As the unofficial kickoff of summer, Memorial Day Weekend is kind of like New Year’s Day for theme parks. Many parks debut their tallest, fastest, and wildest rides around this time. California’s new crop of rides have their share of highly dramatic drops, inversions, and even a “dueling looping” experience. But other new theme park attractions find their thrills in the element of wonder, including everything from an Australian habitat to a submarine ride offering a unique view of marine life. Include some of these adventures on your summer theme park trip to the Golden State:
Now Open: Electric Eel, SeaWorld San Diego
San Diego’s tallest roller coaster opened in May: the 150-foot-high Electric Eel channels its marine-life inspiration with a twisting loop and an inverted “heartline” roll. Plus, you get to see real eels: the coaster is at the edge of the Ocean Explorer area, with eels swimming among caves and crevasses behind the big viewing windows.
Keeping with the eel theme, on June 16 the park will debut a new nighttime show for the summer: Electric Ocean, with lights, dance music, and performers in sea-inspired costumes.
Now Open: Walkabout Australia, San Diego Zoo Safari Park
San Diego County
The Escondido branch of the famed zoo now has a sprawling area with meadows, grasslands, and forests that could easily be mistaken for Down Under. It is home to kangaroos, wombats, kookaburras, and adorable little critters known as sugar gliders, who jump from tree to tree. Wander through and you can also see native flora (like the red-petaled Sturt’s Desert Pea, South Australia’s state flower) or take a break at the Zeust Family Station, made to look like a sheep-shearing shed from the Outback. (Insider tip: a sign for a “dunnie” means “restroom.”)
Now Open: HangTime, Knott’s Berry Farm
The name is of this new steel roller coaster in Buena Park is spot-on: It’s the first “dive” coaster on the West Coast and features a 96-degree drop, gravity-defying inversions, and the added heart-stopper of mid-air suspension, hanging over the park’s boardwalk area.
Now Open: Expanded Water Oasis, Gilroy Gardens
This whimsical theme park in the garlic hotbed Gilroy—with rides inspired by artichokes, mushrooms, bananas, and, yes, garlic—has doubled the size of its water-park area, adding four bigger slides, a 300-gallon tipping bucket, and more than 90 spray jets and water play features. When you dry off, don’t miss the theme park’s Circus Trees, a collection of arbors cultivated into living sculptures.
Now Open: Splashwater Island, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor
Contra Costa County
The Concord park formerly known as Waterworld Concord—the biggest water park in Northern California—has reopened this summer as a Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, and is sporting a fresh makeover. The biggest addition: Splashwater Island, a huge water play area with nine open and enclosed slides and more than 100 interactive sprayers, water jets, and geysers.
June 15: Dreamworks Theatre, Universal Studios Hollywood
Los Angeles County
This new, Kung Fu Panda-themed attraction (replacing the Shrek 4-D attraction) blends parts of the movie with added special effects for a multi-sensory experience. While you’re at the theme-park-plus-studio-tour, be sure to get in plenty of turns on Jurassic Park: The Ride, which will close on September 3 to make way for an updated version, Jurassic World, opening in 2019.
June 23: The IncrediCoaster, Disney California Adventure Park
The boardwalk-themed area of Anaheim’s Disney California Adventure Park re-emerges this summer as Pixar Pier, populated by characters from movies such as Inside Out, Coco, Toy Story, and The Incredibles (in preparation, all of Disneyland Resort is celebrating Pixar Fest until September 3). The IncrediCoaster (formerly California Screamin’) has new cars, special effects, and the presence of the superhero family—whose sequel, The Incredibles 2, hits theatres on June 15. The area’s giant Ferris wheel, meanwhile, has become the Pixar Pal-a-Round—still featuring Mickey’s face in the center but now featuring different Pixar characters on each car, such as Miguel and Hector from Coco, and Joy and Sadness from Inside Out.
After the rides, get dinner at the area’s new Lamplight Lounge (replacing Ariel’s Grotto) which will serve casual gastro-pub cuisine, like lobster nachos. The eatery has bay views and is decorated with unique Pixar décor like preserved concept art, knick-knacks, and even sketches on napkins.
July: Deep Sea Adventure, LEGOLAND California
San Diego County
The Carlsbad park already has the cool SeaLife Aquarium but this new ride offers an “immersive” way to enjoy marine life: You ride a LEGO-themed submarine underwater to see real tropical fish, stingrays, and even sharks, alongside a sunken LEGO shipwreck.
July: Harley Quinn Crazy Coaster, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
Dubbed the world’s first “dueling looping coaster,” this ride will pay homage to the Suicide Squad villain at the Vallejo theme park, located between San Francisco and Sacramento. That duel element plays out by way of two trains running at the same time: As you continuously whoosh past the other train, you’ll experience a whopping 12 inversions.
Later this Summer: CraZanity, Six Flags Magic Mountain
The Valencia park will be home to the world’s tallest pendulum ride, standing 17 stories high and swinging at speeds of up to 75 mph. In the meantime, check out the limited-time Virtual Reality component at DC Heroes Drop of Doom: From the drop ride you’ll watch Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, and Superman battle mid-air.
Later this Summer: RailBlazer, California’s Great America
This unique Santa Clara coaster is both rugged and sleek: Amid a rocky-ravine-like setting, the cars straddle a single-rail track, creating the feeling of an off-road ride but with a nimble low center of gravity, three inversions, and a zero-gravity roll. Thanks to the coaster’s unique construction, riders get a silent ride—meaning no chugga-chugga-chugga sounds—as you climb up the big hill.