California Theme Parks and Amusement Parks

Where to Find Coasters and Fun Throughout the State

Walt Disney began the theme park revolution at Disneyland in a sleepy Anaheim orange grove and forever changed our notions of entertainment and vacations, let alone the amusement industry. That sleepy orange grove is now a destination resort with two parks, hotels, and more. While Disneyland remains the nexus of California's theme parks, there are a number of other noteworthy parks, including Universal Studios Hollywood, Legoland California, SeaWorld San Diego, and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Let's run those and other parks down, including smaller, more under-the-radar ones.

Before we get to the park listings, here are some resources to help you plan your next visit:

California parks are arranged alphabetically:

  • 01 of 21
    Adventure City amusement park California
    ••• Adventure City

    Stanton

    A small park for younger children. In Disneyland's shadows, it caters more to the locals than to tourists. In 2015, it revved up with Rewind Racers, a shuttle roller coaster that sends passengers racing forwards and backwards. In addition to the rides, Adventure City offers a petting farm, party facilities, and a Thomas the Tank Engine-themed train building attraction.

  • 02 of 21
    Belmont Park California
    ••• Belmont Park

    San Diego

    One of the state's (and the country's) few remaining seaside amusement parks. Home to the historic Giant Dipper wooden coaster, which dates back to 1925 and is similar to the Giant Dipper at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. In addition to the rides, the park offers other attractions such as mini-golf, laser tag, and escape room adventures.

  • 03 of 21
    California's Great America amusement park
    ••• Cedar Fair Entertainment Company

    Santa Clara

    Major amusement park includes headlining roller coasters such as Patriot, the wooden Gold Striker, and the inverted Flight Deck. The huge water park, Boomerang Bay, is included with admission. Special events include Halloween Haunt and the holiday-themed WinterFest.

  • 04 of 21
    Castle Park California
    ••• Castle Park

    Riverside

    Huge family entertainment center with an arcade, four mini-golf courses, midway games, and a small amusement park. Rides include a spinning roller coaster, a drop tower ride, a log flume, and the Ghost Blasters interactive dark ride.

    Continue to 5 of 21 below.
  • 05 of 21
    Children's Fairyland California
    ••• Children's Fairyland

    Oakland

    Dating back to 1950, the small lakeside park for young children is themed to fables, rhymes, and storybooks such as Peter Rabbit and Jack and Jill. Rides include a small carousel, a Ferris wheel, and a train. There are also live animals and gardens.

  • 06 of 21
    Disneyland Hotel pool
    ••• Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland

    Anaheim

    The Disneyland Resort encompasses two theme parks (the original Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, which are both listed below), three hotels, and the Downtown Disney dining, shopping and entertainment center.

  • 07 of 21

    Disneyland Park

    Disneyland-Railroad.jpg
    ••• Disneyland. Used with permission.

    Anaheim

    Walt Disney's original theme park set the standard for the industry and remains a magical, constantly evolving place today. Its collection of beloved, classic rides along with more recent E-ticket attractions make it a must-visit park.

  • 08 of 21
    Guests enter Cars Land at Disney California Adventure theme park.
    ••• © Arthur Levine, 2012

    Anaheim

    The sister park to Disneyland, Disney California Adventure really came into its own after a $1.1 billion expansion that included the addition of Cars Land and the magnificent Radiator Springs Racers attraction. The park also includes the retro Paradise Pier, which features the California Screamin' coaster and Toy Story Midway Mania, and Hollywood Land, which offers the Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout attraction (that used to be the Tower of Terror).

    Continue to 9 of 21 below.
  • 09 of 21
    Funderland Sacramento amusement park
    ••• Funderland Amusement Park

    Sacramento

    Small park for younger children. Rides include the Flying Dragon Roller Coaster, a carousel, the Funderland Train, and Backroads Buggies, antique cars that kids can drive. Party planning services are available.

