Amusement Parks in Southern California

Heading to Southern California, but you’ve already visited Disney? Wondering what other Southern California amusement parks offer great family fun? Read on for our top picks. 

Southern California is known for its family-fun activities, including hot spots like Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks. But, if you are like my family, that isn’t always an affordable option. Yet, you still want to do something that adults and kids alike can enjoy. Fear not, though, as there are plenty of other ways to make special memories while visiting the region. Here are a few of our favorite Southern California amusement parks when Disney isn’t an option.

Visiting Knotts Berry Farm

Knott’s Berry Farm is a world-renowned theme park often underrated in terms of family fun. It is certainly one of our favorite family vacation spots, as there is much to do and see. What started as a small berry farm soon grew into a family theme park now bursting with fun for all ages, including first-class roller coasters, stage shows, unique experiences, delicious food creations, and family-friendly attractions.

Summer Family Fun, Boysenberry Festival. Photo by Gretchen Pahia

Knotts Berry Farm Tips & Tricks

One of the first things we did while planning our family trip to the theme park was downloading the app. The app allows you to check theme park hours daily, show & attraction times, ride wait times, mobile order food, and more. We also always check out the website, Is It Packed, which shares the average visitor numbers on any given day, allowing you to better plan your trip to the park. Another great tip is to buy tickets ahead of time online. Not only can this save you time on the day of your visit, but it is often cheaper to purchase them online versus waiting until your arrival to purchase tickets. Knotts Berry Farm also offers add-on items online, including Fast Lane, FunPix Photo Pass, and parking. This can be purchased before your visit, allowing you to walk up to the gate and wait for the fun to begin.

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Hangtime at Knotts Berry Farm. Photo by Gretchen Pahia

Universal Studios Hollywood is Another Great Southern California Amusement Park

If you don’t think Knotts Berry Farm is exactly what you want, Southern California has other great options, including Universal Studios Hollywood. Located in Universal City, this theme park has a lot to offer. Our family loves to make it a part of our regular visits to the area because it has so much to offer. Universal City Walk is also attached to the theme park. It is a large shopping area with restaurants, a movie theater, and shopping. So even if the theme park isn’t on your list of must-visit spots, City Walk certainly should be.

Universal Studios Hollywood Entrance. Photo by Gretchen Pahia

Tips For Your Visit to Universal Studios

Our family has been to the park several times and has learned a trick or two that should help with your visit. Whether traveling alone, with another person, or with your family, these might help you enjoy your trip more.

  • Buy tickets online in advance. This is the easiest and usually cheaper way to get entrance tickets.
  • Consider the Universal Express Pass to maximize your time at the park and ride all the rides—especially during heavy traffic. Otherwise, try single-rider lines. You may not ride together, but you’ll all get on.
  • Leave plenty of time for parking, gate lines, etc. This will help alleviate the stress of rushing.
  • Bring a refillable water bottle. There are spots around the park where you can fill water, and instead of purchasing plastic water bottles repeatedly, bring your own.
  • Making purchases? Utilize package pickup and have items sent to the front of the park.
  • Planning to spend time at the new Super Nintendo World, hit the lower lots first thing in the morning.
  • Bring snacks. If you are going to dine in the park, try a little later in the day to avoid the big rush.

Super Nintendo World Ride Queue. Photo Courtesy Gretchen Pahia

Don’t Forget Visit to Universal City Walk

Stop and visit Universal City Walk if you want fun outside the park. There are many great spots to grab a bite to eat, shop for Universal Studio goodies, and more, and you can even catch a movie at the on-site movie theater. If you want a special dining experience, one of the best new spots on the property is The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen. However, be warned, if you do not like chocolate, this is probably not the stop for you. If you are a chocolate fan, this is a must-visit.

Pro Tip: Make reservations. The standby line can get pretty long, and if you have hungry mouths to feed, you could wait an hour or more for a table.

Remember that there are many other options for dining, so don’t fret. There is certainly a spot for everyone. If shopping is more your style, you have plenty of spots to choose from, and you will likely not leave empty-handed.

The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. Photo by Gretchen Pahia

Stay Nearby the Southern California Amusement Parks

One of the best things we did was plan our visit to a hotel near the park. We opted to stay at the Sheraton Univeral Hotel. The location couldn’t be beaten for those visiting the park and City Walk. The rooms are well-sized, and the beds are comfortable. The lobby restaurant and bar offer good bites and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage options. Best of all, it is close enough to walk to the park. However, an even better option is to take the free shuttle that takes you right from the lobby doors to Universal City Walk and then walk 5 minutes to the theme park’s front gates. Easily the best decision we made when visiting the park, and we recommend this spot to anyone looking for an excellent nearby spot.

Sheraton Universal Hotel Standard Room. Photo courtesy Sheraton Universal Hotel

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Plan Your Trip to Southern California Amusement Parks

One of the best and most important tips I can share about planning a trip to any theme park is to plan ahead. Spontaneous has its place and its time, but in my experience, the best visits to any theme park were when we did some of the planning ahead. While you do not have to plan out every single minute of every day, it will save you time, stress, anxiety, and more if you take time before your visit to plan your trip.

Use all your resources to make it the best visit possible. Purchase tickets online and check out online resources that offer an inside look at what days are busy and which days are not at any given park. Pay special attention to transportation options to and from the park if you aren’t staying on-site. Some hotels offer shuttles while others do not, so check out those options. At the end of the day, relax, enjoy, and make some long-lasting memories you will hold onto for a lifetime.

Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when you’re heading to Southern California or looking to plan another family vacation.

Heading to Southern California, but you've already visited Disney? Wondering what other Southern California amusement parks offer great family fun? Read on for our top picks. 


Amusement Parks in Southern California

Written by Gretchen Pahia

Gretchen Pahia has more than two decades of journalism experience. Gretchen is an award-winning television news producer and when she isn’t writing for several local publications, she enjoys spending time with her family. Gretchen is an Arizona native, born and raised in the Valley, and continues to live there with her husband and two teenage sons.

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