It’s a great time of year to go to a theme park in California—mild weather, extra elbow room, and the chance to peek at the new developments.
While many of 2018’s new rides don’t debut until spring or summer, some new features like parades, festivals, and behind-the-scenes opportunities are happening now. Here are the new and still-developing additions at nine California theme parks, listed in order of upcoming appearance:
SeaWorld San Diego
This January, the park has been offering Inside Look tours (through Jan. 28), where you can meet SeaWorld’s vets, rescuers, and animal experts, along with seeing animals behind the scenes. Come next month during the park’s Lunar New Year festivities (Feb. 10–25) and you can celebrate the Year of the Dog with acrobatic shows, holiday treats, and visits to a Puppy Garden.
The marine theme park will unveil a new roller coaster this summer, the 150-foot-high Electric Eel, which will be the tallest coaster in San Diego. For little kids, 2018 will see the debut of the Sesame Street Party Parade with characters and floats winding through the park on weekends from May 5–July 1, and then again during the Halloween Spooktacular season (September and October).
Knott’s Berry Farm
At the Orange County birthplace of the boysenberry, one festival debuts this year and one gets longer. The new Knott’s Peanuts Celebration (with themed shows, treats, and photo ops), kicks off on January 27 and runs weekends through February 28, and the annual Knott’s Boysenberry Festival (featuring, no doubt, plenty of pie) will now stretch out to 24 days (March 16–April 8).
This summer, you can ride the new HangTime, a steel roller coaster with two boasts: It’s the first “dive” coaster on the West Coast and has the steepest drop (96 degrees) on this side of the nation. How does that play out? Riders will pause at a 60-degree angle at the ride’s highest peak, then dive down 2,189 feet of track.
Universal Studios Hollywood
The new DreamWorks Theatre (replacing the Shrek 4-D attraction) will open this summer with a Kung Fu Panda attraction that blends parts of the movie with added special effects for a “multi-sensory” experience. Around the park, you’ll also see more characters strolling in 2018: Look for Po from Kung Fu Panda (especially during Lunar New Year festivities, from Feb. 10–25), King Julian from Madagascar, and a certain feline pop-culture queen. That's right, Hello Kitty will be available for meet-and-greets, along with her buds Keroppi, My Melody, and Chococat. Hello Kitty swag will also arrive in park stores, including creative depictions of her majesty inserted in iconic films like Jaws and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.
The whimsical theme park, located in the Central Coast’s beloved Garlic Capital, opens for the season on March 18: Its Water Oasis water park will expand this year, with 42 new play features and four slides.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
The East Bay theme park in Vallejo (open weekends only until March 23) is getting a new coaster this spring—touted as the world’s first “dueling looping” coaster, and saluting a Suicide Squad villain. The figure-eight-shaped Harley Quinn Crazy Coaster has two trains running at the same time: As you continuously whoosh past the other train, you’ll experience a whopping 12 inversions.
California’s Great America
The Santa Clara park has its own unique coaster launching this spring (it opens for the season on March 24): the RailBlazer, whose single-rail track means that the train straddles the rail, creating the feeling of an off-road ride, coupled with three inversions and a zero-gravity roll.
The biggest change this year at the two-park resort is coming to Disney California Adventure Park: The Paradise Pier area is currently closed, set to reopen in summer 2018 as Pixar Pier. The California Screamin’ coaster will become The Incredicoaster, featuring the family from The Incredibles, while Mickey’s Fun Wheel, Ariel’s Grotto, and other landmarks around the area (above) will get makeovers to feature Pixar characters like those from Inside Out and the Toy Story movies. The area will likely open by June, but you can get a sneak preview starting April 13 at Pixar Fest, which will feature a new nighttime show and strolling characters.
Over in Disneyland Park, the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge area won’t open until 2019, but Star Tours—The Adventures Continue now features scenes from Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
The park is now open every day—a change that went into effect on January 1—and will debut the world’s tallest pendulum ride this spring: CraZanity will stand 17 stories high and swing at speeds up to 75 mph.
The mother ship for LEGO fans debuts a new ride this summer, which blends its cool aquarium with the iconic little bricks: LEGO City Deep Sea Adventure (depicted above) will feature a submarine (a