Our frog squad goes to the theme parks in California for big-time FUN and for family quality time. Whenever we head out to a new California park, we want the whole family to enjoy it. Luckily, all of the theme parks in California offer a little something for everyone!
You will find that some theme parks in California are better suited for toddlers and younger children, while other parks are better suited for teenagers, parents and grandparents. (Of course, some work for everyone!) If you've ever wondered whether a theme park is appropriate for your toddler, teenager, grandma or so on, then this post is for you. We are the frog theme park experts, after all! We're breaking down the theme parks in California by age group to guide you on your next adventure. Ribbit!
Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group Right Now
Now that the Southern California theme parks have reopened following over a year of being closed, we are taking a closer look at the theme parks. We are looking at what rides, shows and entertainment will be open or closed during the reopening period because that can drastically affect some age groups. The good news is that more and more experiences open every day. Let's explore the best Southern California theme parks by age group both in a normal year and during this transitional time.
Please note that health and safety policies can (and have) change. Our post on what to expect at the California theme parks has the latest scoop. Most of these photos were taken before the pandemic, so you may see closer character interactions and activities that cannot hoppen at this time. We look forward to a time of normal theme park operations once more!
Best Theme Parks in California for Toddlers
Best: Disneyland - The place where all of the magic began, Disneyland Park is home to the childhood classics, including Dumbo, Peter Pan's Flight and "it's a small world." It's also the only theme park in California where you can hug Pooh Bear and pet Pluto's nose — in a more normal time. For now, all character interactions will be from a safe distance. If you have a shy toddler or one who gets scared meeting their favorite characters up close, the distance may work in your favor right now. Our toddler, Lily, loves to wave from afar and blow kisses from her stroller.
Disneyland Resort is very family-friendly. Many of the rides without height requirements can accommodate three people. Parents can take two small children on a ride, or two parents can ride together with one child. Mickey's Toontown has places to climb and play, although most of those areas are closed for now. You can see characters outside their homes. Restaurants have great tadpole-approved food options. You may catch character cavalcades, which are perfect for a short attention span.
Here's a guide that will tell you what's open at Disneyland during the reopening and what's closed so you can make an informed decision about when to visit. There's still more to do than you could ever cover with a toddler so we say Disneyland is still magical for toddlers!
Other good theme parks in California for toddlers:
Disney California Adventure - Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Disneyland Park, in Disney California Adventure Park, toddlers and preschoolers can shake it off with favorite Disney Junior characters at the Disney Junior Dance Party (once it returns). The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail offers some shady areas to run freely, play, slide and climb. The Little Mermaid - Ariel’s Undersea Adventure and Monsters Inc. are great slow rides for little ones. More rides for toddlers and preschoolers arrived at Pixar Pier — Jessie’s Critter Carousel and Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind. Check the Disneyland height requirements before you visit to avoid any disappointment!
Once the tadpoles reach 32 inches tall, a few Cars Land attractions open up for them. Lily was frogcited to sling webs with her older brother on the new Avengers Campus ride, WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure, which has no height requirement.
Frankly, Lily was hoppy to visit Buena Vista Street during the park closure. It turns out she's pretty happy with a bubble wand and some treats. Toddlers are pretty simple to entertain and will definitely require a slower pace than, say, teens and tweens. While we do not expect the indoor Disney Junior Dance Party to return soon, you can meet Disney Junior friends on stage in Hollywood Land instead. Hop over to our post on tips for meeting characters at Disneyland. We have added all the character locations we know so far. We enjoy watching Chip 'n' Dale play in the woods in Grizzly Peak and meeting characters in Carthay Circle.
SeaWorld San Diego - Toddlers love SeaWorld, with the Sesame Street Bay of Play, kid-friendly entertainment (such as dance parties and meeting Sesame Street pals) and getting to touch and feed animals. Bring the swimsuits for the water play area.
