Southern California has that killer combo of everlasting summer weather and every possible kind of amusement park. It’s no wonder that every year countless families load up their cars to make those unforgettable memories in SoCal once again. Typically, the kids get the luxury of relishing in the excitement of the upcoming vacation while the parents are stuck figuring out the logistics in order to be fully prepared for the most fun vacation possible.
We’d like to lessen your stress levels and apprise you of rides and attractions you’ve never explored! Even if you’re a seasoned Disneyland-goer or a VIP member at Universal Studios, prices are always changing and attractions are ever-evolving.
This comprehensive yet to-the-point guide will save you the hassle of having to open up 10 tabs in the Safari app on your iphone. Scroll down for answers to the most Googled questions about Southern California’s best theme parks.
The most iconic of them all, Disneyland is hands down the most traveled to theme park in Southern California. Having just celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2015, Walt Disney created a first class family-oriented amusement park that has stood the test of time!
After strolling down the most charming Main Street in the world into the many themed “lands,” you could easily spend at least 2 days soaking up all of the magic Mickey Mouse and his friends have waiting for you and your family. Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland and Tomorrowland are each equipped with amazing attractions for adults and children alike. And make sure you stay for the fireworks show at night!
Hours of operation: varies depending on the season.
Best time to go: the least crowded times to go are on the “off season” times like October and February, and also May. However, it’s also very fun to go during Halloween and Christmas, as the park offers special events, and is outfitted with an extra festive spirit.
Tickets: You may purchase tickets right outside the park at one of the ticketing booths, or you can buy them online in advance.
Parking: It’s best to try to park in one of the lots closest to the park. We recommend to our guests is to leave your car at one of the Twelve Springs homes and then take an Uber to Disneyland. This will only be about 6-12 dollars round trip, depending on how far you are from the park.
Top 3 Places to Eat: Blue Bayou, Café Orleans, and Mexican place
Top 2 Rides for Adults: Space Mountain & Indiana Jones
Top 2 Rides for Kids: It’s A Small World and Nemo’s Underwater Adventure
Best Free App: “MouseWait” for wait times.
Disney’s California Adventure
Disneyland’s younger sister, California Adventure (aka DCA) is a magical journey through the mesmerizing history and famous spots of the great state of California. If the family is coming to Anaheim to go to Disney, it is well worth your time to stay an extra day and spend it here!
Best time to go: As with Disneyland the least crowded times to go to DCA are on the “off season” times like October and February, and also May, although sometimes DCA closes a little earlier or stays open a little later, depending on the season or if there is a movie premier or special event at either park. Needless to say, look up the schedule before you buy tickets and plan strategically which park to visit for which day.
Tickets: You can either buy one ticket to just Disneyland, one ticket to California Adventure, or what’s called a “park hopper ticket”, which allows you to hop back and forth between the parks throughout the day. The park hopper is a great option, especially if you know you’d like the freedom to come and go from both parks as you please.
Parking: See “parking” for Disneyland.
Top 3 places to eat: Wine Country Trattoria, Ariel’s Grotto and Corn Dog Castle.
Top 2 Rides for Adults: It’s SO hard to narrow this down, but definitely don’t miss Soarin’ Over California and Hollywood Tower Hotel.
Top 2 Rides for Kids: Radiator Springs Racers and Goofy’s Sky School.
Best Free App: “MouseWait” for wait times.
Knott’s Berry Farm
Built in 1920, Knott’s Berry Farm is a classic gem that is definitely worth visiting on your vacation to Orange County. It’s cheaper than Disneyland or California Adventure, and has just as many awesome rides! The park has an all-American feel, with carnival booths, delicious home cooked food and rip-roaring roller coasters!
Best Time To Go: Avoid major holiday weekends and summer if you want to beat the crowds. If you’re looking for an extra exhilarating time in this park, plan to visit Knott’s Scary Farm during Halloween time! Check out their website for hours too, as they are subject to change.
Parking: Parking here is also very expensive, so you may consider Uber-ing to this park as well if you’re staying with Twelve Springs.
Top 3 Places to Eat: Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant, Ghost Town Grill and Knott’s Farm Bakery.
Top 2 Rides For Adults: Ghostrider (you’ll want to do this one more than once) and Montezooma’s Revenge.
