Disneyland is better at night. This isn’t my opinion–it’s an unassailable truth. (Okay, it is my opinion…but it should be a fact!) I am a firm believer that a big part of the appeal of Disney theme parks is the intangible kinetic energy that brings life and an element of entertainment beyond the sum of the attractions in any particular land. An example of kinetic energy in Disneyland is the Rivers of America. You have two boats, plus the Davy Crockett canoes all on the same waters. Even if don’t experience any of these attractions, they bring life and a certain atmosphere to the area–even if you don’t realize it. Likewise, Tomorrowland and Fantasyland have criss-crossing transportation-based attractions like Casey Jr., the Storybook Land Canal Boats, the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Autopia, and the Disneyland Monorail (RIP PeopleMover) all operating in close proximity to one another. While these attractions are fun on their own, they are undoubtedly better because of their “interaction” with one another.

What does this have to do with Disneyland at night? Absolutely nothing, besides explaining and establishing the importance of kinetic energy in Disneyland. Basically, kinetic energy is an incalculable x-factor that enhances the guest experience by giving a pulsating life to the park. The kinetic energy of Disneyland is amplified at night, when not only are these attractions and details present, but also is excellent lighting and a different ambiance in the park. Plus, everything is better at night.

Here I will set forth my ten favorite ways to enjoy at evening in Disneyland. Most of this list will focus on the minutiae and random things I do to soak up the ambiance while wandering aimlessly around the park. Judging by the hordes of people that crowd into Fantasmic! and Main Street for the fireworks each night, any idiot can give you a list filled with things like, “OMG, watch fireworks at Disneyland. They’re NEAT-O!” So I don’t waste my time or yours with a list filled with patently obvious tips (although I’m sure many of you already know much of this), assume you should also enjoy the obvious.

10. Innoventions

At this point you might be thinking I’m crazy, because Innoventions is an indoor attraction that doesn’t belong on any top ten list besides the “Top Ten Things That Suck” at Disneyland, but hear me out. The second floor outside Innoventions offers a great view of Disneyland, and is a nice tranquil spot to just stand and gaze. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon your perspective), Innoventions typically closes early, so you need to make sure you either time your visit well or sweet-talk a Cast Member into letting you wander up the exit ramp to the second level.

9. Hungry Bear Restaurant

This is more of a post sunset, early evening shot than a night one. In the early evening hours, the golden light on the Rivers of America is excellent, and the harmonious melody of the begging ducks drowns out all other noise in the area. Hungry Bear Restaurant is probably my favorite counter service restaurant in Disneyland, and that’s largely because of its tranquil setting. My wife and I love to grab a table here on the second level as far from all other guests as possible, and just relax on the Rivers.

8. Treehouse

Here’s another one that’s all about the ambiance and view. Most good views are obscured by branches, but Tarzan’s Treehouse does offer an excellent view towards Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Although I fulfilled my dream of spending the night in Disneyland earlier this year, I didn’t get to fulfill the second part of that dream: sleeping in the Treehouse. If you are ever invited to spend the night in Disneyland, request the Treehouse as your accommodations. Why stay in the Dream Suite when you can sleep in a treehouse?!

7. Rancho del Zocalo

Honestly, this entire list could be filled with places to eat at night (it pains me to snub French Market’s outdoor seating and the “Pineapple Fountain” over there). Rancho is a fairly obvious choice because of its excellent lighting at night, which makes for a great spot to sit. Even though I’m not a huge fan of the food here, we frequently head over here just to catch our breath.

6. Porch on Main Street

You haven’t lived until you’ve grabbed an ice cream cone and kicked your feet up in the rocking chairs on the porch on Main Street. While a lot of the other options here are reclusive ways to get away from people, this puts you right in the midst of the action as people conclude their days at Disneyland.

5. Pixie Hollow Water Show

Even though Pixie Hollow basically encroaches upon Main Street, it wasn’t until this year that I had ever seen this little water show, which a friend jokingly described to me as “mini-World of Color.” While it’s not of the same scope as World of Color (not by a long shot), it’s a nice little diversion, and the color-changing lights make it fun to watch at night. The nearby bright lights of Astro Orbitor and the rest of Tomorrowland make a nice nighttime “attraction,” too.

4. Motorboat Dock

The former dock for the Motorboats is now a nice, tucked away area with tables that is close to many food locations and offers nice views of the Monorail, the Matterhorn, and ‘it’s a small world’. All things considered, this is a nice spot to get away from the hustle and bustle of the park while having some great eye-candy in view. The photo above was not taken from the Motorboat dock, the view of the ‘it’s a small world’ facade is more obscured from the dock. This was the closest I had…plus it’s a pretty picture, right?