Your little one can go for a ride on Abby's Sea Star Spin and Elmo's Flying Fish! Little ones love meeting new sea life animal friends. The Sesame Street Bay of Play and R is for Rescue shows (featuring Sesame Street characters) help little ones get the wiggles out so they can sit still long enough to see a show. Lily loves the silly sea lion show!
LEGOLAND - Toddlers and preschoolers enjoy the playgrounds and water play areas of LEGOLAND. It’s best to stick to rides with no height requirements. It can be more challenging for a parent with two small children to manage some of the rides built for two, so avoid those if you don’t have two adults in your party. The aquarium is sure to be a hit, and the water park has shallow areas specially designated for toddlers. Look for DUPLO block building areas in the theme park. Lily loves to explore Miniland USA.
We visited LEGOLAND for the opening of the new LEGO Movie World and were hoppy to see good sanitizing and physical distancing. The theme park, aquarium and CHIMA water park have reopened. Playgrounds are open but close periodically for sanitizing.
Best Theme Parks in California for Elementary Ages
Best: LEGOLAND California - The rides and many playgrounds within the park are geared toward kiddos ages 2 to 12 (although with height requirements, the rides appeal to ages 5 and up) making it the perfect park for late preschoolers through elementary school children. LEGOLAND also boasts only "pink-knuckle rides," so there are plenty of kicks, but no super-scary thrills. There are water play areas inside LEGOLAND, so definitely bring a swimsuit along! Kids can explore the aquarium and can spend all day in the LEGOLAND Water Park, which offers different play areas that appeal to specific age groups, none of which offer extreme thrills.
Kids in this age group will love the new Emmet's Flying Adventure Ride. Hop aboard a triple-decker couch that flies through a LEGO world with scents and even splashes of water.
Other good theme parks in California for elementary schoolers:
Disneyland Park - The perfect mix of incredible theming and daring adventure can be found in Walt's backyard. I'm looking at you, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones Adventure! The roller coasters are the right speed of exciting but not too scary. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge offers another world to explore. Kids can build a droid at Droid Depot or even build their first lightsaber. It's also toadally fun to get a royal makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (which is temporarily unavailable).
Disney California Adventure - With the immersive Cars Land, recently renovated Pixar Pier, Toy Story Midway Mania and new Avengers Campus, Disney California Adventure Park has been growing in popularity for elementary-aged kids. This is where they can try their first upside-down roller coaster — the Incredicoaster — and maybe even get soaked on Grizzly River Run. They can also run around and climb the very high Redwood Creek Challenge Trail while also trying out challenges built just for them, such as the sliding tire swing and climbing wall.
Spider-Man swings into the all-new Avengers Campus for some frogtastic fun and other Super Heroes spring into action! Plus there is a new ride to try. Kids love WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure because of the interactive part of slinging webs and working together as a team. It's a little competitive fun that the whole family can enjoy.
SeaWorld San Diego - With its mix of moderate thrill rides, animal shows and hands-on animal encounters (we hear you, hungry sea lions!), SeaWorld San Diego is great for kids of all ages, but especially elementary children. Rides have made their way back to SeaWorld San Diego.
Universal Studios Hollywood - With wizards, minions, dinosaurs, Transformers, Kung-Fu Panda and more, there is plenty of excitement for elementary-aged kids at Universal Studios Hollywood. The toadally adorable Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash, an all-new ride, appeals to kids who are not quite ready for the bigger thrills. Come December, the Grinch takes over on select days for a Seussian Who-liday spectacular kids and parents alike will love.
Knott's Berry Farm– This park packs a lot of fun in a small footprint. You have a taste of the Old West in Ghost Town, where your tadpoles can pan for gold, explore hidden gems and ride the Calico Mine Train or Timber Mountain Log Ride. Camp Snoopy has a ton of Peanuts-themed rides that are perfect for elementary-age kids. Continue into Fiesta Village for additional thrills, or go all out on some of the biggest thrills in the park. Plus there's funnel cake. Need we say more?
