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Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group

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. We even discuss up and coming or new attractions that may interest a particular age group. Ribbit!

Best Theme Parks in California for Toddlers

Best: Disneyland Park

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.

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group - Toddler and Pluto

If you have a shy toddler or one who gets scared meeting their favorite characters up close, you may have more fun watching the characters from a safe distance. Our toddler, Lily, sometimes loves to wave from afar and blow kisses from her stroller; other times, she moves in for a hug.

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. You may catch character cavalcades, which are like mini parades, perfect for a short attention span. Plus, restaurants have great tadpole-approved food options.

Mickey's Toontown reopens in spring 2023 with all-new places to splash, climb and play. Goofy's House and Donald's Boat are reopening with some new additions. Goofy's How-To-Play Yard is a playground perfect for tadpoles of all ages with a soft, spongey ground, an elevated clubhouse and a sound garden. Donald's Duck Pond is another play area that features giant spinning water lilies, balance beams and rocking toys. You can meet characters outside their homes.

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group - Donald's Boat

The new ride, Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway opens ahead of the rest of Toontown just in time for the Disney 100 Years of Wonder celebration on Jan. 27, 2023. The ride puts riders right into the cartoon world of Mickey and Minnie. It has no height requirement, so it's perfect for the whole family.

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 their favorite Disney Junior characters at the Disney Junior Dance Party. 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.

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group - Toddlers Meet Anna and Elsa

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. Hop over to our post on tips for meeting characters at Disneyland. We have added all the character locations we know so far. We enjoyed meeting so many different characters in Carthay Circle.

SeaWorld San Diego

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group - Family on Abby's Sea Star Spin

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 swimsuits for the water play splash pad area.

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group-Grandma and granddaughter on Elmo ride

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 has kid-friendly shows and activities to help little ones get the wiggles out. Lily loves the silly sea lion show!

LEGOLAND California

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group - Toddler in LEGO Shark

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.

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group-Toddler drives boat

We visited LEGOLAND for the opening of the new LEGO Movie World, which our tween Tad and Lily both loved. They both enjoy the aquarium and water park. Lily loves the water play and playground areas as well as rides that are just her size. Consult our guide to LEGOLAND height requirements to see what works for your tadpoles.

Sesame Place

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group-Toddler in shallow pool A new theme park for young children opened up in south San Diego in 2022! Lily could not be more thrilled. This park and its gentle rides are just her speed. But even our tween Tad was pleasantly surprised by the fun water slides with the right level of thrill for him too! So it's nice that there is something for older siblings — it makes this a great park for our whole family. I'm pretty fond of floating down the lazy river and splashing in the wave pool and wading pools with Lily while Leap and Tad brave the big slides. Our Sesame Place post will send you off on sunny day adventures with your tadpoles.

Sesame Place features seven Sesame Street-themed rides, an interactive musical play area, and 11 water attractions (including a 500,000-gallon wave pool — one of the largest in Southern California). The park also has an interactive Sesame Street Neighborhood complete with the iconic 123 Stoop, live character shows, a parade, unique photo opportunities, and everyone's favorite Sesame Street friends! The park opened as a Certified Autism Center.

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group-Small child meets Telly

The big water slides only operate in the warm months, but the wave pool, lazy river and splash areas stay open a little longer. The dry rides and entertainment are open year-round on select days (usually weekends in the cooler and off-peak times).

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group-Family meets Zoe and Elmo

There are Halloween and holiday events as well. Lily loved trick-or-treating, dancing with characters and seeing shows during the Halloween Spooktacular.

Best Theme Parks in California for Elementary Ages

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group - Elementary

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.

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group-Kids test cars 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.

Bring your toddlers to tweens to the new Ferrari Build & Race area to build lego and DUPLO cars and test them on tracks. Then take your creations to the virtual racetrack to be scanned and projected into a digital racetrack! It's so much fun, your tadpoles will never want to leave.

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.

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group - IncredicoasterDisney 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 Avengers Campus for some frogtastic fun and other Super Heroes spring into action! 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

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group - Boy feeding sea lions at SeaWorld

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

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group-Kids pose near animals

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 appeals to kids who are not quite ready for the bigger thrills. Animal lovers will flip for the Animal Actors show. Come December, the Grinch takes over on select days for a Seussian Who-liday spectacular kids and parents alike will love.

