security, and also through the gates. When you use your tickets for the first time, you will have a photo taken and linked online to your pass, and you will need to sign the tickets they give you – all making the entry process that much longer.
We enjoyed the early mornings the most as there were the fewest people in the park, so lines were shorter.
How do I plan a day at Disneyland?
My best advice is to plan to do all the rides first thing in the morning. As soon as the gates open, go straight to the rides you want to do the most that are the most popular rides, and either do the rides immediately, or get a FASTPASS (see more below) to return and do the ride later without having to line up to do so.
We spent the first three hours just doing all of the rides, then took a break for lunch and spent the afternoons watching shows, meeting characters, shopping, eating ice cream, and watching the parades.
What is a FASTPASS?
A FASTPASS lets you skip the queue for the most popular rides at the park. Look for the FASTPASS Distribution sign near the entrance of an attraction, check the Return Time displayed on the sign, insert your Disneyland Resort admission ticket into the FASTPASS machine and take with you the FASTPASS ticket it spits out, printed with your return time. Then return to the ride during your time window at any time, show your FASTPASS ticket to the Cast Member at the entrance to the ride, and enjoy a minimal wait. Note: You can only have one FASTPASS at a time.
What are some tips for watching the parades?
The parades are incredibly popular, with people staking out their front row spots over 45 minutes before the parade begins. If you watch carefully around the park from an hour before the parades start, Disneyland staff will begin marking out the areas for crowd control. Grab a spot on a bench or on the gutter edge and either all sit with some snacks and wait, or leave one adult there while the rest of the family entertain themselves in other ways while you’re waiting.
The parades wind their way from the back of the park to the front, so if the start time is 4:30pm, it will reach around the front of the park around 4:45-4:50pm.
Can we take food and drink into the park?
Yes you can. Take a large refillable water bottle – you can refill with water at any drink station through out the parks. You can also ask for cups of ice water at any restaurant/fast food outlet. You are allowed to take whatever food and snacks you like into the park, which is a great way to cut down on costs. We didn’t take many snacks with us as we were staying at a very basic hotel with nowhere to keep food. We ate park food all day and didn’t find it overly expensive.
Should I take a stroller?
If your child fits in one, absolutely yes. Many hours of walking will tired even older children. There is stroller parking at every ride, and every restaurant/facility is stroller-accessible. I also like having a stroller to put our stuff in, like water bottles and snacks, and the canopy provides much needed shade during the heat.
Should I use the Disneyland photographers?
Personally, I always utilise the Disneyland photography service, called PhotoPass. For $39 a day you can download all of the images taken by the Disneyland photographers. The photographers are scattered around both parks all throughout the day and take some really great quality photos – with the entire family in them! I love that I can get out whole family in the same shot with zero effort, and I also like to leave my giant SLR camera at home and just take my point and shoot with me, knowing the Disneyland photographers will have their excellent cameras to snap portraits for me that save me lugging around my behemoth for the day.
When getting your photo taken, you can either download the Disneyland app to your phone and present the app to the photographer and add the photos to your account, or the photographer will give you a small card with a bar code that you can then add into your account yourself later on.
You can take the cards to a Disneyland PhotoPass store to buy the images at the park, or log into the Disneyland PhotoPass website later to buy and download them.
How do I keep on top of what’s happening during the day?
This trip I discovered the excellent (free) Disneyland app. It allowed me to see the wait times on every ride, has a map with a compass so you know where you are, and also shows what characters are where for meet and greets, where food outlets and bathrooms are, and times for entertainment such as shows and parades.
How do I meet characters at Disneyland?
Characters roam around the parks all day. Some have designated spots and times that you can find either on the app or by asking at Guest Services inside the park. The core characters such as Minnie, Mickey and friends and the princesses have designated places where they can be found.
Others simply roam and you have to be lucky to spot them, such as Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter, and Mary Poppins. If you want an easy way to meet lots of the characters all together, book in for a Character Breakfast. Our faves are Ariel’s Grotto, which has all of the princesses some around to each table, and Plaza Inn, which has Minnie Mouse, plus core Disney faves like Donald Duck, Hook and Chip & Dale, Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore.
