Best Shows in Disneyland and California Adventure (plus parades and experiences)
Nobody wants to waste their time when they’re in Disneyland. Between rides and entertainment, there’s always something to entertain and something to wait for. This is our guide to the best shows in Disneyland not to miss.
Please note that many shows are subject to weather and even day of the week. Please be sure to check the Disneyland app (Google Play / iTunes) before planning your time around a specific show of Disneyland entertainment event.
What you'll find...
- Events in Disneyland Not to Miss
- Disneyland Fireworks and Nighttime Events Not to Miss
- Events in California Adventure Not to Miss
Events in Disneyland Not to Miss
Disney is known for creating magical experiences of every sort, and live performances and shows in Disneyland top those creations. There are performances all day long all over the park, so understanding the options in advance will help you plan your time in Disneyland.
Tip: always double check the daily park schedule for updates, special shows, or cancellations.
Music & Parades not to miss in Disneyland
Who doesn’t love a good parade? Our kids have enjoyed Disneyland parades since they were tiny and still do today. Us dads love them too! Depending on the season, you’ll find a variety of parade entertainment options, from Christmas marches and snow coming down, to local marching bands performing the whole parade route.
Magic Happens Parade
Disneyland parade floats never cease to amaze. Whether they move upwards and tower over the crowd or if they have acrobats swinging from them, they’re always incredible. You’ll typically find the parades to be full of dancers, characters schmoozing the audience, and catchy music.
To get the best seat if you’d like to watch the full parade, we recommend arriving to your preferred viewing area at least twenty minutes in advance of the start of the parade.
Tip: the best spot to view any Disneyland parade and then be able to make a quick exit is on the Adventureland / Frontierland side of the parade route in the Hub. That way you can easily leave the parade and get to your next stop.
The current parade, Magic Happens, is one of my favorite that Disneyland has ever created. Focusing on magical moments in Disney stories, it’s got the catchiest music and some of the best energy I’ve seen in a parade. The floats are smaller than previous parade floats, but the technology and puppetry elements are top notch.
The kids really loved the parade dancers and all of the characters on foot. Yes, the parade moves pretty consistently, but there is still lots of opportunity for interaction. Magic Happens really surprised me and I hope it sticks around for a long time! (written March 2020)
Disneyland Marching Band
The Disneyland Marching Band is incredible. They always sound amazing and the energy they add to the park is awesome. Because they stay as a rather compact group, sometimes accompanied by characters, you’ll hear them coming and you’ll be able to step off the parade route and enjoy.
The Disneyland Marching Band usually makes a few short parade stops, so if you are in the Hub area (in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle) you should be able to catch a longer performance.
Catching the Disneyland Pearly Band
Another favorite Disneyland performance is the Pearly Band. The what?! Yes, it’s the colorful brass band from the scene at the races in Mary Poppins. You know that scene in after the carousel horse race when they sing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?The pearly band appears and makes their way through Fantasyland in the late morning and other times. They play a great selection of jaunty tunes and encourage guests to dance around. I kind of love them the most.
Character events in Disneyland
You don’t have to be a small child to enjoy meeting and seeing characters in Disneyland. As adults, we often snap selfies with Mickey or Peter Pan just because it’s fun. No shame in being a kid again.
Town Square Characters
Town Square, which is the area just inside Disneyland beyond the Main Street Station, is a great place to meet Mickey, Donald, Pluto, Minnie, Goofy and Mary Poppins… and Chip and Dale too! In fact, they are our favorites to meet in Town Square because they also do a little comedy show to go along with their meet and greet.
You can often find Chip and Dale by the Fire Station, so keep your eyes peeled or as a cast member when they’ll be back around.
Star Wars Experiences and Characters
Long ago in a galaxy far, far away… there was the Jedi Training Academy, but that is no more. Nowadays there are three main areas that you can meet or accidentally run into Star Wars characters:
- Galaxy’s Edge – just walking around and sometimes accompanied by storm troopers, you can meet Chewbacca, Rey, Kylo Ren and more.