  • 10 of 21
    Gilroy Gardens California theme park
    ••• Gilroy Gardens

    Gilroy

    The unique park is devoted to horticulture and among its features are its "circus trees," unusual living trees that were created with some human intervention. Rides are geared mostly to younger kids (and their families) and include a Mushroom Swing, a Ferris wheel, and the Quicksilver Express Mine Coaster.

  • 11 of 21
    Calico Mine Ride Knott's Berry Farm
    ••• © Arthur Levine

    Buena Park

    The classic park (which claims to be the country's first theme park) features Ghost Town with the wonderful, restored Calico Mine Ride and Timber Mountain Log Ride, as well as wild coasters, such as Xcelerator and Silver Bullet. The adjacent Soak City water park is not included with admission. 

  • 12 of 21

    Legoland California

    Legoland California ride
    ••• Merlin Entertainments

    Carlsbad

    Geared to the 12-and-under set, Legoland California is themed to the bright plastic building bricks. Highlights include Miniland, with scale models of U.S. landmarks fashioned out of Lego blocks, the interactive 3D Lego Ninjago dark ride, The Lego Movie 4D (a mini sequel of sorts to the wildly popular film), and coasters and other rides based on the toy brand. There is also a water park and an aquarium, both of which require separate admission, and onsite hotels.

    Continue to 13 of 21 below.
  • 13 of 21
    Pacific Park California
    ••• Pacific Park

    Santa Monica

    Small, classic-style seaside pier park with a roller coaster, Ferris wheel, and other attractions. Includes a lovely carousel. Because of its proximity to Hollywood, Pacific Park is frequently featured in movies, TV shows, and commercials.

  • 14 of 21
    Pixieland Amusement Park
    ••• Pixieland Amusement Park

    Concord

    Small park for young children. rides include an antique carousel, the Dragon roller coaster, and the Pixieland Express train. party packages are available.

  • 15 of 21
    Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk coaster
    ••• Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

    Santa Cruz

    Classic seaside amusement park with three coasters, including the vintage 1924 Giant Dipper. Like Pacific Park and Belmont Park, it is one of the few surviving oceanside parks.

  • 16 of 21

    Ontario

    Small park with a junior steel coaster, a wild mouse coaster, thrill and kiddie rides, plus go-karts, mini-golf, and batting cages. Scandia also operates family fun centers in Victorville and Sacramento.

    Continue to 17 of 21 below.
  • 17 of 21
    SeaWorld San Diego
    ••• SeaWorld Parks

    San Diego

    The original SeaWorld park (there are others in Orlando and San Antonio), the focus has changed through the years. Once the home of Shamu and his theatrical-style stadium shows, the park has been transitioning to more of an educational focus. It has also been adding more attractions and thrill rides.

  • 18 of 21
    Six Flags Discovery Kingdom coaster
    ••• Six Flags

    Vallejo

    The hybrid zoo/oceanarium/amusement park is unique among Six Flags parks. In addition to the animals, Discovery Kingdom offers some wild coasters and thrill rides, including Kong, Medusa, Sky Screamer, and The Joker.

  • 19 of 21
    Scream-SFMM.jpg
    ••• © Arthur Levine.

    Valencia

    One of Six Flags' flagship locations and the only one that is open year round, Magic Mountain holds the distinction of having the most roller coasters of any park in the world. Among its standout coasters are X2, the wooden-steel hybrid, Twisted Colossus (which gets a rare 5-star review), and the 100 mph Superman: The Escape. The adjacent Hurricane harbor water park is not included with admission.

  • 20 of 21
    Storyland Fresno park
    ••• Storyland

    Fresno

    Tiny, fairytale-themed park for younger children. Attractions include a train and a theater.

    Continue to 21 of 21 below.
  • 21 of 21
    Hogshead Village, part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood
    ••• Nathaniel Chadwick for Universal Studios Hollywood

    Universal City

    The movie-themed park is located at an actual working studio, and among its highlights is its famous Studio Tour. The addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2016 capped an aggressive expansion plan that also included Transformers: The Ride 3D, The Simpsons Springfield land, and a Fast & Furious attraction.