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group - Super Nintendo World ride

The park is about to level up in 2023. The Super Nintendo World will open with a new ride based on Mario Kart! Mario Kart: Bowser's Challenge is located inside Bowser's Castle. The interactive moving track ride will bring together augmented reality (assistance from head-mounted goggles) with projection mapping technology and set pieces. From what we've been told, it's one of the most complex rides ever made.

Knott's Berry Farm

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group-Boy pans for gold

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?

Well, there's more. There is almost always a fun seasonal event hoppening in this park! Hop over to our Knott's Berry Farm events post to learn 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! 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 Wars: Rise of the Resistance 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.

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group-Girls pose in ghost townKnott'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 Theme Parks in California by Age Group - Twisted Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain

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. The park opened its twentieth coaster in summer 2022 — WONDER WOMAN Flight of Courage! It's the tallest and longest single-rail coaster on the planet!

Other Good Theme Parks in California for Teens:

Universal Studios Hollywood

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group - Teen Casts Spell With Interactive Wand

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. Brave teens will enjoy Halloween Horror Nights in the Fall.

Knott's Berry Farm

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group - Hang Time

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 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 Theme Parks in California by Age Group - Adults at the Wizarding World

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 Park

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 thrill-seekers, to shoppers, to 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. Avengers fans will find themselves with a Spider-Man-themed ride (plus a new ride in development), new food and beverage options and exciting character interactions.

Come fall, adults — kids of all ages, really — can put on Halloween costumes and trick-or-treat at the Oogie Boogie Bash. It's a separately-ticketed Halloween party filled with villains and special entertainment.

SeaWorld San Diego

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group-adults pet a penguin

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 opened March 12, 2022! Many SeaWorld San Diego events are geared towards adults, such as the Seven Sea Food Festival in spring, Electric Ocean in summer, a craft beer festival in fall and a new Howl-O-Scream event!

Knott's Berry Farm

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group-A monster at Scary Farm

This western-themed park has won many more adult fans during the pandemic with tasty food and beverage events. The Boysenberry Festival always gets our mouths watering, but Knott's also has good food every day of the year and an old-time Saloon to whet your whistle. 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 Theme Parks in California by Age Group - Universal Studios Hollywood

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 the best pyrotechnics and stunts. Other shows, such as the Special Effects Show 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!

Best Theme Parks in California by Age Group - Disneyland with Grandkids

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 never miss a parade or show ... or a wild ride on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad!

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. 

Related: Guide to Disneyland Height Requirements

Related: Mom's Secrets for Going to Disneyland with a Baby

Related: 10 Must-Know Tips for Taking a Multi-Generational Trip to Disneyland

Hoppy planning!

Keep hopping, Mommy Frog!
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May 15, 2018 at 8:08 p.m. Suzikae Says...

Thanks for thr great info

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Oct 9, 2017 at 9:16 p.m. Janelle Says...

It's not true that Legoland is geared more towards 2-12 years old. It's more like 5 -12 . I took my 2 and 4 year old and they weren't allowed on most of the rides so we decided to hang out at the water park all day where they really enjoyed it.

Reply
Feb 24, 2017 at 12:12 a.m. Aerioul Says...

Adults like roller coasters too. I'm 40 and I'm looking for the park with the best rides. I don't just want to sit around.

Reply
Feb 18, 2015 at 11:34 p.m. Grandma Tomer Says...

After reading thru Knotts -36" and up on most rides - some too fast for little people, 225 lb weight limit if accompanying a 35 lb child it could be troublesome.

In my opinion - not really "small child" friendly.

You hit it on the Head with Lego Land ! Went there with my then just 2 year old 34" grand daughter - and she had more than enough to do .

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Undercover Tourist is the leading supplier of online discount tickets to Orlando, Florida-area attractions, including Walt Disney World® Resort, Universal Orlando Resort™, SeaWorld® Orlando, LEGOLAND® Florida Resort and more.

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