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Planning a visit to sunny Southern California? Then you'll need to read our ultimate guide to the best theme parks in southern california before your trip!
From beaches to the Avenue of the Stars and the Hollywood sign to tacos…..Southern California has it all. One of OUR favorite things about Southern California living? Theme parks. From Universal Studios to Disneyland to Legoland and more…..we have a theme park for everyone. Southern California has options for thrill-seekers, foodies and families. We have a collection of world-class theme parks that offer unforgettable experiences for visitors of all ages and abilities.
From heart-pounding roller coasters (ha, these are NOT my thing) to enchanting storybook lands (much more my personal speed) , Southern California's theme parks have something for absolutely everyone. Let's dive into the exhilarating world of amusement parks and explore the top destinations that promise endless fun and excitement from our local's perspective.
The Best Theme Parks in Southern California
We are theme park people. From the characters to the attractions to the food…..we love a day at our favorite theme park. And to be honest, we've spent a fair amount of time at each of these locations. I definitely have my opinions about my favorites depending on your type of theme park enjoyment. Foodies may want different things than thrill seekers. If a park has a new ride you'll probably be interested in that. So let's dive into which are the best theme parks in southern california and for WHO.
Pro Tip: If you are planning a trip to ANY of the Southern California Theme Parks then I highly recommend buying tickets in advance. Undercover Tourist is our go to for discounted tickets (they can do hotels and packages as well)……they've got some great sales that will help you to save quite a bit as you plan your trip!
No list of Southern California theme parks would be complete without mentioning the iconic disneyland resort. As the original happiest place on earth (and our family's favorite), it continues to captivate generation after generation with its magical atmosphere and beloved characters.
Add in the best coffee and food (highly recommend a character breakfast) , and you have a pretty amazing destination. You can explore the original themed lands like Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Adventureland but also? We've got galaxy's edge for star wars fans and Toontown just reopened for all the Mickey and Minnie fans.
From classic attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean to thrilling rides like Space Mountain, Disneyland Park is a timeless treasure for the whole family.
Disney California Adventure Park, Anaheim:
Right across the esplanade (fancy terminology for the entryway and space in between the two parks) from Disneyland is Disney California Adventure Park, a updated addition to the resort that showcases the best of California's diverse culture and attractions. This park celebrates the state's history and includes some of my favorite immersive lands like Pixar Pier (can't recommend dining at it's popular lamplight lounge enough) , Cars Land (an absolute GEM), and Grizzly Peak (don't miss the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail play area for younger kids).
If you're a coaster fan….. Incredicoaster, a high-speed adventure based on “The Incredibles,” is a must do and if not? Grab a virtua queue spot for the dazzling nighttime spectacular, World of Color (updated to celebrate Disney's 100th birthday this year).
If you're a movie buff, Universal Studios Hollywood is a must-visit. This unique theme park seamlessly combines thrilling rides with immersive movie experiences and honestly offers something for everyone. Take the iconic backlot tour, where you'll witness movie sets and thrilling encounters with famous characters. Thrill ride lovers will LOVE the Jurassic World Ride and the Transformers: The Ride-3D.
Our family's personal favorite? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It's absolutely amazing how it places you right in the middle of the story. Universal Studios also has the most fun holiday activities….they even have a whole Grinchmas festival!
And don't forget…..Universal Studios just opened Super Nintendo World!
For a taste of old-fashioned charm blended with exhilarating rides and….some killer boysenberry treats, head to Knott's Berry Farm. This adorable and historic theme park offers a unique blend of attractions for thrill-seekers and families (or no scary rides people like me). You can take a wild ride on the classic wooden coaster, GhostRider, or get your adrenaline pumping on the record-breaking coaster, HangTime. The Fiesta Village area was just completely redone and looks amazing.
Knott's Berry Farm also hosts seasonal events like Knott's Scary Farm and Knott's Spooky Farm during Halloween, Knott's Merry Farm in the winter, the Peanuts Celebration in the early part of the year and the super popular Boysenberry Festival.
Roller Coaster fans won't want to miss Six Flags Magic Mountain. It's renowned for its world-class roller coasters and epic thrill rides. This park has a staggering collection of record-breaking rides, including Twisted Colossus, Goliath, and also X2. With its impressive lineup of high-speed coasters and adrenaline-pumping attractions, Six Flags Magic Mountain is a haven for coaster lovers seeking a heart-stopping experience. Not gonna lie, as a scared of heights person….this isn't my cup of tea….but it may be yours!
For families with young children and Lego super fans, Legoland California in Carlsbad is a dream come true. This fun theme park offers a unique experience where imagination takes center stage. As a visitor, you'll explore a world built entirely from Lego bricks. It's filled with attractions and activities designed to entertain and inspire (and honestly it's just as fun for adults as it is for kids).
