These Are the 15 Disneyland Rides You Can't Miss

The Best Attractions at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure

Indiana-Jones-Ride.jpg
••• Disney. Used with permission.

Disneyland is the prototypical theme park. It's the place where Walt Disney launched a revolutionary new entertainment concept in 1955. Through the years, the park has expanded and evolved. The Imagineers have developed amazing new technology and storytelling techniques and rolled out incredible new rides and attractions. With the addition of a second park, Disney California Adventure, there are now dozens of rides to experience.

Which ones rise to the top? Some of the classics hold up amazingly well today. Some of the more recent additions have earned accolades. Let's run down the 15 best attractions at the two parks. If you have limited time to spend at the resort, these are the rides you wouldn't want to miss.

  • 01 of 15
    ••• Disney

    ​It's one of the most famous theme park rides—and it inspired one of the most successful movie franchises (whose characters were, in turn, incorporated back into the ride). Pirates of the Caribbean is a glorious tour-de-force in themed entertainment storytelling and marked a breakthrough in the advancement of audio-animatronic characters.

    While its younger sibling at Florida's Walt Disney World is also great, the California version is longer and better. Interestingly, a completely re-imagined Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Shanghai Disneyland surpasses the original attraction.

    • New Orleans Square in Disneyland
    • Height Requirement: None
    • Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 2.5 - Small splashdowns, mildly frightening images.
    • Fastpass: No
  • 02 of 15
    Disneyland Haunted Mansion
    ••• Disney. Used with permission.

    ​Opened soon after Pirates of the Caribbean (although it was many years in the making), Haunted Mansion is another landmark Imagineering achievement. Disneyland has plussed the ride a number of times, including the development of a Madame Leota crystal ball that mysteriously floats and the reintroduction of the Hatbox Ghost. The attraction gets a holiday overlay that spans the Halloween and Christmas seasons and features the characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas

    • New Orleans Square in Disneyland
    • Height Requirement: None
    • Thrill Scale: 3.5 - More silly than scary, buy young children may find it disconcerting.
    • Fastpass: Yes
  • 03 of 15
    Indiana Jones Adventure
    ••• Disney.

    Based on the popular movie series, Indiana Jones Adventure is a fabulously themed attraction with a groundbreaking "Enhanced Motion Vehicles" ride system. The vehicles have onboard computers that control their movements and sync them to the ride's action. Beware of the rolling boulder. And the snakes. (Why does it aways have to be snakes?) Indiana Jones Adventure is an E-Ticket in every sense of the word.

    • Adventureland in Disneyland
    • Height Requirement: 46 inches
    • Thrill Scale: 4.5 - It's not a coaster, but the vehicles are somewhat aggressive, the sets can be dark, and the action can be scary for younger passengers (as well as wimpy adults).
    • Fastpass: Yes
  • 04 of 15
    Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout ride at Disney California Adventure
    ••• Rob Sparacio/Disneyland Resort

    The Imagineers cleverly made over The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and reopened it as Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout in 2017. The ride retains the multiple rises and faster-than-freefall drops of the original attraction (and, if anything, they are even more thrilling). But the revamped story recruits visitors to help Rocket Raccoon break his Guardians of the Galaxy buddies free from the clutches of The Collector. Hilarious scenes featuring the Guardians' trademark humor help ease the tension of the wild, gut-wrenching drops. Shortly after it opened, Mission: Breakout emerged as the most popular ride with the longest wait times at both of Disneyland's parks.

    • Hollywood Land in Disney California Adventure
    • Height Requirement: 40 inches
    • Thrill Scale: 7 - Multiple freefall drops and launches, sensations of weightlessness, and psychological thrills.
    • Fastpass: Yes
    Continue to 5 of 15 below.
  • 05 of 15
    Radiator Springs Racers Sign
    ••• Sam Howzit/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    ​Part immersive storytelling dark ride, part thrill ride, Radiator Springs Racers blends the two theme park attraction features to deliver a joyous experience. The Ornament Valley mountain range outside of the ride is stunning. Based on the charming Pixar film, Cars, the ride takes passengers on a journey down Route 66 and into the town of Radiator Springs. There they encounter the Sherriff, Mater the truck, Lightning McQueen, and other characters from the movie. For the finale, two carloads of passengers square off against one another and head outdoors for a showdown race. Radiator Springs Racers is especially compelling at night.

