It seems odd to think that 4 years old is the best age to take kids to Disneyland, but the CA tourism board says it is a great idea. At 4, kids are old enough to remember the experience, independent enough to walk for themselves without being carried, tall enough to ride a few of the more adventurous options, and young enough to still believe in the magic and think of the characters are real.
Disneyland offers a really useful official guide to attractions for kids in their parks, but there are a lot of options. We wanted to narrow the list down for you so that you can maximize your time even if you’re on a very short visit. We have broken the rides down into categories to make it easier for you to find the ones t hat you’re your child’s specific interests. Without further ado, here’s our take on the best Disneyland rides for 4 year olds!
Little Adrenaline Junkies:
A survey of parents yielded some surprising results! Most people, myself included, assume that the best rides would be dark rides, but a lot of kids actually like those rides less. There are tons of 4 year olds who have already caught the thrill ride bug from their parents and older siblings and they are clamoring for fast, crazy, and wild rides!
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is one of the most popular thrill rides for 4 year olds. It’s got a relatively short height requirement and parents are able to share a seat and hold on tightly to their children. Because of this, kids are free to put their hands up and have a great time! This ride also offers some great scenery that you don’t usually find on miniature coasters because Disneyland went all out with the theme.
Gadget’s Go Coaster is another favorite for adrenaline junkies who might not quite make the cut on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad’s height. One child told me that she enjoys this ride because, “it doesn’t go super fast but it still has ups and downs.” That makes this a great introductory ride for families who want to encourage their children to get on board with their thrill seeking mentality from an early age.
What really shocked me was how many children love Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! The drops are really scary, but they love seeing the scenes on each floor. It’s got a lot of funny dialogue to distract them from their fears and a killer soundtrack.
This one has a 42 inch height requirement, so shorter 4 year olds may have to wait a year, but most parents whose children are fearless enough to get on this one came to the same conclusion: This is by far their kid’s favorite ride!
One of my personal favorite rides is Splash Mountain and a lot of 4 year olds agree with me. Kids list the fun music, the big drop, and putting their hands up as their reasons for loving this attraction. Disneyland has perfectly paired the music and scenes to the speed of the ride. It picks up and creates tension in all the right moments and gives you a giant, bright, beautiful scene after the drop as a reward for making it through the ride. I don’t even like getting wet but this still tops my list, so if that’s a concern for your kids pack a change of clothes and have it ready because they won’t want to miss this!
The last ride for 4 year olds who love a thrill is Space Mountain. A word of caution, though: If your child is still afraid of the dark, skip this one. This coaster has a smaller height requirement than other adult coasters but still manages to be extremely fun. The darkness makes it really thrilling. Just be sure to keep their little hands inside the car at al times because it is a very tight track.
Dark But Fun Rides:
If thrill rides aren’t your kid’s scene and they don’t need to worry about a sensory overload, then dark rides are the way to go at Disneyland.
Alice in Wonderland is a favorite for the whole family. Follow the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole and travel into Wonderland. Experience bright, singing flowers, croquet with the Queen, and a Merry Unbirthday. Kids and adults alike love the bright lights and beautiful scenery of this ride.
If your kid likes Halloween, then consider the Haunted Mansion. During regular seasons, it is a bit scary and haunted. Ghosts abound in this spooky trip. If this theme scares you, then consider a trip sometime between October and early January. During the Halloween and Christmas seasons, this ride gets a makeover.
The Nightmare Before Christmas takes over the whole ride. The brighter colors make it feel less spooky, and the entire graveyard gets covered in snow with bright angels. Kids really enjoy finding Jack and Zero and there is a giant, hand made gingerbread house that you can smell all the way from the balcony!
Peter Pan is one of the most popular rides in the park. In fact, you can tell when the park is empty by checking out this ride’s wait time. On an average day, it consistently runs around 45 minutes from open to close. This dark ride recently got a makeover and combines the large figures from the original model with new lighting and projections from the upgrade. It’s well worth seeing. Kids love flying through the air in their very own pirate ship instead of being on the ground.
