The ever-changing COVID-19 situation means that the status of theme parks, zoos and aquariums is also ever-changing. Aquariums and zoos are allowed to reopen, and most SoCal theme parks have rolled out the red carpet for special events to give people a taste of the parks (without rides) leading up to the parks' reopening dates. We are all anticipating the day we can hop into fully reopened theme parks — and it looks like that day is coming soon (and already here for some parks)!
When Are California Theme Parks Allowed to Reopen?
On March 26, 2021, The State of California provided updated guidelines for amusement parks and theme parks so we know what to expect when California theme parks reopen, as well as when. Zoos, museums and aquariums have slightly different guidelines, so we will get into those too.
The short of it is: Theme parks were allowed to reopen as of April 1, 2021. The theme parks are limited in capacity and must track contact information (including a phone number) for ticket buyers. We will get into more details below. But first, let's look at the important stuff we all are hopping to know — when will each theme park be fully reopen?
All the SoCal theme parks have either reopened or have announced reopening dates! Here are the official reopening dates:
- The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are both open (but now require reservations or dated tickets).
- Six Flags Magic Mountain is now open to California residents. There is a reservations system
- LEGOLAND California is now open for Preview Days.
- LEGOLAND California Theme Park, LEGO CHIMA Water Park and SEA LIFE Aquarium fully reopen April 15, 2021.
- Disneyland reopens April 30, 2021. The theme park reservation system will open April 12 for those with existing tickets, and April 15 for those wishing to purchase new tickets.
- Universal Studios Hollywood will reopen April 16, 2021. Dated tickets are on sale now.
- Knott's Berry Farm reopens May 21, 2021 (season passholders may enter as soon as May 6, 2021) with a new reservations system.
- SeaWorld San Diego operates as a zoo and aquarium (including indoor exhibits), and brought back rides April 12. It has a reservation system.
- The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific is open with a reservation system.
While we wait for more reopening dates, keep hopping back for updates!
A few theme parks have found ways to bring their biggest fans back through the gates with partial reopening or food events without rides. SeaWorld San Diego is able to reopen as a zoo without theme park rides, and Knott's Berry Farm has been able to reopen for food, shopping and holiday events on select days. Both Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood are holding separately ticketed food events in March and April. LEGOLAND hosted a Build 'n' Play Days event throughout March. But all of the theme parks (including Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood) are able to fully reopen as of April 1. The parks each set their own opening date that follows any previously scheduled ticketed events.
What to Expect When the California Theme Parks Reopen
Here's a look at the new theme park reopening guidance that applies to all theme parks and amusement parks. California has a 4-Tier Blueprint for a Safer Economy that rates each county's risk level as it relates to COVID-19:
- Tier 1 (Purple) is Widespread Risk, with many non-essential businesses closed
- Tier 2 (Red) is Substantial Risk
- Tier 3 (Orange) is Moderate Risk
- Tier 4 (Yellow) is Minimal Risk
- A new Green Tier is in development
According to amended reopening guidance, California theme parks can reopen at 15% capacity in the red/substantial Tier 2, beginning April 1! Capacity levels will shift in the orange/moderate Tier 3 and yellow/minimal Tier 4. The California governor announced that this tier system may be eliminated by June 15.
Currently, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, in which all these theme parks are located, are in the Orange Tier. Some may even be approaching the Yellow Tier.
Based on this "Blueprint Refresh," here's what reopening guidelines look like for each tier:
- Tier 1 (Purple) - Theme parks are closed except for limited food and shopping events (no rides).
- Tier 2 (Red) - Theme parks can reopen at 15% capacity for small groups (maximum of 10 people from no more than three household groups) of California residents. Indoor aquariums may open with limited capacity. No indoor dining allowed.
- Tier 3 (Orange) - Theme parks can reopen at 25% capacity (no small group restriction) for California residents. Indoor dining and building capacity is set at 25%.
- Tier 4 (Yellow) - Theme parks can reopen at 35% capacity for California residents. Indoor dining capacity is 50% and indoor non-dining capacity is 25%.