How do I meet the Disney princesses?
You can meet three princesses at any time of day at the Fantasy Faire inside Fantasyland, Disneyland. The princesses change regularly so you won’t know which ones will be there until you go inside.
The princesses are in seperate rooms and you walk around to meet them one at a time. You can also happen upon princesses outside Cinderella’s Castle – we found Aurora this way. If you want to meet the majority of the princesses in one go, the only way is to book in for a character breakfast at Ariels Grotto. When we visited in 2014, met Ariel, Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora and Belle here. If you want to meet Jasmine, Merida or Tiana, look for them roaming around the park.
What about Anna and Elsa?
The sisters are located inside the Animation Academy in California Adventure Park, and are the only princesses you meet together. We really enjoyed meeting Anna and Elsa – they have a great repartee together, making the sisters a really fun duo to chat with.
Is there any thing else “Frozen”?
Yes, there is a fantastic new live “Frozen” show in the Hyperion Theatre in California Adventure Park. the show goes for an hour, and runs several times a day. You can get a FASTPASS to the show – tickets are distributed outside the theatre in Hollywood Lane.
I would advise returning to line up for the show 40 minutes before start time to guarantee a decent seat. The show is excellent, and does a fantastic job of telling the Frozen story minus the scary bits.
What else should I know about that’s awesome at Disneyland?
My almost five-year old particularly enjoyed being turned into a princess at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, and taking part in jedi training at the Trials of the Temple show.
Do you have any questions about how to plan the perfect Disneyland holiday?
Choosing a hotel when visiting Disneyland is a big decision. To make the most out of an expensive visit to the theme park, I like to stay as close to the park entrance as possible.
My ideal location is somewhere I can wake up as late as possible, get the kid out of bed at the last minute and walk 500 metres or less across the road to the entrance to Disneyland, arriving well before the gates actually open.
The best time to visit Disneyland is first thing in the morning, as soon as the gates open and before the crowds descend, so it makes sense that the best place to stay is as close to the parks as possible and minimise your time travelling to and from the parks.
We decided to stay at the The Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Playground on this trip. The hotel is extremely close to Disneyland – it’s actually closer to the park than two of Disney’s own hotels. On the Howard Johnson website it states that the hotel is an eight-minute walk away – I’m a fast walker though and I’m pretty sure I did it in five minutes or under. Fantastic location at a fraction of the cost of staying at a Disney resort.
The Howard Johnson is renowned for their water playground. It’s a huge, pirate-themed water area that includes a 30-foot pirate ship with slides, water cannons, fountains and toddler wading pool, plus a 15-person hot tub and a garden pool.
Having such amazing pool facilities is great for visiting the parks for an extended period. It’s a good idea to leave the parks around midday when it gets busy and hot, return to the hotel for a rest and a swim, then return to the parks before the parades and fireworks – I find that this strategy really makes the stay that much more of a holiday than just a theme park visit.
The rooms at the Howard Johnson are another reason to stay at the hotel. They are huge! Bigger than any other hotel we have ever stayed at now I think about it. We had two bedrooms with a king bed in one and bunk beds plus a fold out sofa in the other, plus two bathrooms. Yes, you could actually fit a family of five grown people in this single hotel room.
There was room for our mountains of luggage we collected along the way, which we had tripped over in every other hotel room. The added space just made us feel that much more relaxed as we had some real space finally to spread out.
The Howard Johnson also features free WiFi, free parking and a free laptop-sized safe. We had a microwave, fridge and tea and coffee making facilities in the room, plus the Main Street Market downstairs next to the hotel lobby where we picked up a basic breakfast every morning as we walked to Disneyland.
One of the problems we always face with visiting Anaheim is finding decent places to eat dinner – there is a lot of fast food, but that’s about it. We were so happy to discover a really nice restaurant a few steps from the hotel, Mimi’s Café Anaheim Restaurant and Bar, that offered affordable breakfast, lunch and dinner, including a decent kids’ menu.
We highly enjoyed our stay at the Howard Johnson Hotel and Water Playground in Anaheim and will absolutely stay here again when we visit Disneyland.
