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There’s never a bad time to visit the best amusement parks in California, so add these destinations to your next travel itinerary.
9 min read
February 13, 2020
From warm summer nights to brisk fall days, there’s never a bad time to visit the best amusement parks in California. With crazy coasters, roaring water slides, and tasty treats around every turn, theme parks offer thrills and fun for the whole family.
Whether you’re planning a trip to Los Angeles, spending a weekend in Anaheim, or cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway to San Diego, you’ll want to add these top theme parks in California to your itinerary.
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Let your imagination run wild at Legoland, a 128-acre theme park in Carlsbad that has something for everyone. Home to 60-plus attractions spread across 10 themed areas—including Ninjago World, Pirate Shores, and Castle Hill—the San Diego theme park is a unique destination the entire family will enjoy.
Legoland California Theme Park is one of the best amusement parks for kids, so if you have little ones, check out Explorer Island to travel through a prehistoric Lego jungle on the Coastersaurus and adventure through the Lego safari in a Jeep.
Then, head to the Legoland Water Park to cool off. Hit the Riptide Racers waterslide, challenge your friends, and see who can fly down the slide fastest before making your way to the Imagination Station, where you can build Lego bridges and houses before testing their durability underwater.
Purchase your Legoland tickets and start planning the ultimate vacation.
Can't-Miss Ride: The Lego Technic Coaster is a Legoland favorite that every visitor should check out. Each Lego car comes to life—twisting, turning and dropping—to provide an adrenaline-pumping experience. Reduce your wait time at this popular ride by upgrading with Reserve ‘N’ Ride. When it comes to amusement parks in San Diego, it doesn’t get better than this.
Must-Try Treat: No trip to Legoland is complete without a visit to Castle Hill and an order of Granny’s Apple Fries. This San Diego signature dish is comprised of cinnamon- and sugar-dusted Granny Smith apple slices and is served with a delectable vanilla cream dipping sauce that you’ll crave long after vacation ends.
Disneyland transcends even the most popular theme parks and has become one of California’s most-visited destinations. This is a place where you can leave all your worries behind and embrace a magical world full of pirates, wonder, and talking animals. Aptly dubbed “The Happiest Place on Earth”, the park’s lively atmosphere is sure to make you feel like a kid again.
Find your way through the jungle in Adventureland, explore a futuristic world in Tomorrowland, and travel across the states (without leaving California) in New Orleans Square. Then, check out classic Disneyland rides like Splash Mountain and Matterhorn Bobsleds before sitting back to watch one of the entertaining parades or inspiring shows such as Fantasmic. Step into Mickey Mouse’s dream world and watch his imagination go wild as he shows off his supernatural abilities to control water, color, and magic—all brought to life by dancing water, stunning sets, and spectacular fireworks.
Stay until the park closes, because Star Wars enthusiasts won’t want to miss the park’s largest single-themed land expansion of all time: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Experience Millenium Falcon: Smugglers Run—which incorporates lights, sound effects, costumes, set design, and storytelling—and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance to immerse yourself in Disney’s most ambitious attraction yet. Then, build your own droid, learn how to make a lightsaber, enjoy food inspired by the franchise, and pick up souvenirs to see why it’s one of the best amusement parks in California.
Once you’ve seen it all at Disneyland Park, walk over to Disney California Adventure Park for more bites, rides, and endless entertainment. What are you waiting for? Purchase your Disneyland tickets and watch the magic come to life.
Can’t-Miss Ride: The Indiana Jones Adventure, based on the popular movie series, takes you on a full-speed adventure through the world of Indiana Jones. Search for the hidden treasure, dodge the rolling boulder, and drift around turns on this incredible ride.
Must-Try Treat: Dole Whip is one of Disneyland’s iconic treats. Enjoy this pineapple-flavored soft-serve at the Enchanted Tiki Room, and watch the birds and flowers come to life.
It’s nearly impossible to picture Los Angeles theme parks without Universal Studios Hollywood. Nestled in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, it serves as both a film studio and an action-packed theme park—resulting in exhilarating rides that pay homage to Universal’s films (including acclaimed titles like Back to the Future, King Kong, and Jurassic Park). Immerse yourself in the world of Harry Potter or The Simpsons with themed eateries, shops, and attractions. But at California’s Universal Studios theme park, the entertainment doesn’t stop there.
Along with rides and themed lands, this amusement park is known for spectacular live shows. Make time to see the No.1-rated Waterworld, where jet skis, huge explosions, and an awe-inspiring grand finale will leave you speechless. All of this (and more) is waiting for you at Universal.
Can’t-Miss Ride: Based on The Mummy film franchise, the Revenge of the Mummy is a psychological-thrill ride complete with sudden launches that send riders from a standstill to 45 mph in a matter of seconds. Mind and body are challenged in this surprisingly potent coaster experience that will have you screaming for your mummy!
Must-Try Treat: Stop by Gru’s Lab Cafe to grab a hearty meal and hang out with the Minions. Try Dr. Nefario’s Lab Salad—a unique mix of chicken, shrimp, udon noodles, and veggies tossed in a light Asian ponzu dressing. Satisfy that sweet tooth with a Minions-themed candy apple and freshly baked donut before you leave.
As California’s first-ever theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm is an absolute must-see. The 57-acre amusement park has been delighting guests since it opened in the 1960s and continues to be one of the best cheap amusement parks in California.
Wander through the park’s four themed areas—Fiesta Village, Ghost Town, Boardwalk, and Camp Snoopy—to discover every ride and attraction (and get the most out of your Knott's Berry Farm tickets). Wherever the day takes you, make sure to head into Ghost Town and hop on the GhostRider to experience California’s longest, tallest, and fastest wooden roller coaster.
