The ever-changing COVID-19 situation means that the status of theme parks, zoos and aquariums is also ever-changing. Even though California theme park restrictions lifted on June 15, 2021, the operations in each park vary and are subject to local mandates. Some parks require masks indoors. Others highly encourage the use of masks. Still others require their use both indoors and outdoors. In fact, some parks have different rules for different days! Some parks still require reservations and restrict capacity. Others do not. Here's what to expect at Southern California theme parks, zoos and aquariums right now (including, whether you need a COVID-19 test or vaccine to enter).
California theme parks, water parks, zoos and aquariums were allowed to return to full capacity and some pre-pandemic operations. However, local guidelines can overrule, as there is an indoor mask mandate in Los Angeles County, and theme park and zoo management can set their own guidelines. We will get into specifics below as news rolls in for each park. You should also visit the park's site before visiting to get the most up-to-date information during these changing times. Even though out-of-state visitors were left out when the parks reopened, they are now allowed to visit all the parks (as of June 15)!
As of Oct. 7, 2021, Los Angeles County large theme parks — such as Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain — require proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of visit prior to entry.
How California Theme Parks Are Reopening
The parks are now open! Our froggy fingers have been busy at the keyboards keeping our blog up-to-date with the latest guidelines for California theme parks, zoos and aquariums over these past few months. Of course, things may not necessarily go back to "normal" anytime soon, but we have experienced a general relaxation of the strict protocols under which the parks reopened. Each park is a little different in its approach.
For the most part, mask usage is up from where it was mid-summer due to the Delta variant. So you see families taking responsibility on themselves, even outdoors, even if a park does not have strict face covering rules. Speaking of face coverings, because of the fluid situation at parks across the country, we keep one mask policy post updated with the most current information for all major theme parks in SoCal and Florida.
As of June 15, 2021:
- California theme parks were able to return to full capacity.
- The parks are no longer required to maintain guidelines for physical distancing.
- The California Health Department added special regulations for venues such as theme parks to be classified as "mega-events" as outdoor venues with over 10,000 people.
- The agency strongly recommends that the venues require a vaccination record or COVID-19 test, but this is only enforced at LA County theme parks such as Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain.
- The State of California strongly recommends that all guests be fully vaccinated or obtain a negative COVID-19 test prior to entering the theme parks. Proof of this is required at LA County parks (on select days).
- California is not considering a statewide vaccine passport.
- Restrictions on travel outside of the state are lifted as of June 15. Any future travel restrictions will align with CDC guidelines.
- The California mask mandate ended June 15. Some parks encourage mask use while others may require face coverings for unvaccinated guests indoors and encourage their use outdoors. Disneyland requires all guests (2 and up), regardless of vaccination status, to cover the nose and mouth when indoors. Universal Studios Hollywood requires guests to wear masks both indoor and outdoors. Six Flags's mask rules vary based on the expected crowd levels.
But wait. Even though the theme parks could fully reopen at full capacity on June 15, some did not. Each theme park can come up with its own capacity and physical distancing guidelines, rules for masks and overall plans to keep guests and employees safe. Parks can fall under local guidelines for their county. Plus it takes time to rehire and retrain employees, so some parks may slowly inch up to full capacity.
We will get into more details below. But first, let's look at the important stuff we all are hopping to know — who can visit and do we need to wear a mask?
Who Can Visit and Do We Need to Wear a Mask?
Even though masks are optional in some parks, the parks and CDC guidelines strongly encourage all guests (including fully vaccinated people) ages 2 and up to wear a mask indoors when in an area of substantial or high transmission. In an outdoor setting, wear a face covering in crowded areas and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated guests are asked to continue to wear face coverings. If you are fully vaccinated, to maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask indoors in public.
Here is a quick look at rules for facial coverings (subject to change) and whether the park requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test:
- The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park are both open (and will no longer require reservations or dated tickets). There are no restrictions for out-of-state visitors. Face coverings are recommended for all guests in indoor spaces, and unvaccinated guests are required to wear a face covering in any indoor space. Buses and tours will resume without limits.
