Are you looking for the best California Theme Parks with toddlers? We have been lucky enough to visit many of the best California theme park with toddlers and while we have enjoyed them all, some are definitely better than others. In this guide we round up our favourites, and the ones we haven’t enjoyed as much along with tips on how to best enjoy them.
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Best California Theme Parks with Toddlers
In this guide we will look at the best California Theme Parks with toddlers in both Northern and Southern California and around San Francisco, San Diego and of course LA.
Best LA theme Parks with toddlers
LA has to be the number one place in California for theme parks. But are LA theme parks good for toddlers? In this guide we will break down the toddler friendliness of each of the parks so you can decide which park is right for you and your toddler.
Disneyland with toddlers
Whenever you think about the best California theme parks for toddlers there has to be one park that comes to mind more than most – Disneyland.
Disneyland with toddlers is one of my favourite things to do in California with toddlers full stop. It has everything you need for a great day out with a toddler.
There are lots of toddler friendly rides at Disneyland i.e. rides without height restrictions that also don’t have high scare factors which make them perfect even for sensitive toddlers.
But even if your toddler doesn’t like rides there is plenty for toddlers to do at Disneyland.
Of course there are the character meet and greets. At Disneyland the character meet and greets range from the Classic Disney characters such as Mickey and Minnie (read here our best questions to ask Disney characters), Disney Princesses (we also have a guide on what to ask Disney Princesses) and movie characters like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland are really easy to come by.
On top of that toddlers at Disneyland will also love the parades and the shows. The parades are always a highlight of my toddlers visit.
For me, out of all the California Theme Parks with toddlers Disneyland has to be my favourite because it has so much to offer from rides, play areas, character meetings and parades and shows. What is there not to love for a toddler.
Next: Be sure to check out our what to pack for Disneyland with toddlers if you decide to visit this park
California Adventure with toddlers
The great thing about visiting Disney in California is that there are two parks for you to visit. And in my opinion there is no winner in the battle of Disneyland vs California Adventure for toddlers as they both are equally toddler friendly.
The great thing about visiting California Adventure with toddlers is that it has more on offer if you little one is a Pixar fan with rides and meet and greets based on Toy Story, The Incredibles and Inside Out to name but a few.
However for my toddler the highlight of the park is Cars Land. There are several rides which toddlers can ride at California Adventure though please note the signature ride, Radiator Springs Racers has a high height restriction which means toddlers are unlikely to be able to go on.
But don’t let that put you off, there is still plenty in Cars Land for toddlers to do and has some of the most impressive theming in both parks.
Overall California Adventure does have less rides without height restrictions than say Disneyland however there is still plenty for toddlers to do especially if they are over the height of 32 inches (this means that you can ride Luigi’s Rollickin Roadsters and Mater’s Jamboree in Carsland).
On top of that there are all of the added things that come with a day at Disney – from the character meet and greets – last time we were there with our toddler we met
- Classic Disney characters in their 1920s garb (Mickey, Pluto, Daisy etc) on Buena Vista Street
- Queen Anna
- Pixar Characters from the Incredibles and Toy Story on Pixar Pier and
- Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde
There is also the fantastic World of Color Light and Water show which is a must-see at California Adventure – you just need to keep your toddler up late enough to watch it.
On top of that there are fantastic shows like Disney Junior Live and Guardians of the Galaxy Dance off that toddlers will love.
If you don’t fancy Disneyland then California Adventure might be a great choice for you and your toddler.
But if you have more than one day – why not try and do both. Be sure to check our our Disneyland itinerary and California Adventure itinerary for more information.
If you are visiting California Adventure in the rain check out this guide.
Knotts Berry Farm with toddlers
With Disneyland on its doorstep, Knotts Berry Farm with toddlers is often overlooked. The truth is that there isn’t as many rides without height restrictions at Knotts Berry Farm vs Disneyland.
When visiting Knotts Berry Farm with toddlers the main place you want to head to is Camp Snoopy. Unfortunately even here the rides do have height requirements.
