7 Thrilling Reasons to Visit California in 2016

  • 01 of 07

    The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to Cast a Spell

    Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios Hollywood's Wizarding World of Harry Potter
    ••• © Arthur Levine.

    Florida may be the theme park capital of the world, but it all started in California. Disneyland celebrated its 60th birthday in 2015 with a Diamond Celebration. Six decades after Walt Disney revolutionized the amusement industry (and vacations themselves for that matter), theme parks have evolved into a vital part of California's tourism market and are a huge draw.

    Disneyland itself will be taking a bit of a breather in the coming year. (Although the Diamond Celebration and its wonderful features, such as the Disneyland Forever Fireworks Show, will continue through September 5, 2016. Also, sister park, Disney California Adventure, has some great new rides and attractions on the way. You can get the scoop on those later in this article.) Disney recently announced that a massive Star Wars land is on the way to Disneyland (and Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World), but it is not expected to open for a few years.

    There are plenty of wild new rides and other developments at...MORE California theme parks that will open in 2016, however. The following seven parks have exciting plans. Let's run down what's on the way. Then you may want to make your own plans to visit California and its theme parks.

    The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

    No 2016 theme park plans are more exciting than the highly anticipated arrival of a certain boy wizard. Harry and his wizarding buddies have been enormously popular since they debuted at Universal Orlando a few years ago. They've also generated lots of critical acclaim. For example, I consider the Universal Studios Florida version of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey as the industry's best themed attraction. Now folks in California will be able to take their own Forbidden Journey.

    They'll also be able to experience the extraordinary level of detail that Universal lavishes on the Wizarding World lands. Get ready to be transported to the startlingly lifelike Scottish village of Hogsmeade. There you'll be able to get a taste of curiously addictive butterbeer, see the wand choose the wizard at Ollivander's, and take a ride aboard the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster. See what else is in store in my preview of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood.

    Next up: Hybrid Coaster Thrills on The Joker

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  • 02 of 07

    The Joker to Bring Hybrid Coaster Thrills to Six Flags

    Six Flags Discovery Kingdom The Joker coaster
    ••• Six Flags

    Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
    Vallejo, CA

    Over the past few years, a new kind of ride, the hybrid wooden-steel coaster, has emerged and has taken the ride industry -- and coaster fans' hearts -- by storm. To get a sense of how wonderful these rides can be (and they have been uniformly wonderful), read my glowing five-star review of Twisted Colossus, which opened in 2015 at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

    In 2016, the former all-wooden Roar at Discovery Kingdom will get a makeover into The Joker, a hybrid wooden-steel thrill machine themed to Batman's arch-rival. I am anticipating another wonderful transformation. You should as well.

    Next up: Soarin' Around the World

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  • 03 of 07

    Go Soarin' Around the World in Anaheim

    Soarin' Around the World at the Disney parks.
    ••• Disney.

    Disney California Adventure
    Anaheim, CA

    As part of Disneyland's 60th anniversary Diamond Celebration in 2015, the Mouse House upgraded its popular Soarin' Over California attraction with a new digital projection system and new screens. However, the movie itself remained the same and didn't really demonstrate the improvements to their full potential. That will change in 2016 when a new ultra-high-definition movie, Soarin' Around the World, premieres. As its name implies, instead of hanging around California, the attraction will take passengers for a giddy trip across the globe to famous locales such as the Great Wall of China.

    Also in 2016, the park will debut a new musical based on the omnipresent Pixar smash, Frozen. It will be staged in the Hyperion Theater, which for many years presented a wonderful adaptation of Aladdin. If the new show incorporates the same production values as its predecessor (and I suspect it will), then audiences will be in for a treat.

    Finally, Luigi’s Rollickin’...MORE Roadsters will replace Luigi's Flying Tires at Cars Land. The ride will use a trackless vehicle system and invite passengers to experience dancing cars at Casa della Tires.

    Next up: Ghostrider Reborn

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  • 04 of 07

    Ghostrider to Ride Again

    Ghostrider at Knott's Berry Farm
    ••• Knott's Berry Farm

    Knott's Berry Farm
    Buena Park, CA

    At one time, I rated Ghostrider among the best wooden coasters. Over time, however, its ride became excessively rough, and its popularity took a hit. Knott's gave up the ghost and closed down the coaster in 2015 to refurbish it. It will reopen in 2016 with a re-profiled and completely new wooden track. It will also feature new Millennium Flyer trains. Expect a much smoother ride experience.

    Also, Knott's will be celebrating the 75th anniversary of its Ghost Town (the home of Ghostrider) in 2016. To mark the occasion, it will present Ghost Town Alive, an interactive experience. Every day, actors portraying characters such as the sheriff, the barber, and assorted no-goodnick villains will engage guests in unfolding and largely improvised stories. Other changes will include new shows in the Calico Saloon and a new stage that the park is constructing.

    Next up: Six Flags Stages a New Revolution

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  • 05 of 07

    Revolution to Throw Riders for a Virtual and Real Loop at Six Flags

    Revolution roller coaster at Six Flags magic Mountain.
    ••• Six Flags

    Six Flags Magic Mountain
    Valencia, CA

    When Six Flags opened the Great American Revolution in 1976, the ride was, well, revolutionary. It featured the world's first major loop on a modern coaster. Like Ghostrider at Knott's however, the ride earned a reputation for beating up its passengers. For its 40th anniversary in 2016, Six Flags will introduce new trains and lose the over-the-shoulder restraints that had been causing much of the pain. It will rechristen the (hopefully) smoother ride as The New Revolution. But wait, there's more! The park will also be turning Revolution into a virtual reality coaster.

    Next up: Look Out for the 4D Bricks at the Lego Movie

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  • 06 of 07

    Everything will Be Awesome at Lego Movie 4D

    Lego Movie 4D at Legoland California
    ••• Legoland

    Legoland California
    Carlsbad, CA

    The Lego Movie was an enormous hit. A sequel of sorts is on its way to Legoland parks around the world. Presented as a 4D film, it will feature some of the same characters from the theatrical release and some of the voice talent as well, including Nick Offerman (MetalBeard), Elizabeth Banks (Wyldstyle), Charlie Day (Benny), and Alison Brie (Unikitty). Appropriately enough, the story will revolve around an adventure at a theme park.

    Also, Legoland will open Ninjago The Ride, a 4D dark ride, in 2016. The high-tech, interactive ride will allow passengers to use hand gestures instead of gun-like devices. They will engage in the story and score points by pretending to be Ninja warriors like the Ninjago characters.

    Next up: More 4D Fun with Mass Effect

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  • 07 of 07

    Get Your Game on with Mass Effect

    Mass Effect attraction at California's Great America
    ••• California's Great America

    California's Great America
    Santa Clara, CA

    The popular videogame series, Mass Effect, moves to California's Great America. Instead of solitary play, gamers (and non-gamers) will be able to join in a group experience. Audiences in the park's Action Theater will be divided into two teams that will compete against one another. Using motion simulator seats and 4D effects, the immersive attraction will transport players into the futuristic Mass Effect world.