- Six Flags Magic Mountain is now open (Hurricane Harbor is closed for the season). Face coverings are required in all indoor locations, regardless of vaccination status every day. Face coverings are require both indoors and outdoors on busier days with increased safety protocols. Out-of-state visitors are welcome. Magic Mountain is located in LA County, which, as of Oct. 7, 2021, requires all guests 12 and up to provide either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of visit prior to entry. Hop over to the Six Flags Safety Protocols page for more details.
- LEGOLAND California Theme Park, LEGO CHIMA Water Park and SEA LIFE Aquarium reopened April 15, 2021, with a reservation or dated ticket system. Hotels are open. Out-of-state visitors are welcome and the resort highly recommends wearing face masks, especially in indoor locations.
- Disneyland reopened April 30, 2021, with a theme park reservation system that remains in place. Out-of-state visitors are welcome. Masks are required indoors for all guests 2 and up, as well as in park transportation, regardless of vaccination status.
- Universal Studios Hollywood reopened April 16, 2021. The park has date-based tickets, but reservations are not required. All guests 2 and up are required to wear face coverings indoors and outdoors except when actively eating or drinking. As of Oct. 7, 2021, all attendees and employees (ages 12 and up) have to show proof of COVID-19 vaccine or a negative test within 72 hours. All people 18 and over have to show photo ID as well. Guests 11 and younger are ineligible for the vaccine, so kids in that age group do not have to provide a vaccine card or proof of a COVID-19 test.
- Knott's Berry Farm reopened May 21, 2021. Out-of-state visitors are welcome. Reservations are not required. Knott's Soak City reopened to the public May 29, 2021. Knott's requires unvaccinated guests to wear masks in indoor settings.
- SeaWorld San Diego resumed normal operations, as of June 15. Masks are not required, but the park recommends guests wear masks indoors. SeaWorld reminds guests of the state's recommendations. Out-of-state visitors are welcome back without restrictions.
- The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific is open with a reservation system. There are no restrictions for out-of-state visitors. The mask policy remains in place, with all guests 2 and up required to wear a mask at all times.
Keep hopping back for updates!
What to Expect at Each Southern California Theme Park, Zoo and Aquarium
Here's a fresh look at how the Southern California theme parks, zoos and aquariums are reopening now that government restrictions ended June 15.
If you are anything like us frogs, you’re curious about what the Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego theme parks, zoos and aquariums are like right now. We've put on our themed character masks and have been hopping to the parks and zoos now that they have reopened to get the full scoop on what to expect when the California theme parks reopen. We entered a new period of returning to a new normal in June, which is to proceed with caution and be flexible as new guidelines are introduced. We saw masks mostly go away in summer and then return due to the changing aspect of this virus and become require outdoors again in some parks. Each parks varies in its approach.
Our big questions were:
- Does the park still require face coverings after June 15? (It varies per park but generally unvaccinated guests — and in many cases fully vaccinated guests — should wear them, especially indoors. Some parks require them outdoors as well.)
- Are there physical distancing guidelines in place for queues, rides and dining areas? (No.)
- When will Single Rider lines return? (They have returned!)
- When will entertainment return? (It already has in some parks!)
- When will options for skipping the lines return? (They already have in some parks, and Disneyland has a replacement for FASTPASS and MaxPass called Genie+ launching in fall 2021.)
- Will the parks be crowded? (In our experience, no, but crowd levels are inching back up.)
The answers vary per park. We are sharing everything we know and have made several visits to find out what things are like in this new time. Keep hopping back as we share what we learn.
We’ve broken this list down by general region and resort. Here's a look at what to expect when these Los Angeles County and Orange County theme parks reopen.
Disneyland Resort theme parks reopened April 30, 2021. Here is what we expect in the phased Disneyland reopening:
- Ticket sales and park reservations are open. Walt Disney Travel Company packages are now available for purchase.
- Dining reservations are open with more restaurants and reservations opening all the time.
- April 29, 2021 — Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa reopened.
- June 15, 2021 — Disney's Paradise Pier reopens and out-of-state visitors are allowed. Masks are optional for fully vaccinated guests in all areas, except on transportation. Unvaccinated guests ages 2 and up will still be required to wear a mask in all indoor areas, except when dining.
- July 2, 2021 — Disneyland Hotel reopens.