The only rides currently at Camp Snoopy without height restrictions (providing your toddler is riding with an adult) are
- Pig Pen’s Mud Buggies
- Rocky Mountain Trucking Company
- Balloon Race
- Rapid River Run and
- Grand Sierra Railroad.
Like at California Adventure some of the rides have 32 inch height requirements such as Flying Ace and Huff and Puff. Be sure to measure your child before travel so they aren’t disappointed.
Outside of Camp Snoopy, there are only are few rides without height restrictions
- The Calico Mine Ride and
- Beary Tales
However, similar to Disney for those toddlers that do not enjoy rides, there are also meet and greets with the Snoopy characters. Being British and my kids not growing up watching Snoopy these meet and greets aren’t something that would interest them but if your kids are familiar then this may come close as an experience to meeting Mickey.
There are also plenty of shows to watch and the seasonal ones are particular popular.
Like Disneyland and California Adventure there are lots of baby centers so those travelling with toddlers or babies will be able to get amenities and feed and change easily.
Overall I don’t think Knotts Berry Farm with toddlers has quite the same allure due to the number of rides toddlers can go on and us preferring Disney meet and greets and shows but if you don’t want to visit then Knotts Berry Farm is a great alternative with toddlers.
Universal Studios with toddlers
Universal Studios is the closest theme park to the centre of LA however it may not be the best one for toddlers.
If you are traveling to Universal Studios with toddlers and they enjoy rides the first thing to know is that there are very few rides that don’t have a height restriction.
The only rides At Universal Studios Hollywood with no height restrictions are:
- 4D Kung Fu Panda Adventure – but please note that while there is no height requirement the 4D nature means it could be hard for a toddler to enjoy and could be overwhelming for some.
- Silly Swirly Fun Ride
- Studio Tour – no height restriction but may be of little interest to a toddler and it may be hard to keep them entertained on the tour.
There is also the Secret Lives of Pet; Off the Leash ride which has a height restriction of 34 inches but my tall 18 month year old would not have been tall enough for this.
But like Disney and Knotts Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood is great for meet and greets that are toddler friendly. Some of the Universal Studios Hollywood meet and greets that toddlers may know are
- Characters from Madagascar like Alex the Lion and King Julian
- Characters from Shrek
- Kung Fu Panda
I knew my toddler would love these as we had also done these meet and greets at the Dubai theme park Motiongate.
There are also some water play areas which are great for toddlers in LA trying to to escape the heat. This can be found in the Minion’s themed land, Super Silly Funland from the Despicable Me movies and there is the Dino Play Area just outside of Jurassic Park.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a nice place to walk through with a toddler but due to it’s business and lack of toddler rides it will be of limited interest to a toddler.
Therefore if you are looking for the best California theme parks for toddlers I would not put Universal Studios Hollywood at the top of the list to visit because of its lack of no height restriction rides and limited features and amenities aimed at toddlers.
Note: It is also worth noting however that unlike Disney and Knotts Berry there are no baby care centers although there are changing facilities in toilets which just adds to my sum-up that this is probably not the best California theme park for toddlers.
Best San Diego theme parks with toddlers
Seaworld with Toddlers San Diego
I was actually unsure whether to visit Seaworld when we were visiting San Diego with toddlers. San Diego is a city full of great things for small children like Legoland California, San Diego Zoo with toddlers not to mention all the amazing San Diego beaches so Seaworld was not the highest thing on our list and I had concerns about the ethical implications and animal welfare on site.
After we had been there a week and my kids asking to go along with the fact that the admission was included in our San Diego city card we decided to go but how was Seaworld for toddlers?
The main area that my toddler loved at Sea World San Diego was the Sesame Street Bay of Play Area. There are three rides here that toddlers will be able to enjoy in this area and they are:
- Abby’s Sea Star Spin
- Elmo’s Flying Fish and
- Oscar’s Rocking Eel.
These rides don’t have any height restrictions (though children must be ablate sit on own so not great for babies) which makes them perfect for toddlers.
