10 Free or Cheap Things to Do Near Disneyland

You won't need to pay for a theme park ticket to partake in these Disney fan-approved activities near Disneyland.
Sally French
By Sally French 
Edited by Sam Kemmis

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A trip to Disneyland can be seriously expensive. One-day, one-park theme park tickets this summer range from $104 to $179 and average $154 per day, based on a NerdWallet analysis of ticket prices between April and August 2023.

The food inside isn’t cheap either. A meal can average $18 or $55 per person, depending on where you eat, according to an April 2022 NerdWallet analysis of dozens of Disneyland menu prices. You’ll likely encounter other costs too, such as parking, PhotoPass, Genie+ and Mickey ears.

And while there are certainly ways to do Disneyland on a budget, you (or at least your wallet) might need a vacation from your Disneyland vacation. Here are 10 free or cheap things to do within 20 miles of Disneyland that don’t require a theme park ticket, in order of proximity to Disneyland Park.

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1. Shop at Downtown Disney

(Photo courtesy of Disney)

Distance from Disneyland: 0.1 miles

Get a big Disney dose without paying for theme park admission via this Disney-owned outdoor shopping center. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s fun to browse the highly themed shops, which include a toy brick version of a fire-breathing Maleficent perched on the roof of the Lego Store, a Star Wars store designed to look like a hidden jungle Resistance base, and a candy store called Marceline's Confectionery, named for the small Missouri town where Walt Disney grew up.

If you’re driving, you’ll owe $10 for the first hour of parking. Get an additional three hours with a $20 purchase (and validation) from any Downtown Disney location or up to five additional hours if you dine at any Downtown Disney table-service restaurant.

2. Sit by the fire at the Grand Californian Hotel Lobby

(Photo courtesy of Disney)

Distance from Disneyland: 0.2 miles

The lobby of Disney's Grand Californian Hotel is an impressive sight to behold with its soaring six-story ceilings and elegant Craftsman style. You can simply rest in an armchair and enjoy the lobby’s towering fireplace. And, if you’re lucky, a live pianist could be playing your favorite Disney tunes.

Here’s a little-known, easy way to get there: Look for an entrance in Downtown Disney, tucked between Sephora and The Disney Dress Shop.

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3. Enjoy a tiki drink (or Dole Whip) at Trader Sam’s

Distance from Disneyland: 0.6 miles

Located at the Disneyland Hotel, Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar puts a Disney twist on the classic tiki bar with Jungle Cruise references inside (Trader Sam is a character from the attraction). Creative cocktails include Shipwreck on the Rocks, Krakatoa Punch and the Zombie — some of which are served alongside special effects like flashing lights and a simulated volcano erupting when you sit inside.

If you sit outside, you might hear live ukulele music. Trader Sam’s shares a patio with the Tangaroa Terrace Tropical Bar & Grill, so it’s easy to grab a Dole Whip (pineapple soft serve) next door.

4. Eat at the Anaheim Packing District

Distance from Disneyland: 2 miles

The Anaheim Packing District is a vibrant and bustling food hall located in a collection of restored, former citrus packing house buildings in downtown Anaheim. Today, this foodie destination has dozens of vendors with foods from around the world, plus creative takes on classic American dishes.

You might also catch live music or watch parties for major sporting events.

5. Treasure hunt for antiques in Old Towne Orange

Distance from Disneyland: 6.2 miles

Perhaps the most charming downtown of the Orange County cities is Old Towne Orange, which is most famous for its antique and collectibles dealers. Disney fans won’t have a tough time finding vintage memorabilia in the shops, while history buffs will appreciate the architecture of the buildings, many of which were built in the 1800s. Among those is The Orange County Fruit Exchange Building, also known as the Sunkist Building, which long-served as a headquarters for the local citrus industry, according to the City of Orange.

6. Sample beers at Brewery X

Distance from Disneyland: 6.5 miles

Brewery X is a massive, mostly outdoor family and pet-friendly beer garden serving craft beer and hard seltzer, plus on-site food trucks (the pizza gets especially rave reviews). Time your visit around the live music on most weekdays or trivia on Mondays.

7. Sample boysenberry boba and fried chicken at the California Marketplace at Knott's Berry Farm

Distance from Disneyland: 6.7 miles

Disneyland might be the most famous, but it’s not Orange County’s only theme park. Knott’s Berry Farm also requires a theme park ticket, but you can get a (literal) taste via its adjacent, free-to-visit outdoor shopping center. One of the most famous storefronts is Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant, which serves up the park’s famous fried chicken. The marketplace also sells other berry-themed eats, including boysenberry boba tea and the company’s signature jams.

8. Don your dirndl at Old World Village

Distance from Disneyland: 14.5 miles

Old World is a small Bavarian-style village complete with cobblestone streets that connects a German deli, dirndl shop, clock shop, biergarten and other stereotypically European outposts.

This charming, Huntington Beach spot is easy to miss as it’s dwarfed by the massive outdoor mall across the street brimming with chain restaurants. But at Old World, all businesses are individually owned and operated. Even if you don’t align your visit with the annual wiener dog races or Oktoberfest, you might still catch a live oompah brass band.

9. Ride the Giant Wheel at the Irvine Spectrum

Distance from Disneyland: 16.8 miles

There are more than 175 shops, restaurants and entertainment venues at this outdoor mall. The Spectrum’s 108-foot-tall Ferris wheel is smaller than Disney California Adventure Park’s 150-foot wheel, but this one costs just $8 a ride. If you’re more partial to cats than mice, you might stop by the Hello Kitty Grand Cafe for a kitty-shaped pastry. Disney fans might want to shop at BoxLunch, a store selling all sorts of pop culture-themed merchandise (with a heavy emphasis on Disney-licensed stuff).

10. Smell the roses at Roger’s Gardens

Distance from Disneyland: 19 miles

This is not your average plant nursery. Even if you’re not in the market for garden supplies, the sprawling 7-acre site is free to enter and is a destination for any plant appreciators, especially if you visit when it’s decorated for Halloween or Christmas.

Disney history fans have extra reason to visit. In the mid-1970s, Roger’s Gardens purchased the Original Disneyland Bandstand, a gazebo that was in the center of Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. on opening day. It was relocated within Disneyland a few times, until it got its new permanent home at Roger’s Gardens, according to the Historical Marker Database. In 2016, Roger’s Gardens added a restaurant to its grounds, and the gazebo now serves as one of the restaurant’s open-air dining rooms.

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