- July 4, 2021 — Fireworks return with Mickey's Mix Magic
- Aug, 25, 2021 — Magic Key pass program is on sale.
- Character dining has returned.
- Single Rider has returned.
- Genie+ with Lightning Lane is set to launch in fall 2021.
- Magic Key annual pass is available with a separate reservation system.
One of the biggest changes that came with the Disneyland reopening is the new park reservation system, which will remain for some time. To manage attendance, it requires all guests ages 3 and up to get an advance reservation for park entry. You 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.
To get an in-depth look at what the theme parks are like right now, hop over to these posts:
- Ready to Hop Back to Disney California Adventure Park? Here's What to Expect
- Planning a Visit to Disneyland? Here's What It's Like After Reopening
- What Is Closed or Open at Disneyland Right Now?
Disneyland launched a new annual pass program called Magic Key.
The parks, hotels, restaurants and other locations will remain limited in capacity. Disneyland is following the guidelines from the health experts, the Centers for Disease Control and the California state government. Here's what to expect:
- No more temperature checks (ended June 15).
- Capacity is limited via a theme park reservations system.
- The theme parks will slowly increase capacity of the parks and restaurants.
- Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in May that he expects the company’s U.S. theme parks to see low double-digit attendance increases over several months, with the parks reaching full capacity by the fall.
- FASTPASS and MaxPass are retired and are being replaced by a paid option in fall 2021.
- Single Rider lines have returned.
- Rides are filled to capacity.
- 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.
- 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.
- Expect to use Mobile Order for food, but you can usually order at the counter as well.
- Entertainment is returning slowly.
- Face covering policies changed July 30. All guests 2 and up must wear a face covering indoors and on transportation (such as the Toy Story lot bus).
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal CityWalk reopened in summer 2020, and the theme park fully reopened April 16, 2021. Hop over to our Universal Studios Hollywood reopening post for all the details. Universal Studios Hollywood complies with health and state/local government guidelines.
Universal Studios Hollywood does not have any attendance or ride capacity restraints. The park always manages park capacity to provide the best guest experience (which is why we frogs always recommend arriving early in the day).
As of Oct. 7, due to the LA County Health Officer Order, all attendees and employees at large LA theme parks (for ages 12 and up) have to show proof of COVID-19 vaccine (a full 14 days after final dose was administered) or a negative test taken within 72 hours of park visit. All guests 18 and over have to show photo ID as well. Guests 11 and younger are ineligible for the vaccine, so kids in that age group do not have to provide a vaccine card or proof of a COVID-19 test. Verification will take place when required based on theme park attendance.
The following guidelines apply:
- No ride capacity restraints.
- No advance reservations necessary.
- In the theme park, all guests 2 and up must wear a mask indoors and outdoors except for eating and drinking.
- At CityWalk, guests are required to wear face coverings indoors.
- The park checks for proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test for ages 12 and up as of Oct. 7, 2021.
- Out-of-state visitors are welcome.
- Use the Universal Studios Hollywood app for contact-free features.
- The park already phased out temperature checks.
- Universal Express has remained available for skipping the lines.
- Most shows have returned.
- Single Rider lines are open.
Knott’s Berry Farm
The western theme park reopened to the public May 21, 2021, and Knott's Soak City reopened May 29, 2021. Knott's Berry Farm has the following rules in place:
- The park already phased out temperature checks.
- Out-of-state residents are welcome.
- Timed entry and reservations have been discontinued.
- Knott’s require guests to self-attest their vaccination status.
- Guests are required to wear face coverings indoors unless fully vaccinated.
- Guests undergo health screenings.
- The park is hopping with entertainment.
- Rides are filled to capacity.
Outside the park, select locations in the California Marketplace are open daily. Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant is open. You can also enjoy Mrs. Knott's Chicken-to-Go Restaurant, Farm Bakery and the Knott's Berry Market. We always grab a boysenberry pie there when we leave the park. Yum!
Six Flags Magic Mountain
Six Flags Magic Mountain reopened April 1, 2021. Hurricane Harbor at Magic Mountain returned May 22, 2021, but is closed for the season.
Six Flags welcomes back out-of-state residents without restrictions. There are no more attendance or capacity limits. Guests no longer need to make a reservation.
