Disneyland has such great little nooks & crannies to explore. Here are some of my favorite:
Main Street: from the Disney Gallery, to the Main St train station, to the fire station (with Walt’s apartment above it), to all the little shops. This might not be the best use of time right at rope drop though. But get there early enough to get into the park before rope drop & you can see some of it while you position for rope drop to do your first slew of attractions before crowds build at 10-11).
New Orleans Square: the alleys behind Cafe Orleans with all the little shops is just a pleasure in the early part of the day before crowds choke up the narrow walkways. Club 33 is on the 2nd level above Cafe Orleans & there is both the old entrance and the new that are great picture ops/things to spy.
Critter Country: We just love looking at all of the Winne the Pooh character’s houses sprinkled around the ride & the little Creek (complete with a bridge at the exit of the ride). We also love the confectionary inside the Pooh Corner store. They sell most the same treats as the main confectionaries in the parks, but are a little more quiet being in the back corner. The Hungry Bear restaurant in Critter Country is also a great place to sit on the patio & enjoy the views of the Rivers of America, especially once the boats get going around the island & crowds are usually waving at you as they ride by. Some parts of the patio can also see the train pass by & that also gets a lot of waves. There’s also a “secret path” in Critter Country that gives you one of the BEST most picturesque views of Splash mountain. You can read how to access it at this article from Disneyland Daily- she also has a bunch of other suggestions on that article for things to look at/for around the parks that are beyond the attractions.
Fantasyland: In the fantasy faire area where the Royal Hall meet is there is a little music box that your kids can turn to make music play. Also, the Rapunzel tower in the middle lights up/plays Rapunzel’s song intermittently at night. I have no idea when/why or what signals it, but if you happen to catch it, it’s awesome. Similarly, at the water feature next to Pixie Hollow there’s a short mini-light/water show (think World of Color Pixie style) that runs at night, again not sure how often or what triggers it to start, but pretty & a little extra something. Also at the Snow White Ride where the queue enters the building, touch the top of the apple on the book for a fun effect/surprise & when not in the queue, look up at the 2nd story of the Snow White ride building at one of the windows to see a little extra someone intermittently spying out over Fantasyland.
ToonTown: The area near the Five & Dime store has a play area but it’s not just for kids! All along the wall between the store & the Roger Rabbit ride there are plenty of interactive doorknobs, handles etc that are fun to see. Not all the doorknobs are maintained so some of the smaller effects might not work, but be sure not to miss the Power Company’s door. That effect is something my kids love (and hate bc it scares them too) to do in ToonTown.
Pixar Pier: Bing Bong’s confectionery is super cute with the decor & touches so we enjoy stopping in there even if we don’t plan on buying treats. Also the pier signs of different Pixar movies are so fun.
Carsland: There’s so much detail in Carsland so really take some time to explore there. At the Cozy Cone in the center building you can peer into it & if you look carefully can spot Buzz Lightyear trying to sneak away under a cone, a la Toy Story 2 where they cross the road. Also every night a few minutes after sunset, they play re-enact the neon lighting scene in the movie by playing the Sha-Boom song & phasing on the neons. It’s SO fun!
Hollywoodland: The Animation Building is a great place to soak in atmosphere & enjoy yourself as it has a loop of songs from animated Disney movie clips that play on a reel with clips of the movie & artwork all displayed in 360 surround screens immersing you in the animation song by song. Plus the Socerer’s Workshop has some fun interactive features that showcase animation AND the 2nd half of it is the Beast’s Library with a quiz that everyone can take on what Disney character they are most like. Lastly in the Hollywood backlot area they have a lot of walls back there that are decorated for photo opps. Ask & look around for whatever’s up right now (or look on instagram as I’m sure they are all easly found on there). The last time we were there my kids spotted a fun one with balloons and a kite to promote Mary Poppins Returns and they could “hold onto” the “strings” for the photo.
Grizzly Peak: The Redwood theming is very on point & is best enjoyed at Redwood Creek Challenge trail but you can also enjoy it anywhere along the path passing Grizzly River Run. The attraction is set to come out of refurb on March 29th so you will prob miss it before the end of your trip, but that means they’ll most likely have the water filled in again to help the ambiance be complete while you walk by.