If you're interested in the nitty-gritty details, check out the official guide: COVID-19 Industry Guidance: Amusement Parks and Theme Parks. But overall, here's a quick look at some of the guidelines that apply to all Red, Orange and Yellow tiers:
- Mandatory face coverings for guests 2 and up (see below for exceptions)
- Attendance limited to California residents
- No indoor queuing allowed
- Guests may not eat or drink in queue
- No single rider lines
- Eating or drinking only permitted in designated areas
- Indoor rides are restricted to 15 minutes
- Everyone in the same vehicle should live in the same household
- Outdoor entertainment must have physical distancing
- Characters must have 6 feet between them and guests
- Guests must maintain safe distancing at locker areas
- Ticket sales are allowed at ticket booths (more on this below)
- Ensure parking, entrance and exit areas are marked, monitored and configured for physical distancing and to prevent crowding or congregating
- Guests are encouraged to make purchases online or through apps (using credit cards or debit cards over cash)
- Consider alternative queueing, as well as directional entry and exit for show areas (with orderly dismissal)
- Make height check areas touch-free
- While being consistent with the facility’s obligations to individuals with disabilities, theme parks should discontinue the use of equipment lent to guests unless it can be properly disinfected after each use
At all theme parks, face covering regulations are taken very seriously, regardless of vaccination status. We have a whole post on tips for wearing masks at the theme parks that discusses each park's policy in depth. Always look to the individual theme park's face covering policy before visiting. Per California's guidelines, here are the proposed exceptions to face covering policies:
- Children under 2 must not wear a face covering due to risk of suffocation.
- People with a medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering have exclusions, but qualifying conditions are rare. This includes persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a face covering could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance.
- People who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication. (Disneyland and LEGOLAND already have specific exceptions for this.)
- Persons for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.
- People who are seated at a restaurant or other establishment that offers food or beverage service, while they are eating or drinking, provided that they are able to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet away from persons who are not members of the same household or residence.
- Note: Persons exempted from wearing a face covering due to a medical condition who are employed in a job involving regular contact with others should wear a non-restrictive alternative, such as a face shield with a drape on the bottom edge, as long as their condition permits it.
Only California Residents May Visit Theme Parks Through Yellow Tier
Theme park attendance is initially limited to California residents through at least the yellow tier. How do theme parks know where ticket buyers live? The online reservation systems will use geocoding and GPS data to gather information and determine where the visitors live. California is strongly discouraging out-of-state travelers from coming to California at this time. California Health & Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly says he hopes to open up more, hopefully by summer.
The reopening guidelines do allow theme parks to sell tickets at the ticket booths; however, all ticket sales require contact information (a name and telephone number) for contact tracing. Just because ticket booths are allowed to be open does not mean that theme parks will have tickets available at the ticket booths. Be safe and buy in advance. With capacity limits, parks could sell out and have full reservations in advance. Guests should plan to purchase tickets online and have a park reservation for entry or risk not getting in when trying to purchase at the park.
Guidance for Zoos, Aquariums and Museums
There are slightly different guidelines for zoos and aquariums (as well as museums), which make it a bit confusing. These guidelines affect the San Diego Zoo & Safari Park, SeaWorld San Diego (when operating without rides) and the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. These locations must also follow modifications in the guidance based on their county's tier, but the capacity limits vary from theme parks in the same tier.
Here's what is allowed at zoos and aquariums:
- Purple (Tier 1) - Outdoor operations are permitted
- Red (Tier 2) - Indoor operations are permitted but must be limited to 25% capacity
- Orange (Tier 3) - Indoor operations are permitted but must be limited to 50% capacity
- Yellow (Tier 4) - Indoor operations are permitted at full capacity
What is interesting is that there is no guidance that says visitors must be California residents for zoos and aquariums like there is for theme parks. The capacity guideline also differs from theme park guidelines. This makes it confusing for visitors to SeaWorld, which is continuing to operate as a zoo and aquarium. But once rides open on April 12, it can also operate as a theme park. Since San Diego moved into the Orange Tier, it will not have an impact. Keep hopping back for updates to see if this impacts operating procedures!