Best Theme Parks in California for Tweens
Best: Disney California Adventure - The biggest thrill rides at Disney California Adventure — Radiator Springs Racers, the Incredicoaster, Grizzly River Run and Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission — BREAKOUT! — are perfect for the tween set. Plus there are plenty of character and Super Hero encounters, Instagrammable photo walls and opportunities for Disney fun! You Avengers fans will be leaping to join Super Heroes at Avengers Campus.
Other good theme parks in California for tweens:
Disneyland Park - Next to Disney California Adventure Park, Disneyland Park has a great range of rides, such as Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Star Tours — The Adventures Continue, geared for tweens. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Disneyland’s newest land, offers exciting rides, experiences and characters that hold a lot of appeal for the tween set.
Knott's Berry Farm - America's first theme park offers a mix of fun and thrill rides, including Sierra Sidewinder, Ghost Rider and Pony Express, perfect for the tweens. Visit Ghost Town, where kids and tweens can pan for gold, or visit a blacksmith shop and an old schoolhouse. During the summer months, Knott's Summer Nights brings a party to the park with DJs, live music and lights. Your tweens can visit the Ghost Town cemetery and feel a heartbeat coming up from the grave! They can even chat with a prisoner who landed himself in jail! A variety of Knott's Berry Farm events occur throughout the year to bring food and more fun into the park.
Universal Studios Hollywood - Young muggles and wizards alike will feel like they attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry during their visit to the Wizarding World. Perhaps they’ll be chosen for a wand pairing! They can purchase an interactive wand to perform magic in the shop windows of Hogsmeade. Tweens love rides such as Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, Transformers: The Ride-3D and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
Best Theme Parks in California for Teens
Best: Six Flags Magic Mountain - Teenage thrill-seekers (and the parents who love them and love thrills) will find plenty of action at Six Flags Magic Mountain, which boasts more roller coasters, including Twisted Colossus, Tatsu, Full Throttle and the 4-D X2, than any other theme park in the world! Teens will feel the need for speed with the new dueling coaster, West Coast Racers.
Other good theme parks in California for teens:
Universal Studios Hollywood - With the addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, this park is now fully catering to the teen and young adult set, not to mention the muggles and wizards among us all. Teens will find the biggest thrills in the Lower Lot's Jurassic World — The Ride, The Mummy and Transformers rides.
Knott's Berry Farm - By its own categorization, Knott's is home to thirteen "aggressive thrill" rides such as the 82-mile-per-hour Xcelerator roller coaster, the twisting Silver Bullet, the speedy wooden roller coaster GhostRider and Hang Time. Hang Time was the first dive coaster in California, with a steep 96-degree drop and a negative-g stall loop. But it’s hovering at the top for 10 seconds, staring down at a disappearing track, that will keep thrill-loving teens lining up for it again and again.
Disney California Adventure - Toadally fun drops on Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission — BREAKOUT! are just the start to making a day of teen fun! (Tad is a big fan!) The Incredicoaster sends teens on an adventure with the Incredibles. Teens also love the many selfie opportunities, including photo walls, colorful foods (such as the Pixar Pier Parfait and Memory Boosters) and meeting favorite characters, including Super Heroes. The arrival of the new Super Hero-themed land, Avengers Campus, further solidifies this park as a teen favorite. It helps that sometimes the characters' costumes change to keep up with the latest Disney+ show, keeping it relevant and fresh for teens.
Best Theme Parks in California for Adults
Best: Universal Studios Hollywood - While Universal Studios Hollywood continues to add more kid-friendly attractions, the heart of this theme park — the Studio Tour through the Backlot of a working Universal studio — has high appeal to movie buffs. Muggles and wizards alike flock to this park to get their Butterbeer fix in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Then, hop over to try real Duff Beer while hanging out in Moe’s Tavern in Springfield USA. Adults can get their horror thrills in September, October and sometimes early November at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights Hollywood.
