Unlike Walt Disney World, Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort is in between the Disney owned hotels and the theme parks. So, to some visitors, Downtown Disney is merely what they walk through on the way to the theme parks. However, for someone who doesn’t want to spend all of their down time in the theme parks, Downtown Disney offers plenty to keep you entertained. I’ll break Downtown Disney into three parts…Dining, Shopping, and Entertainment.
Dining at Downtown Disney
In other blog posts on planning, I’ve talked about places I like the most. Let me start this post off with a different sort of advise. I would advise you to avoid the Rainforest Café in Downtown Disney. Why? The wait time to get into this restaurant is way too long. Even if you make a reservation, you could experience a rather long wait time. Since the runDisney races are on the weekends, the busiest time of the week for Downtown Disney, you will find little relief from the wait. If you do choose to dine here, I suggest off-peak dining times to avoid the 45 minute plus wait times. Don’t get me wrong, the food at the Rainforest Café is fine and the ambiance is superb. It’s just that, if you’re here for a race, your time would better served elsewhere. Plus, Rainforest Cafe’s are located all across the country. So, it’s not unique to Disney.
While I don’t recommend the Rainforest Café, I do highly recommend the Earl of Sandwich. Walt Disney World fans will be happy to know that this wonderful restaurant has found its way to the West Coast. If you’re looking for a cheaper priced meal that’s really good, you absolutely must go to the Earl of Sandwich.
See what I mean? These prices are extremely reasonable for Disney. My only problem with this establishment is that most of the seating is outdoors and it can be hard to find a place to sit. If you’re in town for the Disneyland Half Marathon, it’s going to be hot and eating outside might not be ideal. The sandwiches, however, are pretty great and I love the pricing!
If you’re coming out for the Disneyland Half Marathon, you’re coming at a time where College Football is starting up, the NFL is coming to the finish of their pre-season, and Major League Baseball pennant races are heating up. For the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon, the NFL and College Football are in high gear and the NBA and NHL seasons are just starting up. For the Star Wars Half Marathon, the NFL playoffs will be going and the NBA and NHL seasons will be going full force. For the Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend there will be the playoffs for both the NBA and NHL along with Major League Baseball. Well, you don’t have to skip out on your favorite team. The ESPN Zone has you covered. No advanced reservations are necessary. However, on the weekends, at the peak eating hours, you will find long wait times. So, I advise you to choose off hours if you can. While it’s harder to get seating in the theatre room, that’s where I’d suggest the sports fan try to sit. They have one huge screen with the main game of the day. Surrounding that are many other screens that show other events. They even have a row of recliners with food trays next to them to give you that watching the game at home feel. The food is pretty good as well. They have television screens in the restrooms at each stall as well so you won’t have to miss a moment of your game! Upstairs is a really fun arcade with more than just video games to play. They typically stay open later than the theme parks. So, if you’re not racing the next morning, you can check out the ESPN Zone even after the theme parks are closed. Click on the image above for more information.
Looking for a place to carbo-load before your race that’s not in the theme parks or hotels? Naples Ristorante e Pizzaria has you covered. The pasta dishes here are really good and perfect for that last pre-race carbo loading kind of meal. Napolini, which is next door is a good alternative if you don’t have the time for the wait at Naples. While your choices are a little more limited, you can get their food to go. For more information about Naples Ristorante, click here. For more information about Napolini, click here.
Marceline’s Confectionery is my absolute Disney treat place to eat at Downtown Disney. There are many of your favorite theme park snacks sold here. On Saturday evenings, this place does get a little crowded. However, it’s totally worth the wait. I will warn you, though, this is not a healthy snack place. In addition to the snacks, they also have things like Mickey mac n cheese to go, like you’d find in the World of Disney store and other Disney themed merchandise to create that Disney themed kitchen.
I mention the La Brea Bakery here because it’s actually open BEFORE the races. So, if you need something for breakfast and haven’t brought it with you to your hotel, the La Brea Bakery might be a place you think about stopping on your way to your corral. I noticed they were open before both the Tinker Bell Half Marathon last year and the Disneyland Half Marathon races last year. If you’re staying at one of the Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotels, you will pass right by this place on your way to the starting corrals. I haven’t eaten here but wanted to mention this as an option before the races (as well as at other times too).
This is the newest Starbucks location to open at the Disneyland Resort. Since they didn’t open very long ago, I’m not sure if they will be open before the races. However, if you need your Starbucks Coffee before the race, you might want to stop by and check. Since a lot of Starbucks Coffee shops are open rather early, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one is open before the races as well. Even if they are not, you Starbucks Coffee fans out there should rest easy to know that there is one of these outside of the theme parks.
Last year, Jamba Juice was the reward my wife needed to get her through her first 10K. I love, love, love Jamba Juice as it is. Having a Jamba Juice at Downtown Disney is awesome! Talk about a great place to go after your race! If you’ve never been to a Jamba Juice before, you absolutely must go on your trip to Disneyland. They have the most amazing smoothies ever! Check out their full menu here. My favorite is the Razzmataz smoothie. For nutritional information on their menu, check out the Jamba Juice web site here.
