Planning for Weekends

Our family has a DLR trip planned for this summer-we’ve been to WDW many times, but this will be our first trip to DLR. We will be arriving on a Wed and heading for home the following Wed, so we will have a full week in California. We are currently planning 4 park days, one day at the beach, and one day is still up for grabs (arrival and departure days not included in that). I’ve read that the Disneyland parks are a lot busier on the weekends because of the locals-much more so than in Florida. Is that the case? Since we still have to make park reservations here, I’m wondering if we should leave our Beach day and our undecided day on Saturday and Sunday and purchase our park tickets for Thursday, Friday, Monday, Tuesday. Of course, the beaches are probably also extra crowded on the Weekends, so that might not be the best idea. Any thoughts on this type of scheduling from frequent DLR travelers? Any input is greatly appreciated, since we have no experience to draw from here. Thanks!! I’m also open to suggestions for our undecided day as well. The kids have already frowned on Universal and the San Diego Zoo if you’re thinking of suggesting those. Thanks again!!


Since the implementation of reservations the weekends haven’t been as busy. The lower level Magic Keys are often blocked on weekends so they show up in the evenings on weekdays.


Weekends from late June through early August saw very low crowds the last summer. We have the Believe level of pass that blocks us out Saturdays in the summer starting the last Saturday in June through the first Saturday in August. There are two levels of passholders below ours (Enchant & Imagine? I think?) that block even more of that time so there might be some of them on some Tuesday through Thursday in June or August but I believe they both have most if not all of July blocked. And then there’s one pass level above ours, Inspire? (I have a hard time remember the names so not sure on them), that is only blocked around Christmas but they have all summer and don’t necessarily concentrate on specific days/weekends in the parks so don’t on their own create a surge (maybe in the evenings?).

So I wouldn’t avoid weekends in the summer in DLR, except to note when the last weekend before a pass level block is started or the first weekend after it is over. I would avoid Monday starting in DL as most people seem to start their 5 day vacations on Monday and start in DL so the turnstiles espcially on a Monday morning feel more bogged down than any Saturday or Sunday (and they seem to staff it lower so it’s almost intentionally slower when you’re going through security & entry).

Weekends and all the summer holidays (Memorial Day, 4th of July & Labor Day) will make the beaches busy, so I would definitely plan around that and do the beach not on a weekend.

As for undecided day, if we go when we’re blocked out on a Saturday we usually end up doing a Downtown Disney half day and that will include wandering both the Grand Californian and Disneyland hotel grounds, gift shops, lobbies (which the GC is gorgeous & relaxing and the DL hotel has lots of fun historical parks artifacts). If it’s a longer trip we combo that with the rest of the day just relaxing at the hotel (swimming if the weather is good) without having to be up & walking 30,000 steps. If you’re group still wants a get up & go day, some close options we’ve done are:

  • A 2nd beach day, there are multiple great beaches in the vicinity (Newport, Huntington, Long Beach) so you could use the day to hit up a 2nd one. Long Beach also has an aquarium and I think a pier with rides, so it wouldn’t even necessarily have to be a typical swim beach day, but more to check out food/the stuff.
  • Los Angeles- there’s so much to do there but our favorite recent thing was the Grove (an outdoor mall with turf grass and fountains/bridges/) with the original LA Farmer’s Market (SO much good food) just next to it. We’ve also gone to the Disney/Ghiradelli combo store & El Capitan Theater right next to it. We love pins and ice cream so it was fun to see & do & puts you right in the center of Hollywood with the Chinese theater right there. It can be sketchy walking around among the street vendors in that particular stretch of sidewalk so it’s not our favorite unless there’s a pin we just have to get, but it’s great to see once. There’s also a mall right across the El Capitan that has a walkway area where you can see the Hollywood sign from.

