While Disneyland Resort is known for its impressive fireworks shows, character-filled parades, meet and greets and fun foods that change with the seasons, probably the greatest thing about the resort is the rides. With two theme parks to explore and over 80 attractions to choose from, it’s no wonder. However, these 20 rides simply can’t be beat.
big thunder mountain railroad paul hiffmeyerdisneyland 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Credit: Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland)

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

What could be more thrilling than riding a runaway train? Located in Frontierland, this fast-paced rollercoaster twists around red rocks and through dark caves—and ends with a bang after an “explosion.” One of the best things about the Wildest Ride in the Wilderness is that, even with the fast speeds and small drops, it’s perfect for children of all ages. If you time your ride right, you’ll also catch a glimpse of the fireworks show overhead, a magical experience that can’t be replicated on any other ride in the park.

it s a small world paul hiffmeyerdisneyland 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disney Parks)

It’s A Small World

Though the repetitive song may bother some, there’s no denying that this whimsical ride is a Disneyland classic. Hop aboard a boat and drift into the dark ride, which features dolls from across the world coming together in a showing of peace and unity. Beyond the lessons offered up in it’s a small world, the ride is a fun cultural trip that showcases different clothing and environments from various countries. And since an array of Disney characters were added a few years back—Cinderella in France, Aladdin and Jasmine in the Middle East, Mulan in China, Simba in Africa and Ariel under the sea, among others—it’s fun to look out for these recognizable characters.

star tours e28093 the adventures continue disney enterprises inc lucasfilm ltd 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Disney Enterprises, Inc./Lucasfilm Ltd.)

California Screamin’

This California Adventure rollercoaster isn’t made from wood, but it sure gives off that wooden coaster vibe. Set just behind the lagoon where the nightly World of Color show takes place, and atop Paradise Pier, the boardwalk ride kicks off with a bang—and a few moments of extra anticipation as you wait for it to speed up its first hill. The highlight of the ride is the upside down portion in the middle of the ride that is sure to make you scream. As you fly down the drops and whip around the turns, ready yourself for the photo that is snapped toward the end of the ride.

mad tea party scott brinegardisneyland 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Scott Brinegar/Disneyland)

Star Tours – The Adventures Continue

Modeled after the original Star Tours, this newer version keeps the adventure going with scenes from the newer films, keeping the ride relevant. Between the 3-D glasses and the advanced technology, you’ll really feel like you’re soaring through space in this simulator ride. Though the old ride was the same every time, The Adventures Continue showcase a blend of varying scenes each time. While old favorites like C3PO and Darth Vader are still involved, the ride also features new faces like BB-8, Poe and Kylo Ren. Plus, where else will you travel by lightspeed?

mad tea party scott brinegardisneyland 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Scott Brinegar/Disneyland)

Mad Tea Party

Fantasyland is often thought of as a kiddie area, but the teacups bring out the kid in all of us. Spinning around in colorful teacups as cheerful music fills the air, there won’t be a care in the world—except for how fast you can make your cup twirl. With a wheel in the center to increase your speed, you can control exactly how quick you move. At night, colorful paper lanterns provide a whimsical atmosphere, matching the vibrant shades of the cups spinning below for a magical sight.

indiana jones adventure disneylucasfilm ltd 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Credit: Disney/LucasFilm Ltd.)

Indiana Jones Adventure

Easily one of the most popular rides at Disneyland, Indiana Jones Adventure is probably unlike most rides you’ve been on. The queue winds through a jungle before entering the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, where tricks and traps meant to deter adventurers are part of the story. Once you hop aboard your jeep, you’re in for a rugged thrill ride, full of snakes, arrows, fire, insects and an evil curse. There is also a large boulder barreling down onto the jeep before the ride is through, when Indy, of course, steps in to save you.

soarin  around the world disneyland resort 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Disneyland Resort)

Soarin’ Around the World

Stepping in as the replacement for the always popular Soarin’ Over California, this new take on the famed California Adventure ride features some of the most beautiful spots in the world. The simulator really makes you feel as if you were flying, with wind rushing around you. Rather than the beaches of the central coast and golf courses of Palm Springs, you’ll find yourself “hang gliding” over the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower and Iguazu Falls, among others. But don’t worry—the ride still ends at the Happiest Place on Earth, with an appearance from Tinkerbell and fireworks over the Disneyland castle.