    • Cars Land at Disney California Adventure
    • Height Requirement: 40 inches
    • Thrill Scale: 3.5 - Fast, but not crazy-fast, action with a hint of coaster-like airtime.
    • Fastpass: Yes
  • 06 of 15
    Splash Mountain
    ••• Disney. Used with permission.

    Disney's take on the classic log flume ride includes Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Bear, and other characters from the film, Song of the South. The scenes are delightful and engaging, but they are tempered by the ominous threat of the looming big drop and splashdown. The ride plays with riders' fears by including some false drops. After the actual 50-foot drop, Splash Mountain offers a final scene featuring a huge cast of characters bopping to the classic song, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

    • Critter Country at Disneyland
    • Height Requirement: 40 inches
    • Thrill Scale: 5 -There is only one major drop, but it is a humdinger of a splashdown.
    • Fastpass: Yes
  • 07 of 15
    Soarin’ Around the World
    ••• Disney. Used with permission.

    ​What a rush! The ride system, combined with an immersive domed screen, makes for a giddy experience. In 2016, Disney changed the content. Instead of focusing solely on California, the attraction now takes guests soarin', well, around the world. The upgrade also included considerably sharper imagery thanks to brighter projectors and digital content presented in higher resolution. Destinations include the South Pacific, Sydney Harbor, the Great Wall of China, and the Great Pyramids of Egypt.

    • Grizzly Peak in Disney California Adventure
    • Height Requirement: 40 inches
    • Thrill Scale: 2.5 - Gentle motion simulation, moderate height and "soaring" simulation. Once first-time riders get past the initial ascension up into "gliding" position, they should quickly acclimate and find the ride more engaging than scary.
    • Fastpass: Yes
  • 08 of 15
    Star Tours: The Adventures Continue
    ••• Loren Javier/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

    ​The first motion simulator attraction in a major theme park, Star Tours got a major overhaul in 2011 that improved it dramatically (including high-resolution digital imagery presented in 3D). The most striking advance was the introduction of a random sequence generator that stitches together scenes on the fly. With many available scenes, passengers are able to re-ride Star Tours and have completely different experiences. Also, with its reprogrammable content, Disney is able to easily incorporate new footage featuring the latest Star Wars films.

    • Tomorrowland at Disneyland
    • Height requirement: 40 inches
    • Thrill Scale: 4.5 - Relatively mild motion simulator thrills. Those prone to motion sickness may experience discomfort (although closing your eyes should quell any queasiness).
    • Fastpass: Yes
    Continue to 9 of 15 below.
  • 09 of 15
    Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
    ••• Disney. Used with permission.

    ​The Submarine Voyage, a classic ride that dated back to Disneyland's earliest years, was decommissioned in 1998 and left for dead. Along came a plucky clownfish to save the day. Now featuring a Finding Nemo story, it is better than ever and utterly charming. Using clever effects and striking animation, the characters from the popular Pixar movie come to life. Young riders will be utterly convinced that the colorful fish swimming outside of their portholes are real. Be forewarned: Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage is slow-loading, and wait times can be quite long.

    • Tomorrowland in Disneyland
    • Height Requirement: None
    • Thrill Scale: 2 - Some scenes are dark, loud, and could be a tad frightening to wee ones. Also, the illusion of diving underwater could be disconcerting to young children. Anyone who suffers from claustrophobia may find the ride vehicles confining.
    • Fastpass: No
  • 10 of 15
    Toy Story Mania
    ••• Disney.

    Disney has developed one of the (f not the) most engaging, enjoyable, and downright addictive interactive theme park rides. Toy Story Midway Mania includes 3D imagery, unique "spring-action shooters," and a compelling Toy Story theme. Among the games are the Green Army Men Shoot Camp, which uses virtual softballs to smash plates, dart-tossing, and Bo Peep's Baa Loon Pop. There are "4D" effects, like water sprinkles from popped water balloons. Even non-gamers will find the controller and the game experience intuitive and fun.

