With over 30 to choose from, you'll find more theme parks in California than in any other state. Since the Santa Clause theme park opened in Indiana in 1946, Americans have had a love affair with roller coasters and themed rides and are willing to pay for them.
According to Statista, $896 million was spent on constructing theme or amusement parks in the U.S in 201.
California's theme parks vary from movie sets to boardwalks and water parks. You'll find adrenaline-pumping rides for thrill seekers alongside less adventurous yet charmingly fun attractions that keep younger kids just as entertained.
Buckle up as we explore California's top 10 theme parks.
1: Disneyland in Anaheim
It's no surprise that Disneyland is the most popular theme park in California. Statista reports over 18 million people visited the park in 2019, making it one of the most popular in the world, second only to Walt Disney World in Florida. Walt Disney's dream of building a family-friendly theme park came to life when it opened over 60 years ago with 18 attractions to amuse its visitors.
The Happiest Place on Earth has 58, including its newest attraction: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. It has nine themed “lands” to choose from, including Mickey's Toontown, Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Main Street, U.S.A.
Scattered throughout the park are more than a dozen rides with no height requirements that are a hit with tiny tots. What is the most popular ride at Disneyland park? It's a Small World holds that title, with more than 57,000 people catching a boat ride through the exhibit a day.
You'll need more than a day to experience Disneyland's theme park rides, shows, and exhibits. Planning your day before you arrive will ensure you see the main attractions.
Travel expert Sarah Gilliland from On the Road With Sarah shares this advice: “Know the difference between Genie, Genie+, and Individual Lightning Lane passes. Certain rides are available through a free stand-by queue, a one-time ‘skip the line' pass with Genie+, or a separately paid Individual Lightning Lane pass. Knowing which rides offer which will save you time and, potentially, quite a bit of money.”
Other Theme Parks in California
Although Disneyland sees more than twice the annual visitors as the next most popular theme park in the Golden State, there's plenty of reason to explore the others. Here are nine more California theme parks worth visiting.
2: Disney California Adventure Park in San Diego
California's second most visited theme park is directly across the main gate from Disneyland. According to Statista, almost 10 million people visited the park in 2019.
Although it's slightly smaller than its neighbor, it's possible to experience most of the attractions in one day. You'll need to plan for it, though, as some of the most popular rides can have over an hour wait times.
Soaring Over California will have your feet dangling and your heart pumping as you fly over the most memorable parts of California. Radiator Springs Racers will make you want to watch the hit Pixar movie Cars again as you race your opponents in life-sized cartoon cars.
And, if you're daring enough, hold on to your hat (or better yet, take it off) as you travel up to 55 miles per hour and reach a height of 122 feet on the Incredicoaster, the tallest roller coaster in all the Disney park locations.
Money Saving Tip: If you plan to visit both Disneyland Resort and California Adventure Park, you can purchase a park hopper ticket to access both parks on the same day. They're close enough to walk between the two, plus you can see fireworks one night and World of Color the next, no matter which park you spend most of the day in.
3: Universal Studios in Los Angeles
Universal Studios Hollywood works a cinematic twist into each of its twelve rides and two shows. With blockbuster movie-themed attractions such as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Jurassic World – The Ride, you'll feel like you've stepped into the movie yourself, which accomplishes what this theme park strives to achieve.
Get tickets for the hour-long World-Famous Studio Tour early (price included in your admission) since it's the most popular attraction there. You'll get a behind-the-scenes look at famous movie sets, experience an earthquake, and face-to-face with King Kong in the world's largest, most intense 3-D experience.
Are you feeling extra brave? Ride The Revenge of the Mummy at Hollywood Studios, and you might think otherwise!
4: Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park
Knott's Berry Farm holds the title of California's oldest theme park. What started as a roadside berry stand now has 160 acres of world-class shows, rides, and attractions to entertain guests.
You'll find fun for the whole family with thrill rides like the Ghostrider, the west coast's fastest and tallest wooden roller coaster. Want to defy gravity? Hop on the Supreme Scream and take a record-breaking plunge 252 feet down in three seconds.
Youngsters will enjoy the kid-friendly attractions made especially for them in Camp Snoopy. Knott's Soak City is next to the farm if water rides are your thing.
5: Legoland in San Diego
When you visit Legoland California and discover more than 60 rides, shows, and attractions, everything is fantastic! Although this theme park is geared toward ages 2-12, kids of all ages will enjoy its variety.