This area also has several play areas and water play areas that are absolutely perfect for toddlers. Just be sure if you are traveling with a toddler that you have spare changes of clothes with you as they are bound to get wet in these areas.
And similarly like Knotts Berry Farm and Disneyland there are lots of character meet and greets in this area. Here your little Sesame Street fan will get to meet Elmo, Big bird and other favourites.
My toddler did admittedly enjoy the animal expereinces though I personally felt slightly uncomfortable watching some of these.
Overall although there aren’t tons of rides for toddlers at Seaworld the combination of rides, meet and greets and animal experiences mean SeaWorld San Diego is great for toddlers.
Added Bonus – Toddlers under the age of 3 get free admission to Sea World San Diego.
Legoland California with toddlers
Legoland California is located just outside of San Diego in Carlsbad. Many people say Legoland is perfect for those aged 2-12 but is it really a great theme park for toddlers?
One of the great thing about Legoland California is that you essentially have 3 parks in 1 – Legoland, Legoland Water Park and the Sea Life Aquarium are all on the same site.
However not all of the rides at Legoland California, even those aimed at smaller guests are suitable for younger toddlers. For instance the Junior Driving School is for children aged 3-5 only. Therefore if you have a younger toddler, say 2 or under they are unable to go on all rides including the favorite Driving school
Note: one of the great things about Legoland is that children 2 and under get free admission for Legoland though there is a minimal charges
Even though the Legoland park has limited rides for under 3s and smaller toddlers, the Legoland Water park is a great place to visit with toddlers.
The Duplo area of the Water Park is specifically designed for children 6 and under so it is absolutely perfect for toddlers and even have toddler friendly water slodes which are missing at other water parks.
On top of that there is the Sea Life Aquarium. If your children love Seaworld then they will love this.
Please Note: No strollers are allowed inside the aquarium so do not time your visit to the Aquarium with your baby or toddlers nap time.
Overall: we didn’t find Legoland the most toddler friendly of all the California theme parks however the addition of the water park and the aquarium make it a perfect toddler activity in California.
For more information on visiting Legoland California with toddlers check out this complete guide.
Sesame Place with toddlers
Sesame Place is the new kid on the California theme park block having only just opened in MArch 2022. From the title you can probably guess that it is aimed at toddlers with its Sesame Street tie in.
The park has over 15 Sesame Street themed rides including a family roller coaster and some great water attractions.
Alongside the rides there are also lots of Sesame Street meet and greets for your toddler to enjoy, aswell as shows such as the Welcome to Out Street Show and parents will love getting pics of their littles on the 123 Stoop.
Northern California theme parks with toddlers
Best San Francisco Theme Parks for Toddlers
Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park with toddlers
Gilroy Gardens has over 20 rides and is a great pick for those traveling with children under 6 years old.
One of the great thing about Gildroy Gardens with toddlers compared to the other parks in this list is the relative lack of queues and few rides with a height restriction.
The rides with the largest height restrictions are the two rollercoasters with 48 inch height requirements however everything else is aimed at the toddler audience.
On top of the rides there are also other attractions to keep toddlers busy including a fantastic if small waterpark and paddleboats.
The combination makes Gilroy Gardens with toddlers a perfect choice.
Children’s Fairy Land with toddlers
Children’s Fairyland is located just outside of San Francisco in Oakland given its fairy tale theming is perfectly pitched for toddlers.
The park isn’t just about rides though as you can see animals and explore the botanical gardens fairytale settings.
The rides that are at Children’s Fairyland are aimed at the younger child and toddler market so older children might be less thrilled.
While there aren’t traditional famous meet and greets at Children’s Fairyland there are other things for toddlers to enjoy such as stories, theatre shows and puppet shows.
Best California Theme Parks for Toddlers Ranked
- California Adventure
- Legoland California
- Knotts Berry
Worst California Theme Parks for Toddlers Ranked
- Universal Studios Hollywood with toddlers
- Seaworld with toddlers