One of the most unexpectedly fun activities we tried at Disneyland this year was the Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple show. It’s a really clever idea. Kids aged 4-12 can sign up for “jedi training”. They then take part in a little show that runs 6 times a day, dressed up as jedis with light sabres, getting to live out their Star Wars fantasy to battle the forces of evil.
The show runs six times during the day – when we visited the times were 10:30am, 11:35am, 12:40pm, 2:25pm, 3:30pm and 4:35pm. When registering for the show you can choose the time you want. The staff will ask your child a few questions to make sure they know what they’re in for, and won’t freeze up of freak out on stage.
After registering we went on our merry way and returned at the time specified – around 30 minutes before show time. The kids had their names marked off and were taken into a group and given their special jedi robes. There were a lot of spots available from kids who didn’t arrive in time for the show, so at least 10 kids off the wait list were accepted into the group.
Once the group was complete, the kids were whisked off for some jedi training while the adults were guided to the nearby Galactic Grill stage, where the show would shortly commence.
The stage is quite wide and there are a lot of kids in each group, so it’s hard to know where the best spot is to place yourself to see your own child. I chose the front middle and lucky for me, Cheese was placed directly in front of me for the show.
The show kids off with the younglings entering in a group, and tells the story of a woman who wants to be a jedi – it’s really a story of her jedi journey with the kids as the supporting cast. She guides the kids through basic jedi training moves, just in time for the entrance of the villains – Darth Vader and a new enemy. The kids face off against the villains one-on-one on stage – surprisingly none of the kids freaked out either at the masked villains or the attention, so I’m guessing they were prepared for what was going to happen backstage.
The show is 26 minutes long, a perfect length both for the kids involved and the audience watching. It was a lot of fun for families to participate and also to watch. For those involved, it was the highlight of their day.
Need to know:
Participants must be between 4 and 12 years of age.
All participants must be present at the time of registration.
Register at the kiosk located outside the exit to Star Wars Launch Bay.
Registration begins when Disneyland Park opens for the day–including Extra Magic Hour or Magic Morning.
Availability is limited and offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
After spending a gorgeous time having a princess transformation at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (BBB) on board the Disney Fantasy, my daughter asked if she could also try the BBB when we visited Disneyland. I thought it would be a good chance to try and compare both experiences, so agreed and booked her in.
The BBB in Disneyland is located inside Cinderella’s castle in Fantasyland. It has a really cute shopfront that you can enter and just shop for princess dresses and accessories if you like. The boutique is at the back of the shop and is an absolute hive of activity. I had read that the boutique was popular, but was not prepared for how popular!
When we arrived for our appointment there was a mix up with our time slot – we had been booked in for a 1:30pm session, but when we arrived were told it was actually 1:50pm, which wasn’t a big deal, we were happy to look around the shop while we waited.
The fairy godmothers were obviously running behind when we visited as we didn’t get into the boutique to being the princess transformation until well after 2pm, closer to 2:30pm.
This time we chose the “Castle Package” that included the works – dress, accessories, make-up, hairstyle and also a photo package taken in a little room with Cinderella’s carriage and express entry into the Royal Hall to meet the princesses. The photos and express entry into the Royal Hall are only available with this package, which is why we chose it over using an old dress and just getting the make up. Full details on packages and prices at the end of the post.
Cheese chose Tiana this time, with the adorable wand and crown included in the package. She badly wanted the gloves too (“Because Tiana in the movie wears gloves!”) and I caved and gave into the gloves as well.
After choosing her dress, Cheese was led to a changing room that magically had her new outfit and accessories ready for her to change into.
Next it was into the chair and the transformation begun. We had two fairy godmothers working on Cheese at one stage, I assume because they were so far behind in their appointments.
While our fairy godmother was very sweet and did a great job, I did feel that the transformation was rushed in comparison to the one on the Disney Fantasy. Again I think this was due to the staff being really behind in their appointment schedule.
After the transformation was complete, we waited to have portraits taken in front of and inside the Cinderella carriage. This option is only available with the Castle Package. Photos in the package are prints only – the digital negatives need to be bought separately.