And then some things we haven’t done but are all good things/things we’d consider adding to our DL trips when we have down days that we aren’t wanting to rest our aching feet:

  • More Los Angeles things: La Brea tar pitts, Griffith observatory, a Funko POP store/museum (and Universal is really close to most of these but I know you said your kids didn’t care for it). Parking and traffic will also be big factors coming from Anaheim. If you don’t time it around the rush hour traffic it will be a 2.5 hr drive one way in mostly gridlocked traffic. Without the traffic at free-flowing speeds it’s only 40-50 minutes so definitely plan ahead using a navigational app like Waze to know when to avoid making the trek back & forth.
  • Anaheim Angels- The stadium is really close to DLR so if you are baseball fans & there’s a game when you are in town (likely for as many days at the time of year you’re going), it could be worth checking out & then doing Downtown Disney the rest of the day not at the game.
  • Legoland- I believe it’s about an hour and a half drive away to Carlsbad but that is feasible for spending a day there that you won’t be a Disney & if your kids might like that option better than Universal or the SD Zoo.
  • San Diego - would be a longer drive (2 or so hours depending on traffic but can be done in under 2 hours if not bad), but there’s SO much to see in SD too that’s not the zoo. More beaches, some with tidepools & the beach on Coronado that has the Del hotel that was the inspiration for the Grand Floridian’s architecture so a fun nod if you at all enjoy the atmosphere of the GF in WDW & would be a fun tie-in with the kids. Also, Old Town with great Mexican food (& you can see Sea World’s fireworks from easily if you’re there at night) and tons of market shopping. And I know you said no SD Zoo, but the zoo park in Escondido is like a safari park and not unlike an extended version of all the animal viewing you see at AK in WDW, so if you’re at all fans of that, a great way to spend a day trip.

And that’s all I got for now, but any questions, ask away!

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Thank you very much for such a detailed reply to my questions–lots of great info! I must be thinking of things that I read pre-covid about DLR being extra busy on the weekends. Our trip is scheduled for July 10-17, so we would be there for the weekend of July 13 and 14. I’m not sure where to look–does that avoid the last weekend before a pass level block change?
We were thinking of doing Downtown Disney on our arrival day-we will get there early afternoon, and our Hotel is right across the street from the parks, so we can walk there (and walk to the parks on those days too). If weekends are good for the parks, I think we will certainly avoid Weekends for our other days. Maybe something like-
Wed-check into hotel, Downtown Disney
Thursday-Park Day
Friday- Beach Day
Saturday-Park Day
Sunday-Park Day
Monday-Beach or other activity
Tuesday-Park Day
Wednesday-Head for Home
Does that look OK?
Any suggestions on best beaches? I’ve read that Sunset Beach on Huntington is not too busy but nice. Also, Crescent Beach on Laguna is not too busy. Balboa Island on Newport Beach has a pier and carnival area that also sounds fun, but again, I only know these things from reading about them. Any suggestions are great. I might be able to sell the kids on the Safari part of the San Diego Zoo–I think that would be cool. Again, thanks for all of the suggestions and help!!

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It’s somewhat older info that weekends are busy, but it’s also a slow shift Disney has been making since they introduced passes with blockouts and increased the number of blackout days per pass. 10 years ago we got our first pass for under $700, zero blockouts and when we first had a pass with blockouts (I wanna say it was 2016 when they introduced that concept), it was only the week of Christmas to New Years that it was blocked & was $800 which felt like a sting then, but I’d kill for that now! Today they don’t sell any passes with zero blockouts & a pass that is only blocked Christmas is around $1500ish (maybe even a little more). We have the pass below that highest one so it’s just about $1200 & blocks out the holidays and weekends they expect higher tourist crowds, but still has very many Fridays & Sundays & even some Saturdays when it’s not a holiday).

Anywho, you’re going in July so no need to worry about blockouts starting or ending as those will be in June & August. The only day that may be an uptick is July 17 (Disneyland’s birthday), but even that is localized to certain areas (i.e. if they do a birthday cavalcade down Main St. then Main St & the area in front of the train station will be packed 30 minutes before it starts) & won’t be too crazy, resort-wide. If you ever did want to look at the blockouts yourself, you can see them at The DL Magic Key Blockout Calendar .

We love staying across the street on Harbor Blvd so yes definitely you’ll be able to walk to Downtown Disney from there. Just know that the security perimeter starts at the pedestrian entrance on Harbor and extends to both park turnstiles (right across from one not very large plaza across from each other) and all of the the Downtown Disney shops & restaurants, but does NOT include the hotels. If you enter Grand Californian or the Disney Hotel grounds you exit the security perimeter & so to walk back to Harbor (and enter Downtown Disney) you’ll go through security. It’s not a huge deal to most, but if you kids of a stroller age & any number bags that can accompany that set, then multiple security trips can be a bit of a hassle. So just wanted to point that out.

