CALIFORNIA – With over 30 to choose from, you’ll find more theme parks in California than in any other state. Since the Santa Claus 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, in 2021, $896 million was spent on constructing theme or amusement parks in the U.S.
California’s theme parks vary from movie sets to boardwalks and water parks. Buckle up as we explore California’s top 10 theme parks.
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’ now 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, and Main Street, U.S.A.
The most popular ride at Disneyland park? It’s a Small World holds that title, with more than 57,000 people a day catching a boat to enjoy the exhibit.
Travel expert Sarah Gilliland from On the Road With Sarah shares this advice on how to plan your day: “Know the difference between Genie, Genie+, and Individual Lightning Lane passes. 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.
Disney California Adventure Park: Anaheim
California’s second most visited theme park is located directly across the main gate from Disneyland, and according to Statista, almost 10 million people visited the park in 2019.
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.
Universal Studios: 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 is exactly what this theme park strives to do.
Get tickets for the hour-long World Famous Studio Tour early, since it’s the most popular attraction there and included in your admission ticket price. You’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at famous movie sets, experience an earthquake, and come face to face with King Kong in the world’s largest, most intense 3-D experience.
Knott’s Berry Farm
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 a mere three seconds.
Youngsters will enjoy the kid-friendly attractions made especially for them in Camp Snoopy, and if water rides are your thing, Knott’s Soak City is next door to the farm.
Legoland: San Diego
Everything is awesome when you visit Legoland California and discover more than 60 rides, shows, and attractions! 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.
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.
Six Flags Magic Mountain: Valencia
Adrenaline junkies looking for their next rollercoaster fix will find it at Six Flags Magic Mountain. With 19 world-class coasters and over 100 rides, games, and attractions, this 260-acre “Thrill Capital of the World” is a theme park that will take your breath away.
For those daring enough to face Goliath, you can take the ride of your life on this hypercoaster. 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’s. Yes, you read that right. Goliath is a monster roller coaster!
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom: 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 to choose from, 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.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Tourists have been visiting this Bay Area theme park since 1907. The Boardwalk may not have the fastest roller coaster, but that’s not what makes it unique anyway. The Giant Dipper is the 5th oldest roller coaster in the country and the 9th oldest in the world. At also almost 100 years old, it’s still going strong!
Admission to the Boardwalk is free, and visitors can purchase individual tickets to 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.
Sonoma TrainTown Railroad: Sonoma
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 introduction to theme parks for youngsters not yet ready for larger roller coasters.
SeaWorld: San Diego
Seaworld is the perfect blend of thrilling rides, family-friendly shows, and animal encounters. There are more than 16 rides, including five roller coasters and two water rides for you to soak up some fun. 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-mile-per-hour loops is your jam, then the Emperor is the coaster for you.