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Road trip to Disneyland: Drive the I5 from Vancouver to California

I’ve written an updated post for this. Take a look at my 2017 edition.

It’s Canada to California or bust. Complete with 4 kids packed into a Pontiac Montana minivan, we hit the open road. The goal? To survive the Road trip to Disneyland

Ah, road trips. Aren’t road trips really just one of those things that look good on paper? The windows open, streaming in the sunshine and the summer breeze, the music playing, and the endless open road in front of you. Sounds great doesn’t it?

Now, insert a child or two (or four in my case) into this fantasy and see what you get. Oh, but you’ll have coloring books and a DVD player. That will ensure endless hours of quiet and happiness for all, right?

Um, no. If you have even just one kid, the idea of a road trip is far more appealing on paper than it ever could be in real life. And I should know, because my last road trip was a crazy journey down the I5 from Vancouver to Anaheim, California.  If you are considering this type of excursion, even for a minute, you need to know what you are in for.

Let’s start with a list of Pros for a Road Trip to Disneyland:

Pros:

  • You don’t have to fly, therefore you don’t have to pay exorbitant baggage fees or ridiculous airfare costs out of Vancouver.
  • You don’t have to rent a car once you get there. You already have yours, although it will be full of MacDonalds wrappers and/or coffee cups
  • If you drive, you save more on travel and can justify staying at the Grand Californian Resort like I did.
  • You get to see the California and Oregon landscape, up close and personal.
  • You get to spend hours of family time whilst you are locked up in a moving vehicle. Think of all the travel games you can play (Look, another blue car. Score one for mom! ha ha!) and scenery you can share with your children.

See, it looks fantastic on paper. FAN-TAS-TIC. And it is with this attitude that we departed on a blazing hot August evening in 2010.

Road trip to Disneyland Tip

When taking kids on a road trip, its best to leave in the early evening and drive while they are sleeping. It creates a nice little pocket of silence for you, which will prepare you for the next day when you are sleep deprived, insane from driving, and sick to death of the whining.

First things first, driving from Vancouver to Disneyland is a long haul. You can take one of two routes after you drive through Washington and bypass Seattle (Tip: Be sure to point out the Harbor in Seattle, where the Space Needle is. At night, the lights off of the buildings are beautiful).  The I5 continues straight through Oregon into California, or you can take the coastal hwy and view truly breathtaking scenery the entire way.  Because we wanted to get there and worry about the ocean on the way back, we took the I5.

Statistics for Road trip to Disneyland
  • Actual driving distance from Vancouver area to Disneyland: 1303 miles or 2097 km
  • Actual driving time from Vancouver to Disneyland according to Google: 21 hours, 37 minutes
  • Real driving time with 4 children in the backseat: 25 hours, not including stops
  • How many tanks of gas to get from Vancouver to Anaheim: 6 at approximately $50 USD per tank

The I5 is just a road, a long and windy road that will make you feel as though it will never end. As you pass through Washington (beautiful, green, possibly rainy, scenic) and into Oregon (beautiful, still green, only has full service gas stations and you can’t pump your own gas there), you will eventually hit the tip of California before heading into the mountains.Right around this time, if you have been driving almost all night the way we were, you will wish there was a sliding glass window developed just for minivans. Something to block out the “Are we there yet?” questions as well as the possible smell of caged up people.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was driving through the high mountain road right at the entrance to California. The California landscape is so diverse that it can range from forests to prairies and oceans.

By this point in the trip, the kids have given up the DVD player, they’ve eaten everything they can get their hands on, and they’re staring sullenly out the window wondering when they are going to see the Matterhorn looming. I don’t have the heart to tell them we are still 12 hours away.

Road Trip to Disneyland Tip

One of the best things to look forward to on a roadtrip from Canada to California is a stop at the IN-N-OUT Burger. The closest IN-N-OUT is in Redding, California at 1275 Dana Drive. And yes, it’s worth it.

And this is the sad part of a road trip from Canada to California. Although 21 hours doesn’t look like a lot of time and you can delude yourself into thinking it will fly by, in reality it is so long that the halfway point doesn’t even feel like an accomplishment. If you have the time, take 3 days to make the trip. Stay in a hotel and break it up. There are lots of scenic places to stop in California, and you’ll feel less crazed.

In our case, we had hotel reservations we had to get to, so we pushed it and kept going.

There are numerous rest stops on the I5. Although you might think these are for truckers and shady characters, you can be sure that the rest stops are actually really family friendly. We stopped at several that had nice grassy spots for kids and pets, along with vending machines, free coffee, and water fountains. They are a veritable oasis in the middle of the blazing hot California landscape, and I recommend you stop as many times as you need to. Its nice as a way to break up the day.

Many, many hours later (and several rounds of Disney movies or Dora the Explorer, a few iPods practically chucked out the windows, a stop at TacoBell complete with an open bathroom door and a view of an older lady using the facilities which sparked one of the most hilarious conversations I’ve ever had with my 8 year old son, and a new fun activity called “Word of the Day” with the first word being ‘Burrito’), we arrive on the outskirts of LA. The time? 10pm.

Here’s a fun fact about arriving in Los Angeles. You will be filled with euphoria. You made it! Right? Wrong. You are still at least an hour and a half away.

LA is huge. For someone coming from Vancouver who has never been there (I have, but you might not have), its mind-boggling huge. You enter near Six Flags Magic Mountain, but you still need to get through the various suburbs, freeways, and insane LA traffic (yes, even at 10pm at night) before you arrive in Anaheim. Luckily, the kids had passed out again, so we were able to stress less about sitting in a sea of headlights. I spent the time hoping I could see the Hollywood sign (no, its not lit up at night) and waiting for the Anaheim exit.

When we finally arrived, it was midnight, but we were there.

Road Trip to Disneyland Tip

There is a wonderful little app called Mousewait that provides you with Disneyland attraction wait times. It’s highly accurate, and if you are going to invest the time to drive all the way from Canada to California you should definitely be using this app when you get there.

Tomorrow on Survive Parenthood Magazine, Part 2: The journey back from Anaheim to Canada. This time with hotels on the way. Stay tuned.

For even more Disneyland tips and secrets, visit the first installment in our guide to Disneyland

 

 

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15 comments

  1. This is amazing! We are currently planning the same trip for spring break but are considering renting an RV. I cannot believe you did it in your van with 4 kids! Bless your heart, you are a saint!

  2. I looked up some photos of this spot and it looks just as amazing as it sounds. I’ll have to make sure we get to stop on our way to Idaho this summer.

  3. We traveled from Battleground to Disneyland in a rented RV in Oct 2011. 12 days on the road. wildlife safari in Winston, Or. Overnight in Grants Pass. Redwood Forest in Kalamath CA. Santa Rosa CA for the Charlie Brown Museum. Golden Gate Bridge and Downtown SAn Fran in a 32 ft Class C RV at night and then east to I 5 and South to DL. 4 days down. 7 days at DL and 2 days drive home. We did this with our daughter for her fourth birthday. Rental for the RV was about 80 per day. Mileage was at $.30 per mile and then you had gas. When our trip ended the cost for the RV ran about $4,500 including gas.Our daughter loved the trip and we are driving our mini van down at the end of April 2012. Our DL Delux Annual pass will be used for 20 days this year.Our Disneyland annual passes cost 379 for one calander year thatdo have blackout days.

  4. Nice article. My family of 4 (2 adults, 2 kids) as well as 3 dogs are driving from Winnipeg to California in early July.
    Thanks for the insight!

  5. link to part two is not working

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