Theme park thrills come in many different forms. For some, the excitement levels spike during a photo op with an iconic character. For others, it’s all about riding a roller coaster that takes your breath away. And for a certain type of guest, the biggest rush of adrenaline comes when they realize they can walk right onto a ride—without standing in line.
While you can often minimize wait times by visiting a theme park on weekdays or during the quieter seasons, most California theme parks also have programs that guarantee some sort of front-of-line access on any day. Typically, you buy these passes as an add-on when you purchase your admission tickets online.
While these programs admittedly add a little cost to your theme park visit, they can also add plenty of value, especially if your priority is covering a lot of ground and experiencing the most popular rides. For families, minimizing the waits that can try the patience of little kids (and their parents) can also be priceless.
Here’s how to skip the lines at nine California theme parks, listed south to north:
Sesame Place San Diego: Magic Queue
Located about seven miles from downtown San Diego, this Chula Vista theme park offers a mix of water park fun, classic rides, and live shows starring the characters from Sesame Street. Its Magic Queue system, which works with an issued ticket or wristband, offers a few different options: one-time priority access to each of the dry rides ($19.99 per person), a mix of one-time and unlimited access to various water rides ($24.99), or unlimited access to both dry and wet rides ($29.99). Purchase the upgrade when you buy your ticket or add it using the Sesame Place Mobile App).
SeaWorld San Diego: Quick Queue & Reserved Seating
You have a few different line-skipping options at the San Diego theme park, which come in the form of either a printed ticket or a bar code on your phone. Starting at $14.99 extra per person, a Quick Queue pass gives you unlimited front-of-the-line access to four rides: Electric Eel, Manta, Shipwreck Rapids, and Journey to Atlantis. Or you can pay $14.99 for a Reserved Seating pass at the top shows and presentations: Orca Encounter, Dolphin Amphitheater, and Sea Lion & Otter Amphitheater.
You could also get the combo: For $19.99 per person, Quick Queue Premiere lets you skip the lines on those four rides plus get reserved seating. (Note that these are starting prices, and can be higher, depending on the day). Inside the San Diego park, you can also buy single-ride Quick Queue passes (starting at $5.99 each) for the four Quick Queue rides.
LEGOLAND California: Reserve ’N’ Ride
The Carlsbad theme park uses a line-skipping reservation system that works through your phone or a device available at a kiosk inside the park. Choose from three levels of line-skipping speed: Express ($35 per person), Deluxe ($65), and Ultimate ($100[KH1] ). Then, book your ride times at about a dozen of the most popular rides, including Emmett’s Flying Adventure Ride, The Dragon, and LEGO CITY: Deep Sea Adventure. Note that there are a limited number of Reserve ’N’ Ride passes available each day at the San Diego County park, sold on a first-come-first-served basis.
Disneyland Resort: Genie+ and Lightning Lanes
The new system for skipping lines at the Anaheim parks, which replaces the former Fastpass system, costs $20 per person as an add-on to your admission ticket.
Start by downloading the free Disneyland Resort App to your phone, which includes the free “Genie” service where you can see wait times for rides, order food, or map out an itinerary for your day. Paying $20 for Genie+ (note the “+”) lets you also use the app to reserve one turn in the no-wait Lightning Lanes at each of the 19 participating rides, including Haunted Mansion, Incredicoaster, and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.
With or without Genie+, you can also use the app to purchase up to two individual Lightning Lane passes each day of your visit to the iconic parks, which can be used at three rides: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Radiator Springs Racers, and WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure. Prices for these à la carte passes range from $7–$20 per person.
Knott’s Berry Farm: Fast Lane
The Buena Park theme park has a pretty simple system: Pay $89 extra per ticket for a wristband that gives you unlimited front-of-line access on a variety of rides, including HangTime, Calico River Rapids, and GhostRider. Check the calendar when you book: Fast Lane passes are only available on certain days—typically the busiest ones—and the Orange County park only sells a limited number of passes per day.
Universal Studios Hollywood: Universal Express
Buy an Express ticket when you book your visit to the Los Angeles theme park and you’ll get to skip the line one time for each ride, attraction, or seated show. The additional cost for a one-day Universal Express ticket at the movie-and-TV-themed park starts at $75 per person, but varies depending on the date.
Six Flags Magic Mountain: Flash Passes
Use your smart phone or a park-issued device to skip the line at this Santa Clarita park that’s known for its intense coasters. Select your ride and timeframe, and you’ll get an alert when it’s your turn. Choose from three levels: Bronze ($80, for wait times reduced by 25 percent), Silver ($105, waits reduced by 60 percent), or Gold ($180, waits reduced by 90 percent). The Flash Pass is good for unlimited turns on 20 rides. The amusement park also offers single-ride Flash Passes (ranging from $5 to $25 per person, depending on the day) for three of the most popular rides: West Coast Racers, Twisted Colossus, and Full Throttle.
Gilroy Gardens: Fast Lane
Pay $25 extra per ticket for a wristband that sends you to the front of the line at 20 rides all day long within the Gilroyamusement park. The little-kid-friendly park also offers a group deal: If you’re buying at least three wristbands, the price goes down to $20 per person.
California’s Great America: Fast Lane
Buy a wristband that starts at $65 extra per person, and you can skip the line, for unlimited turns, on 17 popular rides at the Santa Clara theme park, including RailBlazer, Patriot, and Gold Striker. Note that the Silicon Valley theme park only sells a limited number of Fast Lane passes per day, and only on select days. (Passes tend not to be available on off-season weekdays when lines would be shorter anyway.)
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom: Flash Passes
Using your smart phone or a park-issued device, book ride reservations at seven rides at this Vallejo theme park, then you’ll get an alert when it’s time to show up. Choose from three levels: Bronze ($50, for wait times reduced by 25 percent), Silver ($70, waits reduced by 60 percent), or Gold ($85, waits reduced by 90 percent). Flash Passes are good for unlimited turns on six popular rides, including The Joker and The Penguin, and one go-round on Wonder Woman: Lasso of Truth. By the end of spring 2022, the Bay Area park plans to offer single-ride Flash Passes for certain rides, too (ranging from $5 to $25 per person, depending on the day).