haunted mansion paul hiffmeyerdisneyland resort 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Haunted Mansion

The ghosts and ghouls of the Haunted Mansion may frighten some youngsters but as most know, the 99 haunts inside the mansion are as friendly as can be. There are so many things that make this ride special, from the first room (a.k.a. the elevator) with its stretching paintings to fascinating interior queue to the ride itself. Once in your “doom buggy,” prepare to watch the ghosts joke around within the mansion, culminating with the graveyard scene. Another thing that makes this ride appealing is its transformation for the last few months of the year into Haunted Mansion Holiday, a “Nightmare Before Christmas”-themed adventure.

radiator springs racers paul hiffmeyerdisneyland resort 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Radiator Springs Racers

Ever since Cars Land opened in 2012, Radiator Springs Racers has been one of the biggest hotspots in California Adventure—and it’s not tough to see why. The ride pits two cars against each other, racing up and down hills at high speeds to find out which will arrive at the finish line first. But, before that, the cars wind leisurely through the red rocks, into the town of Radiator Springs and through some local auto improvement shops to prepare for the big race. It’s a fun ride for the whole family and showcases a lot of characters from the “Cars” series.

peter pan s flight paul hiffmeyerdisneyland resort 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Peter Pan’s Flight

There aren’t many rides in Fantasyland that get the attention—and lengthy lines—that Peter Pan’s Flight does. This popular ride might be aimed at children, but there’s nothing stopping adults from enjoying the adventure as well. Rather than a car, this ride is set in a flying pirate ship, whisking guests out the Darlings’ window, over the streets of London and on to Neverland. From pirates to mermaids, this simple ride captures all of the imagination of the famed Disney classic and really makes you feel like you’re in a land where you’ll never grow up.

splash mountain paul hiffmeyerdisneyland resort 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland)

Splash Mountain

Find your laughing place at Splash Mountain, a boat ride that almost guarantees you’ll get wet. While the most famous aspect is the massive drop toward the end, in which you soar down into a briar patch, part of the beauty of this ride is in the interior scenes, inspired by the Disney film “Song of the South” from the 1940s. The music helps set the mood as you switch from happy to anxious, climbing the steep hill to a harrowing tune. However, as you start to drop and the camera flashes, you’ll be sure to get a rush of adrenaline that will leave you wanting to go on again—if it’s not too cold out.

guardians of the galaxye28093mission breakout joshua sudockdisneyland resort 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort)

Guardians of the Galaxy–Mission BREAKOUT!

The newest ride at California Adventure is based on the popular “Guardians of the Galaxy” series, and stars Rocket the Raccoon. Though many weren’t too thrilled with it replacing Tower of Terror, the ride has been a hit with many Disney-goers, producing long lines and plenty of excitement. One highlight is the items in the lobby as you wait in line; part of The Collector’s loot from the film and from other films set in the same universe, they are identifiable pieces that captivate the crowds. Then, the ride features a tale of escape, with guests helping Rocket rescue his friends. The same beloved drops are there with a whole new story—and plenty of killer music from the soundtrack too.

mark twain riverboat paul hiffmeyerdisneyland 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland)

Mark Twain Riverboat

For a relaxing trip around the Rivers of America, the Mark Twain Riverboat is the ride for you. The steam-powered paddler boat has been an icon of the park since it first opened, and offers a fun trip around Tom Sawyer Island. For about 15 minutes, guests can sit back and relax as they go on a sightseeing adventure that features views of waterfalls, Native American lands, settler buildings, island caves and plenty of (fake) animals. The narrator of the trip discusses the importance of discovery in the 19th century.

space mountain disneyland resort 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Credit: Disneyland Resort)

Space Mountain

Another favorite is Space Mountain, a high-speed thrill ride set in outer space. Whether it’s the classic version or the Star Wars-inspired HyperSpace Mountain, this rollercoaster is set in the dark, with plenty of stars surrounding you as you fly through space. The futuristic ride is always a hit with thrill seekers, but has been especially popular since the Star Wars shift, with light speed and TIE fighters playing a role in the adventure.

toy story midway mania gene duncandisneyland 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Gene Duncan/Disneyland)

Toy Story Midway Mania!

