My last trip to Disneyland was eight years ago. I don’t get to the Los Angeles area very often, and when I do I usually don’t have time to spare. But on Friday I found myself in Anaheim with one day to dedicate to the happiest place on earth.

Disneyland Magic Kingdom

I arrived in the morning and headed straight for Fantasyland, my favorite area of the Magic Kingdom. My first stop was the Peter Pan ride. As my boat sailed over the rooftops of London, I realized that I had inadvertently chosen my home city as the starting point for my Disney adventure. It seemed fitting, as did my next ride, the England-based Mr. Toad’s.

Disneyland Peter Pan ride

Continuing with the English theme, I walked past thatched roof cottages to Wonderland. There I watched children getting dizzy on the tea cups before heading to my favorite childhood spot, the Alice in Wonderland ride.

Disneyland Alice in Wonderland ride

Prior to moving on to Switzerland‘s Matterhorn mountain, I started to notice that one of the reasons Disneyland is so magical is that it is so clean. Everything—from the rides to the roads to the buildings on Main Street USA—was spotless and sparkling. Fresh paint graced each surface and all of the details were shining. Speaking of details, they were another thing Disney did well. From the park benches by the castle to the engravings on the walls of the Indiana Jones ride, every tiny detail had been considered.

Disneyland Tomorrowland

Overcoming my awe of the place, I enjoyed my Matterhorn bobsled ride and then walked over to Adventureland. There I found myself in the middle of Asia as I rode a car through the Temple of Doom with Indiana Jones leading the way. Minutes later I was in the sea on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. I hadn’t been there since the movies were released, and it was interesting to see how much the ride had been modified to include the likes of Captain Jack Sparrow.

Disneyland Pirates of the Caribbean ride

From the Caribbean I found myself in New Orleans enjoying the Disney version of fine dining at the Blue Bayou restaurant. It sits in the Pirates ride, and no matter what time of day one eats there, it is always nighttime by the water. Lanterns light the dining area and jazz serenades patrons as they watch the boats go by. I had always wanted to eat there when I went to Disneyland as a child, and I was glad to discover that the magic wasn’t lost when I finally went as an adult. That said, the large number of children and the lack of alcohol made it a bit of a bizarre “gourmet” experience.

Blue Bayou Restaurant at Disneyland in California

After lunch I found myself in Frontierland, where I rode the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad through the American west. If that felt a bit too close to home, the next stop was Space Mountain, an intergalactic roller coaster through the night sky.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Disneyland ride

After traveling all over the world and through the Milky Way, it was time to come back to California. Across from the Magic Kingdom sat a second theme park that I had never visited before: Disney’s California Adventure. I had heard mixed reviews of the park overall, but everyone told me that the one ride worth waiting in line for was Soarin’ Over California.

Disney California Adventure

My chair lifted me up over a huge screen with expansive views of California’s mountains, rivers, national parks, ocean, and vineyards. I knew that even though I had been all over the world on my day at Disneyland, the real land where I was born and raised would always be the happiest—not to mention the most beautiful—place on earth.

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