Last, but certainly not least, Winnie the Pooh is a must do. Climb into a honeycomb and take a trip through the Hundred Acre Woods. Kids of all ages love this, but it’s a really fun ride for 4 year olds because it’s bright and fun. They can see all their favorite characters and even attend Winnie the Pooh’s birthday party!
Best Lands to Visit:
The Disneyland Resort is a magical place with tons of different attractions suitable for 4 year olds. Because there were so many popular options, we’ve decided to list the most popular lands for 4 year olds kids. All of the attractions found in these lands made the list of favorites.
Cars Land tops this list. This place is full of theme from the moment you walk in. Make sure to see it after sunset when the lights turn on for all the buildings.
The most popular attraction for 4 year olds here is Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, where kids pick a tractor and hop in to be whipped all over the place! Kids love the music and the whipping around in their seat.
Luigi’s Rollickin Roadsters is also a popular ride. Kids can watch the cars dance in sync to the music from the line while they wait for their turn in the car. It’s not as wild as Mater, but you still get to spin and drive. This is a trackless ride system, so it does tend to break down more often than other rides, but they get it working again pretty quickly.
The last Cars Land attraction worth mentioning is Radiator Springs Racers. This ride puts kids in a car and takes them on a scenic drive through Radiator Springs. It’s part outdoor and part dark ride. There are 2 different paths through this ride. If you go into the paint shop, feel free to pull out your phone and snap a quick picture of yourselves in the mirror! After this, get ready set and GO! Kids love interacting with the car beside them and racing to the finish line.
Fantasyland is also extremely popular. Several of the best Disneyland rides for 4 year olds are located in Fantasyland, including King Arthur’s Carousel, the Mad Tea Party, It’s a Small world, Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo, and Peter Pan.
Fantasyland is dark ride central. On top of the above rides, this is also the home of the very popular Casey Jr. Train, which takes kids on a tour of Fantasyland, Mister Toad’s Wild Ride, which allows kids to drive through this classic dark ride, but may be a little scary for some 4 year olds, Pinocchio and Snow White’s Scary Adventures, another couple classics that takes you on a trip through the movie’s most memorable scenes, and the Storybook Canal, which is a calm boat ride that has scenic miniatures of a lot of the castles of popular characters from Disney movies, including Aladdin, Cinderella, and Frozen.
Toon Town plays host to Gadget’s Go Coaster, but that’s not all! It also houses Rodger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, which is a bright and colorful goofy dark ride. Kids can spin their ride vehicle back and forth through this fun one. Aside from these rides, Toon Town also boasts a few playgrounds and character meets. Kids can see inside Mickey and Minnie’s houses, play on Donald’s boat, and more! If they need to get some energy out and are tired of waiting in lines, Toon Town is a great spot to unwind.
The Boardwalk in Disney California Adventure may be small, but it’s a great location for kids! This spot offers the Jumpin Jellyfish, which is a truncated and more colorful freefall type ride, the Golden Zephyr, which is similar to Dumbo but goes much higher and offers a more scenic view, Silly Symphony Swings, which are fun for those 4 year olds who aren’t afraid of heights and always want you to push them higher on playground swings, and the Pixar Pal-a-Round, which is a giant, enclosed Ferris wheel that offers either swinging or motionless cars depending on your child’s preferences and great views all the way around the wheel.
For your little adrenaline junkie, Goofy’s Sky School is also located here, but while this one looks innocent, the thrill of the ride is that every time you turn it feels like you will fall off the track, so use caution – it was less popular than other adrenaline fueled rides.
These rides didn’t make the very top of the list, but we felt like they had to be included because each of them has something unique to offer that will be sure to delight any 4 year old.
