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What You Need to Know About California Theme Parks

Some parks have fully reopened, others are open for seasonal events, food, shopping, and more

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With the loosening of restrictions tied to the last year’s stay-at-home order, communities across California continue to open up. Provided certain benchmarks are met, plans for a statewide reopening are in place for June 15. Keep in mind, though, that for now, some parks, businesses, and attractions may still be closed or have protocols in place.

As California continues to reopen, legions of fans have been listening for that familiar sound of moving turnstiles at the Golden State’s bucket-list theme parks. The good news is that many of the big parks, while not totally open, have started to welcome guests for modified forms of classic fun, and most have set dates for when they plan to fully reopen.

“Parks have spent months developing comprehensive draft guidelines with input from international health and safety experts,” says California Attractions and Parks Association Executive Director Erin Guerrero. “Parks are ready to reopen with best-practice protocols to provide a healthy and responsible environment for both guests and employees.”

Like other attractions around the Golden State, theme parks must adhere to their respective county and local guidelines and regulations. With the improvement of virus conditions, some reopening dates have been set. To name a few: Buena Park’s Knott’s Berry Farm opens May 6 for season-pass holders, May 21 for the public, and Gilroy Gardens in the Central Coast region as well as California’s Great America in Santa Clara will reopen on May 22. Six Flags Magic Mountain in L.A. County and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in the East Bay town of Vallejo opened their doors on April 1, and Disneyland ResortLEGOLAND CaliforniaUniversal Studios Hollywood, and SeaWorld San Diego have also all fully opened. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, meanwhile, is offering its boardwalk rides on weekends, as well as daily outdoor fun in the form of arcade games, shopping, and boardwalk cuisine.

Given the wide range of reopening dates, it’s a good reminder that you should double-check those local resources, and each theme park’s website, before you go. While you’re at it, check out the CDC's guide for visiting parks and recreational facilities and Visit California’s Responsible Travel Hub.

What to Expect

Many partially open theme parks are offering similar protocols: reduced maximum capacity to avoid crowds; online ticket sales to reserve your spot; temperature checks at entrances; ample hand-washing/hand-sanitizer stations, and increased cleaning of park surfaces throughout the day. Many are offering special perks, like waived parking fees or discounted admission prices. Per California state guidelines, theme parks are limiting admission to in-state residents only, but that limitation does not apply to out-of-state visitors who are fully vaccinated (to become fully vaccinated, a person must wait two weeks after their final shot). Visitors looking to take advantage of this exception should check with their destination beforehand; each park still has the final say on admission.

Parks also ask that guests do their part: Bring a face covering (per the state mandate for masks in public places), be mindful of the six-foot physical distancing guidelines, and stay away if you feel sick.

During this reopening phase, some parks are offering scaled-back features before wider reopenings. At Disneyland, the shops and eateries of Downtown Disney District are open to the general public, and at Universal Studios HollywoodCityWalk is open to the general public with limited capacity, including shopping and outdoor dining. Temperature checks are done in the parking structure, and each business will monitor its own capacity limits.

Before You Go

Advance planning is the key to a successful visit to any of these parks. Start by booking your date-specific ticket online, for parks that require it, and see if there’s anything else you can book early, such as parking. Download the park’s app for the latest information and to manage your reservation, buy food, or get on any waiting lists.

Also, check out the attraction’s map on its website, and either save it to your phone or make a printout, since paper maps likely won’t be available onsite. Bring along your own stroller or wheelchair, if you would otherwise rent one, since such rentals may not be available right now. Once inside, look for directional signs on the ground—one-way traffic helps encourage good distancing.

Before traveling, familiarize yourself with local guidelines and regulations for all of the destinations you visit and check out Visit California’s Responsible Travel Hub.



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