With the photo shoot finished, we waited outside to receive the prints, and for our fairy godmother to escort us into the Royal Hall.
The BBB was a lot busier and chaotic than I was expecting after the peaceful atmosphere on the cruise. I am assuming it’s because the BBB in Disneyland has to cater to a lot more “princesses” at a time. The staff were all extremely sweet and kind, but we did feel like we spent a lot of time waiting, and then had the transformation rushed through.
We had some issues with the hairstyle too, unfortunately. The first time Cheese had the princess bun hair style aboard the Disney Fantasy she kept it in for the next three days until it was starting to go a bit gross and we had to bribe her to take it out – this time, it was tied up too tightly and gave her a headache, so sadly we had to take it out a few hours later (I also thought it was a bit wonky, but I’m such a picky perfectionist!).
After the transformation, we were escorted into the Royal Hall to meet the princesses. I think this was my daughter’s favourite part of the experience. There is always a long wait for the hall, so it was really nice to be escorted to a special entrance and skip the queue. The Disney staff all gave her a special reception as she arrived, bowing to the “newly crowned princess” and really giving her the royal treatment.
Inside the Royal Hall, three princesses were waiting to meet us. It can be any three at the one time, and we met Snow White, Cinderella and Ariel.
The princesses were all sweet and friendly, especially Cinderella.
The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is definitely a special experience for little girls. My daughter had a wonderful time and felt so special, that it was definitely worth the money for us. Would we get it again? Probably not the full package now we’ve done it once, but definitely the hair and make-up.
The Crown Package
Starting at $59.95 (plus tax), this package features hairstyling, makeup, princess accessories and nail polish.
Princess sash and cinch bag
Hair Style Choices
Girls have the choice of one of 3 hairstyles:
The Courtyard Package
Starting at $99.95 (plus tax), this package features hairstyling, makeup, princess accessories and more.
Princess sash and cinch bag
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique t-shirt
Hair Style Choices
Girls have the choice of one of 3 hairstyles:
The Castle Package
For $199.95 (plus tax), this package features choice of hair style, makeup, princess gown, accessories and more.
Princess sash and cinch bag
Princess gown of choice
The Castle Package also comes complete with a portrait package, courtesy of Disney PhotoPass Service—which includes a photo taken near Cinderella’s carriage and assorted prints presented in a themed folder.
Hair Style Choices
Girls have the choice of one of 3 hairstyles:
The imperial experience continues as newly transformed Castle Package princesses star in a personally escorted mini processional from Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique to the ever-enchanting Fantasy Faire.
Upon arrival, newly crowned VIPs will receive priority entry to the Royal Hall, where some of the most beautiful and beloved Disney Princesses—from timeless tales like The Little Mermaid, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty—eagerly await! Have those autograph books and cameras ready!
The Disney Frozen Package
Starting at $164.95 (plus tax), this package features an Anna or Elsa hairstyle—complete with a braided hairpiece. You’ll even receive sparkling snowflake hair accessories!
Anna or Elsa hairstyle with braided hairpiece
Sparkling snowflake hair accessories
Anna or Elsa costume
Princess sash and cinch bag
12-inch Olaf plush
Please note that this package is only available with Anna or Elsa hairstyling.
The Disney Frozen Crown Package
Starting at $114.95 (plus tax), this package is perfect for Guests who already own an Anna or Elsa dress.
Anna or Elsa hairstyle with braided hairpiece
Sparkling snowflake hair accessories
Princess sash and cinch bag
12-inch Olaf plush
The Knight Package
Starting at $19.95 (plus tax), this package includes hairstyling, along with a sword and shield. Please note that all prices are subject to change without notice.
How to Book a Reservation
Reservations at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique can be made up to 60 days in advance and are highly recommended. To book your appointment with a Fairy Godmother-in-training, please call (714) 781-STYLE or (714) 781-7895.
Guests must be between 3 and 12 years of age in order to participate and must be accompanied by an adult (18 years of age or older).
Transformations take 30 minutes to an hour. Note: we were there for well over an hour with lots of waiting around in between everything.