3. Storybook Land Canal Boats

Although I made a conscious effort to avoid this becoming an “attractions that are better at night” list, I can’t help but add Storybook Land Canal Boats to my list. It’s one of my favorite attractions at Disneyland any time of the day, but the ambiance is even better at night when all of the little twinkle lights heighten the mood. I’m probably a bit biased towards this attraction because “A Whole New World” was my wife’s and my first dance song at our wedding, and passing under the lit-up archways always puts a smile on my face, but this is my list, so it’s going to incorporate my biases.

2. Les Court des Anges

One of my favorite little corners of Disneyland, the Court of Angels in New Orleans Square is absolutely stunning at night (when it’s not being used as a Christmas ornaments shop). Strands of popcorn lights overhead perfectly illuminate the intimate area, which is absolutely jam-packed with detail. I like to sit at the bottom of the steps here and just absorb the ambiance.

1. The Hub

This one is, admittedly, rather obvious, but I think it bears mentioning as so many people race past the hub as they rush from attraction to attraction. In reading this list, you might be thinking, “jeez, this guy likes to sit around A LOT.” It’s true, I do. And I must admit, I’m quite awesome at it. My favorite theme park experience in the world is sitting on a bench in the hub at Disneyland or Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (or on the ground under Spaceship Earth at Epcot) after the other park guests have left, and marveling at what is all around me. I prefer this to any attraction, as odd as that may sound. I won’t get melodramatic with sentiment about the park’s creator, but suffice to say, gazing at the Castle late at night from the hub frequently gives me chills.

There you have them, my ten favorite things to enjoy at Disneyland at night. What do you like most about Disneyland at night? Share your thoughts in the comments!

  • kdriggs23

    These seem to be so aggressively altered by photoshop that I the real work of the WDI show LD’s is lost in a composition of hue adjustments and layering.

    • This is Tom’s art form. His photos have a HUGE following. If you are looking for realism, be sure to Check out our Dateline Disneyland and In the Parks columns on Mondays and Fridays. But Tom’s Top Ten are a showcase for Tom’s fabulous photos.

      And fabulous they are indeed. Thank you Tom!

    • MickeyIsMyne

      I completely agree with you, kdriggs23. I have to say that I am not a fan of these Photoshopped-to-heck pictures. It’s hard to read a lot of the things on this site anymore due to them. I enjoy a realistic look at the parks.

    • Kimura

      I like Tom’s photos. Very well done. However, I don’t think they work within the context of a “top ten” article where the reader needs a more accurate illustration of what’s being described. Personally, I think Tom’s photos would do better in a featured gallery dedicated to his unique talent.

  • HeyBaloo

    Hey Tom,
    I always enjoy your photos and your perspectives, at both WDW and the DLR, and I love the fact that you allow yourself the chance to just sit and photograph these special vistas, watching the light wax and wane through the days, but especially at night, is pretty awesome. I also like, the notion that you encourage people go to Disneyland and not just go on rides and run from place to place (unless you want to, of course).

    I’m kind of bummed that you posted the spot at the Hungry Bear, I’m not sure of how secret a spot it was anyway, but you did turn me on to the spot behind Flo’s V8, so I guess we’re good. It is truly amazing how hard-wired these places and experiences are to my (and many, many others) memories and emotions. Grazie’, August Greenwell

    • Your bigger concern should be that I’m directing people to go to Innoventions! What if so many people go over there and are mistakenly counted as guests of the attraction that its inevitable demise is forestalled? I could never forgive myself for that!

      • lctom1

        Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

      • sixalex


        Love the pix. Even if they are not pure documentation style, they are fabulously artistic. Not realistic? They are pictures of Disneyland!

  • mratigan


  • lctom1

    Tom, I love your photos (yeah, I’ve told you that before) but this time I also enjoyed reading about your perspective. I also love to go to Disneyland and just sit and watch people, or talk to cast members. I had one visit where I rode no attractions but spent the entire time talking to CMs and observing the crowds. I found it fascinating. Besides, how else would I have ever learned that CM Danielle’s favorite princess when she was growing up was … Ursula!

  • KENfromOC

    Tom – Wonderful compositions! I really think the subject matter (Disney) really fits your vision of saturated colors and fanciful style. I would love to see a “step-by-step” guide on one of the original photos and how you take it through Photoshop (or what ever you use). Nice job!

    • Thanks for the kind words. Good to know that my photos don’t ruin the master plans of WDI for everyone! 😉

  • WDITrent

    What a cool idea for a column! Thanks for putting this together for us, it’s really unique. I look forward to more of these in the future!

  • martinjbell1986

    All of your pictures are great! I have tons of them that I use for my desktop wallpapers at work and at home!

    • So you’re viewing my photos while at work, eh? I ought to alert the proper authorities! 😉

  • TodAZ1

    “Why stay in the Dream Suite when you can sleep in a treehouse?!” Why sleep in a nice big comfy bed above Pirates of the Caribbean? Sorry, but my idea of camping is a fully furnished log cabin!

    Great column, though!

