The Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego areas of Southern California have an abundance of theme parks and amusement parks, each with a different personality.
What makes a good theme park experience depends on what you are looking for. Theme parks are by definition touristy, so it's just a matter of which type of tourist experience you appreciate. Theme parks in California also put on great holiday attractions for Halloween and Christmas, which can be a fun time to visit, even if you aren't a fan of thrill rides.
Whether you're visiting San Diego or Los Angeles, there are many great amusement parks nearby that are just a short drive away.
Disneyland in Anaheim is the number one theme park in Southern California, full of the traditional Disney charm, attention to detail and obsessively perfect "cast" to make sure your visit runs smoothly. Disneyland is more about family fun than big thrills, although you can find a few rides with motion sickness potential in Tomorrowland. Three-day admission to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is included in the Southern California CityPass, one discount option for Disneyland tickets. Disneyland often offers package deals and discounts that are time-limited.
Disney California Adventure shares a common plaza with Disneyland and offers a selection of rides originally tied to California landmarks, but more recently overtaken by movie-themed lands like the totally immersive Cars Land. California Adventure also has plenty of shows, parades and interactive experiences for the whole family. California Adventure offers a few thrill rides like the California Screamin' coaster, a raft ride, and the Guardians of the Galaxy ride that make it popular with teens. Three-day admission to Disneyland and California Adventure is also included in the Southern California CityPass.
Universal Studios Hollywood is the original movie-themed amusement park located on the grounds of an active film and television studio. In addition to movie-related rides and attractions and the 2016 addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Tram Tour takes you through the back lot and some sound stages of the Universal Studios production studios. The 3- to 7-day Go Los Angeles Card includes weekday admission to Universal Studios.
Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park is a Peanuts-themed park with a nice combination of rides for younger kids, and high thrill coasters and other more advanced rushes to keep the big kids white-knuckling it. The original Ghost Town is a charming place to just hang out and hosts an array of live interactions with colorful historic characters, which is expanded in summer. For the quantity of entertainment per dollar, it's the best theme park value in town, especially if you get discount tickets. Knott's Berry Farm is included in the Go Los Angeles Card and you can often find discount tickets on Goldstar.com.
Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia is the LA area's most extreme amusement park with the highest concentration of thrill rides. It is a rite of passage for area teens to get up the courage to ride these extreme monsters. Six Flags Magic Mountain is included in the Go Los Angeles Card.
Legoland California Resort in Carlsbad is located between Los Angeles and San Diego. This Lego-themed park is designed specifically for kids 2 to 12, and some of the rides have a maximum age and weight limit. Legoland is the place where the Lego aficionado in your family can go all out. There are professional Lego design engineers on-site and plenty of places to do some building. The Legoland California Resort takes the theme even further. You'll have a choice of Lego-themed rooms: Pirate, Kingdom, Adventure, Lego Ninjago or Lego Friends. The resort is right at Legoland.
Sea World San Diego is a medium-sized marine park located on the coast at the northern edge of San Diego with rides, an aquarium, and dolphin, whale, and other marine animal shows. While at Sea World you can experience thrilling roller coasters, like the new Electric Eel, a multi-launch coaster with high-energy twists, loops, and inversions. There are rides for the little ones too. Sea World San Diego tickets are included in the Southern California CityPass.
Pacific Park is a collection of a dozen kid-friendly carnival rides on the Santa Monica Pier, jutting out into the Pacific Ocean. There is no admission fee. You can pay per ride or buy an unlimited ride wristband. Also on the Santa Monica Pier, you'll find a trapeze school, aquarium, food court, and restaurants. One day unlimited rides are included on the Go Los Angeles Card.
Los Angeles Water Parks are open seasonally, usually starting and ending with weekends May through October and daily through the summer months. Six Flags Hurricane Harbor is one of the major outdoor water parks with Grey Wolf Lodge providing indoor fun in Garden Grove near Disneyland.