Here is a quick glance at zoo and aquarium guidelines:
- Utilize advance reservation ticketing systems
- Limit customer groups to a household unit
- Discontinue tours that combine household units
- Animal demonstrations must have physical distancing and sanitation protocols
- Use of face coverings is mandatory through the facilities, both indoors and outdoors
- Guests should all maintain a minimum of 6 feet of distance from other parties and employees at all times with the use of physical partitions, plexiglass barriers or visual cues
- Guests undergo temperature screenings and symptom screening upon arrival
What to Expect at Each California Theme Park, Zoo or Aquarium
If you are anything like us frogs, you’re wondering what the Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego theme parks, zoos and aquariums will be like once they reopen (or in some cases, as they have been already operating during the phased reopenings). We've put on our themed character masks and have been hopping to the partially reopened theme parks, related shopping districts, zoos and aquariums we love so much to get the full scoop on what to expect when the California theme parks reopen. But we can all agree that things will be a little different for some time.
In order to mitigate the effects of screaming on roller coasters, ride seating may be more spaced out. And of course, face coverings are required. Despite what you may have heard, the California Attractions and Parks Association has never recommended limiting yelling or screaming on amusement park rides.
What can we expect from these new procedures to keep us all healthy? Even with the California state theme park reopening guidelines, the policies may vary per theme park. We've gathered the latest information for each park so you know what to expect when the California theme parks reopen and what measures are in place to keep park guests and employees safe and healthy during this time.
First of all, as the theme parks plan for reopening, you can stay up-to-date on resort reopening status and dates with our COVID-19 information for theme parks and hotels (and ski resorts) in the U.S. But what can you expect when the California theme parks reopen in terms of safety guidelines, crowds and social distancing?
We’ve broken this list down by general region and resort. Keep in mind that if you are a person of advanced age or someone with medical conditions that put you at a higher risk for complications with COVID-19, you might want to delay your trip until you are completely vaccinated. We have more tips on staying healthy in the theme parks that are always a good idea for everyone to follow, but especially worth considering in this time of uncertainty.
Greater Los Angeles Area Theme Parks and Aquariums
Here's a look at what to expect when these Los Angeles County and Orange County theme parks reopen. You may notice that many of the parks, zoos and aquariums share a lot of the new health and safety guidelines and protocols. All require guests to wear facial coverings except when eating or drinking, and all theme parks will be limited in capacity and require a reservation system. But you will see that there are a few differences. Some locations are opening in phases.
Disneyland Resort is reopening! It began a phased reopening in July 2020 with the opening of Downtown Disney. Disney CEO, Bob Chapek, says Disneyland will reopen April 30, 2021. Here is what we expect in the phased Disneyland reopening:
- July 9, 2020 — The Downtown Disney District reopened (parking is $10)
- March 18 through April 19, 2021 (select days) — A Touch of Disney ticketed food and beverage event takes place
- April 12, 2021 — Guests who already have valid theme park tickets may begin making park reservations for up to the number of valid admission days on their ticket. The theme park reservation system will open no earlier than 8 a.m. Pacific Time.
- April 15, 2021 — Guests without park tickets may begin purchasing tickets and making park reservations. Walt Disney Travel Company packages will also be available for purchase. Theme park ticket sales will resume no earlier than 8 a.m. Pacific Time.
- April 29, 2021 — Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa reopens
- April 30, 2021 — Both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park reopen
- May 2, 2021 — The Disney Vacation Club Villas at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa reopen
- Delayed — Disney's Paradise Pier and the Disneyland Hotel will reopen at a later date
The new ticketed food and beverage event called A Touch of Disney takes place inside Disney California Adventure beginning in March. Rides remain closed, but there are characters, photo-ops and entertainment in addition to iconic Disney foods.
One of the biggest changes we will see when the parks reopen is the new park reservation system. To comply with governmental requirements and promote physical distancing, Disneyland will manage attendance through a new theme park reservation system. It will require all guests ages 3 and up to get an advance reservation for park entry. You will need valid admission and a park reservation for the same park, on the same day, for entry; dining and/or hotel reservations do not guarantee park entry.
