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Reopening Update: California Theme Parks

An increasing number of theme parks are offering semi-openings by way of food festivals and drive-thru experiences

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If you’ve been missing your favorite theme parks, here’s some good news: There appears to be a light at the end of the proverbial log-ride tunnel.

As counties across California continue various stages of reopening, theme parks have been organizing ways to at least partially open, while waiting for the green light to resume more-typical operations. As of press time—March 3, 2021—no rides are open at theme parks across California, but a variety of limited-time food festivals, zoo exhibits, or drive-thru experiences are either open now or kicking off in March. Certainly, these events come with pandemic-minded health and safety measures in place, such as limited capacity, a reservations system, increased cleaning, temperature checks, and face-covering requirements. Some parks, meanwhile, are currently aiming for later this spring to open rides.

As always these days, check each park’s website, local guidelines, and the Responsible Travel Hub before you visit. For now, here’s a planning guide, with parks listed north to south.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo

The Vallejo theme park has reopened its original zoo-and-aquarium section, Marine World Experience ($19.99; free for members and passholders). Wander the area to see lions, penguins, alligators, and displays such as the acclaimed Butterfly Habitat. On weekends through March 28, you can take part in the Renaissance Days festival of crafts, entertainment, and a cuisine lineup that includes turkey legs and meat pies ($24.99 admission).

California’s Great America, Santa Clara

The Santa Clara park, which does not run year-round, is scheduled to reopen on May 22. The reopening will also bring the debut of its on-site water park, South Bay Shores.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The old-school amusement park in Santa Cruz is currently offering old-fashioned fun: outdoor games, outdoor dining, and some drive-in movies. (The classic rides, arcades, midway games, and mini golf are not yet open.)

Gilroy Gardens

The agricultural theme park in Gilroy, with its little-kid-friendly rides and whimsical Circus Trees, is scheduled to kick off its 2021 season on May 22.

Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia

The Six Flags theme park, located in Los Angeles County’s Santa Clarita area, has been offering some drive-thru events during closure and the latest is Cruis’n the Park Car Show (Fridays through Sundays, through March 14; admission starts at $79.99 per vehicle). Take the 30-minute, app-narrated drive through the park to see 100 blinged-out car displays—from hot rods to muscle cars and watercraft—from L.A. auto shop West Coast Customs, which inspired the park’s West Coast Racers roller-coaster. The theme park is tentatively planning to reopen its rides and other attractions sometime in spring.

Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles

On March 12, the movie-themed park in Los Angeles will debut the food festival A Taste of Universal, running 12–7 p.m. Fridays through Sundays through April 4. Your $44–49 admission ($25 for kids) grants you five tastes (or three for kids) of entrees, snacks, sweets, and beverages. The menu of options includes a mix of specialty dishes and classics, from brisket sliders and hazelnut banana pudding from the new Minion Café and Hollywood & Dine, as well as Krusty Burgers, Lard Lad Donuts, fish ’n’ chips and Sticky Toffee Bread Pudding from Springfield USA and Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Outside the park gates, the shops and eateries of Universal CityWalk are open from 12–8 p.m. daily. One don’t-miss stop: The limited-time Harry Potter Sweets & Treats, featuring butterbeer and other goodies that one would normally find inside the park’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park

From March 5–May 2, the Buena Park theme park will hold its annual Knott's Taste of Boysenberry Festival. Buy a tasting card ($45 for adults, $20 kids ages 3–11) that grants you bites from among the 65 boysenberry-infused food and drink offerings. While you nosh, browse the boysenberry merch and take-home sweets, many made by local artisans. Meanwhile, the park’s Marketplace, Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant, and Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel are all open outside the park gates.

Disneyland Resort, Anaheim

Right now, you can enjoy the shops and eateries of Anaheim’s Downtown Disney and Buena Vista Street, the latter located inside Disney California Adventure Park (just pay $10 to park in the Simba lot). On March 4, you can start booking your spot at the resort’s A Touch of Disney food festival (Thursdays through Sundays from March 18 through at least April 5; $75 admission). While similar to past years’ Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival, with its specially created dishes, this year’s tastings-based event will also feature snack-sized portions of Disneyland’s iconic foods—think churros, Dole Whip, and those Monte Cristo sandwiches from New Orleans Square. Starting March 11, you can also make table reservations for separate dining experiences at California Adventure’s Lamplight Lounge and the alfresco seating of Carthay Circle Restaurant.

LEGOLAND California, Carlsbad

From March 5–May 2, Build ‘N Play Days ($19.99–$29.99 admission) offers some hands-on access to the Carlsbad theme park. Kids can take part in two different building zones (utilizing separate, sanitized brick packs), climb around on park playgrounds, and enjoy activities such as a dance party, a scavenger hunt in Miniland, live music, and snacks such as colorful churros and “deconstructed s’mores.” Add more fun by staying at the LEGOLAND Castle Hotel; from March 12–May 2, hotel guests also get exclusive access to LEGO®CHIMA Water Park, along with outdoor movie nights and bedtime stories back at the hotel.

SeaWorld San Diego

The San Diego theme park has reopened its outdoor viewing areas for some animals, including dolphins, otters, Magellanic penguins, flamingos, and bamboo sharks. You can also see a few select presentations—such as the new Rescue Tails presentation that highlights many of the park’s rescued animals—and book some of the small-group, behind-the-scenes experiences. On weekends from March 5–May 2, the park will also hold its annual Seven Seas Food Festival. Your admission lanyard ($60) grants you 10 tastes among the 125 small plate–style options from Polynesia, Mexico, France, Italy, and more (and now some vegan bites, too). Tastings include beer and wine, featuring local breweries such as Hess, Pizza Port, Stone Brewing, and Green Flash.

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