We all know that equating Southern California with fun in the sun is a belief (and a true one) held by tourists from all over the U.S. and around the world, as well as Southern Californians themselves. Year-round visitors flock to the area from places as far away as Finland and Australia. Even Mikhail Gorbachev, the one-time premier of Russia, made the pilgrimage to Disneyland. But Disneyland is not the only theme park that offers fun in the sun; several others are also must-see destinations that will really round out your visit.
Knott’s Berry Farm
One of the most beloved and family friendly theme parks is also the very first theme park in America: Knott’s Berry Farm. Originally, this theme park was an actual farm where the Knott family sold berries. Walter, the patriarch of the family, developed, named and sold boysenberries.
To bring more money to the family during the depression, Cordelia Knott started serving chicken dinners to as many as over a thousand people. To entertain those waiting for their chicken dinners, Walter Knott created a western-themed area and ghost town, and that was the birth of the theme park we now know as Knott’s Berry Farm!
The Knotts’ original twenty acres have evolved into almost two hundred acres of themed fun. The western theme is still prevalent, in fact, the Pony Express ride and the stage coach rides give park goers a feel for what it was like to travel in the old West. My husband and I boarded a coach from a high platform, and when the horses began to gallop and I saw how high I actually was off of the ground — much more scary than one might imagine!
The Knott family’s love of the West reflects itself in a traditional Indian dance performance with a Native American as the star. It’s very enlightening and mesmerizing.
Walter Knott also loved the Peanuts comic strip, and kids love Camp Snoopy with its life-sized characters. There are plenty of rides for smaller children as well as thrilling roller coasters for teens and adults.
One of the most exciting attractions for Southern Californians is the snow area where people can ride down inner tubes, build snowmen and have snowball fights. In the summer, there’s a wonderful water park here, Soak City, with a special enclosed section for little kids. Small water features and child-sized slides can be found here in addition to thrill slides for adults.
The Knott family was always patriotic, and the corporation now managing the park continues the practice of offering two free tickets to any law enforcement personnel or veteran during specific weeks in December.
One of the most unusual theme parks is the renowned Legoland in Carlsbad. At this resort, cars, people, dogs — you name it — are constructed from larger-sized versions of Legos, the beloved children’s building blocks. There are more than 22,000 Lego models constructed out of 57 million Lego bricks. This is another family friendly theme park that’s especially geared towards 2- to 12-year-old children, but everyone can have fun here. One area that kids especially love is Explorer Island, where life-like Lego dinosaurs are all around. They aren’t scary at all to kids, just fun to climb and enjoy.
The park is one of the most colorful in California with multi-colored giant Legos put together in fun and zany ways. These brick sculptures always make visitors smile.
Kids love to drive the brightly colored Lego cars and roll around the multi-hued Legos. There’s even a realistic pirate ship to experience here.
To further enhance the Lego experience, the Legoland Aquarium uses Lego models to depict underwater creatures. Legoland’s water park is another great opportunity for kids to interact with the giant Lego blocks. Multi-person water slides encourage family fun.
And, of course, its gift shop sells Lego sets.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
Six Flags, as many theme park goers know, has parks around the U.S., but the wonderful Southern California climate, with year-round sunshine and little rain, makes this a great winter destination for visitors from the cold northern states. Southern California’s Six Flags Magic Mountain is in Valencia, about an hour from Los Angeles. It boasts some of the scariest (which is fun, right?) and tallest rides. The park is actually a teen’s delight.
The facility is huge and takes up several acres of land. Tall thrill rides dominate the landscape, and the parking lot is so large that a bus takes people to different areas of the lot. Its water park, Hurricane Harbor, boasts two of the tallest enclosed slides of American water parks. It also offers fun rides for the wee set. This is a place to come early in the day and stay late into the night because there are so many rides to enjoy, both in the original park and in the water park.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood, is of course, a pioneer in offering wonders to the public. In 1915, Carl Laemmle, the president of Universal Pictures, started offering visits to the studio’s backlot “to see the action” for five cents a visit. The tours continued until about 1930 when they were discontinued. In 1964, as a result of the studio’s accountants’ suggestions, a new tour was instigated, and it used trams to take people around the backlot. This segued into the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, which is on two levels. The tours of the backlot are still offered, but there’s also some interactive fun as well, like an enclosed roller coaster which goes forward and backward at 45 miles per hour. Universal Studios is located just north of Hollywood in Los Angeles.
Then, of course, there is the incomparable and world famous Disneyland in Anaheim, not far from Los Angeles. Within the park, you can transport yourself into a fantasy. Little girls love the Magic Castle and the beautiful princesses who wander nearby. You can get a hug from your favorite Disney characters like Pluto, Donald Duck or maybe even Mickey himself. Wander down Main Street to experience a place from yesteryear and watch silent flicks of the original Mickey character.
You will be thrilled and scared by the Pirates of the Caribbean, a wild water ride with antics from life-like animatronic pirates and their flocks. Shake with horror in the Haunted Mansion ride as your elevator plummets, along with the pit of your stomach.
Take Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and careen at breakneck speeds down a labyrinth of dark corridors until you thankfully, and somewhat dazedly, emerge into the real world again. I can never get enough of the It’s a Small World ride, with the haunting song of the same name playing its refrain the entire time while gorgeous animated dolls representing the nations of the world bob their heads to the rhythm of the song; some shake their hips and others play the drums. Oh, if only the outside world could join together peacefully as well!
You’ll enjoy visiting the jungle on a safari boat and almost getting sprayed by an elephant or eaten by the cannibal natives on the shores of the river. Then, of course, you can stroll the streets of New Orleans and eat French food in some of the park’s fine restaurants, including one that looks over the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
Don’t miss the chance to take a wonderful cruise in a Mississippi paddle wheeler. Cross a bridge and you’ll be transported to an enchanted island inspired by Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” with its adult-sized tree house. An old-fashioned train travels high above the park and offers a wonderful overview of the surroundings. In every themed area of Disneyland, you can enjoy food specific to the area and buy Disney-themed items as well. Disneyland even offers kosher food selections.
So, visit Southern California, its beaches and mountains, but don’t forget the great fun you and your family will have at its wonderful theme parks.