I definitely feel like avoiding weekends for other activities is a good summer plan. I think the rest of your plan looks great & I do think those beach days are also well placed to break-up the number of park days to get some rest in between the walking!

We’ve done Huntington and Newport with our kids and the waves were a little strong at Huntington but it was easy to access the parking & walk to the beach so I’d do it in a heartbeat. Newport is the beach I grew up going to with family & it’s a lot harder now to access than it was then. But it’s still beautiful and I have nostalgia about being there so I enjoy anytime my husband wants to put up with going (the parking situation there is not great & requires either a lot of walking or taking public transportation or getting really, really lucky on the limited & nearby parking).

Definitely check their willingness to do the Safar Park as it’s very much separate (and not near) the zoo. It would be starting to cross into the territory of a long car ride, so if that would be a deterrent for any of you, then save it for a proper visit to San Diego one day. But it’s a really beautiful space.

I’m a local. Saturdays in the summer are generally the slowest day of the week at DLR. It’s been that way for at least 5 years. Not only all but the highest pass are blocked, but it’s the most expensive day for a one day ticket, so tourists, who plan on 1 Disney day often opt for the less expensive weekday. Multi-day ticket holders are there during the week and weekend, so those numbers don’t change as much. On the other hand, beaches are crazy busy on Saturdays in the summer. I would avoid that. Since Mondays at DLR can be crazy, I would do the beach that day and DLR on the weekend.

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For the beach, how old are your kids and what do they like to do? Will they be surfing (body, boogie…), swimming, playing in the sand, looking in tide pools, beach volleyball… Different beaches are good for different things. Some have shopping and dining nearby. Others have playgrounds. Some have softer sand than others or better waves. Parking can be in a state beach lot or only on the street with meters. Let me know what’s important to you, and I’ll suggest beaches for you.

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Thanks for the info–we’re definitely going to plan to hit the parks on the weekend and do a beach day on a Monday. I have 2 college age kids and the 3rd one is in High School. When we go to the Florida beaches, they like to swim, look for shells, and lay around on the beach. I’ve heard that shells are hard to come by on the Pacific beaches–is that the case?? If so, they will want to swim or lay around and relax. We usually try to find someplace that’s not crowded. Again, when in Florida, we like to go to Honeymoon Island State Park. It’s very close to the famous Clearwater Beach–same nice white sand, but a fraction of the people. Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks!!

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It’s actually illegal to remove shells or rocks from CA beaches. We don’t have nearly as many shells as FL. If mostly adults I would recommend Newport or Laguna, which both have shopping & restaurants & a cool vibe. Laguna has some cool tide pools too. They both have nice sand. Parking is definitely an issue though–street parking and a couple lots at Newport. I recommend you get there early. Laguna has Main Beach (at end of 133) with the shopping, art galleries, restaurants and beach volleyball, but there’s also Treasure Island. We love that one. Much quieter. You do walk down a big hill & stairs. It’s right by the Montage Resort. Keep in mind that Laguna offers free shuttles in the summer. You can park elsewhere and take the trolley to the beach. Go here: Trolleys | Laguna Beach, CA

If you tell me which you decide I can tell you where we usually park.

Keep in mind CA has cold water. 67° is considered warm. One can get used to it when swimming, but it can be challenging. Also, even at beaches not known for waves, there are waves (unlike at FL gulf coast beaches) so getting out to where swimming is a viable option can be difficult.

Again, good things to know ahead of time–thank you very much! I’m guessing that given the cooler water, they won’t want to spend a ton of time swimming, but will want to do some just to say that they’ve been in the Pacific. I haven’t had too much time to research yet, but it looks like Balboa Island on Newport Beach could be a fun area to spend some time and explore. What are your thoughts on that? We would probably take the Ferry to the Island, so would want to park somewhere near the Ferry loading area. I’m sure this would be our place to go and shop, eat, or explore, but not to swim. For swimming, or just enjoying being out on the beach, I like your suggestion of Treasure Island on Laguna Beach. The other Laguna spot that looked promising was Crescent Bay. Both of these spots seemed to be a little quieter from what I’ve read. Maybe we could start our beach day at Balboa Island, spend some time exploring there, then head down the road and spend some time in the water at one of the Laguna Beach spots. Thoughts or Suggestions??

Crescent is very nice and quiet too. I love Balboa. I’ve never taken the ferry, but that might be a good plan to avoid parking there.