San Diego Theme Parks
San Diego is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of theme park destinations. Yet this city, located less than 200 kilometres from Los Angeles still holds its own when it comes to family fun. From the annual Comic-Con (which this year will run from July 11-15) and its many Spanish and Mexican heritage sites, there is always something happening here. Check out our top picks of San Diego theme parks below:
Opened by four graduates of UCLA in 1964 and now featuring a number of water based rides, roller coasters and cablecars. As well as dolphins, penguins, walrus and beluga whale exhibits SeaWorld is most famous as the home of Shamu the killer whale. (The original Shamu died in 1971 but the name continus to be used as the stage name for all the performing orcas).
The park also puts on a number of live action shows featuring sea lions and of course killer whales, as well Elmo and his friends from Sesame Street. Guests to the park can also can also have lunch on the patio over looking Shamu’s pool with the whale doing tricks in the background.
Check out the park here
Opened in 1999, the park located in the neighbourhood of Carlsbad north of San Diego was the third Legoland to open and was the first to be built outside of Europe. It is also the only Legoland to have an attached water park. Legoland is designed for families with children and is probably not the place for a single adult to visit without raising a few eyebrows. The park is divided into a number of areas such as Dino Island, Fun Town, Pirate Shores and Imagination Zone.
Visitors can dig for fossils, see life sized animals including giraffes made out of lego, as well as the usual assortment of coasters and rides. The park also features 1:20 scaled down version of iconic American landscapes and cities all made out of lego and for those with a malevolent streak, Splash Battle is a pirate themed track where you are given control of a water cannon to spray other riders and unsuspecting spectators. The water park features a unique lazy river ride where the rafting tubes can be customised using giant soft lego blocks, waterslides and private cabanas are also available. The park also adjoins Sea Life Aquarium hosting over 4000 creatures from beneath the waves.
View the Legoland website here
Knotts Soak City
For the older traveller that wants to go to a water park in the area you can’t go past Knott’s Soak City. The park features a number of slides including the La Jolla Falls ride where visitors slide down a steep 25 drop and skim across the water like a stone at the end. There are also raft based rides as well as 1.9 million litre wave pool. A variety of cabanas are also available for rental. Check the website for park opening times as it only operates during weekdays seasonally.
Check out the website here
Belmont Park is located practically on Mission Beach about 1.5 kilometres west of Sea World, opening in 1925 and with the Santa Monica Pier it is one of the last remaining beach front amusement parks on the American west coast. This park operates a little differently to the others in that there is no admission charge you can come in and stroll around and pay for rides as you wish or you can buy an unlimited ride pass if you plan on spending a bit of time in the area. Belmont park also has an attached athletic club (gym) and the city’s largest indoor swimming pool.
One of the star attractions in the park is the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster originally completed just weeks after the park had opened, the coaster was almost destroyed in the eighties when the park itself fell into disrepair and was closed down but was saved by a group of locals and a reopened after extensive renovations in 1990. The park also has Laser tag, arcade games and a sideshow alley and also has two different wave pools where guest can surf on low profile sheet waves or barrels. A number of surf wear stores are located nearby if you have the sudden urge to ‘hang ten’ while driving past.
See what else is happening at Belmont Park here
San Diego Zoo
Although not technically a theme park if you were only going to one place in San Diego this is the place I would strongly recommend. Originally opened in 1916 the zoo was one of the first to exhibit animals without cages from as early as 1922 when the cage and wireless lion exhibit was unveiled to the public. The zoo is spread over more than 100 acres and hosts more than 3700 animals from at least 650 different species including the Giant Panda and the world’s only albino koala. The zoo has a guided tour bus that traverses the park as well as the Skyfari (an overhead gondola lift) to help shuffle people around the park.
The zoo also operates an additional centre, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park an open range park covering an area of more than 1800 acres with large enclosures and an additional 3600 animals in a simulated natural environment to that found in Africa and Asia. The Safari park also features a tethered ballon ride, where guest can get a bird’s eye view of the park from 120 metres in the air.
Check out the San Diego Zoo website here
And the San Diego Safari Park website here