Thanks in part to its 840 miles of coastline and year-round sunshine, California excels at splashy vacations. And the watery fun doesn’t stop at the beaches or Lake Tahoe. Water parks abound across the Golden State—some in the inland or mountain regions and others hugging the coast or even bobbing on top of lakes. Many offer wave pools, lazy rivers, and twisty water slides, while others provide inflatable-style obstacle courses. When you factor in concession stands and cabanas for shady relaxation, they all offer an excellent addition to any California family vacation. Here’s a roundup of some top spots.
Spend a Day at a Stand-Alone Waterpark
No matter which California town you’re visiting, you can likely find a good water park that locals love. In the Shasta Cascade region, about 10 miles from Whiskeytown Lake, Waterworks Park in Redding boasts colorful slides made to look like giant dragons or pelicans, along with a wave pool with its own beach.
At the Cal Expo Fairgrounds in Sacramento, the Raging Waters park features 20 water slides, an 800-foot lazy river, and one of the first wave pools ever built in the Golden State. Outside the capital city, Golfland Sunsplash Roseville combines a full water park with go-karts, mini-golf, and laser tag. San Jose has its own water-park-equipped Golfland and a Raging Waters, and there are more Raging Waters parks in both Los Angeles County’s San Dimas and in Riverside, where it’s named Castle Park.
If you’re heading to or from Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, stop at Island Waterpark in Fresno for its five slides, wave pool, and lazy river. In nearby Clovis, you can spend the day on the slides and wave pool at Wild Water Adventure Park but also fish for bass and catfish at three on-site lakes. Kids will love the slides and splashy playground at Sequoia Springs Splash Zone in Visalia, part of the pay-as-you-go Adventure Park, with its go-karts, arcade, batting cages, and mini golf.
In Southern California, Antelope Valley’s Drytown Waterpark has a full range of slides and a wave pool as well as weekly Glow Nights where you can enjoy the Palmdale park after dark. In San Diego County, Wave Waterpark in Vista features a huge wave pool, lazy river, and slides.
Explore Water Attractions at California Theme Parks
Many of the biggest theme parks around California have their own water-park counterparts located a short drive away from the roller coasters—and you can bundle your admission tickets to visit both for added value. In Los Angeles County, for instance, the water-park fun at Santa Clarita’s Six Flags Hurricane Harbor is affiliated with roller-coaster-rich Six Flags Magic Mountain right next door. Similarly, in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can buy one bundled ticket for the slides and wave pool at the Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Concord and then spend a day on the rides at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, about 20 miles away. In Orange County’s Buena Park, admission to Knott’s Soak City can be combined with tickets to Knott’s Berry Farm, located right around the corner.
Other theme parks offer their water parks onsite, such as the South Bay Shores water park in one area of California’s Great America in Santa Clara, the toddler-friendly Water Oasis inside Gilroy Gardens in Gilroy, and the LEGOLAND Water Park within LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad. In Chula Vista, Sesame Place San Diego is a combination water-plus-theme park where more than half the rides are splashy, including the rollicking raft ride Cookie’s Monster Mixer.
There are also two water-park-based Great Wolf Lodge resorts in California: one in Manteca, 75 miles east of San Francisco, and another in Garden Grove, outside Anaheim. In the Greater Palm Springs area, you can enjoy a water park by booking certain hotels: Omni Rancho Las Palmas has a sprawling Splashtopia for guests, while the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells has its own water park with lazy rivers and slides.
Play on the Obstacles at Floating Water Parks
At lakes around the Golden State, floating water parks offer inflatable slides and obstacle courses, complemented with lounge areas and snack bars on the shore. Wake Island Water Park in Sutter County, for instance, boasts of being the biggest on the West Coast with 80 acres for parkour-style fun, wakeboarding, ziplining, and human hamster wheels. The Splash and Dash Aqua Park bobs on top of Lake McSwain in Merced County with inflatable slides and bridges, along with a lounge area offering adult beverages. Lake Gregory Waterpark in San Bernardino County has water slides, inflatables, and a beach and splash pad—plus access to fishing and a dog park.
Some floating water parks are close to other family-magnet attractions too. Spring Lake Water Park in Sonoma County features floating slides and climbing walls on a spring-fed swimming lagoon at Spring Lake Regional Park, just minutes from Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa. You can even stay overnight at Newport Dunes Water Park, located on the Back Bay of Newport Beach and just a few blocks from Balboa Island. Play on the inflatables and watercraft rentals, then kick back in your RV site or in one of the resort’s cottages—and perhaps spend the evening doing one of the park’s illuminated paddle tours.
You’ll find another floating park in the ocean waters of Long Beach. Just off the shore at Alamitos Beach sits a giant inflatable playground featuring a bounce house, monkey bars, and slide—and it’s free to the public. The crowd-pleasing beach also offers a concession stand plus rentals of beach cruisers, umbrellas, and beach chairs.
Plan Your Trip: Check the calendar of your chosen water park before you arrive. Some parks have limited seasons, or special hours during different times of year. Plan a relaxing water park day as part of a family vacation that also includes national parks, California State Parks, or a variety of cool museums. For more ideas, check out Family Learning Adventure Road Trip and 15 Hidden Gems for Families.