The places I’ve mentioned above aren’t the only places worth checking out. I wanted to highlight them for various reasons. I wanted to provide some options for sit down restaurant (ESPN Zone and Naples Ristorante e Pizzaria), quick service (Earl of Sandwich) and race specific places. I’m not a big fan of Tortilla Joe’s. However, those coming into town who don’t know real Mexican food might really enjoy it. Growing up in Southern California, I’ve had the privilege of having some amazing real Mexican food. I’ve also gone to other parts of the country where things like Tex-Mex is considered amazing. I’m not big on the Tex-Mex kind of places. So, that’s where my opinion comes from. I have heard others rave about Tortilla Joe’s. However, most of those people are not Southern California locals. The nice thing about Tortilla Joe’s is that there is a take out window if you don’t want to wait for the inside dining experience. Additionally, Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen was just alright to me. The food is a bit on the pricier side. However, on the weekends, they usually have a live jazz combo that plays there. So, the atmosphere is kind of cool. However, I would choose other places to dine. Like Tortilla Joe’s, Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen has an Express take out place. There, you can get their beignets. They are not the Mickey beignets served at the Café Orleans in Disneyland. They are also not as good as you’d get in the French Quarter in New Orleans. However, they are quite tasty. The Express does have some good quick meal options that I would recommend. However, I’m a bigger fan of the Earl of Sandwich.
Shopping at Downtown Disney
The World of Disney is my favorite store in the entire world! If you’re a Walt Disney World regular, this store is nowhere near as large as its counterpart in Downtown Disney Orlando. However, it’s still a really great place for all your Disney merchandise needs. Keep in mind, however, that not everything sold in the theme parks will be available here. So, you might want to look at the World of Disney store before you go to the theme parks to know what is there. After all, who wants to carry around a bunch of bags while you’re having fun in the theme parks. If you can buy it at the World of Disney store, why buy it in the parks? You know what I mean?
If you’re into Vinylmation, D Street is the store for you. They have a lot of Vinylmation merchandise here. Also, I’ve noticed from time to time that there are people who will hang out by this store to possibly trade with others. They also have some rather unique Disney items as well as merchandise from Star Wars and the Marvel universe. One word of warning, however, is that this store is extremely cramped. So, you will need some patience if you want to wander past the entrance area (where the Vinylmation is located).
One store that I swear I’ll eventually buy from is RideMakerZ. It’s like Build A Bear (which is also in Downtown Disney) but for cars. They even have some Disney themed cars you can buy/make. Like with Build A Bear, you start off with a base unit and can make additions that will cost more money. I have been eying this Lightning McQueen car for a while. When I was last there, I noticed that they now have some Marvel inspired cars as well. To learn more about this shop, click on the image above for a review.
The Lego store at Downtown Disney is super fun! They recently revamped the entrance with cool larger than live Lego creations like the one pictured. There are lots of different buying options inside for kids (or the kids at heart) of any age group. Also, outside the store is an area that allows children to make creations of their own and even has a an area to race the cars or vehicles they make. It’s lots of fun to check out. Even if you’re not a Lego fan, the larger than life Lego creations are worth the visit.
The last place I want to highlight is a place that has lots of great items that I will most likely never be able to afford. The Wonderground Gallery has lots of great Disney inspired artwork for sale. I’ve even noticed that they will have special signings of various artists whose work is sold there from time to time. If you’re like me, it’s worth it to wander around looking at the beautiful works of art, even if you could never purchase it.
Sorry to cut the shopping part of this review short. However, I am a guy and I know that many of my readers are not. Two places to shop that others might enjoy are the Disney Vault 28, Little MissMatched, and Studio Disney 365. The Disney Vault 28 is a female oriented store and almost everything sold there is for women/girls. So, it’s not my kind of thing. Little MissMatched and Studio Disney 365 are pretty much geared towards little girls (or maybe the young at heart). Again, not my kind of thing. If you’re not a guy, you might want to check out those stores.
Downtown Disney Entertainment
If you want to take some time away from the theme parks, you could opt for a movie. The AMC theatres in Downtown Disney are really nice. I’ve taken in a few movies at this location several times myself over the years. As you might expect, it’s a really nice and well maintained movie theatre.
The House of Blues is another potential place to get your entertainment. Although, you will be paying for these tickets. They do have a restaurant on the bottom floor and a small gift shop. I’m not a big fan of the food that is served here. However, this is a nice, intimate venue to take in a concert. Since the concerts are pretty much a night-time thing, it may not work well with those of us here for a race. To see the calendar of upcoming shows, click here.
Lastly, over the weekends (and possibly during the week), there are lots of live music outside in Downtown Disney. These performances are largely atmospheric. They do have this band stand set up by the ESPN Zone. However, the other live music is more of street performance types. By the Naples Ristorante e Pizzaria, you will find a pretty talented violinist who always seems to draw a crowd. Other places where they have atmospheric performances are out by the House of Blues and outside of the World of Disney store.
As you can see, there’s a lot to do at Downtown Disney. So, you don’t necessarily need to be in a Disney theme park or at one of the hotels to have fun. One thing I realized yesterday is that there are a couple more posts I want to write to help you get ready in your planning. So, check back tomorrow for a post about what to do beyond the borders of Disneyland. Here’s a picture I found last year online that must have been taken at a hotel nearby Disneyland that maps out what’s around the Disneyland Resort.
You might want to blow up this picture if you want a quick reference map. Although, I will cover some quick points that might be helpful for a person coming into town for a runDisney race at the Disneyland Resort. I’ll highlight what is within walking distance and what you can get to quickly with a car. As you can see in this picture, unlike Walt Disney World, Disneyland is not that far removed from the real world. See you again tomorrow.