With thrill-seeking spots from north to south, there are epic theme parks in California for every taste and style. From upside-down roller coasters to dancing Disney characters and beach boardwalk carnivals, release your inner child at one of California’s signature theme parks.
Different parks offer unique experiences and I’m here to help you decide which is best for you! As a California local, I’ve been to almost every theme park in the state and frequently revisit my favorites. There are so many amazing things to do in California, amusement parks being among the top.
Here are the top 11 California theme parks that shouldn’t be missed.
Table of Contents
- 11 Best Theme Parks in California
- 7 Tips for California Theme Parks
- FAQs About California Theme Parks
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11 Best Theme Parks in California
Disneyland is the most popular theme park in California, if not the entire United States. Adults and children alike love this California amusement park for its thrill-seeking rides, nostalgic parades, and delicious Disney treats.
Although Disneyland is one of the more expensive theme parks in California, you are guaranteed to get your money’s worth. There are so many things to do in Disneyland and the rides and games are sure to bring out your inner playfulness.
Take a photo with one of the famous Disney characters or buy your own Mickey Mouse ears to wear around the park like a local. There are also many places to stay near Disneyland for travelers who want an early park entrance.
Disney California Adventure Park
You will find Disney California Adventure right across from the Disneyland Resort entrance. Guests usually buy a park hopper ticket to enjoy the magic of both Disney parks.
California Adventure is known to have more “adult” rides than Disneyland. Go for an upside-down whirl on the Incredicoaster or for a butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling on the Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!
There are also more places in California Adventure that serve alcohol than Disneyland, making this theme park a good option for when you’re getting tired from walking all day and are ready to relax with an ice-cold beer.
A cool Disneyland tip is heading over to California Adventure to enjoy line-free rides when Disneyland has wait times of over an hour.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (661) 255-4100 | Website | Hours: 10:30 am-5 pm Monday – Thursday, 10:30 am-12 am Friday, 10:30 am-1 am Saturday, 10:30 am-11 pm Sunday | Entrance: $65, adults, $60 children | 👉 Browse Hotels on Booking
Thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies, this theme park is for you! Six Flags has the most intense roller coasters in all of California, so this amusement park is not for the faint of heart.
Drop hundreds of feet in the air, dangling upside-down, or go backward, the opportunities are endless at Six Flags Magic Mountain. This theme park is less crowded than the Disneyland theme parks but it still fills to capacity most weekends.
If you like adrenaline-pumping roller coasters, then you must go to El Diablo. This ride is the world’s largest loop coaster and is sure to get your heart racing.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Cinema lovers delight as they visit Universal Studios Hollywood. Experience the movie magic and behind-the-scenes Hollywood studio tours at this Southern California theme park.
This is one of the best theme parks in California that doesn’t break the bank. There are always discounts available online and with a good search, you may end up paying next to nothing for a trip to Universal Studios with the whole family.
Universal Studios Hollywood is especially popular during Halloween when the Universal Horror Nights decorations and haunted houses take over the park.
Go for a jungle cruise on the Jurassic Park water ride that always ends with a splash. Park guests also love the giant Simpsons Donut for a midday snack. Universal Studios is one of the best things to do in Hollywood.
Knott’s Berry Farm
Knott’s Berry Farm is one of the more popular theme parks in California and an easy day trip from LA. There are thrilling rides in the park as well as kid-friendly rides and games in Camp Snoopy. Knott’s is a Southern California theme park staple.
Also known as “America’s first theme park,” Knott’s is over 100 years old. Its wild west theme is seen throughout the park with old-timey cowboy characters striding along in the ghost town area and western-themed live entertainment.
After you go on whirling roller coasters, check out Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant. Some guests visit the theme park for that restaurant alone. Work up your appetite from walking around the park all day for a delicious chicken dinner and a slice of famous boysenberry pie.
Knott’s Soak City
Knott’s Berry Farm is one of the few California amusement parks with a water park. Knott’s Soak City is the perfect way to spend a hot Southern California day.
Only open seasonally from May-September, Soak City has all of the essential water slides. Fly down fast slides or relax in an innertube on the lazy river during your trip to Soak City. This park is perfect for families visiting California with children.
There are also several snack stands throughout the park that serves crispy chicken tenders, refreshing slushies, and golden french fries. If you visit Southern California in the summer, Knott’s Soak City is a must.
SeaWorld San Diego
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (619) 222-4732 | Website | Hours: 10:30 am-5 pm Monday – Friday, 10 am-8 pm Saturday, 10 am-7 pm Sunday | Entrance: $64, adult, Free, children under 4 | 👉 Browse Hotels on Booking
San Diego visitors with children find entertainment at SeaWorld. This aquatic zoo has marine animals on display and interpretive exhibits for a fun yet educational experience.
Visit one of many SeaWorld shows to give your feet a break like the Orca Encounter, Sea Lion & Otter Spotlight, or the Dolphin Encounter. This is one of the most unique theme parks in California and a child favorite.
