Home of Disneyland. This is the West Coast’s best-known theme park, where kids will be entranced by the Sleeping Beauty Castle, and visitors of every age will be thrilled on the Space Mountain ride. Film fans will want to strap themselves in for the immersive Guardians of the Galaxy ride – can you save the team in time? – while meeting beloved Disney characters face to face will have younger visitors beaming.
The clue’s in the name with Huntington Beach. This sandy slice of Orange County is touted as one of America’s greatest beach destinations, with miles upon miles of coastline to bask on. The local surfing culture gives it a suitably laid-back vibe, and you may want to spend quality time checking out the boards and historic memorabilia at the International Surfing Museum.
Half an hour along the Pacific coastline from Huntington Beach is another Orange County gem: Laguna Beach. Aside from the sands, the community is known for its chic, artsy vibe, with plenty of galleries to dip into. It’s also within easy driving distance of a major family attraction: LEGOLAND California. There are many worlds to explore here, whether you want to take a tour through the Amazon rainforest, Lego-style, or clamber aboard the Bionicle Blaster – a ride that’s as heart-pounding as it sounds.
You can also go for a boat ride by landmarks made of Lego – look out for the Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower – and visit a galaxy far, far away in the Star Wars-themed zone.
Further south along the coast, you’ll come to “America’s Finest City”. Well, that’s what the locals think of San Diego, and it makes a lot of sense when you consider its range of attractions, from mind-expanding museums to picture-postcard beaches. One of the biggest things here is SeaWorld San Diego, where expert behaviourists can introduce you to the majestic orcas, and where you can use virtual reality to “swim” with the beautiful killer whales.
Elsewhere at SeaWorld there are dolphin shows, opportunities to meet penguins and aquariums to tour. If you’re more in the mood for a traditional carnival experience, head to Belmont Park, which is set by the beach in San Diego. Dating back to the 1920s, it has a charmingly old-school feel to it, complete with the original Giant Dipper wooden rollercoaster and traditional arcade games. The Xanadu motion ride experience is as state-of-the-art as they come, though.
The next stage of this exhilarating itinerary will see you heading northwards to the classic holiday destination of Palm Springs. The legendary haunt of movie stars and millionaires, it’s also a fine place for mere mortals to kick back and have a great time. Take Wet ‘n’ Wild Palm Springs, a gloriously unpretentious place to cool off in the California sun. Slides coil this way and that, including the Tidal Wave Tower and the Sea Snake, while Kahuna’s Beach House is a giant watery funhouse with hose jets and yet more slides.
Animal lovers will love the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, which evokes the plains of Africa and the great North American deserts. The golden landscape is home to giraffes, cheetahs and other noble creatures, and there are also lush botanical gardens to explore, as well interactive play areas like Gecko Gulch. Don’t forget to take the kids to Marilyn’s Merry-Go-Round too.
Finally, you’ll come to the glamorous sprawl of the City of Angels. There’s so much to see here, but when it comes to theme parks, one place stands apart: Universal Studios Hollywood. Anyone with a love of the silver screen will be beguiled by the attractions here, from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – where you can embark on the Flight of the Hippogriff – to the deliciously horrific world of The Walking Dead. But the highlight has to be the studio tour, which’ll take you through the backlots and bring you face to face with King Kong.
Head west and you’ll come to Pacific Park, the theme park on Santa Monica Pier. Here, you’ll gaze up at the LED lights adorning the world’s only solar-powered Ferris wheel, and then – if you’re brave enough – you can experience the Pacific Plunge tower ride. The views of the ocean are worth the admission alone.
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