If you’re looking to book a trip to the USA and access to theme parks is a key consideration, there is one area that would usually come out on top of the wish list.
Orlando in Florida is widely regarded as the ‘theme park capital of the world’ and it isn’t hard to see why when you consider it is home to the likes of the Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando and Seaworld - with attractions like the Kennedy Space Centre and Busch Gardens also relatively nearby.
However, whilst Orlando might be seen as the real haven for those who love theme parks, it isn’t Florida that is home to the most amusement parks on American soil - with that honour falling instead to California.
Whilst that might sound like a surprise, it’s worth remembering it is California that is home to the first Disney theme park with Disneyland having opened for visitors in the 1950s.
That is almost 20 years before Walt Disney World, despite the Florida-based park being the one that springs to mind first for many people when asked to name an American theme park.
So with California potentially being something of a rival to Florida in the theme park stakes, here’s a rundown of some of the top options for anyone looking to enjoy some rides during a visit to the state.
Built under the supervision of Walt Disney himself, Disneyland - located near Anaheim - is one of the most visited theme parks anywhere in the world, never mind in the USA. Disneyland is home to nine different ‘lands’ that are all given their own theme and contain various popular rides and attractions - ranging from high-speed roller-coasters to character-based stage shows. The Disney California Adventure Park is part of the Disneyland Resort complex and features a further eight themed lands of its own.
In the same way that the Californian Disney park is the original, Universal Studios Hollywood was the first Universal Studios theme park having opened in the 1960s - way before the Orlando resort opened to the public in 1990. Various rides can be found within the park, including attractions themed on Despicable Me and the Simpsons as well as the famous Studio Tour. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was a new addition in 2016, and is hugely popular with fans of the series penned by JK Rowling.
Six Flags Magic Mountain:
Six Flags Magic Mountain is located around 30 miles north of downtown Los Angeles and is a fantastic place to visit if you love rollercoasters; holding the Guiness World Record for ‘Most rollercoasters in one theme park’. The 19 coasters include Tatsu and The Riddler’s Revenge - both of which were world firsts at the time that they opened - and have become top attractions at a park that has now been welcoming visitors for more than 50 years.
Pacific Park is one of the smallest amusement parks in California but also one of the most famous, thanks to its position on Santa Monica pier. Opened back in 1996, the park is home to only twelve rides, which include the Santa Monica West Coaster, a solar powered ferris wheel and a 44ft drop tower. The park has featured in various films since being opened, and will be instantly recognisable to fans of the hit game Grand Theft Auto 5; with the Pacific Park being the base of the attraction found on Del Perro Pier, Los Santos.
Opened in 1999 as the first Legoland park outside Europe, Legoland California Resort can be found in Carlsbad and is a fantastic option for those holidaying with smaller children in tow - with the various rides and attractions suited to the younger end of the scale. As you would expect, all are based around Lego, with the park also featuring a raft of special displays showing off areas of the USA re-created in miniature.
California’s SeaWorld resort is located in San Diego and opened in the 1960s. The park is home to various rides and attractions that sit alongside the oceanarium and aquarium housing a huge array of different marine species. SeaWorld is one of the few parks in the world where it is possible to see killer whales, with the park putting on a special education presentation on a daily basis to provide visitors with more information about the majestic creatures.
Knott’s Berry Farm:
Once little more than a berry stand on the side of Route 39, Knott’s Berry Farm has grown through the years with the addition of more and more attractions until it reached the stage where it became a bona fide theme park. The park is home to four themed areas with the Timber Mountain Log Ride - opened back in the late 1960s - being one of the most popular rides despite the addition of various high-speed rollercoasters in the following years.
California’s Great America park is located in Santa Clara and opened back in the mid-1970s. The park is home to more than 40 rides, including The Gold Striker - a gold rush-themed wooden rollercoaster that is ranked as one of the best wooden coasters around. As with many other parks on this list, Great America is broken down into a number of themed areas and has become one of the most popular attractions in all of California.
Opened in the 1920s, Belmont Park is a historic amusement park that is located on the seafront in San Diego and features some attractions - including the Giant Dipper rollercoaster - that have been in place since the park opened. The beachside location helps to bring in millions of visitors every year, despite the relatively small size of the park - with fewer than 15 rides.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom:
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom sits between San Francisco and Sacramento in Northern California and features a mixture of rides for guests of all ages, including a number that are themed around Batman. Alongside high-speed rollercoasters and thrill rides, the park is also home to a number of animal-based attractions that include the chance to go through an underwater tunnel to get close to various species of sharks.