Disneyland has canceled its Annual Passholder program. Passholders who held active passports as of March 14, 2020, will receive pro-rata refunds. Follow this link to learn about Annual Passholder refund information.
The Disneyland site offers regular updates on what to expect with the California theme parks as it continually evaluates this fluid situation. When Disneyland Resort reopens, the parks, hotels, restaurants and other locations will be limited in capacity. Disneyland is following the guidelines from the health experts, the Centers for Disease Control and the California state government. Disneyland has added a COVID-19 warning to its site.
Even though the following information is subject to change as the situation evolves, here's a quick look at what to expect when the Disneyland theme parks reopen.
- Phased reopening: Expect a gradual reopening and/or partial reopening of certain locations. Retail and dining locations in Downtown Disney reopened prior to theme parks.
- Capacity measures: Advance reservations through a new theme park reservation system are required to visit the parks during the phased reopening. The state sets the capacity limit. Indoor dining establishments are limited in capacity, as well. Annual Passes have already been canceled. Guests must be California residents and in groups no larger than 3 households, in line with current state guidelines.
- Physical distancing measures: Disney has implemented physical distancing guidelines based on guidance from health authorities and the government. Technology aids in these efforts, such as the Play Disney Parks App, mobile ordering and virtual queues. The parks have increased education and signage to direct guests on social distancing. The parks will temporarily suspend fireworks, parades and entertainment that allows crowds to gather. Expect signage to remind guests to stay 6 feet apart from other parties and physical barriers, such as plexiglass, in areas that are more difficult to practice physical distancing.
- Limited-contact enhancements: Disneyland is encouraging cashless transactions and will reduce interactions between cast members and guests through the use of technology and other measures. You can expect contactless payments and expanded mobile ordering in the Disneyland app, Apple Pay and more. Plexiglass partitions add separation at park entrances, shops and restaurants. Expect temporary closures of play areas.
- Cleanliness and sanitization: You'll see increased cleaning and disinfection around the resort, especially for high-contact areas. Hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer is available throughout the resort.
- Masks and temperature screenings: All cast members and park guests undergo temperature screenings and are required to wear facial coverings. The coverings must cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly against the sides of the face. The covering must be secured with ties or ear loops. Gaiter-syle coverings, open-chin triangle bandanas and face coverings that contain valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are not allowed. Guests may remove masks to eat or drink when stationary. Signs and cast members will remind guests to follow the social distancing guidelines and wear a facial covering. Children under 2 are not required to wear face coverings. People who have received the COVID-19 vaccine must still wear a face covering.
- Cast training: Disneyland is providing new training and reinforcement to emphasize a strong culture of health and safety among cast members.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal CityWalk has partially reopened (with free self-parking), and the theme park will fully reopen April 16, 2021. (If you want an idea of what to expect, Universal Orlando reopened June 5, 2020, which we covered too!) In the meantime, you can get your Butterbeer (hot, cold or frozen) and Wizarding World treats at CityWalk. Outdoor dining has returned! Likewise, a separately ticketed food event is hoppening at Universal Studios Hollywood! At A Taste of Universal, guests can enjoy the park's sights, use their wands and savor park foodie faves such as Butterbeer and Lard Lad donuts or try new foods at the all-new Minion Cafe (and more).
Universal Studios Hollywood will comply with health and state/local government guidelines for when California theme parks reopen. You can expect the following at CityWalk and Universal Studios Hollywood:
- Limited capacity, with the use of a park reservation system or dated tickets.
- Ticket sales will not be available at the theme park.
- Indoor restaurants are limited in capacity.Temporary closure of interactive play areas.
- Temporary closure of Single Rider lines.
- Increase in virtual queues.
- Use of the Universal Studios Hollywood app for contact-free features.
- People who have a disability that prevents them from wearing a facial covering should contact Guest Relations about the use of a face shield. A face shield is not allowed on some attractions.
If you lose your mask or get it wet, you can purchase a Universal-themed mask. We saw some fun styles at the Universal Studios Hollywood souvenir shop at CityWalk.
