You leave your hotel and make a bee-line for the Disneyland entrance gate, ride all the rides, stuff your face with corn dogs and churros, and drag yourself out at 1am covered in tasty goodness from Gibson Girl Ice Cream. Besides all the other tips and energy recharging tips you've picked up from this blog, Downtown Disney is a huge asset to your trip.
Casual Free Stroll
During my time as a college student, I didn't always have the money to buy an annual pass, but I still wanted to experience any Disney magic I could. An early morning Downtown stroll gets you some classic Disney music, excited families heading toward the entrance gates and the distant sounds of gunfire from the Jungle Cruise. Sometimes that's just enough to keep your spirit up until your wallet can squeeze out a park ticket.
Downtown Disney has its own parking lot (for now) that gives you free, validated parking if you make a purchase at a store, eat at a restaurant or watch a movie. This trick is especially useful if your trip to Southern California extends for more days than you have allotted for The Disneyland Resort, but need to pickup a gift or two at World of Disney.
Downtown Anytime Break
As Kelsey mentioned in her post about unexpected snacks around the resort, restaurants are always a great place to take a load off for an hour or so and recharge, so definitely don't limit the usefulness of Downtown Disney to only lunchtime. In the morning the Jazz Kitchen Express has beignets and La Brea Bakery has breakfast egg sandwiches. Mid morning peach tree mojitos at Tortilla Joe's and late night cocktails at Uva Bar always provide the calming elixer of life. As for unique memorabilia that speaks to the somewhat sophisticated, be sure to visit WonderGround Art Gallery and the new Disney Dress shop for some creative, hard to find and unique merch.
Disneyland and California Adventure have their share of every-time entertainment, but after dinner when the families are venturing back to the park from their afternoon naptime, the parks can become intensely crowded. Well the Disney Parks planners have taken care of you, yet again.
The Downtown Disney Stage (adjacent to Rainforest Cafe and the AMC Movie Theater) has nightly entertainment ranging from a live band playing 80s rock tunes, a DJ dance party or even a massive tuba band. As you walk closer to the Disneyland entrance you will find a couple of smaller and solo acts in front of WonderGround and Napoli.
The best part about these entertainers is they range from good to ridiculously comical. I'm sure there's some standard set by Disney because all of the solo musicians play to recorded backing tracks and have an understood cheese factor occasionally accentuated by a fog machine or impromptu audience participation!
Some slightly off-topic tips
Even though Downtown Disney has two full blown Starbucks stores and each park has its own as well, take a chance on The Coffee Shop located next to Goofy's Kitchen at The Disneyland Hotel. Shorter lines and definetly less hustle and bustle.
Also at the Disneyland Hotel is Tangaroa Terrace, a casual dining restaurant that has snacks, sweets and meals and is rarely busy enough to fill it's ample seating area. In the same style of eatery but located at The Grand Californian is White Water Snacks. I love the chicken nachos made with the classic spicy, canned, ballpark cheese sauce.
Even though you want to go hardcore from open to close, sometimes just the change of scenery is a good enough mental break