Due to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, updated health and safety protocols are required for certain designated days. On certain busier days, guests 12 and up need to show proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test (PCR or Antigen). You'll want to check the safety protocols section of the site and the park operating schedule before you visit. On-site rapid COVID-19 testing is available at the park on select days. Guests can get into the park faster by downloading the CLEAR app and uploading vaccination information before visiting.
Be sure to bring a face covering. On designated days, all guests 2 and up must wear a face covering both indoors and outdoors. On less crowded days, all people guests 2 and up must wear a mask indoors. Mask rules apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated visitors. Exemptions include guests under 2, people with medical conditions that prevent wearing a mask, and guests who are hearing impaired or people communicating with someone who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
- Be made with at least two layers of breathable materials.
- Fully cover the mouth and nose.
- Secure under the chin.
- Fit snugly but comfortably against the sides of the face.
Aquarium of the Pacific
The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific is fully open. 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 by a reservation system, so weekends and popular times may sell out. Buy early! The mask policy remains in place. Until further notice, all guests ages 2 and up are required to wear a mask both indoors and outdoors at all times.
San Diego Zoos and Theme Parks
San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Park have roared back to life. Beginning June 15, in accordance with state and local guidelines, the San Diego Zoo and Safari park lifted most COVID-19 restrictions:
- Date-specific tickets are no longer needed. If you already have a ticket, it will still be honored.
- There are no more health screenings prior to guest entry.
- Proof of vaccination is not required upon entry.
- Those who are not fully vaccinated are recommended by the CDC to wear facial coverings outdoors. The zoo requires unvaccinated people to wear a face covering indoors and recommends all guests to wear them in any indoor space.
- Special experience tours are no longer limited to household groups. This allows for individual pricing and greater availability.
- The tram and bus tours have returned.
LEGOLAND California Reopening
LEGOLAND California Resort reopened the theme park, SEA LIFE aquarium and LEGO CHIMA Water Park on April 15, 2021. The original water park remains open for the rest of the season. The LEGOLAND hotels are open. Hop over to our post on the LEGOLAND California reopening for the latest news and details, as well as the LEGOLAND site for updates! Here's what we know so far:
- LEGOLAND operates without attendance capacity restrictions.
- Online advance reservations (or dated tickets) are still required.
- Rides, attraction queues, indoor shows, restaurants and shops returned to full capacity.
- Mask usage is still strongly encouraged (but not required), especially for unvaccinated guests.
- Physical distancing is still encouraged, with space between parties in show venues.
- All rides are regularly cleaned and hand sanitizer stations are located throughout the park.
- Unvaccinated visitors are strongly recommended to follow state mask guidelines and will be required to agree to those terms when purchasing tickets and making advance reservations online.
- The new LEGO Movie World has opened and may we say that "everything is awesome!" The tadpoles also loved the water play area in the land, so bring those swimsuits!
- Reserve 'N' Ride is available.
- The resort is still cashless.
SeaWorld San Diego Reopening
SeaWorld San Diego opened with rides on April 12, 2021, although the ride selection has been limited. The park had been operating as a zoo and aquarium until rides began 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. Here is what we know about operations:
- SeaWorld San Diego returned to full capacity and usual operations with no COVID-19 restrictions, but dated tickets remain.
- Restaurants, shops, rides and indoor exhibits also return to full capacity with no 6-foot physical distancing requirements.
- Quick Queue (the front-of-the-line system) is back.
- Visitors are recommended to wear masks indoors.
- There are no restrictions for out-of-state visitors.
- The park reminds visitors of the state’s vaccination and mask recommendations, but won’t require proof of vaccination.
- The California Department of Public Health strongly recommends visitors who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine (or a negative COVID-19 test in the previous 72 hours) to wear a mask while visiting the park.
- Shows are operating.
- The climbing structure in the Sesame Street Bay of Play is closed but other parts of Bay of Play are open.
SeaWorld was the first Southern California theme park to bring back fireworks on select nights. It offers socially distanced viewing areas around the park.
Hopfully, this gives you a sense of what to expect now that the California theme parks have reopened. We expect this situation to continue to evolve, so 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.