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Are you ready to check out some of the best theme parks in California?

Remove all loose items, tighten your safety harness, grab that safety bar and get ready for the ride of your life. California is home to some of the best theme parks in the world so hang on tight – it’s time for a little ‘California screaming’.

LEGOLAND, Carlsbad

LEGO-obsessed under 10s will love this place. Visit during Spring or Summer when the park stays open until 7pm to get maximum value from your visit and allow time for a cool down at the world’s only LEGO water park.

Legoland, Carlsbad
Legoland, Carlsbad

Parents with tiny tots tend to hang out at DUPLO Splash Safari; older kids can customise a raft with soft LEGO bricks and ride it down Build-A-Raft River. Water park entry costs an extra $12 on top of admission but it’s money well spent.

California’s Great America, San Francisco

Hold on to your hat – and your stomach – this park has the highest number of thrill rides in California. Daredevils can feel the rumble of the jungle on the Tiki Twirl with its 12 metre high flaming torches or ride the Delirium with its twirling pendulum that sends riders whirling towards the heavens.

Australians will appreciate the (unintentional) humour of the on-site Aussie themed water park featuring rides with names like Ripsnort Ridge, Didgeridoo Falls and the Screamin’ Wombat.

Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia

Magic Mountain is a must for roller coaster connoisseurs with over 15 different coasters including Tatsu, the longest, fastest and highest roller coaster in the world, and the park’s latest pride and joy, the Green Lantern, which is the first vertical spinning coaster in the United States.

Tatsu at Six Flags Magic Mountain
Tatsu at Six Flags Magic Mountain

Don’t miss the blazing fast stand-up ride The Riddler’s Revenge which includes six head-over-heels loops, two over-the-top dives, plenty of barrel rolls – and no seats.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz

It’s taken out ‘World’s Best Seaside Amusement Park’ 4 years in a row and features an ethereal 1920s hand-carved carousel with one of the only working ring dispensers in the world.

Adults love this ride as much as the kids. Grab a brass ring from the mechanical arm then toss it into the clown’s mouth – a bullseye is rewarded by bells and flashing lights (tip – choose a trusty outside steed to access the dispenser).

The famous Giant Dipper roller coaster opened in 1924 and is still going strong. Back then it cost 15 cents a ride and is still good value at $4.50.

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica

Pacific Park is the only free admission amusement park in LA. Rides are more geared to littlies than thrill seekers but the charming location on historic Santa Monica Pier is reason enough to visit.

Take a spin on the solar powered ferris wheel, it’s the only one of its kind in the world and is suspended over the ocean. The Pier was, and still is, a magnet for Hollywood film shoots. Celebrity sightings range from the likes of Miley Cyrus to high profile politicians.

Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park

Billed as America’s first theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm has been thrilling punters since 1920. If you’ve got a large brood and a small wallet this might well be the park for you.

With an affordable entry price and rides for all ages, many locals see Knott’s as a viable alternative to Disneyland, particularly for those on a tight budget.

Buy tickets online and you’ll save even more but be warned – any extra cash will come in handy as food is eye-wateringly expensive. Burger chain Johnny Rockets is probably your best bet.

Disneyland, Anaheim

Disneyland is double the fun in California with two parks located side by side: Walt’s original Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park which was built in 2001 and is affectionately known as DCA. Don’t be tempted to do just one as both parks offer a very different experience.

California Screaming at Disneyland
California Screaming at Disneyland

Disneyland Park is home to the iconic fairy tale castle with well-known rides like Space Mountain and those crazy spinning teacups plus loads of character photo opps.

DCA is more compact but packs a punch with scream inducing rides like the aptly named Tower of Terror and a huge mega-coaster which dominates the park skyline. Soarin’ Over California, a gentle flight-simulator with spectacular 4D effects, earns rave reviews from DCA visitors of all ages.

Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles

Movie magic is the star of the show at Universal Studios, a popular LA theme park which is best visited on a weekday to avoid the crowds. The Studio Tour is the biggest drawcard for most visitors and provides a behind the scenes glimpse of a Hollywood backlot.

Universal is very much a working studio which means you never know what (or who) you might see. Most rides have a height restriction that rules out little brothers and sisters.

If you are like us and can’t get enough theme park action, we’ve also written about Disneyland Paris, Universal Studios Orlando, using a Touring Plan to visit Disneyland, visiting a theme park with kids, and how to survive a peak season visit to Walt Disney World.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.