All Ages

8 Best Theme Parks in California

See recent posts by Amanda Geronikos

Considering a theme park vacation in California? There’s a wide variety from which to choose—and we’re not just talking about Disneyland, either. From small amusement parks for young kids to big-name theme parks for adrenaline seekers, these are the best theme parks in California.

Gilroy Gardens in Gilroy, California
1. Gilroy Gardens – Gilroy, CA 

You’ve heard of Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood, but what about Gilroy Gardens? The park, located in Gilroy (about an hour from Santa Cruz), features tame, horticulture-themed rides with names like Artichoke Dip, Garlic Twirl and Apple & Worm. Don’t miss the whimsical Circus Trees.

Recommended Hotel: BEST WESTERN PLUS Forest Park Inn

Disneyland Railroad Station in Disneyland Park, CA

2. Disneyland Park – Anaheim, CA 

At Disneyland Park in Anaheim, you’ll find the classic rides—Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, “it’s a small world,” the Jungle Cruise and more—all of which are especially ideal for families with young children. Mickey’s Toontown and Main Street USA are among the other highlights at this California theme park. 

Recommended Hotel: Disneyland Hotel

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, CA

3. Disney California Adventure Park – Anaheim, CA 

At Disney California Adventure Park, you’ll find the new, more adventurous rides and attractions. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Cars Land and Hollywood Land are located here. Pixar Pier (formerly Paradise Pier), which features the Incredicoaster (based on The Incredibles), Jessie’s Critter Carousel (Toy Story), and the Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind are also here. In 2020, families can look forward to the opening of Avengers Campus.

Recommended Hotel: Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel

LEGOLAND California Resort in Carlsbad, CA 

4. LEGOLAND California Resort – Carlsbad, CA 

In Carlsbad, California, just outside of San Diego, LEGOLAND California Resort is one of the best theme parks for toddlers in California, letting little ones build their own fun—literally. Join in on a building challenge before soaring on the Dragon Coaster, which looks like it was built out of LEGOs! Other highlights include Miniland USA, with seven reproductions of places in the U.S.—all built from LEGOs—and Imagination Zone, an interactive area just for youngsters.

Recommended Hotel: LEGOLAND Castle Hotel

Calico River Rapids at Knott's Berry Farm in Anaheim, CA

5. Knott’s Berry Farm – Buena Park, CA 

Did you know all of the world’s boysenberries can be traced back to Knott’s Berry Farm? The storied farm was established in 1920 and has since grown into a 160-acre amusement park in Buena Park, California. Of course, you can enjoy boysenberry treats (the boysenberry pie is a must), as well as seasonal events that include a boysenberry festival. The park offers a wide selection of rides for every age and interest—kids’ rides, thrill rides, family rides, water rides, you name it. New rides include Calico River Rapids, a water ride for families, and Hangtime, a steel roller coaster.

Recommended Hotel: Knott’s Berry Farm Resort Hotel

West Coast Racers at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA

6. Six Flags Magic Mountain – Valencia, CA 

Six Flags Magic Mountain (and all Six Flags amusement parks) is always adding something new. In January 2020, the park opened the world’s first quadruple launch racing coaster, West Coast Racers. On this roller coaster, riders race each other on two side-by-side tracks; the ride even includes an immersive real-time “pit stop.” You’ll also find Twisted Colossus, dubbed the longest, most innovative hybrid coaster in the world. Other coasters include Batman: The Ride, Goliath, and Green Lantern: First Flight. Of course, there are mini-thrills for kids and youngsters. Don”t miss Holiday in the Park either, with light displays, interactive shows and festive rides.

Recommended Hotel: Comfort Suites Near Six Flags Magic Mountain

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA 

7. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom – Vallejo, CA 

Attention, daredevils: The Dare Devil Coaster at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is not for the faint of heart! It’s one of many thrill rides at the park. In 2019, Batman: The Ride made its debut at this theme park in California, and in 2020, visitors can expect the Sidewinder Safari (a spinning family coaster) to open.

Recommended Hotel: Ramada Vallejo

Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City, CA

8. Universal Studios Hollywood – Universal City, CA 

Go behind the scenes of your favorite movies at Universal Studios Hollywood, which features exclusive studio tours and exhilarating rides, including Transformers: The Ride 3-D, WaterWorld, and Fast & Furious – Supercharged. Little ones will like Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem and Shrek 4-D, while Muggles can explore The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. In 2019, Jurassic World – The Ride opened, perfect for dinosaur lovers young and old!

Recommended Hotel: Hilton Los Angeles/Universal City

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