If it’s your first time in SeaWorld San Diego, then I suggest swimming with the dolphins. This will be an experience you won’t forget! SeaWorld is one of the best, kid-friendly things to do in San Diego.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Enjoy the best of both worlds at Santa Cruz. Not only will you catch some of the best waves of your life in this cool California beach town, but you can also walk to an amusement park right on the beach when you’re done surfing or sunbathing.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park is the biggest of its kind in California. Treat yourself to a funnel cake, win a carnival stuffed animal, or go for a whirl on the boardwalk roller coaster for a perfect beach day in Santa Cruz.
Admission is completely free so you are at full liberty to just browse, watch families have fun, and not have to spend anything. This may work if you have willpower but the sweet scent of cotton candy is always irresistible for me.
📍 Google Maps | Phone: (888) 690-5346 | Website | Hours: 10 am-5 pm Monday – Friday, 10 am-9 pm Saturdays, 10 am-7 pm Sundays | Entrance: $101, adults, $95 children under 13, Free children under 3 | 👉 Browse Tours on Viator
Legoland California is a child’s paradise. Lego lovers are excited when they see their favorite toys come to life at a whole amusement park dedicated to Legos.
The amusement park is 128 acres and has over 60 rides, many of which small children can operate themselves for a hands-on experience. There are also kid-themed shows throughout the park and playgrounds so your children never grow bored at Legoland.
Don’t forget to try all the delicious treats around Legoland like fried cinnamon apples or diner hamburgers.
Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier hosts a small Southern California amusement park right on the beach. Smaller than the Santa Cruz beach theme park, the Santa Monica Pier has just as much character and is in a prime Los Angeles location.
Ride the wooden boardwalk’s roller coaster or get great, 360-degree views of the area from the top of the giant Santa Monica Ferris wheel. There is also a merry-go-round on the pier that dates back to 1922.
If arcade games are more your cup of tea, you’re in luck in Santa Monica. There’s an array of games on the pier, making this one of the best beach amusement parks around. This is truly one of the best things to do in Santa Monica.
Raging Waters is another Southern California water park. This Los Angeles County park is the best way to cool off during the dry summers in LA.
This local water park isn’t a chain but is just as fun as major water amusement parks in California. Raging Waters is far less crowded than Soak City, which makes this park preferable to individuals who don’t like to wait in lines for rides.
Enjoy more than 50 water slides at Raging Waters, California’s largest water park! There is also a sand beach to lounge on and a kiddie area to keep young ones occupied.
7 Tips for California Theme Parks
Bring Your Own Food to Save Money
Most California theme parks will let you bring your own food into the park. Amusement parks in California have expensive entrance fees, so this helps you save some serious cash.
Some theme park restaurants in California charge upwards of $30 per plate, which certainly adds up if you are dining with your whole family. Bring a small lunch pail with an ice pack to keep your packed food fresh all day long.
🎢 Read Next: 41 Best Things to Do in California with Kids
Wear Comfortable Shoes
You may just end up walking 5-10 miles at a California theme park. Many parks like Disneyland and Six Flags Magic Mountain are quite spread out and require being on your feet most of the day.
Wear comfortable shoes to the theme park to avoid regretting your shoe choice mid-day. Hokas or Salomons are my go-to theme park shoe choice. With these shoes, I almost never have foot pain after a long day of exploring theme parks.
Look for Discounts Online
Individual, single-day family theme park tickets can be expensive. Check online for ticket discounts or through third-party websites for bundle deals.
Many theme park websites like Disneyland and Legoland California conveniently offer a calendar view of the cheapest days to go to the park.
Get There Early
Extremely popular amusement parks like Disneyland and Six Flags Magic Mountain fill to capacity most days, especially on the weekends. Get there early if you want access to your favorite rides without having to wait in hour-long lines.
👉 Pro Tip: Disneyland hotel guests have slightly earlier access to the Disneyland theme parks. Stay at one of Disneyland’s three hotels for a chance to enter the park earlier than non-hotel guests.
California weather is pretty predictable but you still want to be prepared for anything. If you plan on staying at your theme park until closing, you will want to bring enough layers to keep you warm on thrilling roller coasters at night.
The major parks have lockers where you can store your extra layers. This way, you can explore all of the fun attractions of the parks without shivering or excessively sweating.
Skip the Lines with Special Passes
Universal Studios offers a front-of-the-line pass for an extra fee. This way, you can skip all of the busy weekend lines and get on your favorite rides faster.
Disneyland also offers “Lightning Lane” passes per ride. For a small additional fee, you can opt for a shorter line for your favorite Disneyland rides.
Reserve Dining Ahead of Time
Some of the best amusement parks in California offer reservation dining. Disneyland, for example, lets you reserve a table at top Disney restaurants from the Disneyland app.
This saves time in restaurant lines when you’re hungry.
FAQs About California Theme Parks
How many theme parks are in California?
There are 33 major theme parks in California, each with its own theme and audience.
What is the best park in California?
The Disneyland amusement parks are the best in California. They have high-tech rides, an abundance of eateries, and rides suited for all ages.
Where is the most popular theme park?
Disneyland is the most popular theme park in California, if not the entire United States. It receives the most visitors per year thanks to the famous Disney movies and holiday events.
Which theme park is best for 7 year olds?
Legoland is the best theme park for 7 year olds. There are over 60 kiddie rides at the park for children 2-12 years old.
Now you’re ready to hit the top theme parks in California. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the best time to visit Disneyland and other California theme parks for the best, most thrilling experience.
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