Similar to Disney's Soaring Over California, Emmet's Flying Adventure Ride will take you soaring through the LEGO Movie Universe. Buckle into the giant Triple Decker Couch as it twists, turns, and dives through this LEGO adventure.
Next, climb aboard the LEGO Technic Coaster for the fastest ride in the park, with speeds up to 28 miles per hour and a 42-foot drop. With so many rides, you'll have to plan your strategy to make the most of your day.
Perhaps the most impressive feature at Legoland isn't even a ride. Miniland U.S.A. is a 1:20 scale model display of landmarks and scenes from around the world, made from millions of genuine Lego bricks. Be sure to save time to explore and be amazed at the detail in LEGOMiniland!
In addition to visiting Legoland, visitors can buy multi-theme park tickets that include the waterpark and Sea Life Aquarium.
6: Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia
Adrenaline junkies looking for their next rollercoaster fix will find it at Six Flag Magic Mountain. With 19 world-class coasters and over 100 rides, games, and attractions, this 260-acre theme park, “Thrill Capital of the World,” will take your breath away.
You can take the ride of your life on Goliath, a hyper coaster for those daring enough to face it. Be warned, though: you'll endure a 255-foot drop at 85 mph, one of the longest and fastest drops in the world. You'll also twist your way through a helix at a force over 4.5 G. You read that right. Goliath is a monster roller coaster!
You'll need a full day to experience most of what's offered at Six Flags Magic Mountain. You'll also need a lot of energy, but thrill-seekers will be fulfilled, if not dizzy.
7: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo
Southern California isn't the only place you'll find the best theme parks. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is your ticket to fun for mythical-themed thrill rides. And with more than 40 attractions, it's the perfect place for a family vacation in Northern California.
If being launched over 60 mph while twisting, turning, looping, and plummeting sounds fun, you'll have the time of your life riding the ten high-speed roller coasters at Discovery Kingdom.
The Medusa roller coaster features seven inversions and a 150-foot drop at 65 mph. If that's not enough of a thrill, head over to the Superman coaster to ride one of the tallest inversions in the world.
Younger kids will enjoy rides created just for them, and the whole family can get in on the entertainment and shows, see the animals and even feed the dolphins.
8: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Tourists have been visiting this Bay Area theme park since 1907. It's still a favorite destination for many tourists today.
The Boardwalk may not have the fastest roller coaster, but that's not what makes it unique. The Giant Dipper is the 5th oldest roller coaster in the country and the 9th oldest in the world. At almost 100 years old, it's still going strong!
Admission to the Boardwalk is free, and visitors can purchase individual tickets to the carnival rides and arcade games. There are over 40 rides and attractions, including the 1911 Looff Carousel, providing fun for kids of all ages.
Save time for a self-guided walking tour and to see the Boardwalk Historium while you're there. You'll see photographs and memorabilia from the first 100 years at the Boardwalk. This theme park is one of the best beachfront adventures in California.
9: Sonoma TrainTown Railroad
This railroad-themed park features a miniature trail with four miles of track. Take a 20-minute ride that travels the woods filled with charming mini-towns and bridges and includes a stop at the petting zoo.
TrainTown has five amusement rides, including a carousel and a Ferris wheel. It's the perfect theme park introduction for youngsters who are not yet ready for larger roller coasters.
General admission and parking are free of charge, and ride tickets are affordable. That makes Sonoma TrainTown a hit for visiting families.
10: SeaWorld in San Diego
SeaWorld is the perfect blend of thrilling rides, family-friendly shows, and animal encounters, making it fun for the whole family.
It has more than 16 rides, including five roller coasters and two water rides for you to enjoy. You'll also find exhibits featuring beluga whales, polar bears, sharks, and penguins.
For true adrenaline junkies, SeaWorld's newest roller coaster holds the title of the state's fastest and longest dive coaster. If plunging 90 degrees and making 60 mph loops is your jam, Emperor is the coaster for you.
Plan to stay at least 6-8 hours to submerge yourself in all that SeaWorld offers.
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Karee Blunt is the founder of OurWovenJourney.com, a travel blog focused on inspiring others to create memory-making adventures with their loved ones. Karee is passionate about encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and live the life they dream of. She is the mother of six kids, including four through adoption, and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about Karee on her about me page.