The California Academy of Sciences is a natural history museum in San Francisco, and is one the the largest museums of natural history in the world. The museum is home to over 26 million specimens, .
Just one ticket allows you to explore an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, rainforest, 40,000 live animals, and more—all under one living roof.
The Academy is a family-friendly museum with lots of exhibits, programs, and activities designed with kids in mind. Strollers are allowed everywhere in the museum – the only exception being the Shake House section of the Earthquake exhibit (you can park your stroller outside the exhibit).
Eating at the Academy
We found decent kid-friendly food options at the Academy Cafe. You’re also welcome to bring your own food and drinks and use the indoor and outdoor seating available.
Top Picks for Kids:
Osher Rainforest Over 1,600 live animals live in the four-story rainforest. Housed inside a 90-food-diameter glass dome, this is the largest rainforest exhibit of its kind in the world. From 250 free-flying birds to exotic reptiles, amphibians, golden silk orb-weaver spiders,jewel-like poison-dart frogs and stunning blue morpho butterflies that glide overhead, this is an exhibit that will create awe in kids and adults alike.
Note from the Cal Academy website: The rainforest is suitable for all ages, but because it is a hot, humid, and one-way exhibit, we recommend dressing in layers. Please note that there are no restrooms inside the rainforest dome, but you’ll find one immediately after exiting through the Amazon Flooded Forest tunnel.
Early Explorers Cove
Especially designed for kids aged 0-5, the Early Explorers Cave is a space where families can take a bit of a timeout in a smaller space with plenty of interactive activities. A miniature garden, books, toys, puzzles, live animals and dress up costumes await.
Kids of all ages are invited to gently touch a variety of tide pool creatures.
Earthquake Shake House
Visitors over the age of three can see, hear, and feel two earthquakes in the “Shake House”. This immersive experience can be a bit scary for littlies. Cheese was a bit scared while the house was shaking, but she also found it exciting and wanted to do it again.
The world’s largest all-digital planetarium with shows every 45 to 60 minutes. Planetarium shows are recommended for kids aged 7 and older, with kids under 4 not permitted.
Check the daily schedule for story times, crafts, penguin feedings and other programs designed with young visitors in mind.
One of our favourite sections of the academy. The aquarium is home to nearly 40,000 live animals including Claude the albino alligator, tortoises, lizards, and African penguins.
Changing tables are available in all restrooms on the museum floor, and a family-specific restroom is located next to the Swamp.
Children’s Creativity Museum is a hands-on, multimedia arts and technology museum for kids of all ages. It’s the kind of place that kids never want to leave as it’s full of open ended play opportunities that will literally keep them occupied for the entire day. The biggest challenge you’ll have is removing the kids to grab lunch when you’re desperate for a snack yourself.
The museum is broken up into several different levels and labs. Some of the areas, such as the Animation Studio, were best suited to older kids than our preschoolers, but we were still able to find more than enough to entertain two three year olds for an entire day.
Animation Studio Geared towards older kids, children will learn the basics of stop motion animation by creating their own clay characters and bringing them to life on screen.
Community Lab Until Jan 3 the Community Lab will feature Brain Teasers 2, an interactive exhibit featuring 21 hands-on puzzles.
Imagination Lab The area where we spent the majority of our time at the museum, the Imagination Lab is a hands-on environment encouraging building and creating with materials like blocks, Magna Tiles and craft. The dress up and puppet theatre was particularly popular with the preschoolers.
Innovation Lab Kids are given the Mystery Box Challenge – a box filled with materials and a brief to create an object using only those materials. It was a lot of fun for the kids to think about basic design concepts as well as letting their creativity reign.
Music Studio The girls’ favourite part of museum, no surprise. Pick a song from a selection of over 2,000 to sing in front of a green screen. The girls chose “Let It Go” (no surprises there) and sang it against an icy background reminiscent of Arendelle. They were in heaven.
Tech Lab A fun way to introduce kids to coding. A bit too old for our kids, I’d love to return another time to try this lab.
Before leaving the museum, take a spin on the hand-carved wooden carousel out the front. It’s the oldest operating carousel in San Francisco with a whimsical menagerie of animals to ride on. Be warned, it’s extremely fast!
