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What’s New at California Theme Parks This Summer

Meet superheroes, fire jelly-blasters, and join parties at parks around the Golden State

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Posted 2 months agoby Katrina Hunt

This summer, theme parks across California are offering a double dose of excitement. Not only are they welcoming back guests after more than a year of closure, but they’re also introducing many new rides and attractions—some of which fans have been waiting for since 2020. Like a lot of us, some parks are also throwing belated birthday parties for themselves, and others are just throwing parties—just because.

Before you visit, remember to check each park’s website to get the latest information on safety protocols, as well as how to book tickets or timed entry reservations. Also, check out these helpful local guidelines and the Responsible Travel Hub.

Here’s what’s happening at nine parks across the Golden State, listed north to south.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo

If you consider July 4th the true kickoff of summer, then this East Bay theme park has a party for you. The Coca-Cola July 4th Fest (July 3–4) will include nightly fireworks plus a great discount: you get 50 percent off tickets when you book online using promo code COKE. Can’t come for the 4th? Happily, the discount lasts through the rest of 2021.

California’s Great America, Santa Clara

The Santa Clara theme park has expanded its South Bay Shores water park with four drop slides, two tube slides, and a new lagoon, along with a new café. Check out the new zero-entry Tide Pool with eight kid-sized water slides, or the new Shark Reef Plunge, with four six-story-tall body slides with high-speed plunges. To upgrade, get a cabana equipped with free WiFi, charging stations, TVs, and waiter service.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

The old-school amusement park has introduced two new family-friendly thrills: the pulley-powered Lighthouse Lift-Off ride and the giant, three-lane slide dubbed the Wave Rider. The Santa Cruz classic is still home to two National Historic Landmarks, too: the 1924 Giant Dipper roller coaster and the 1911 Looff Carousel.

Gilroy Gardens, Gilroy

The agricultural theme park in Gilroy is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. Look for themed party patios, a Birthday Clubhouse where kids can learn a Birthday Rap, and a giant-sized birthday card that guests can sign. As you explore the park and its whimsical Circus Trees, keep an eye out for Memory Spots that highlight milestones in the park's history, as well as opportunities to whoop it up with bubbles, pinwheels, and birthday cupcakes.

Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia

While it technically opened right before the pandemic, the West Coast Racers roller coaster is finally having its proper summer debut. The ride at the Santa Clarita park—created in collaboration with auto-shop-to-the-stars West Coast Customs—is the world’s first quadruple-launch coaster. Its two tracks of cars “race” in tandem, with side-by-side inversions and super-banked turns.

Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles

The Los Angeles theme park has introduced a few notable movie “critters” to the park this year. The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash ride features a hyper-realistic encounter with 64 animated figures from the Secret Life of Pets movies, including Max, Snowball, Gidget, and Duke. The area around the ride has been dubbed Pets Place, recreating the front of the NYC apartment building from the movies. On the park’s Lower Lot, Jurassic World—The Ride now stars a 55-foot-long Indominus rex that stalks riders and battles the park’s infamous T. rex.

Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park

The Buena Park theme park is celebrating its 100th anniversary with flair—bringing back some old-school features like 1954’s Haunted Shack. The new ride Knott's Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair is a throwback to a former ride at the park, but this 4D version lets you fire “jelly blasters” to help recover stolen pies. While walking the park, look for strolling characters Boysen Bear-y and Crafty Coyote, as well as Whittles, the bearded gold prospector who first debuted in 1973. Through Sept. 6, the park will also hold Knott’s Summer Nights, with live music and special tasting stations. All year, look for QR codes around the park that unlock bits of trivia about this park that started as a fruit stand.

Disneyland Resort, Anaheim

While both parks at the Anaheim resort have new arrivals this summer, Disney California Adventure Park has an especially dramatic debut. The Avengers Campus features an all-star lineup of Marvel superheroes—such as Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, and Iron Man—for rides, meet-and-greets, and creative cuisine. Take the ride Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure to help capture Spider-Bots before they attack the campus, or visit the Ancient Sanctum to hear about the mystic arts from Doctor Strange. Fuel up at eateries such as Pym Test Kitchen, where the menu includes the culinary creations of Ant Man and The Wasp—like the salami, ham, and provolone Pym-ini sandwich that comes in a size big enough to feed eight. In Disneyland Park, don’t miss Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, a high-tech reimagining of the classic ride.

LEGOLAND California, Carlsbad

The north San Diego County park has opened the new two-acre LEGO Movie World that celebrates the movie series with rides, characters, and hands-on play areas. Highlights include Unikitty’s Disco Drop ride and the Everything is Ramen noodle shop, but the centerpiece is Emmet’s Flying Adventure, a virtual-reality ride on an airborne triple-decker couch. In the rest of the park, check out the new build-and-play zone PLANET LEGOLAND, marked by a six-foot-wide globe made with more than 200,000 LEGO bricks. Starting June 24, a new short 4D movie, LEGO MYTHICAJourney to Mythica, debuts in the park’s Showplace Theater and in August, LEGO NINJAGO Days (Aug.13–Sept. 10) will bring extra characters and activities to the park’s NINJAGO area as it celebrates its 10th anniversary.

SeaWorld San Diego

The summer event Electric Ocean returns to the San Diego theme park, running on select dates through Sept. 6. This year’s festivities include live bands, fireworks, a dance party with Sesame Street characters, and the acrobatic show Cirque Neon World. Stay after dark for illuminated attractions such as Moon Jellyfish Canopy, a light tunnel with a soundtrack from past SeaWorld shows, and the Glow Bar, an outdoor lounge for grownups with treats such as an alcohol-infused fruit sorbet.

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