From Disneyland classics to beachfront carousels, the Golden State’s best-in-class theme parks deliver something for everyone. Take a tram ride to tour movie back lots at Universal Studios Hollywood, or ride on a beachfront carousel in Santa Cruz. Find out what’s in store at these family fun-zones, with insider tips on new rides, classic favorites, and best entertainment.
The undisputed granddaddy of theme parks has been leading the way since 1955, inviting visitors to spend the day in the ultimate land of make-believe, Disneyland Resort. This beloved Anaheim institution serves up vintage icons like the Matterhorn Bobsleds as well as new innovations, like laser lights and soaring fountains in the nightly show World of Color, or mystical mouse antics in Mickey and the Magical Map. The resort, which consists of the original Disneyland Park and the adjacent Disney California Adventure Park, has themed “lands” with related rides, shows, and attractions.
Movie magic, mega attractions – If Hollywood is the land of make believe, then this is your chance to step into that fantasy world. On a sprawling complex on the east side of the Hollywood Hills, this movie studio/part theme park blends behind-the-scenes tours with rides that swoosh, swoop, and dive through movie-themed worlds. An adjacent, neon-lit complex of shops, eateries, and entertainment spaces known as Universal CityWalk lets you stretch out the experience beyond the park.
A wide beach and splashable waves are always inviting; add a colorful boardwalk with rides, games, and music—well, how can you say no? Not many people do—this popular waterfront boardwalk is a summertime ritual for countless California families, a wonderful way for you to relax and play just like the smiling locals. While there are countless attractions lining the boardwalk, the big star is the Giant Dipper, a burly wooden coaster first opened in 1924 and generating screams, squeals, and squinched-shut eyes for decades. These days, it’s not the only thrill ride in town; the boardwalk also features the 125-foot/38-metre-high Double Shot tower for heart-in-throat adrenaline lovers. For tamer rides, especially for little ones, take a spin on the painstakingly restored 1911 Looff carousel (yes, that’s real horse hair in the tail of your painted steed). A noisy but fun indoor arcade offers laser tag, mini-golf, skee-ball and countless video games. Peace out with a ride above it all in the overhead Sky Glider funicular (providing GoPro-worthy views of the beach, rides, and Santa Cruz Mountains. On Wednesdays in summer, stick around for free outdoor movies on the beach; and on summer Fridays, for free concerts.
Billing itself as having more world-class roller coasters than any other destination, this theme park roughly an hour’s drive northeast of Los Angeles is a daredevil’s paradise. Teens and young adults flock here to get spun, flung, and plummeted on rides with names like Goliath, Twisted Colossus, Viper, Sling Shot, and Apocalypse—you get the picture. Comic-book heroes get a nod here too, as on the Superman: Escape from Krypton mega-ride. If you need a place to settle your brain back into your skull, or if you have little ones who aren’t quite ready to ride a chair upside down at 65 miles/105 km per hour, head for mellower Bugs Bunny World, with pint-size rides and dressed-up Looney Tunes characters saying hi to the kids.