    • Pixar Pier in Disney California Adventure
    • Height Requirement: None
    • Thrill Scale: 1.5 - The ride vehicles move somewhat quickly and partially spin. 
    • Fastpass: Yes
  • 11 of 15
    Space Mountain at Disneyland
    ••• Disney.

    ​The classic indoor coaster is one of Disney's most popular attractions. Space Mountain got a major makeover in 2005 that made the ride much smoother, the interior darker, and the whole experience more of a seamless blast through the cosmos. Without the effects, it's a fairly poky junior coaster; with the Imagineers' pixie dust, it's an exhilarating mind-bender of a ride. Fun fact: Despite the illusion of high speed, Space Mountain actually only hits 32 mph. Its sister ride at Walt Disney Wold is even slower with a top speed of 27 mph. During the Halloween season, Disneyland re-themes the ride as Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy.

    • Tomorrowland in Disneyland
    • Height Requirement: 40 inches
    • Thrill Scale: 4.5 - Coaster turns and dips (although no big drops); illusions of high speed; darkness hides the track, and riders don't know what's coming next.
    • Fastpass: Yes
  • 12 of 15
    Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
    ••• Disney. Used with permission.

    One of the rides that forms Disneyland's "mountain range," Big Thunder Mountain sends passengers careening on a runaway train. They race through a deserted gold-mining town and ascend an eerie mine shaft. At a top speed of 28 mph, the classic ride is not one of the fastest or most thrilling roller coasters. (Although its modest speed makes it accessible to a wide swath of visitors.) Featuring three lift hills, the ride clocks in at well over three minutes and is one of the world's longest coaster rides in duration.

    • Frontierland in Disneyland
    • Height Requirement: 40 inches
    • Thrill Scale: 4.5 - The coaster delivers more twists and turns than gut-wrenching drops. Its three lift hills raise anticipation.
    • Fastpass: Yes
    Continue to 13 of 15 below.
  • 13 of 15

    Incredicoaster

    Incredicoaster at Disney California Adventure
    ••• Disney

    Snaking over 6,000 feet around Pixar Pier (which makes it one of the world's longest coasters in terms of track length), Incredicoaster is a formidable sight. Although it looks like a retro wooden coaster, the structure and track is actually steel. When it first opened, the coaster was known as California Screamin'. In 2018, Disney re-themed it to the Pixar movie, The Incredibles. It still includes two wild magnetic launches, hits a potent 55 mph, drops 108 feet, and navigates a loop, making it one of the resort's most thrilling rides.

    • Pixar Pier in Disney California Adventure
    • Height Requirement: 48 inches
    • Thrill Scale: 6 - The coaster delivers a fast initial launch, a second mid-ride launch, and turns passengers upside down with its loop. 
    • Fastpass: Yes
  • 14 of 15
    It's A Small World
    ••• matt evans/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    One of Disney's attractions that debuted at the 1964 New York World's Fair, "It's a small world" is one of the world's most famous theme park rides—and features one of the world's most famous (and annoying) songs. Its facade, with its animated clock tower, is striking. The animated dolls aren't especially expressive, but the overall look of the ride, which was designed by artist Mary Blair, is timeless and charming.

    For a 2009 makeover, Disneyland inserted doll versions of some of its classic animated characters such as Pinocchio and Ariel (The Little Mermaid). During the Christmas season, the ride gets re-themed as "it's a small world" Holiday, and tunes such as "Jingle Bells" are included with the theme song.

    • Fantasyland in Disneyland
    • Height Requirement: None
    • Thrill Scale: 0 - The gentle ride delivers virtually no thrills.
    • Fastpass: No
  • 15 of 15
    Disney California Adventure - Turtle Talk with Crush!
    ••• Jeremy Thompson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Turtle Talk with Crush features real-time animation and audience interaction. When it debuted, it was a wild Imaginnering breakthrough. Since much of the script is ad-libbed and includes feedback from the crowd, no two performances are the same. Depending on the actor, the shows can be wildly funny. Young children generally buy into the magic and accept that they are talking to Crush, while adults scratch their heads in bewilderment.

    • Hollywood Land in Disney California Adventure
    • Height Requirement: None
    • Thrill Scale: 0 - This is a charming show with no gotchas or scary moments.
    • Fastpass: No