  • Circa1966

    I’m loving your top ten articles and of course the photos are great. I totally get your expertise at “sitting” around the park. I am with you – not only is there a huge amount of people watching opportunities, the ambience – the x factor as you call it – is incredible. How many times has sitting brought me to musings about actually inhabiting a world with river boats, horse drawn carriages or magic castles? Thanks for getting it!!

    • The world truly needs more “sitting” experts. Well, the Disney community does, at least. Too many people just run from place to place!

  • Hot Sauce 1

    Phenomenal photos!
    The compositions are unique and fabulous as well as the processing. Love them all!

  • mom4boys

    Just gorgeous! We’ve been to Disneyland annually for the past 7 years. With the crowds that might be there for Cars Land and the DCA relaunch this year, we have been considering a year away. These photos make me want to be there so badly, crowds or not. Thanks!

    • Susan Hughes

      There are no crowds at Disneyland. There’s speculation as to why this is…everyone’s at DCA, the huge prices hikes have driven everyone away, new policies with the Annual Passholder Blockouts have totally shut them out for the summer, the overall bad economy in this country, etc.
      But whatever the reason, Disneyland is a dream. No pushing, shoving or long wait times. If at all possible, there before August 20th. That’s when the passholder blockouts are lifted. Then all hell with break loose.

  • DizMiiLand

    Here are some of my favorites:

    * Part way down the Indy exit trail there is a place to sit on the fence, just past the truck. You can hear the Jungle Cruise, hear jungle music, and see many of the themed elements of Indy. Although a lot of people walk past you, they are dispersed and don’t seem to detract.
    * The far west-side seating of the French Market. From here you can see the Rivers of America, the HM, and hear the trains come and go, along with the telegraph sound.
    * The trail that connects the Harbor Galley with Critter Country. Very fun at night and so glad they opened it again.
    * Snow White Grotto.
    * The benches in front of the Matterhorn.
    * Matterhorn Way (is that what it’s called?) overlooking the sub lagoon.
    * Magnolia Park.
    * Riding the train around at least one full circle. Not the same experience in the daytime.

    And I agree with many of them in the article.

    I find that the western side of the Park is far more romantic, mysterious, and adventurous than the eastern side, at nighttime.

    Great article and photos.

    • This is some seriously good stuff, love your list! With the exception of the benches in front of the Matterhorn, I agree with everything here.

      I especially agree with your western side comments. I had never thought about that until now, but I totally agree.

  • bayouguy

    Tom, you have that IT factor in seeing things. Incredible. Love the Rancho pick the best. Technically, I suck at artistic things, and being a teacher, that sort of sucks. So, these pictures will help me learn some stuff about art and photography.

  • Susan Hughes

    Thanks for including the second level of the Hungry Bear Restaurant. I often go there to chill as well. And I’ll also go there for a unique look at Fantasmic. This is where the “backstage” area of the show is located. You can watch what goes on behind the scenes, see characters loading and unloading, floats making “costume” changes, and the big finale…the Mark Twain filled with characters who have stopped their dance routines and just wave and smile at the few people on the terrace.

  • Cjedwards44

    One of my favorite things to do, if you can time it right, is to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad during one of the two Fantasmic showings. It enhances both the ride and the Disney magic that you feel. Another ride I enjoy at night, once again if you can time it right, is Autopia while a live band is playing on the Tomorrwland Terrace stage. It’s also quite nice to listen to (and watch!) while waiting in line for Space Mountain.

    I think that this is an aspect that California Adventure falls behind on. I used to love going on California Screamin’ and the Orange Stinger (Now Silly Symphony Swings) at night. Rides are bettter at night, plain and simple! I think they should keep rides open throughout World of Color. Have the music from Silly Symphony and Screamin’ play with the World of Color. The only thing that may disrupt the show would be screams, but it would give the park a more live feel at night and give people a more magical view to the rides. Plus World of Color is quite loud so I don’t know how much screams would get in the way of the show. How cool would it be watching World of Color from Screamin’, Mickey’s Fun Wheel or any other ride they close during the show!

  • badger hollow

    Thanks for sharing your top picks for night time views at Disneyland. I never had thought about trying to time a night time visit to the upper ramp of Innoventions, and my wife and I typically avoid Critter Country, and so we missed the evening ambience at the Hungry Bear.

    Like you we enjoy just soaking up the atmosphere, and while we live far enough away that our trips to Disneyland are a rare thing, we always make sure our visits are long enough that we have plenty of time to just wander about.

  • JiminyDean

    Thanks for the awesome photos. My next trip is in November and I’m inviting my parents to come along because they’ve only been to Disney World. I’ll definitely share these pictures to encourage them to come west.
    You named many of my favorite night time places but one other, I think, is Toon Town. I know there is no E-ticket attraction there, but I could sit by the Roger Rabbit Fountain and soak in the ambience every night.