In addition to its incredible, historic rides, Knott’s is known for its world-class entertainment. Catch the fan-favorite Wild West Showdown to see cowboys and tricks, and check the ever-changing schedule for more amazing live shows.
Can't-Miss Ride: Line up for the Xcelerator and prepare for some serious acceleration, if you dare. This coaster is absolutely insane, reaching a maximum speed of 82 mph in as little as 3.2 seconds.
Must-Try Treat: Visit the Ghost Town Bakery to indulge your sweet tooth. This home-style bake shop serves everything from Mrs. Knott’s famous pies and cookies to mouthwatering fruit tarts and cakes.
California’s Six Flags Magic Mountain is a true classic. While it’s settled away from many of the famous L.A. theme parks, Six Flags is the perfect place to escape the dreaded city traffic.
Six Flags is Southern California’s thrill center, with more than 30 adrenaline-inducing rides to choose from. Not into roller coasters? Enjoy the afternoon with family-friendly rides, see the park’s entertaining shows, and attend character meet and greets.
Can’t Miss Ride: If you’re looking for the real Six Flags experience, you’ll have to ride Superman: Escape from Krypton. The ride has 1,315 feet of track that bends straight up into the sky, taking you 415 feet into the air.
Must-Try Treat: Buy a soft pretzel at Soda Springs in Rapids Camp Crossing to satiate your hunger as you find your way to the next attraction.
Santa Monica’s Pacific Park is an iconic Southern California destination. While it doesn’t look like any of the other amusement parks in L.A., that’s precisely what makes it special. Settled over the Pacific Ocean, this theme park is as photogenic as it is entertaining. Outfitted with a dozen rides, midway games, boutiques, and quaint eateries, Pacific Park has it all.
Can’t-Miss Ride: The Pacific Wheel is the most famous element on the Santa Monica Pier and the first solar-powered Ferris wheel. Take in panoramic ocean views and feel the salty breeze blow through your hair from high above the ground.
Must-Try Treat: Cotton candy is non-negotiable at Pacific Park. Its vibrant colors and sweet taste perfectly encompass the vibe and are sure to make your trip that much more memorable.
The iconic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is considered one of the world’s best seaside amusement parks. Outfitted with 40-plus rides, countless kid-friendly attractions, a variety of games, charming shops, and warm sands, the Santa Cruz boardwalk is the perfect place to take the family.
Unlike most amusement parks, admission is free at the boardwalk, making it a great place for newbies and experienced coasters alike. Purchase a wristband for a single ride or upgrade for an entire day of fun. Along with exciting rides, the Santa Cruz boardwalk features special events, including bowling nights, karaoke nights, outdoor movie nights, and more.
Can't-Miss Ride: Make sure you experience the unparalleled thrill of the Great Dipper wooden roller coaster. Built in 1924, the coaster is still considered one of the best wooden coasters in the world, welcoming more than 60 million riders since its debut.
Must-Try Treat: While the goodies offered at Deep Fried Twinkies may sound like a heart attack waiting to happen, they are absolutely delicious and worth trying. Grab a deep-fried Twinkie, Oreo, or peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and enjoy it on Santa Cruz Beach as you take in the ocean views.
Tucked 200 miles inland, Adventure Park is a must-see family fun destination. With everything from batting cages and laser tag, to go-karts and bumper boats, it’s an ideal place for kids and teenagers to let loose. Adventure Park’s reasonable prices and variety of activities make it well worth the drive.
Play a round of mini–golf and test your skills in the arcade before travelling to nearby Sequoia National Park for a scenic picnic. Looking for even more fun? Plan your visit for the last Friday of the month to enjoy family night with karaoke.
Can't-Miss Attraction: Stop by the arcade floor (where you can trade in your winning tickets for cool prizes) and the miniature golf course (where you can challenge your friends on 18 different holes).
Must-Try Treat: There’s nothing quite like San Francisco–style pizza, so head over to the Adventure Park Pizzaria to grab a slice along with an ice-cold drink.
Fueled by over 1 million gallons of water, Raging Waters is Northern California’s largest water park. Whether you want to keep it mild or go wild, you’re sure to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take it easy on the lazy river, splash around in the wave pool, and get your thrills on the 20–plus waterslides that make this one of the best amusement parks in the Bay Area.
Zip down Shotgun Falls and prepare to free fall into a 10-foot-deep diving pool, or kick back with your family at the Activity Pool. Once you’ve gotten your fill, check out the numerous food and shopping vendors throughout the park, selling everything from sunscreen to beach towels.
Can't-Miss Ride: Check out Bombs Away—one of the first trapdoor waterslides ever made. This ride will have you holding your breath as you plummet 200-plus feet through an enclosed tube.
Must-Try Treat: After a long day of fun in the sun, head over to Sharky’s Big Bite BBQ to grab indulgent dishes such as nachos loaded with gooey cheese, chili-cheese dogs, and savory pulled-pork sandwiches. Follow up your meal with a mini powdered donut from State Fair Donuts to make it a perfect day.
An epic day awaits you at California’s Great America, where 100-plus acres of roller coasters, water rides, and live entertainment await. This amusement park has been a fan favorite since it opened in 1976, continuing to draw 3 million visitors every year.
Get ready for a full day as you experience famed attractions such as the Flight Deck, Patriot, and Gold Striker coasters; live, local performances, and much more. So, round up the whole family and head over to Great America for a great time.
Can't-Miss Ride: The Drop Tower will have you trembling in your seat as you prepare to descend 22 stories in less than 4 seconds. At 225 feet high, it’s one of the tallest and most intense free-fall rides in the world.
Must-Try Treat: Satisfy your sweet tooth with a fresh-from-the-fryer funnel cake at Sally's Sweet Treats. Go with the classic Strawberry Supreme, topped with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and a handful of fresh strawberries.
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