Amusement Parks – How Many In One Vacation?

What if you are a hardcore amusement park (or roller coaster) fan and have no more than a few days to see all the local parks?

Where else in the country can you find seven — count ’em, seven — major amusement parks within easy driving distance of your hotel. Can you name them quickly in alphabetical order? Disneyland Resort (actually two resorts—Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure), Knott’s Berry Farm, Legoland, SeaWorld, Six Flags Magic Mountain, and Universal Studios.

We give you lots of details in other pages on all of these parks; be sure to check them out. But for now, let’s talk briefly about prioritizing the parks depending on your objectives.

If you want roller coasters, make sure you visit Six Flags Magic Mountain in northern L.A. County and Knott’s Berry Farm. These are the serious roller coaster amusement parks, no kidding. The owners invest substantially to stay in the top echelon of parks providing opportunities to lose your lunch.

Disneyland has a handful of great thrill rides, notably Space Mountain, Matterhorn, Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain (actually tame except for the big drop into the pond at the end). Disney’s California Adventure has a couple of very cool thrill rides as well. Universal Studios Hollywood and SeaWorld offer a few attractions that qualify as thrill rides but if you missed them you’d probably not notice compared to our prime candidates.

If you have smaller children, you could pass on Magic Mountain and Universal Studios. They are great parks, but if you must make a choice, they are expendable. On the other hand, if you don’t have small children, you might be able to pass on Legoland.

What if you want to hit them all? (You should have your head examined, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.) Well, you’ll want a full day at the Disneyland Resort, which includes Disney’s California Adventure. Most of the others could be done in less than a day but it would be tight. Also, the trip will be somewhat less memorable if you cram too much stuff into a single day.

The best thing would be to spread the parks over a week or 10 days. Preferably you’d plan in a couple of days at the beach or other more sedate activities to break things up. The contrast enhances the fun of the busier days.

But if you only have 3-4 days to try and hit them all, decide which one you’re willing to give up if your plans fall apart and you must reduce your expectations. Use our clues above for making that decision, depending on who is in your group. Hit Disneyland Resort on one full day—that will be busy.

Hit SeaWorld on another day. It’s not as far from Orange County to Legoland (north San Diego County) as it is to Sea World down on Mission Bay. Therefore I’d combine Legoland in the morning and Knott’s after 4 pm, because you could spend longer at SeaWorld. Also, if you do finish up early at SeaWorld there are other things to check out down in San Diego, such as the world famous San Diego Zoo (which actually deserves a good part of a day) while you’re there. You’d have no problem making a full day of that trip.

The San Diego amusement parks have some roller coaster action but not to the level of Knott’s and Magic Mountain. Legoland in particular has a lot of creative and exciting rides for smaller children—future roller coaster maniacs have to start somewhere!

Both Universal Studios and Magic Mountain are up in Los Angeles County. So you could get up quite early (probably better to try this on a weekday, so you may find yourself in commuter traffic) and get out to Magic Mountain, staying until mid afternoon. Then drive the 40 minutes or so to Universal Studios for the second half of the day. Check park operating hours for both amusement parks in advance and switch the order if one closes much earlier or opens much later than the other. Whew!

Be aware of how long it takes to get around in Southern California. We don’t measure distance in miles, but rather using time, and ALWAYS prefaced with the phrase, “Depending on the traffic.” From Disneyland to Magic Mountain…an easy hour and a half, maybe a bit less with no traffic. If you want to make that trip in rush hour traffic, tack on another 30-60 minutes.