The Grown-Up Kid’s Guide to SoCal Theme Parks

Southern California is best known for its sunshine and sandy beaches. But this piece of paradise has much more to offer travelers, especially if you’re in the mood for theme park fun. Spend the day riding world class roller coasters and making family memories with the next generation of LEGO buffs and Mickey Mouse fans.


LEGOLAND California

Located in Carlsbad, a quaint coastal town in North San Diego County, LEGOLAND California is perfect for families. There are no major thrill rides at this park, but that won’t stop younger kids from having a blast! Don’t miss the adjacent SEA LIFE Aquarium, home to sharks, rays, eels, and of course, iconic LEGO figures.

Travel Tip: The Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa and Grand Pacific Palisades Resort & Hotel both have private entrances to the park. 


San Diego Zoo

If you loved the SEA LIFE Aquarium near LEGOLAND, you’ll adore the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park, approximately 10 minutes from downtown San Diego. The zoo brings you up close to pandas, elephants, and lions, not to mention exotic plant species from all over the world. The Skyfari tram takes your visit to new heights, giving you the opportunity to see the zoo and Balboa Park from overhead.

Travel Tip: Most of the animals are active first thing in the morning and snooze in the afternoon, so it’s worth getting to the park early in the day.


San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Tucked away in Escondido, another quaint town in North San Diego County, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park is another not-to-miss attraction for animal lovers. Take a winding tram tour through the park’s expansive field exhibits, where giraffes, antelope, and rhinos behave much as they would it the wild.

Travel Tip: Check out the Cheetah Run, where you can watch the animals race a straight, 330-foot track. It’s a pretty incredible experience—the cheetah can go from 0 to 70 miles per hour in four seconds!



Overlooking the beautiful Mission Bay, SeaWorld has thrills rides and wild animals, making it the perfect attraction for families who want a little bit of both. Admission includes access to the signature animal shows.

Travel Tip: Don’t sit in the first few rows in the show auditoriums unless you want to get wet! The dolphins and orcas love showing off by splashing the audience.



Cool off on a hot summer day at Aquatica, SeaWorld’s newest waterpark in Chula Vista, about 25 miles south of SeaWorld. The park features waterslides for all ages, plus a 550,000-gallon wave pool and 1,250-foot lazy river.

Travel Tip: To give yourself a break from the sun, consider splurging on a private cabana, which includes accommodations for four, bottled water, and a mini fridge.



It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or just young at heart—everyone loves Disneyland! Take cruise down through “the jungle” in Adventureland, ride the iconic twirling teacups in Fantasyland, and meet your favorite Disney characters throughout the park. It really is the happiest place on earth!

Travel Tip: You’ll be hard pressed to see the full park in a day. Consider staying overnight in Anaheim and making it a two- or even three-day trip.


California Adventure

Located right next to Disneyland, California Adventure is a bit more contemporary than its neighbor and just as much fun. Buy a Park Hopper pass, and you can go back and forth. Paradise Pier features creative takes on arcade games and is a family favorite.

Travel Tip: An added perk of visiting California Adventure—unlike Disneyland, the park serves beer and wine in select locations.


Six Flags Magic Mountain

Six Flags is known for its high velocity thrill rides, but this theme park in Valencia, north of Los Angeles, has rides for all ages. Six Flags also operates the nearby waterpark, Hurricane Harbor.

Travel Tip: Thrill seekers won’t want to miss Full Throttle, a roller coaster with a 160-foot vertical loop.



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