California Theme Parks

Boomerang at Knott's Berry Farm
••• Boomerang at Knott's Berry Farm. ©2008 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

California theme parks are almost as plentiful as the seagulls that hang out on the beaches. From the first theme park to a couple of remaining oceanfront amusement parks, you'll find plenty of places to get your amusements on in California.

Los Angeles and Orange County Theme Parks

In the Los Angeles area, you'll find a lot of places to go that are open all year long, from the simplest of pleasures to the most scream-provoking "iron" parks filled with terrifyingly fast rollercoasters:

Disneyland and California Adventure: Disneyland and its sister park are by far the most popular California theme parks. Disneyland is also the oldest, opened in 1955. People go to the Disneyland Resort for the magic of it all. They have a higher percentage of rides suited to small children, along with parades, fireworks and entertainment.

Knotts Berry Farm: Knotts is close to Disneyland in Buena Park. They carry over a Wild West theme from their early days, but they also have some big, fast, scary roller coasters. Knotts is also the lowest-priced theme park in the LA area.

Pacific Park at Santa Monica Pier: Located on the Santa Monica Pier, Pacific Park is an old-fashioned amusement park, with a few rides, including a famous carousel. I like it for its cheerful ambiance, and you can walk around for free.

Six Flags Magic Mountain and Hurricane Harbor: The area's biggest "iron park" is north of the metro area.

It's popular with older teens and twenty-somethings who don't mind long waits for its short thrill rides. Magic Mountain opens a new and ever-more-thrilling ride just about every year. However, it lacks much for smaller children (and adults who don't want to ride) to do.

Universal Studios Hollywood: Universal is the Los Angeles area's most exciting theme park these days.

Besides the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal has lots of cutting-edge fast-paced rides that make the most of modern technologies. Their studio tour is almost like a ride itself, with some fun special effects-fueled detours.

San Diego Theme Parks

San Diego doesn't have the big theme parks that LA does, but it does have some fun things for families to enjoy.

Legoland: The park built around those building-block toys is especially good for the younger set, who will find some rides with a MAXIMUM age limit that keeps those pesky older kids from getting in the way. Adults will enjoy the Lego-themed creations everywhere.

Sea World: This ocean-themed park has suffered from adverse publicity in recent years, but they seem to be making a genuine effort to improve. I always have more fun there than I think we will.

Belmont Park: San Diego's oceanside amusement park is small, but it has a classic wooden roller coaster that's worth a look.

San Francisco and Northern California Theme Parks

Most of the northern California theme parks all close for the winter, but they may be open weekends and holidays.

Gilroy Gardens: This smaller-scale park is perfect for smaller children and multi-generation family outings.

The gardens and "circus trees" on the property are fun for the non-riders in the group.

Paramount's Great America, Santa Clara: Great America is the local's favorite for fast rides. There's a water park inside, too.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo: It used to be called Marine World, and it retains some of that theme, with dolphins, sea lions and other critters as well as some fast rides.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: The Boardwalk is California's most fun oceanfront amusement park, with a classic wooden roller coaster, a sky ride and other old-fashioned ride options. It's right next to the beach and holds concerts in the summer.

More For You and Your Kids

Return to the Guide to Things to Do in California to find more unusual and interesting places to go on your California vacation.