- Tomorrowland Hub – here you can meet random Star Wars characters, including Boba Fet… Totally random and really cool.
- Star Wars Launch Bay – this is the former Innoventions area of Tomorrowland. Now it’s both a Star Wars exhibition area as well as a place to meet Darth Vadar, Chewbacca and more.
The experience walking around Galaxy’s Edge is amazing. Even if you don’t catch any characters, you’ll still love the photo ops and attractions. Rise of the Resistance is amazing! Pay attention to the interactions of characters throughout Galaxy’s Edge, because even though there may not be a stage show, they are basically a walking galactic theater performance.
Character Meet and Greets in Disneyland
In true Disneyland fashion, you’ll only ever find characters where they belong. For example, you won’t find Darth Vadar hanging out by King Arthur’s Carousel. With that, if meeting characters is a part of your ideal Disneyland experience, and really interacting with certain characters can be some of the best shows in Disneyland, the following guide should help you find your favorite Disney friends:
- Princesses – Fantasy Faire or directly inside the Main Gate. Sometimes you’ll also find them near Snow White’s Wishing Well or at the entrance to the Sleeping Beauty Castle walk-through.
- Toons – Mickey and friends have designated areas within Toon Town to meet people, such as Mickey’s Movie Barn, but they’ll also show up in Town Square. Often times, Mickey and Minnie will start their day opposite of City Hall, and this is also the shortest wait to get to see them.
- Star Wars – of course you can meet both heroes and villains from Star Wars within Galaxy’s Edge, but also in Tomorrow Land in the Star Wars Launch Bay (formerly Innoventions, Carousel of Progress, America Sings…)
- Pooh and Friends – Critter Country is a great spot to meet Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore, but also the Splash Mountain crew. Pooh and friends will stay in their designated area, but Brer Bear and Brer Fox love to roam.
- Pirates and more – New Orleans Square has a ton of fun Disney characters to meet. From Jack Sparrow to Jack Skellington, or even Princess Tiana, you’ll find them all here.
Performances around Disneyland
Think of Disneyland as a huge stage with world class performances happening all around at any given time. Keep your eyes and ears peeled to catch who knows what! The best entertainment in Disneyland often feels unplanned and will surprise you as you walk through the lands.
Dapper Dans on Main Street
We love the Dapper Dans. A colorful barbershop quartet, they roam from Town Square to the Plaza Gardens of the Hub. The Dapper Dans lay down slick harmonies of both classic barbershop quartet favorites and acapella arrangements of songs from Disney films.
They have mad singing skills and are some of the best performers in Disneyland.
Frontier Land audience participation
OMG. If you ever want a run of western themed dad-jokes and awkward moments, just hang out in front of the Golden Horseshoe for an afternoon. Cowboy performers make hilarious appearances teasing each other and pulling people from the audience to be a part of their storytelling.
I both love it and I fear that one day they’ll pull me to the front of the crowd to participate.
We’ve seen some awesome shows roll through the Fantasyland Theatre over the years. The best Disneyland show ever was here: Animazement. Wow. Maybe one day they’ll bring it back.
A full performance theater with the capabilities of the best Broadway stages, you can expect a great experience.
Currently (2020) the Fantasyland Theater is Mickey and the Magical Map. It’s a lot like Animazement in that characters from several stories are brought together and there is great, energetic music. The show doesn’t happen every day, but check the daily schedule when you’re there to try to catch it!
Disneyland Fireworks and Nighttime Events Not to Miss
Nobody does fireworks and pyrotechnics like Disney. They are so good at creating some of the best, most engaging and surprising shows of any theme park anywhere.
Evening Fireworks Display – Main Street USA
We loved the fireworks show in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, but Disneyland’s displays are always remarkable. The absolute best Disneyland fireworks show ever was Remember, Dreams Come True. They’ve brought it back a few times, but Disney does love to change things up.
The current show (2020) is called Mickey’s Mix Magic. It combines fireworks, large flames, light projections and more. The music and effects are awesome! It’s basically a whole-park dance party. We all loved it!
