As a child, I remember thinking there was no more exciting place in the world than a theme park.
The exciting rides, the crowds and the entertainment all captivated me. So, naturally, I would’ve loved taking a family vacation to Southern California. It is a paradise for kids of all ages, with many world-class parks, all within a two-hour drive of one another.
Universal Studios Hollywood
We started our theme park extravaganza at Universal Studios Hollywood, near Los Angeles. There are fun rides for kids here, like the brand-new “Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem,” and state-of-the-art rides for adults like “Transformers: The Ride 3-D” and the famous Studio Tour. It was so neat to tour the huge studio back lot where we saw many iconic film and TV sets, including Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives. Just outside the park gates is Universal CityWalk, a festive outdoor promenade where you can find many restaurants, see live music, catch a movie and pick up souvenirs.
Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm in Orange County
The next day, we drove an hour south to Anaheim to the “Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland Resort. Aside from experiencing iconic rides and attractions such as “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Space Mountain” and “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad,” what I loved most about Disneyland was the overall charm of the park. Meeting the classic Disney characters, strolling down the adorable Main Street U.S.A. and visiting Sleeping Beauty’s castle made me feel like a kid again.
Right across from the main park gates is Disney California Adventure Park, where they have Cars Land — a huge hit with the kids. Disney is a really convenient family destination, with dozens of restaurants in Downtown Disney and many hotels within walking distance of both parks.
Later that day, mere minutes away from Disney at Knott’s Berry Farm, I got reacquainted with some more characters from my childhood at Camp Snoopy and soaked up that beautiful California sunshine the Knott’s Soak City Waterpark.
Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park
LEGOLAND and SeaWorld in San Diego
The following morning, we drove one more hour south to LEGOLAND California Resort, a paradise for active and creative 2- to 12-year-olds. I loved Mini Land, where there are re-creations of famous city skylines like New York and Las Vegas, all made of LEGO bricks. LEGOLAND also boasts a hotel, massive water park and an aquarium with a particularly fascinating jellyfish exhibit, all geared to the smaller members of the family. The LEGOLAND Hotel is really terrific, not just for its convenient location right beside the park, but also for its imaginative room design and amenities for kids and adults. Not to mention, staying at the hotel gets you exclusive early admission into the park!
At SeaWorld San Diego, we learned about the park’s sea creatures through the “Explorers Reef” and “Up Close Tours,” where a trainer brings you face-to-face with dolphins and belugas while teaching you about the beautiful creatures. As if that wasn’t thrilling enough, we spent the rest of morning on the park’s exciting coasters, like “Manta” and “Journey to Atlantis.” At the end of the day, we became creatures of the water ourselves and enjoyed Aquatica, SeaWorld’s water park.
Whether you love the movies, Disney, LEGOs or sea creatures, you’ll find a theme park dedicated to it in Southern California.
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