The Jungle Cruise is located in Adventureland. It’s usually not too long of a wait and the ride is nice and long, so it’s a nice way to rest your feet. This is a boat trip through the jungle with lots of plants and animals to see, but the main attraction is the Skipper. The dad jokes abound in this punny ride down the river, and kids will be giggling the whole time.
If you want to go from Disneyland to Downtown Disney for lunch and shopping, or take a leisurely round trip to rest your feet, then hop about the Monorail. The secret to making this a good ride is that if the weather isn’t took hot or too cold, they let a few people each trip ride in the front and back. If you ask nicely and are willing to wait a little longer, up to 4 people can fit in the front of the monorail.
From this spot, you can see everything – including the conductor! Feel free to ask some questions an they may even let your 4 year old take a picture in his chair! For larger families, the very back compartment is a good option. It can seat up to 6 and offers a panoramic view.
Disneyland is unique in that it created an entire world of magic. Unlike other theme parks, there is a lot more to do than just rides. Even though this article is about rides, we feel like these attractions can’t be missed if you have a 4 year old.
Playgrounds abound here. Whether it is Tarzan’s Treehouse and Tom Sawyer Island in Disneyland or the Camp Wilderness exploration trails in Disney California Adventure, there are plenty of places to expend some extra energy! I love that Tom Sawyer Island includes the raft ride to the island, and it is massive!
There are so many caves and tunnels to explore. Tarzan’s Treehouse encourages a healthy lifestyle because it is stairway after stairway until you reach the top, only to climb down more stairs. The Camp Wilderness trails offer tons of adventure, from rope swings to slides, rope bridges to rock climbing. Your 4 year old could probably spend hours in this one area if you let them!
There are also a lot of awesome shows. If your 4 year old has a great attention span, they will probably love the Broadway caliber Frozen Stage Show and sing along to Mickey and the Magical Map at the top of their lungs. If they don’t have quite that long before they want to wiggle and move, then check out the Disney Jr. Dance Party!
This show was specifically crafted for the younger kids to have a lot of fun and interact with the people on stage. Turtle Talk with Crush is also a cool experience. Kids are invited to sit on special lily pads right up front where Crush can ask them questions. This show is highly interactive for both adults and children.
Finally, if you have budgeted for some extra special experiences, the Bippity Boppity Boutique is an incredible experience for your little prince or princess! This experience costs some extra money, but it can be worth the splurge. Your child can pick an outfit from one of their favorite characters and wear it. A Fairy Godmother in Training will style their hair extra special and add a little sparkle to really make them shine. They also offer a few prince and pirate costumes so brothers don’t have to feel left out when their sister gets a makeover.
Top 8 Disneyland Rides for Kids:
The top 8 was a neck and neck race with several ties on the list! Are some of these your favorites, too?
- Ariel’s Underwater Adventure
- Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters
- King Arthur’s Carousel
- Mad Tea Party
- It’s a Small World
- Monsters Inc.
- Toy Story Midway Mania
In Disney California Adventure, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is the way to go. It is the most popular ride among 4 year olds. One adorable child says she loves this ride because, “I go underwater with her and don’t even get wet!” This takes you through the entire movie from start to finish over the course of the ride, highlighting all your favorite scenes. Kids can sing along to Under the Sea and Kiss the Girl while they ride in cute little clamshells.
Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters ties with Ariel’s Undersea Adventure as the most popular ride. This ride is extremely interactive. In line, kids can listen to a giant, moving Buzz Lightyear recruit them to space exploration and send them on a mission to stop the evil Emperor Zurg. The ride is a arcade style dark ride where your kid uses a laser gun to shoot the targets and score points.
As a bonus, this ride takes your picture and lets you use a kiosk to email that picture to yourself for free! Pro Tip: Tickle your little one or tell them to strike a pose when you go through the laser tunnel to get a great photo. That’s where the cameras are hidden.
