The three major theme park players that you’ll find in Orlando – Disney, Universal and SeaWorld – can also be found in California. Disneyland California is in Anaheim, a 30-minute drive from LA, Universal Studios Hollywood is just a 10-minute drive from central LA or accessible by Metro and the SeaWorld parks can be found in San Diego, just under a 2-hour drive away. That makes a total of 5 exciting parks to explore (1 at Universal, 2 at Disney and 2 at SeaWorld), all within a comfortable and scenic 2 hours drive of one another.
This means that you can expect to enjoy at least 5 days theme park fun on your California holiday (and we would even encourage you to spend more!). Here is our recommended California theme park holiday itinerary…
Fly into LA Airport
The cheapest flights to California are often into LAX, which is handy as it’s the closest airport for the big theme parks too! Depending on your budget you can take public transport to downtown LA from here or jump in a cab or Uber.
After the long flight and a big change in time, you may want to have a relaxing first day by the pool to adjust…it’s a hard life, but somebody’s got to do it!
Universal Studios Hollywood
On your first theme park day, we’d recommend hitting Universal Studios Hollywood, the iconic ‘LA’ theme park which will take you to the heart of the movies. If you’ve hired a car, the park is only a short drive away, but we also recommend checking out the Metro to avoid having to pay for parking when you arrive. The LA Metro is quick and simple to use and is very wallet-friendly too!
If you’ve visited Universal Studios Florida before, the big difference between the two parks is the behind the scenes tram tour which takes you behind the scenes of some of the world’s most famous movies. Explore the sets of world-class films and TV shows before taking on some of the park’s thrilling attractions and shows.
Key attractions at this park include the newly-opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter, The Mummy indoor roller coaster and the incredibly-themed Simpsons land.
If this is a once in a lifetime holiday for you, you may want to consider the VIP Experience instead. This carefully crafted tour includes a full days’ admission to the park, front of the line access to the attractions and special seating privileges for the shows. You’ll also be taken on your own special VIP tour of the backlots and be able to alight in places where other guests cannot go, including the magical props department! A light breakfast and a VIP gourmet lunch in a private dining room are also included in this price. If you’re a film and theme park mega-fan, we cannot recommend this enough.
A short 30-minute drive away from central LA, you’ll find 2 Disney parks: the original Disneyland Park opened by Walt Disney in 1955 and Disney’s California Adventure Park. We would recommend spending between 2 and 3 days, maybe even 4 here, depending on your itinerary, in order to see and do everything there is to see at both parks.
At Disneyland California you can expect to find loads of classic Disney rides including the newly ‘re-launched’ Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain, as well as classic rides with a twist like Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout – a newly reimagined attraction which took the technology of Tower of Terror and the fun of the Guardians film franchise.
There are also plenty of exclusive attractions to enjoy as well, such as a visit to Minnie’s House in Toon Town and the IncrediCoaster based on the hugely popular Incredibles films. You won’t find either of these attractions in Florida, as well as plenty of other fun differences.
SeaWorld and Aquatica San Diego
Last but not least, there are two incredible theme parks to explore south of LA in beautiful San Diego. We recommend taking some time in your itinerary to stay in San Diego itself, as beyond the theme parks there are beautiful beaches, restaurants and attractions to enjoy as well.
Take 2 days out of your San Diego stay to hit the SeaWorld Parks – SeaWorld San Diego and Aquatica San Diego. SeaWorld boasts a 200-acre marine life park full of thrilling rides, gorgeous aquatic life and jaw-dropping shows. Whether you’ve been a regular SeaWorld visitor for years or it’s your first visit to one of their parks, SeaWorld San Diego is guaranteed to wow you; from the thrilling 54-foot drop Journey to Atlantis to the heart-racing Manta roller coaster, there are certainly plenty of thrills.
Just south of San Diego is the equally thrilling Aquatica San Diego, which is open all summer (closing after October 28 and reopening on the 25th May). Enjoy 80-feet of pure adrenaline rush as you travel head first down Taumata Racers before relaxing in Loggerhead Lane, Aquatica’s lazy river with a twist.
As you can see from this itinerary, a week’s theme park holiday is perfectly do-able in California! Whether you’ve been to Florida before and are looking for something new or if the lure of the west coast is bringing you to California, you will not leave disappointed.
If you’re staying in California for more than a week we recommend a trip to Las Vegas and The Grand Canyon and/or San Francisco, depending on your timings. They are all considerable drives (t’s a huge state) but include unmissable attractions that will make the drive worth it.
Las Vegas and The Grand Canyon
Las Vegas in itself can feel a little like a theme park so you’ll feel perfectly at home there! The major attractions are of course the casinos, but it’s also a fantastic place to eat, drink and be merry with your friends or significant other. From as base in las Vegas, you could take a trip out to The Grand Canyon and enjoy a helicopter tour over one of the natural wonders of the world.
For something a little different, take a trip to San Francisco and see one of the world’s most famous attractions, The Golden Gate Bridge. Whether you explore on foot or by bike, you’ll want to cross the bridge in order to really understand the scale of it!
San Francisco is also a relaxing city to spend a few days in, enjoying the local food and even locally brewed craft beer after you explore world-famous attractions like Alcatraz.
To browse tickets for a California theme park holiday and for all California attraction tickets, click here.
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