Top 2 Rides For Kids: Timberline Twister and Grand Sierra Railroad.
Best App: Knott’s Berry Farm mobile app.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
Designed for thrill-seekers, Six Flags Magic Mountain is not for the faint of heart. However, there are still family-oriented, kid appropriate rides too so don’t let the huge roller coasters deter you! Situated about a half hour north of Los Angeles, this park is definitely a doable day trip if you’re staying in one of our vacation homes in Anaheim.
Best Time To Go: According to their website, the best time to go is weekdays during the summer and any day during the months of April, May and September.
Tickets: Buy them online ahead of time to save!
Click here for Parking information.
Top 3 Places To Eat: Johnny Rockets, Apocalypse Pizza, and Chop Six
Top 2 Rides For Adults: Goliath and X2
Top 2 Rides For Kids: Canyon Blaster and Daffy’s Adventure Tours
Best App: Coasterilla
Universal Studios Hollywood
If you love movies then Universal Studios is MUST. The theme park is built on the actual Universal Film Studios lot, much of which is incorporated into your experience. You can take a “back lot” tour and see where they film several popular shows such as Master of None and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Oh, and they just put in the wildly popular “Wizarding World of Harry Potter”, so you’ve got to check out what all the fuss is about!
Side Note: Universal City Walk is a fun place to hang out and dine before or after you spend time in the park.
Best time to go: Because it’s inland Los Angeles, it gets pretty hot in the summer, so I wouldn’t go in the middle of July or August. That being said, there are little spritzing stations to cool you off around the park. Or just ride the the Jurassic Park water ride. Another helpful tip if you have kids is to go mid-morning to early evening because a lot of the older teenagers and adults who have annual passes like to come after dark.
Tickets: Look for deals at Costco or AAA.
Parking: There are a bunch of parking garages at the base of the park. It’s not really worth paying the $35.00 for “front gate” parking.
Top 3 Places To Eat: Louie’s Italian Restaurant, Krusty Burger, and Hollywood & Dine.
Top 2 Rides For Adults: Studio Tour & Special Effects Show.
Top 2 Rides For Kids: Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and Jurassic Park.
SeaWorld San Diego
This marine-based amusement park is is perfect for a day trip in San Diego. With just a few rides, this place is more centered around interacting with marine life. You and your children are sure to be in awe over feeding the dolphins, laughing at the silly sea lions on the stage and learning about the exquisite penguins.
Best Time To Go: Though it may be a bit crowded, the summer is the best time to go because you’re likely to get wet while visiting SeaWorld. Check out their calendar for hours!
Parking: Scroll down to “parking” in the “Know Before You Go” section on the website.
Top 3 places to eat: Pineapple Pete’s Island Eats, Shipwreck Reef Cafe and Calypso Bay Smokehouse. If you dine outside, be sure to keep watch that a seagull doesn’t swoop down and take your chicken parmesan off of your pasta! #truestory
Top 2 Attractions for Adults: The interactive Cirque de la Mer (translation: water acrobats!) and Penguin Encounter
Top 2 Attractions for Kids: Dolphin Encounter and the Clyde and Seamore Show
Best App: Seaworld Discovery Guide
It’s how it sounds—a theme park full of Legos! There are monuments built from Legos, busts of famous people made out of Legos, shops and rides all dedicated to Legos. Of all of SoCal’s parks, this is definitely the most kid-oriented, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re doing a couples’ weekend or girls’ trip.
On the other hand, if you have children, especially ages 3-11, LEGOLAND will be sure to make their little hearts happy and at the same time entertain mom and dad. Little boys who are Lego fans will be over the moon with excitement!
Best time to go: This is an all-day affair, so don’t be too ambitious and try to squeeze SeaWorld or the San Diego Zoo in on the same day as LEGOLAND. Once again, the best time to come is the off season like the fall or late spring after spring break.
Tickets: Tickets are pricey, so book ahead of time if you’re hoping for a discount.
Top 3 Places to Eat: Knight’s Smokehouse BBQ, Wok ‘N’ Bowl Ramen and Ninja Kitchen
Top 2 Rides: Lost Kingdom Adventure and Knight’s Tournament
Best App: LEGOLAND California