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Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now

by Mommy Frog on September 26, 2021 5 San Diego

A note from Mommy Frog: In hoppy news, theme parks are back to normal. Disneyland still has a theme park reservation system in place and several parks (such as Legoland and Universal Studios Hollywood) utilize dated tickets. Face coverings are optional. We are no longer updating this post. 

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - PinterestThe ever-changing COVID-19 situation means that the status of theme parks, zoos and aquariums is also ever-changing. Through Jan. 15, 2022, California has an indoor mask mandate, so all theme parks require everyone 2 and up to mask up indoors in spite of any other mask policies they had in place. 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)!

In 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 prior to entry.

How California Theme Parks Are Reopening

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Guests at Disneyland EntranceThe 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 variants. So you see families taking responsibility for 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.

Even though the theme parks could fully reopen at full capacity as of June 15, some did not. Each theme park can come up with its own capacity and physical distancing guidelines, rules for masks (subject to local and state mandates) and overall plans to keep guests and employees safe. 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?

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Woman Poses with Lightning McQueen at A Touch of Disney

Who Can Visit and Do We Need to Wear a Mask? 

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Guests in Wizard Robes pose in front of Hogwarts Castle

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 California it's required indoors through Jan. 15, 2021. 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 variants 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 required 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 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 on 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. All attendees and employees (ages 5 and up) have to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine card or a negative test within 72 hours. All people 18 and over have to show a photo ID as well. Guests under 5 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 What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Physically Distanced lines of people wait to enter Disney California Adventure

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 how things have been operating since reopening. 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 required outdoors again in some parks. Each park varies in its approach.

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Mickey and Minnie greet guests from the train station platform at Disneyland

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.

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - People in Food Ears

We’ve broken this list down by general region and resort. Here's a look at what to expect during the reopening phase of these Los Angeles County and Orange County theme parks.

Disneyland Resort

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Small World with Space Between Passengers

Disneyland Resort theme parks reopened April 30, 2021. Here is what has hoppened during 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 launched in Dec. 8, 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:

Disneyland launched a new annual pass program called Magic Key.

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Mobile Order Sign

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

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Hogwarts Conductor

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 of 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).

Due to the LA County Health Officer Order, all attendees and employees at large LA theme parks (for ages 5 and up) have to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine (a full 14 days after the final dose was administered) or a negative test taken within 72 hours of visiting. All guests 18 and over have to show photo ID as well. Guests 4 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 are 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 5 and up.
  • 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

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Ghost Town Hotel is decorated for the celebration

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.

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Guest in mask holds food

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 when we leave the park. Yum!

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Employee in mask and behind plexiglass at park entrance

Six Flags Magic Mountain

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Roller Coaster with Empty Row

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, and 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.

Masks must:

  • 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

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Kid looking at shark at 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

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - San Diego Zoo Entrance

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

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Kid in Mask in Front of Entrance to Lego Movie World

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 a quick breakdown:

  • 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

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Sea Lion Leaps Out of Water in Show

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 a quick breakdown of 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 without 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 a 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.

Here's What to Expect at SoCal Theme Parks Right Now - Plexiglass dividers separate parties at sea lion exhibit

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.

Related: Planning a Vacation in an Uncertain Time

Related: How to Share the Disappointment of a Trip Postponed with Your Kids and Keep the Magic Alive

Hoppy planning!

Keep hopping, Mommy Frog!
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Jun 15, 2021 at 7:44 p.m. Joss Says...

Six Flag website still says that they only allow in-state visitors:( Do you know if that is going to change June 15 or they have "said" that out-of-state visitors are allow now?

Jun 15, 2021 at 2:56 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Joss!

Six Flags is now welcoming out-of-state visitors, as of today, June 15.

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Oct 27, 2020 at 6:59 p.m. Mike SteakL Says...

I bought tickets last January through undercover tourist to use in March for Disneyland. What’s going to happen to those tickets?

Oct 28, 2020 at 10:15 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Mike!

Disney tickets do not lose their value. Please feel free to reach out to our customer service team at 1 (800) 846-1302 if you need any help with your order!

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

May 28, 2020 at 9:25 p.m. Chris Says...

Disneyland and Knott's are not Los Angeles theme parks, they are Orange County theme parks. While Universal Studios resides in L.A. County, they technically aren't a Los Angeles theme park either, they are their own city.

And the other major park not listed here is Magic Mountain, which is located in Valencia, which is also in Los Angeles county, but still is not a Los Angeles theme park.

The only Los Angeles theme park or zoo I can think of is the LA Zoo.

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