Best Places to view Disneyland Fireworks
Because so much of any of the Disneyland fireworks shows take place centered around Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, including high tech light projections, being on the castle-side of the hub is the best place to view the fireworks.
If you cannot be directly in front of the castle, that’s fine. Instead, find an unobstructed spot on the other side of the hub, by the Plaza Inn or Plaza Gardens where you can still see the castle. You can enjoy the show from anywhere, but these are the best spots.
Fantasmic! – Rivers of America
I remember when Fantasmic! first debuted in Disneyland. It was one of the best shows ever at that time and it’s even better today. With years of innovation and updates, Fantasmic! combines pyrotechnics, actors, the large ships on the Rivers of America, and classic Disney music to create an awesome show.
Depending on the season, Fantasmic! may happen twice per night. If you plan it just right, you can see both the fireworks AND Fantasmic! In the same evening.
Best Seating for Fantasmic!
Since Fantasmic! takes place all across the Rivers of America, there are several great viewpoints. The best seats for Fantasmic! are at the Riverbelle Terrace. If you can’t score spots there, our next recommendation is closer to the Haunted Mansion, as close to the water as possible.
Events in California Adventure Not to Miss
Disney’s California Adventure is a really diverse theme park. When it comes to the best shows and entertainment in California Adventure, we’re talking about more than parades and fireworks, but special events and festivals too!
Best California Adventure Parades
Over the years there have been many parades, both new and revived from prior years. Because a good deal of this park focuses on Pixar characters and movies, there’s typically a Pixar element to whatever new entertainment rolls out.
Note: currently (2020) there are no scheduled parades in California Adventure, but there are lots of performances and experiences.
Pixar Play Parade
I remember the day the Pixar Play Parade debuted. It was fun, bouncy, and had the catchiest music. After a few years of bringing the best Pixar characters to California Adventure, it relocated to Walt Disney World… and then it came back!
While the Pixar Play Parade has seen some additions and even a few parts removed, it’s just as great now as it always was. What I think makes this parade so special are the unique costumes that also function to give the characters amazing performance functions and spirit. For example, the springy legs of the Incredibles dancers or the blowfish tricycle for the Finding Nemo portion. Really, this will always be a favorite of ours. NOT CURRENTLY RUNNING IN CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE (2020)
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is a special event occurring in California Adventure in the fall. While you enjoy all the other Halloween fun and decorations in both parks as part of your admission, to take part in Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is a separate ticket.
This awesome Disney Halloween event includes villain dance parties, extra characters all around, unique Halloween decor and treats, and all kinds of special effects throughout the park. It’s really unique and fun!
Character Events in California Adventure
Some of the best character interactions in Disneyland actually happen over in California Adventure. Due to the many themed areas in the park, a lot of favorite Disney characters, including Mickey and Goofy, have special costumes. These unique versions of characters can be seen in Carthay Circle, Condor Flats, and even Hollywood. But there’s more…
Carthay Circle Five & Dime and Newsies Performances
I love the Five & Dime show! It takes place right in the middle of the classic Los Angeles neighborhood set. Live music it the best and this performance always has lots of energy.
And if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll bring back the Newsies that perform with Mickey Mouse. It’s another fun, energetic show with dancers, live singing, and vintage Mickey all doing their thing, it’s one of the best shows in Disneyland… er… California Adventure.
Marvel Superhero Events
We can’t wait for the premier of the new Marvel area of California Adventure (coming summer 2020), but in the meantime, there are plenty of cool Marvel moments to enjoy. On the ****** Stage near the Monsters Inc. attraction, you’ll get to see several characters show off their skills and then meet them.
You can even meet the crew from Guardians of the Galaxy in the Hollywood area. Something fun to watch for: the Awesome Dance-off with Gamora and Peter Quill aka Star Lord.
Pixar Pier Characters and Fun
Since not everyone gets to visit during Halloween, we won’t focus on the amazing puppeteers of Coco, but there are plenty more moments of celebration and fun on Pixar Pier. There are character meet and greets constantly, and there are also cool performances. Our family really enjoys the Toy Story Green Army Men Drum Corps. There’s no info about them on the Disneyland website, but they can be found in the Pixar Pier area. Love it!