Those with a competitive nature will love the Toy Story-inspired carnival game ride on Paradise Pier. Toss on some 3-D glasses then hop aboard to compete against your seatmate for digital prizes, like a beaver, a cat, a bear or an armadillo. Score points by pulling the ball attached to the string on the back of your gun, doing things like breaking plates with round balls, shooting balloons with darts, tossing rings on the aliens’ heads or throwing eggs at barnyard animals. It’s a fun ride that brings a game aspect to the park, reminiscent of its Disneyland counterpart, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.

pirates of the caribbean paul hiffmeyerdisneyland 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland)

Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean has been at Disneyland for more than 50 years, making it one of the most iconic rides for obvious reasons. Guests climb aboard a boat for the long but gentle water ride, and take a trip into a town that has been infiltrated by pirates. With a massive pirate ship, explosions and fire galore, it showcases the life of a swashbuckling pirate, but the ride also includes cameos from Captain Jack Sparrow, the star of the later-made Disney film series. The Blue Bayou restaurant is also located within the ride, offering a dim yet beautiful view for diners.

dumbo the flying elephant ashley ryan 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Credit: Ashley Ryan)

Dumbo the Flying Elephant

Another original ride, Dumbo the Flying Elephant has long been an icon of the park itself. Held in Fantasyland, the children’s ride features a variety of flying elephants with different colored hats that take to the sky for some aerial excitement. A lever within the elephant allows you to control whether you skim the lower circle or soar upward, but you can also bounce up and down as you go. While you wait in line, feathers are handed out to dictate who will get an elephant on the next flight, an interesting touch that is based on the 1941 animated Disney film “Dumbo.”

matterhorn bobsleds paul hiffmeyerdisneyland resort 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland)

Matterhorn Bobsleds

The Matterhorn Mountain, though a real spot in Switzerland, is also a symbol representing Disneyland Park, as it’s the only Disney park with the Matterhorn Bobsleds ride. The towering white mountain, which can be seen from the local freeway, features a fast-paced rollercoaster that whips in and around the mountain. Inside, you’ll find scares from a recently-updated Abominable Snowman and, outside, you’ll spot waterfalls and dips into the lagoon surrounding the structure. While it’s a little bumpy, it’s a great ride and has maintained popularity since it opened in 1959.

jungle cruise disneyland resort 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Credit: Disneyland Resort)

Jungle Cruise

Animal lovers will enjoy a trip on the Jungle Cruise, which takes guests through various jungles and along rivers in spots like Asia, Africa and South America. Explore places like the Nile, the Amazon and the African Congo as you see everything from hippos and elephants to gorillas and piranhas. In addition to the animals, you’ll encounter some native headhunters as well as some of the cheesiest jokes you’ll ever hear from your tour guide—but the jokes especially make the ride a wonderful experience that will keep you smiling all the way back to the dock. The Jungle Cruise is another original ride from the park opening in 1955.

grizzly river run paul hiffmeyerdisneyland resort1 20 Best Disneyland Rides

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Grizzly River Run

While Splash Mountain is the iconic Disneyland water ride, Grizzly River Run holds its own over at the other park. This fun rafting ride offers dips and jumps at various points along the winding river, all under the watchful eye of the grizzly rock overhead. As you whip through caves, don’t let the noise of a bear growling scare you. Expect to get wet, especially if you’re sitting next to the stairs, but enjoy it. It’s especially nice on hot summer days.

Ashley Ryan is an Orange County native that loves traveling, live music and photography. She blogs at Pure Wander and freelances for a variety of publications including Newport Beach Magazine and Laguna Beach Magazine.


  1. John Miller says:

    With the prices Disneyland is now charging, any ride there is getting less and less appealing. Walt must be rolling over as he watches his greedy company now. If you think Disney cares about families, WRONG

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