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The best theme parks in L.A. and beyond

Take a ride on a roller coaster or a plunge down a log flume at the best amusement parks and theme parks near Los Angeles

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland
Photograph: Courtesy Todd Wawrychuk/Disney Parks Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland
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You’re likely to never run out of places to explore and things to do in Los Angeles. But even with all of those options, sometimes you just want to tune everything out and scream your head off on a roller coaster. Thankfully, L.A. has no shortage of theme parks and amusement parks. Whether you’re seeking thrills or a family-friendly day out, plan a visit for one (or more) of these amusement parks in Southern California, from an old movie studio in the hills outside Hollywood to a pier by a Santa Monica beach.

The 7 best amusement parks in Southern California

1
Disneyland.
Photograph: Paul Hiffmeyer, courtesy Disneyland
Things to do, Event spaces

Disneyland

icon-location-pin Anaheim

The longstanding Disneyland Resort is as much a spectacular piece of pop art as it is a set of theme parks. Incorporating two parks—the 60-year-old, near-mythic Disneyland, plus the younger, recently revamped Disney California Adventure—the resort calls itself “the Happiest Place on Earth.” And if you bring the right mood with you, it’ll likely live up to its nickname. There’s something for everyone here: roller coasters, stage shows, fireworks, family-friendly rides and familiar properties ranging from princesses and Pixar pals to Marvel and Star Wars (which now has its own astounding land with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge).

Before you go, make sure to check out the best Disneyland rides as well as these essential tips.

2
wizarding world of harry potter hollywood
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman
Attractions, Theme parks

Universal Studios

icon-location-pin Universal City

Though the rides lack both Disneyland’s charm and the sheer terror inspired by Six Flags Magic Mountain, Universal Studios Hollywood’s hillside theme park has carved out its own stable of worthwhile thrills fueled by silver-screen memories. You’ll find some slick motion rides mixed with familiar properties like Transformers, The SimpsonsJurassic World and Despicable Me alongside the surprisingly memorable studio tour tram ride. While some of the park’s less-than-stellar relics remain, the introduction of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and its centerpiece thrill ride has injected some much-needed magic into the park.

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3
Six Flags Magic Mountain
Photograph: Courtesy Mathew Imaging
Things to do

Six Flags Magic Mountain

icon-location-pin Los Angeles

Six Flags delivers adrenaline-pumping thrills for strong-stomached visitors. While there are some gentle rides here, the park is most famous for the ones that’ll push your heart into your mouth and your lunch onto the person sitting in front of you. The half-hearted theming leaves much to be desired and the lines can become oppressively long, but unforgettable thrills like X2, Tatsu, Goliath and more than a dozen other coasters make up for that fact. It’s a raucous place, both on the rides and off them: If you’ve got very young kids in tow, Disneyland and Universal Studios are both better bets.

4
Silver Bullet at Knott's Berry Farm.
Photograph: Courtesy Knott's Berry Farm
Things to do

Knott’s Berry Farm

icon-location-pin Buena Park

Although Ma Knott and her family are long gone, her jams and fried chicken dinner are still on sale. But on the whole, the folks at Knott’s Berry Farm have realized that it can’t get by on nostalgia (and boysenberry-flavored treats) alone: There seems to have been a concerted effort of late to haul this formerly old-fashioned enterprise into the 21st century. A few tame, nostalgia-fueled attractions remain, but much of the park has given way to compact roller coasters and kid-friendly Snoopy tie-ins. You won’t find many magical moments or flights of sheer terror, but there’s something to be said for a compact park with cheap admission and manageable wait times.

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5
Pacific Park
Photograph: Courtesy Pacific Park
Attractions, Theme parks

Pacific Park

icon-location-pin Downtown Santa Monica

Considered the focal point of Santa Monica Beach, Santa Monica Pier includes Pacific Park, a traditional set-up stocked with a Ferris wheel, aquarium, fairground games and cotton candy stands. It’s a busy spot to say the least, especially on warm weekends. The carnival attractions are nothing amazing, though the roller coaster and Ferris wheel certainly have their oceanfrot setting going for them; consider shelling out for an unlimited wristband if you’ll be going on more than just those two.

6
Legoland
Attractions, Theme parks

Legoland California Resort

icon-location-pin San Diego

More so than any other park, there’s a real tight age window for getting the most out of Legoland. If you’re a kid obsessed with those buildable bricks—and who wasn’t—then you’ll love its worlds of knights and pirates alongside licensed properties like Star Wars and internal lines like Ninjago. But the tyke-sized coasters aren’t likely to hold parents’ attention. That said, they may enjoy Miniland USA, which features more than 32 million LEGO bricks in its globe-spanning dioramas.

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7
SeaWorld San Diego
Photograph: Courtesy Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego
Attractions, Theme parks

SeaWorld San Diego

icon-location-pin San Diego

The home of Shamu has faced an uphill battle in a post-Blackfish world, but that hasn’t stopped millions of people from still visiting the San Diego aquatic park each year. You’ll find that Seaworld is increasingly turning its attention toward non-marine mammal entertainment—the park touts an observation tower, gondola ride, motion simulator, log flume and Manta, a twisty, low-flying roller coaster.

See more Los Angeles attractions

Griffith Observatory
Photograph: Pedro Szekely/Flickr
Things to do

29 Los Angeles attractions for tourists and natives alike

L.A. covers a staggeringly huge amount of land (and ocean), so it’s no surprise that the list of Los Angeles attractions is equally impressive. If you’re a tourist looking for things to do, you’ll find plenty of vacation inspiration, from Hollywood tours to a day at the one the city’s best beaches. And locals, you may discover ways to fall in love with the city all over again in our extensive list of Los Angeles attractions.

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