Top Five Theme Parks in California

Category: North America
Date Posted: 2013-08-09

With breathtaking scenery and a nearly season-less climate that ushers in beautiful weather year-round, packing up and shipping out to California for some fun in the sun is a no-brainer. Another no-brainer? Enjoying one of California’s greatest attractions: the amusement park. We’ve got you covered. Here’s our list of the top five that will make you scream if you don’t visit them. And scream if you do. 


Legoland California entrance

Photo credit: Legoland California entrance by MGrannetia, on Flickr

Number 5: Legoland California 

Located in San Diego County, Legoland is a parent’s paradise with a water park to boot. In an effort to market to families with younger children, the park has swapped the adrenaline-pumping extreme for the educational. And boy will you be thrilled they did. From rides that appear to be built of Lego bricks to water flow channels in which participants can engineer Lego dams to understand laminar and turbulent fluid flows (pay a visit to find out what those terms mean), Legoland will keep your children occupied far longer than it takes them to surpass you in intelligence. Highlights include a giant, Lego-shaped underwater pipe organ called the Aquatune hydraulophone and Miniland USA, a scale model miniature park built over three years with more than 40 million Lego bricks to feature prominent architecture from across the United States and around the world. Also be sure to check out Volvo Driving School, a closed circuit roadway around which kids can steer small electric Lego cars to earn a mock driving license. Don’t worry, Mom and Dad, your three year-old can learn to drive safely too. Check out Volvo Junior Driving School. 

Don’t miss: Legoland’s signature Granny apple fries, like a delicious Granny Smith apple pie condensed into an irresistibly munchable form. Ask for sauce (essentially vanilla whipped cream) to balance out the tartness and doom yourself to life behind Lego-constructed bars. 


Knott's Berry Farm - Winter Coaster Solace 2002

Number 4: Knott’s Berry Farm 

Cushion the fall from towering coasters with western history and charm and you have Knott’s Berry Farm, an amusement park that sits on the site of a former berry farm established by Walter Knott and his family in 1920. The park was originally comprised of a few shops and attractions built to entertain visitors while they waited for a seat in the Knott family restaurant, but grew to a 160-acre fun land comprised of five themed areas after being sold to Cedar Fair in the 1990s. Drop by Ghost Town to check out Knott’s Nature Center, a mini insect zoo that was once the one-room schoolhouse of Rivera, CA, or head to The Boardwalk for a smorgasbord of carnival games—including ladder crawl, rock wall climbing, soccer, and basketball—and the most thrilling rides in the park. Favorites include Boomerang, Supreme Scream, and Xcelerator—Knott’s tallest roller coaster. 

Don’t miss: Camp Snoopy, the kid-friendly section of the park, themed after the comic strip “Peanuts” created by Charles M. Schultz. Fun fact: Snoopy has been the park mascot since 1983, and Peanuts characters can now be seen at all of Cedar Fairs’ parks.


Universal Studios Hollywood

Photo credit: Universal Studios Hollywood by coconut wireless, on Flickr

Number 3: Universal Studios Hollywood 

Nestled in Los Angeles County, Universal Studios Hollywood oozes cool and has a debonair dual identity to match: in addition to being one of the most unique theme parks in the world, it is also one of the oldest and most famous Hollywood studios still in use. While Universal Studios Hollywood may modestly boast only five shows, five rides, and two child play areas, what it lacks in physical depth it makes up for in depth it inspires in the imagination. Head to the Upper Lot for family based 3D shows and the park’s signature 45-minute Studio Ride, a tram tour through the park’s back lot that travels past the famous Bates Motel from Psycho and Jurassic Park sets before ending at The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb—one of the parks most gripping rides. Also make sure to get in line for the Simpson’s Ride, a combination of motion simulator and film projected onto an 80 ft-wide domed screen that takes the audience on a six-minute (and comically jab-laden) tour of Krusty the Clown’s condemned amusement park, before heading down to the Lower Lot for the park’s three biggest rides. The latest must-ride attraction? Transformers: The Ride, a 3D flight simulation with physical and special effects relating to the Transformers franchise. 

Don’t miss: Halloween Horror Nights, Universal Studios Hollywood’s annual October fear fest that leads the nation in gore and the morbidly grotesque. This is not for the faint of heart. Prepare to be drenched in buckets of blood (I warned you) and be sucked into mazes from which you may never emerge…hundreds of chainsaw-wielding psychopaths will make sure of it. 


Six Flags Magic Mountain 144

Photo credit: Six Flags Magic Mountain 144 by Roller Coaster Philosophy, on Flickr

Number 2: Six Flags Magic Mountain 

The list is getting higher, and so are the coasters. Coming in at number two is Six Flags Magic Mountain, an amusement park unparalleled in its stomach-turning penchant for peril. At 18, Magic Mountain holds the record for most roller coasters in the world. And that’s just the beginning. Magic Mountain also holds the record for the world’s tallest, fastest, and longest flying coaster featuring the world’s biggest pretzel loop (Tatsu), the world’s fastest suspended roller coaster (Ninja), the world’s fastest and tallest stand-up roller coaster (Riddler’s Revenge), and the world’s tallest vertical drop ride (Lex Luthor, Drop of Doom). And don’t forget X2—the world’s first fifth dimension special effects roller coaster featuring fog, fire, and rotating 360-degree seats. Want more, adrenaline junkies? Try Thrill Shot, a ride that for extra money catapults you into the air at white-knuckle speed for the ultimate rush. In addition to housing what are arguably the most thrilling amusement rides in the world, the park’s proximity to LA has also made it the go-to theme park stand-in. Magic Mountain’s most famous role: the fictional “Wally Land” in National Lampoon’s vacation. 

Don’t miss: Magic Mountain’s movie-inspired Movie District, where guests can watch a live-action stunt show. Nothing is more revitalizing than taking a break from your own brain-battering fun to watch someone else’s. Take your time, the park’s open until 9pm!


Disneyland California Adventure Paradise Pier

Photo Credit: Disneyland California Adventure Paradise Pier by Mike Saechang, on Flickr

Number 1: Disneyland/California Adventure 

And the winner is... Disneyland/California Adventure. By a long shot. Not even close. Because of their successful and in-your-face domination of multinational mass media, it’s easy to hate Disney and how permanently engrained their characters are in the minds of every child who grew up with exposure to their products (i.e. many, many children). And that’s how enchantingly wonderful Disneyland is—it can make even its most staunch detractors bat their eyes, cozy up to Goofy for a photo in which they can’t help but radiantly beam from ear to ear, and not only buy but proudly wear a pair of Mickey ears each and every subsequent year that they come back and gladly fork over their money again and again. Disneyland, against all odds, does this with seeming effortlessness as it leaves competitors scratching their heads. It is impeccably clean (I mean clean), wildly entertaining, and, yes, fun for the whole family. I’ll group California Adventure, Disneyland’s more thrilling and adjacent theme park, into my number one pick so that more names can make this list. Remember, there’s more to California amusement parks than Disneyland. (Until you experience the magic.)

Don’t miss: Everything. Go to Disneyland. Right now. (And bring me back some more Mickey ears.)


About the Author:

Anna Pieper 

Feature Photo Credit: Disneyland California Adventure 2 by stuslow, on Flickr