San Francisco is a great place to take kids. We’ve been several times with Cheese, from baby to preschooler, and each time we find new things to do together. Here are a few ways to spend your family holiday in San Fran so everyone has a great time.
Children’s Creativity Museum
Children’s Creativity Museum is a hands-on, multimedia arts and technology museum for kids of all ages. Take a ride on the hand-carved carousel, sing your heart out in the recording studio or build a masterpiece. Kids will never want to leave. Cheese particularly enjoyed the dress ups, puppet theatre, magna tiles and singing studio. She belted out “Let It Go” into a microphone and was filmed singing against a blue screen that transported her into an icy Arendelle. Priceless! Read more about our experience here.
Aquarium of the Bay
This little aquarium has over 20,000 marine animals to visit. With a focus on conservation, kids will learn a lot about taking care of our water and the animals within, while getting up close to exotic and local aquatic life. Highlights include 300 feet of crystal clear tunnels with marine animals from San Francisco Bay and nearby waters and Touch the Bay, featuring touchpools with sharks, rays and sea stars. Aquarium of the Bay
2 Beach St, San Francisco, CA
Prices: Adult $22.95, kids 3-12 $13.95
A very popular day trip, Alcatraz Island is located 1.5 miles offshore from San Francisco. A visit to Alcatraz offers a close-up look at the site of the first lighthouse and US built fort on the West Coast as well as the infamous federal jail.
As well as being steeped in history, the Rock is also home to tide pools, bird colonies and stunning views of San Francisco Bay. Wear very comfortable shoes, bring a light jacket no matter how warm the day begins, and be sure to book your tickets well in advance.
Alcatraz Buy tickets for the cruise across to Alcatraz online. Ferries depart from Alcatraz Landing at Pier 33. Prices: Adult $31, kids 5-11 $19
Golden Gate Park
You could easily spend a week just exploring everything Golden Gate Park has to offer. This 1,017 acre urban park is open to the public for free (however there is an entrance cost for some of the attractions). Be sure to check out the American bison who have happily lived in the park since the 1890s.
San Francisco Cable Cars
An absolute must when you visit San Francisco. Check out the route and jump aboard an historic cable car to see San Francisco from a unique point of view. We like to catch the Powell-Mason from Powell/ Market streets up and over Nob Hill and down to Bay Street at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Tickets are $5 each way for ages 5 and up and can be bought at turnabouts (the beginning points) or from the conductor as you board.
This topsy-turvey street is like something out of Dr Seuss book. Lombard Street is famous for a steep, one-block section with eight hairpin turns past beautiful Victorian mansions. Be warned, kids will want to bolt down at high speed. More info on Lombard Street.
California Academy of Science
One of the highlights of our time in San Francisco, the California Academy of Sciences is a natural history museum in that is among the largest museums of natural history in the world, housing over 26 million specimens – 40,000 of them live. Inside the one building is an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and rainforest – all under one living roof (literally – the roof is alive!). The Academy has plenty of hands-on exhibits and activities for kids to explore. Our favourites were the Shake House section of the Earthquake exhibit where kids can experience what it would feel like to be on top of an earthquake, the aquarium with its immersive glass tunnels, the dinosaur in the foyer, and the rainforest with live butterflies and birds. Read more about our experience here.
Kids absolutely love this sculpture by artist Coosje van Bruggen on the Embarcadero along San Francisco Bay. The art work was inspired by San Francisco’s reputation as the home port of Eros.
Palace of Fine Arts
While the Palace of Fine Arts is actually home to art exhibitions, visitors also go to enjoy the beautiful structure (originally built in 1915), walkways and lagoon. The palace is iconic in San Francisco, and is a popular destination for family and wedding photos. Kids will particularly enjoy spotting the swans who live in the lagoons.
Palace of Fine Arts 3301 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA
Prices: It’s free to walk around the grounds.
Golden Gate Bridge
And lastly … don’t forget to check out Golden Gate Bridge. While the bridge can be seen from Alcatraz and various points on around San Francisco Bay, my favourite place to photograph it is Battery Spencer, on the Marin Headland just north of the bridge.