Legoland California is divided into several themed areas, each offering its own activities, food and attractions. Miniland USA is a highlight, featuring intricate Lego replicas of famous landmarks from around the United States. Marvel at the miniature versions of the Golden Gate Bridge, New York City, and the finally Las Vegas Strip. The attention to detail is especially astounding. They just unveiled Miniland San Diego and it's REALLY cool to see (we love the Padres Stadium model).
The park also features a variety of rides suitable for different ages. Younger children will love adventures on attractions like Fairy Tale Brook and Coast Cruise. The LEGO City area allows kids to become firefighters or policemen, participating in interactive experiences. For more thrills, families can brave the Dragon Coaster or embark on the exhilarating Ninjago The Ride, where riders use their hands to battle virtual enemies. The all new LEGO Movie area has a really fun play area, character meet and greets and the SUPER popular Emmett's Flying Adventure ride.
Legoland : Hands On Experiences
Legoland California doesn't only have rides and attractions. The theme park also offers unique hands-on experiences. At the Lego Factory, visitors can learn how Lego bricks are made and even take home their own custom Lego brick. The Build and Test area also encourages creativity as kids construct their own Lego creations and test them on ramps and tracks.
Imagination Zone provides interactive activities like robotics and 4D movies that bring Lego characters to life and is especially fun.
Legoland Water Park, is a part of the theme park. It is a great afternoon activity during the warmer months. The water park is filled with water slides, wave pools, and interactive splash pads. Families can cool off and have a relaxing break from the rest of the park.
Sesame Place, San Diego
For families with younger children, Sesame Place in San Diego is an adorable theme park that brings the beloved characters of Sesame Street to life. Located near the iconic SeaWorld San Diego, out of all the theme parks in southern california this offers a perfect combination of entertainment and education.
Sesame Place is filled with interactive experiences, exciting shows, and fun-filled attractions. From the moment you step into the park, you'll be greeted by familiar faces like Elmo, Big Bird, and Cookie Monster. You can meet your favorite characters, take photos, and enjoy live performances that showcase the magic of Sesame Street (following a few rides….don't miss the daily parade, it's adorable).
The attractions at Sesame Place cater to younger kids. Kids can enjoy gentle rides like Elmo's Flying Fish and the Sunny Day Carousel. The Count's Castle offers interactive play areas where children can climb, explore, and engage in imaginative play.
Sesame Place places a strong emphasis on education and learning through play. The park also offers interactive experiences that teach children about important concepts like sharing, friendship, and problem-solving, all in a fun and engaging way that is super age appropriate.
Don't forget, Sesame Place also has a water park. It's PERFECT on warmer days and has a great lazy river!
While not a traditional theme park, the Santa Monica Pier holds a special place in Southern California's entertainment landscape. Located along the beautiful coastline of Santa Monica, this iconic landmark offers a blend of classic amusement park attractions, lively entertainment, and breathtaking ocean views.
The Santa Monica Pier is home to Pacific Park, another charming amusement park with a nostalgic ambiance. Step onto the Pier and be greeted by the vibrant sights and sounds of the Ferris wheel, roller coasters, and carnival games. The Pacific Wheel, a towering Ferris wheel, stands as the park's centerpiece and provides riders with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the coastline (warning for scared of heights friends….it does go REALLY high)!
In addition to the rides, Pacific Park also offers classic attractions like the West Coaster roller coaster and the Pacific Plunge, a thrilling drop tower ride. Families can also enjoy a leisurely ride on the Sea Dragon swing ride or test their skills at the classic midway games.
Beyond the amusement park, the Santa Monica Pier also offers a host of other activities and attractions. Take a stroll along the Pier and enjoy the lively atmosphere, live music performances, and street entertainers. You can always grab delicious treats from the various food stands. We love a pier treat, i.e. the famous funnel cakes and cotton candy and some pretty great ice cream.
The Santa Monica Pier is also a gateway to the beautiful sandy beaches of Santa Monica. Visitors can soak up the sun, then take a refreshing dip in the ocean, or even try their hand at beach volleyball. The combination of amusement park fun and beachside relaxation generally makes the Santa Monica Pier a great spot for visitors of all ages. It's always a suggested visit from us for out of towners!
One more note, they may not be theme parks in Southern California but if you are visiting….I also highly recommend the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park. You can see my full guide to both HERE.
Southern California's theme parks are all in all truly unique experiences. Whether you're exploring the enchantment of Disneyland, or immersing yourself in the magic of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood, or braving the intense roller coasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain, undeniably there's no shortage of thrills and memories to be made.
Finally, my only question is……which of these theme parks in Southern California are you planning to visit first?