Knott’s Berry Farm
Knott's Berry Farm will employ the same basic health and safety protocols that you will find across the other California theme parks. The western theme park reopens May 21, 2021. It will limit capacity with a reservations system. Tickets are available April 26, 2021. We love how Knott's has been giving guests a taste of the theme park with some open-air dining and shopping events inside the closed park.
This spring we have enjoyed the Taste of Boysenberry Festival, which takes place select days March 4 through May 2, 2021. The well-attended events tell us that people are ready to return to their favorite theme parks. The Knott's Berry Farm Hotel has reopened.
Knott's has been hosting various Knott's Berry Farm events inside the theme park until it can fully reopen. Rides are not open for these food events, but that does not seem to stop the foodies and theme park lovers from coming to get a taste of the fun.
Guests purchase a tasting card in advance to be able to enter the open-air food events. Hungry for the details? Hop over to our Boysenberry Festival post for the delicious details!
We've hopped by a few events just to be near some of our favorite roller coasters and try the tasty foods. Knott's offers entertainment, music and even some of the Knott's "residents," such as the working blacksmith and woodcarvers as well as "residents" of Ghost Town. We saw great mask compliance, a lot of physical distancing space and plenty of large picnic tables and other seating for enjoying the food.
Outside the park, select locations in the California Marketplace are open daily. Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant is open. Since indoor dining is closed in California, the restaurant has blocked off traffic in front of the restaurant and added outdoor tables for a more "picnic" atmosphere. You can also enjoy Mrs. Knott's Chicken-to-Go Restaurant, Farm Bakery and the Knott's Berry Market. They have added marks on the floor to show where to stand for social distancing, have a roped queue and have added plexiglass and hand sanitizers in front of registers. Guests use scanners to do a supervised, touchless self-checkout. All payment is electronic — no cash for now — and restrooms are closed.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
Six Flags Magic Mountain reopened to California residents with rides April 1, 2021. Hurricane Harbor at Magic Mountain is expected to return in 2021, but it does not yet have an official reopening date.
All visitors — including pass holders and members — must make advance reservations for a specific day and time period via the online reservations system to visit the park. Having staggered entrance times can avoid overcrowding at the entrance.
Anyone with a ticket can make a reservation. All ticket holders will use this reservation system, including season pass holders. Reservations can be canceled but not transferred. Guests may also order masks and other merchandise if desired. The reservation system will go online for each Six Flags park shortly before operations resume, and only members and season pass holders will be granted access during the first two days. The system opened up to other ticket holders for April 3, 2021.
The Six Flags parks operate with reduced attendance, social distancing, virtual queues, mobile ordering, cashless transactions and constant sanitization. New measures minimize guest contact during security screening. Guests can pay with credit card, Apple Pay, Google Pay or debit card. In other words, leave you cash at home. The park strongly encourages purchasing parking in advance.
Guests are asked to review the health policy and be healthy for at least 14 days before visiting. Guests can find hand-washing and hand-sanitizing stations throughout the parks and at the entrance and exits of rides. To promote social distancing, Six Flags limits the number of riders in lines and boarding rides. Markers painted on the ground help riders know where to stand, keeping parties six feet apart from others.
Guests can take mask breaks in Mask Break Zones located throughout the park. The parks are operating at a percentage of normal capacity and will ramp back up based on local guidelines.
Aquarium of the Pacific
The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific is open. As with the theme parks and zoos, you can expect similar safety guidelines at the aquarium, although aquariums are held to different guidelines than the theme parks. In order to maintain social distancing, the aquarium has introduced timed reservations. Visitors need to select a date and time upon purchase. Psst ... we frogs love a good deal, so it's no secret that you can purchase discount Aquarium of the Pacific tickets through Undercover Tourist. You can select the date and entry time before you check out. If you already hold an unused ticket, you can make a free reservation on the aquarium site. Capacity is limited, so weekends and popular times may sell out. Buy early!