Other good theme parks in California for adults:
Disneyland - There is no better place in the world to channel your inner child than Disneyland, with its heavy dose of nostalgia and whimsy. The roller coasters are just about the perfect speed for many adults. We can never get enough of the parades, shows and fireworks.
Adults who grew up with the "Star Wars" movies can immerse themselves in the alien planet of Batuu in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Team up to fly the Millennium Falcon, locate droids and have a drink in Oga’s Cantina. The most exciting and immersive ride of all is Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. It has all of the feelings of being in a "Star Wars" movie. The trackless vehicle provides the perfect amount of thrill for adults.
Yo ho! It's so hard for adults not to sing along on Pirates of the Caribbean or speak along with the Ghost Host on the Haunted Mansion. Even adults who do not handle thrill rides can still manage Disneyland's themed thrills. Some of our favorites include Indiana Jones Adventure or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Disney California Adventure - There’s something for every kind of adult from the thrill-seekers, to shoppers, to the foodies in this park. The seasonal changes have us coming back again and again with our ears on and magnetic shoulder pals. Many of our favorite Disney foods are in this park, especially during festivals such as the Food & Wine Festival, Disney's Festival of Holidays and Lunar New Year. Adults will enjoy chilling with a fun, themed drink and tasty eats at the Lamplight Lounge or Carthay Circle lounge and restaurant. Then, the breathtaking World of Color makes a magical ending to the night (once it returns). Avengers fans will find themselves with a new ride, new food and beverage options and exciting character interactions.
SeaWorld San Diego - With its family-friendly shows, animal exhibits and thrill rides, such as Electric Eel, Journey to Atlantis and Manta, this park offers plenty to wonder at and enjoy. A new thrill ride, Emperor, is the tallest and fastest floorless dive coaster in the state! It opens March 2022! Many SeaWorld San Diego events are geared towards adults, such as the Seven Sea Food Festival in spring, Electric Ocean in summer, BBQ & Brews in fall and an all-new Howl-O-Scream event in 2021!
Knott's Berry Farm - This western-themed park has won many more adult fans during the pandemic with tasty food and beverage events. This summer brings Summer Nights, with singing dancing and food (not to mention the classic and thrill rides)! But our favorite Knott's event of all is Knott's Scary Farm in the fall!
Best Theme Parks in California for Seniors
Best: Universal Studios Hollywood - This theme park that sprang up — literally — around a real-life, working movie studio offers fantastic shows and the world-famous Studio Tour through the Lower Lot. Make sure not to miss WaterWorld! While the movie was a flop, the show offers some of best pyrotechnics and stunts. Other shows, such as the Special Effects Show (temporarily closed) and the Animal Actors Stage, are hits too.
Other good theme parks in California for seniors:
SeaWorld San Diego - This magnificently landscaped park is home to incredible animal exhibits and aquariums. The Bay Side Sky Ride and Sky Tower offer beautiful views of San Diego Bay and the surrounding area. Food and beverage events attract foodies. With many rides, animal exhibits and shows, there's plenty to do!
Disneyland Park - Walt's vision for a place where families could come together remains in place at the Happiest Place on Earth. Catch a parade or pull up a chair at the Jolly Holiday Bakery and people watch with Sleeping Beauty Castle as the backdrop! Disneyland is our favorite theme park for a multigenerational family trip. It truly has something for everyone — parades, fireworks and plenty of nostalgia. Our parents look forward to the return of parades and shows.
Disney California Adventure - Come Food & Wine Festival time in the spring, my mom is hopping to go to Disney California Adventure with me to enjoy a mimosa flight, listen to some jazz from Phat Cat Swinger and taste her way around the park. With year-round wine tasting, fine dining, holiday food booths and breathtaking shows, such as World of Color, Disney California Adventures changes the way grandparents view theme parks.
All you theme park experts, what do you think? Do you agree with my choices for the best theme parks in California for each age group? What are your favorite theme parks in California? Share in the comments below.