Best Performances in California Adventure
It can get really in Anaheim in the summer, so thank goodness some of the best shows in Disneyland are actually inside! California Adventure has a few wonderful interactive experiences that are great with kids on a hot day (and they’re pretty fun too!).
Turtle Talk with Crush
Forever this will be our favorite activities with the kids. Sitting on the floor and chatting it up with a life-sized CGI sea turtle is pretty hilarious and awesome. Even though it’s a show on a screen, it’s different every time and the actors are great at making it a fun experience.
Note: you can do Turtle Talk with Crush in EPCOT at Walt Disney World too. It’s set up very similarly and is just as fun.
Disney Junior Dance Party
The first time we went to the Disney Junior Dance Party we didn’t think the kids would be into it. We don’t have the Disney Channel and don’t watch the shows at home… but that didn’t matter! Between the hosts getting everyone excited and the familiar faces of Timon, Mickey, and others, it was a hit.
Tip: this is a REALLLLLLLY interactive show, so if you’re kids aren’t super outgoing or big into dancing, the Disney Junior Dance Party may not be for them. We had a few minutes where it was quite the sensory overload, but eventually they got through it and had fun.
Disney’s Animation Academy – so cool!
I don’t know how we have skipped doing the Animation Academy with all of our visits to California Adventure, but we finally did it and loved it. And yes, this is for sure a Disney performance and it’s impressive. With shows every 30 minutes, guests get to learn from a Disney animator how to draw a character. They guide you through step by step and you leave with your own Disney cartoon drawing.
Note: our oldest is quite the perfectionist and he didn’t enjoy the Animation Academy. It was really frustrating for him to work quickly. The Animation Academy cast member came over to him afterwards to comfort him and share her experience in drawing. She was so sweet and made the experience better.
Best Tips for the World of Color Show
World of Color is a laser light show played on the fountains of **** in California Adventure. It premiered in ****** and has been a hit ever since. Funny, but it actually took us seven visits to Disneyland since its premier to finally get to see it. Wow!
It’s completely different from Fantasmic! and is gorgeous. The show runs about twenty minutes and can be viewed from all around the lake in California Adventure.
Seating for World of Color
There are actually FastPasses availableFastPasses available to get the best seats for World of Color. You can sign up in advance using the Max Pass system or you can scan at one of the kiosks on the day of the show. In certain cases, premium seating may be available for purchase, usually in conjunction with special events
If you don’t get a FastPass and you’re going to just show up, be at least twenty minutes early. You’ll find viewing spots all along the lake, with some of the best non-reserved spots being close to the Corndog Castle and ***** Madness.
What to expect with World of Color
World of Color is not a pyrotechnic display. Unlike the fireworks in Disneyland or Fantasmic! It is all lights and fountains. If it’s a windy night, park officials may choose to delay or cancel the show. Even though you might not mind getting sprayed and soaked during the show, that’s not the goal so weather does impact the show.
Everyone will enjoy World of Color though, as it’s not geared towards one particular age group. If you’re visiting Disneyland with small kids, you should plan to arrive early to get the best seats, as the show takes place on the same plane as the viewers for the most part.
Best Photo Tips for World of Color
First of all, plan on just enjoying the show. No doubt you’ll want to snap photos, but it can be difficult to get good shots due to the nature of being a light show. For the best World of Color photos:
- Secure an unobstructed view
- Use a small/pocket tripod or grippy holder (many aren’t allowed)
- Use a camera phone, not an actual camera
- Be sure to use the most advanced low-light photo setting your phone will allow.
Tip: Google Nightsight is AMAZING for photographing light shows and fireworks. We recommend the Pixel 3 or higher for the best shots (they turn out way better than iPhone shots)
Wow! So many great opportunities for fun. These really are the best shows and experiences in Disneyland even though there are more that we didn’t cover them all. We invite you to check out our other Disneyland planning articles to really get a good handle on the parks and planning your visit to Disneyland.
Like always, please let us know how we can help. Leave us a comment or send us a note with any questions!