You can also expect that some areas will be closed and some programs are on hiatus. Shows, mascot appearances, animal meet-and-greets and behind-the-scenes tours have temporarily suspended to prevent gatherings. Seniors and people with underlying health conditions should choose an earlier time to visit.
San Diego Zoos and Theme Parks
San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Park have roared back to life. These zoos operate outside of the theme park guidelines in terms of being able to be open, but they match the stringent theme park guidelines in terms of safety. They reopened June 20, 2020, then closed during the Stay-at-Home Order and reopened again Jan. 30, 2021. You can expect limited hours and on-ground capacity during the reopening period. During this high-demand time, the zoo and park now require visitors (including members) to make a reservation or purchase dated San Diego Zoo and Safari Park tickets and tours in advance. Arrive early in the day for the shortest wait to get in.
The San Diego Zoo has put measures in place to protect not only employees and guests, but also the animals who live in the zoos. We do not yet know how COVID-19 affects other mammals. (Did you know that the apes at the San Diego Zoo were the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine for animals?) In an excess of caution, the San Diego Zoo Global is adding heightened biosecurity measures in place to protect all mammals (including people). You can expect the following changes when visiting the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park:
- All guests 2 and up and employees must wear face coverings (except when dining).
- People are to maintain social distancing from other groups.
- Purchase admission tickets online in advance.
- Purchase tickets for tours, safaris, and other premium experiences before arrival.
- Capacity is limited.
- Capacity is limited in gift shops.
- Parking lot capacity controlled.
- Admission is first-come, first-served. As guests exit, waiting guests can enter.
- Touch-free entry.
- No animal feedings with guests.
- Shows are canceled temporarily.
- No buses or Africa Tram at this time.
- Closed interactive space and narrow paths.
- Caravans and Safaris are limited to household groups only, and plexiglass separates guests from guides and drivers.
LEGOLAND California Reopening
LEGOLAND California Resort fully reopens the theme park, SEA LIFE aquarium and LEGO CHIMA Water Park on April 15, 2021. Parts of the resort are open before that. Preview days begin with limited attractions on April 1. The LEGOLAND hotels are open now.
All guests ages 2 and up must wear face coverings. Exceptions can be made for people with a medical note and the hearing impaired. All guests undergo a noninvasive temperature check and health screening before entering the theme park. The resort has gone cashless. LEGOS are sanitized between use, and the hand sanitizer is flowing! Hop over to our post on the LEGOLAND California reopening for the latest news and details!
SeaWorld San Diego Reopening
SeaWorld San Diego opens with rides on April 12, 2021. It has been operating as a zoo and aquarium. The outdoor animal-focused areas of the marine park and some shows are open. The rides will remain closed a little longer until theme parks are cleared to reopen. Hop over to our SeaWorld San Diego reopening post for the latest dates, news and details about the SeaWorld San Diego events this year. The Seven Seas Food Festival kicked off March 5 and will take place select days through May 2, 2021, with food, beverage and entertainment.
SeaWorld San Diego offers reservation-based visits to control capacity. Guests can expect the typical measures for the reopening of all the San Diego parks along with temperature checks for employees and guests as well as mandatory face coverings for tadpoles ages 2 and up.
You'll see modifications to animal exhibits and closures of interactive play areas. The animal exhibits have plexiglass to separate parties at exhibits. At busy exhibits, a team member has a line form and directs parties where to stand and sends guests through one-way traffic areas. Shows have marked seating so that guests can socially distance themselves from other parties. Sesame Street characters are distanced from guests at meet and greet locations.
Single rider lines for rides will be closed. Guests can expect contactless interactions from park entry to shops and restaurants. Indoor exhibits are now open. There are plenty of hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer dispensers.
SeaWorld is the first Southern California theme park to bring back fireworks on select nights. It offers socially distant viewing areas around the park.
Hopfully, this gives you a sense of what to expect when the California theme parks reopen and how you can enjoy some of the parks before they fully reopen. We expect this situation to continue to evolve, so be sure to keep hopping back for the latest updates. For park closure and reopening dates, hop over to our post on COVID-19 Information for Theme Parks and Hotels.