True confession time: My kids don’t really like amusement parks.
Because they are red-blooded American kids, they think that they should like them. But they don’t really enjoy rides that are in any way fast, scary, or high. Even my 13-year-old is easily intimidated by small roller coasters and my 10-year-old professes terror in the face of anything much more stimulating than a merry-go-round. My younger son likes to play fairground games, primarily so he can win giant stuffed animals to add to his already abundant collection. However, he usually spends all the money we’re willing to give him for this activity in about 15 minutes.
But there are many things that my boys do like, among them playing in the water, Star Wars, and especially Lego bricks. That means there is a theme park that is fun for our whole family: Legoland California Resort.
The rides at Legoland are not necessarily the main attraction — at least not for my boys. We actually skipped swaths of the park because they just didn’t have a big interest in seeking out new things to ride (part of this may have been because the average wait on the spring break day we visited was between 30 and 45 minutes).
Since the park is broken up by themes (castles, dinosaurs, Hero Factory, etc.) you may find that you spend most of your time in the area or on the rides that most interest your child. What’s fun is that each of the areas has lots of fun Lego figures to look at — I really enjoyed the whimsy and creativity.
My boys tried rides in a few areas of the park, and the standout favorites were the Aquazone Racer, which goes fast but not high and offered a chance to get wet.
They also loved the Driving School, which I would have loved to try with them because it was so cute. Sadly, no grownups are allowed.
What they may have enjoyed the most, however, was Hideaways — basically a giant playground with rope ladders and catwalks. And who am I to complain that they enjoy running around more than riding?
When we ran into Chewbacca, we knew something good was coming, and sure enough, he stood at the end of a path that led to a very impressive newly refurbished Star Wars Miniland exhibit, which included scenes from all six of the movies. This was a highlight of our visit.
Since I have only ever watched the original three movies, I was a bit lost but my boys both instantly knew what everything was and started crying out for me to check out the Battle of Kashyyyk or the sea monster on Naboo.
It was really cute to see how excited all of the kids (to say nothing of their accompanying adults) were in this exhibit. One little boy near me actually exclaimed, “It’s like I died and went to heaven!”
All of the exhibits had moving parts; the enormous Death Star, which had small ships whizzing around it, was especially impressive. With large models of many of the characters including Darth Vader and R2D2, this is a great spot for snapping fun photos.
My older son also really loved the nearby Miniland USA exhibit, with its impressive models of San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. It was the perfect place to wile away our time while the younger boy picked out his souvenir Lego set from the shop near the entrance.
Even though they hadn’t been on that many rides, the boys were ready by midafternoon for some water park fun. We spent several hours enjoying this part of the park — on a hot summer day I’m guessing it would have been where they wanted to be the entire time.
My younger son is always a fan of the “lazy river” attractions at water parks – the Legoland one may have been his favorite one yet because there were giant Lego bricks that snapped right onto the one- or two-person tubes (it’s called the “Build-a-Raft” River). He spent a long time drifting, grabbing Legos and making towers on his raft, and just generally enjoying himself.
Once he had finished a few tours around the river, my son decided to head over to the Chima area of the water park where we found a large water playground complete with smaller slides and water canons and jets to play with. There was also an area where he made his own Lego boat and set it sailing on a small course.
While we were busy exploring, his older brother proceeded to enjoy himself on the various water slides – there are three of them. His favorite was the Orange Rush, and he easily found friends willing to ride the rafts with him.
There were plenty of lifeguards on attentive duty in the entire water park area. There are changing rooms, but we didn’t bother to pay for lockers, since the grownups weren’t going in the water and could just hang on to the kids’ clothes.
Although it was the end of the day (and we’d spent a solid six hours at the park) none of us was quite ready to go yet. So we stopped at the SeaLife Aquarium on the way out.
This is a perfectly nice small aquarium — highlights included the touch tank and the large LEGO figures inside the tanks. If you are planning a visit to nearby SeaWorld I probably wouldn’t bother getting a ticket for the aquarium here, but since that wasn’t on our family’s agenda for this trip we enjoyed winding down at the end of the day by looking at the silver fish swimming around the bright yellow Lego submarine.
Best stops and things to do on a family road trip through California >
Legoland California Resort is ideal for grade-school age kids; I definitely feel like we were pushing the age envelope visiting Legoland with two tweens, although they both legitimately loved the Star Wars exhibit and had a great time in the water park. If your children really like scarier or bigger rides, then this probably isn’t the amusement park for them. But what I like about Legoland is that there are lots of different things to do and see besides the rides; the cool factor of all the Lego models alone is worth the price of admission. The Star Wars exhibit alone contains 1.5 million bricks.
It was fiercely crowded on the day we visited during spring break, and the lines for the rides took quite a while — if that’s all my boys had wanted to do, it wouldn’t have been much fun On the other hand, it wasn’t a super hot day so the water park, while busy, wasn’t packed with people.
The food at Legoland is theme park expensive (we had anticipated this and enjoyed a large breakfast beforehand) but I do recommend splurging on both the churros. Mine were fresh, hot, and came with a side of really good chocolate sauce. Granny’s Apple Fries, which come topped with a heaping pile of whipped cream, aren’t a bad little treat either.
You are best off buying your tickets for Legoland in advance so you don’t have to stand in line at the park (you’ll also find discounts online). Tickets for the Water Park and the Sealife Aquarium cost extra. In what feels a bit like a grab for cash, you’ll need a ticket to accompany your child into the water park, even if you aren’t planning to get in the water. The park also doesn’t offer tickets just for the water park.
Legoland is located in Carlsbad, which is north of San Diego. We waited until after rush hour on a weekday and drove there from Coronado, just outside downtown San Diego, in 45 minutes. There’s a separate fee for parking.
Editor’s Note: Mara received two free passes for the Legoland, the water park, and the aquarium. All photos by Mara Gorman.
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