King Arthur’s Carousel is a classic. Carousels are extremely popular rides for children that can be found in nearly every theme park worldwide. They can even be found in some malls. The Disneyland carousel is no exception. Kids really enjoy racing to pick out their absolute favorite horse! Does your child pick the ones that go up and down or the ones that don’t? Disneyland’s carousel offers both types, so make sure you find a few options before your turn and make a beeline at the start.
The Mad Tea Party, also known as the teacup ride, is another wildly popular choice. Make a mad dash to get your favorite teacup at the start of the ride. (We like the yellow ones – they spin faster.) This ride can be gentle if everyone is hands-off, or it can give even the heartiest adult motion sickness with the right arm strength.
Some kids love making their parents spin the wheel while they squeal in delight at the incredible speed. Other kids insist on spinning the wheel themselves or allowing parents to help them. Either way, you’re in for a great time.
You can’t visit Disneyland without riding It’s a Small World. This is a Disney classic. The soundtrack may get repetitive for adults, but it’s a favorite for kids to sing along. Every room is packed with detail. One of the fun things to keep kids engaged is to play a Spot It scavenger hunt. A lot of popular characters appear within the ride.
Can you find them all? Look for Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, Alice in Wonderland, Jasmine and Aladdin, Cinderella, Pinocchio, Mowgli, Ariel, Timon and Pumbaa, Mulan and Mushu, and more friends hiding throughout the ride!
During the holidays, this is an extra special treat. It gets completely remade for Christmas! The dolls are dressed in festive costumes, the soundtrack changes, and every room is decked out in holiday lights displaying how Christmas is celebrated around the world. It’s one of the brightest light shows your kids will every get to see.
Over on the Disney California Adventure side, Monsters Inc. is another popular dark ride. You’ll be transported into Monster Land, where they are on high alert for a human that has escaped. Follow the antics of Mike and Sully as they chase Boo and try to hide her from Randall and Roz.
The detail work on this ride is stunning. Oh, and get ready because they will send you through a decontamination chamber to make sure you’re safe! The puffs of air from the men in suits is really funny to a lot of kids and it’s also a nice way to cool down on a hot day.
Dumbo takes your 4 year old through the skies! Kids love this ride. It’s a pretty safe ride for any 4 year old to enjoy because it’s not a thrill ride or a dark ride. Kids get to choose their experience using the level in the ride.
They can make Dumbo fly high or keep him lower to the ground, and if they want more movement, they can choose to go up and down while they go around and around. The view on this ride is also pretty great and at night the fountains surrounding it light up and look beautiful.
Pirates of the Caribbean is a great way to cool down on a hot day. It’s a bit longer than other rides, but because of how much detail there is, kids will keep attention. It’s a bit of an adrenaline rush because it does have a couple drops at the start, but if your 4 year old can get through those the rest of the boat ride is calm and peaceful.
If your kid starts losing interest, you can encourage interaction by seeing if they can spot every time Jack Sparrow makes an entrance to a scene.
Toy Story Midway Mania is another interactive arcade style game that 4 year olds love. Make sure to point out all the pictures on the walls in line. They show your kids how to play the game in fun diagrams. There is also an awesome photo opportunity because the line passes by a giant moving Mister Potato Head in Midway costuming.
Because this is an arcade game, kids interact with the entire ride. Make sure their 3D glasses are secured and challenge them to see who scores the most points!
This list offers some great rides and attractions for 4 year olds, but how do you know where to start? We found some help and guidance for you. TouringPlans has created a guidebook for parents taking children to Disneyland that includes several different plans based on your schedules and family. Feel free to check it out as a baseline!
When I plan, I like to engage with the park map. Bring up all the options, print them out, and have your kid put a smiley face on all the rides they absolutely MUST see and a frown on the ones that look too scary or boring. This is a good exercise for the entire family to do.
Use this as a baseline to know how to prioritize your trip to ensure that everyone in the family gets to do their must see attractions without wasting time on stuff no one is interested in seeing.
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