Tournament 2018: What's the best park in Southern California?

March 15, 2018, 11:29 AM · Southern California is my home. It's where I was born, where I live, and where I fell in love with theme parks. We are blessed in this community with one of the finest collections of theme parks in the world — the only market in which you can visit parks from Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, Cedar Fair, Six Flags, and Legoland.

We covered the SeaWorld, Six Flags, and Legoland parks in previous votes, so for the final vote in the first round of the 2018 Theme Park Insider Tournament, I give you a vote on the parks in the heart of the Los Angeles/Orange County basin: the Disneyland parks, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Knott's Berry Farm.

We invite you to read more about these parks on their Theme Park Insider listing pages. As always, your ratings and reviews of these parks' attractions on their listing pages are encouraged and welcomed. (Register here to be able to leave reviews on attractions and to contribute to our Discussion Forum.)

I hate voting against any of these parks. All of them provide charming and unique experiences that deserve a visit from any theme park fan. But there's also something for every taste here, so I am interested to hear why you prefer your favorite from among this group.

Thanks for voting in the first round. Tomorrow, we start the second round by releasing our 16-park bracket of the remaining theme parks.

Replies (14)

March 15, 2018 at 11:51 AM ·

Can't go wrong with Disneyland. My parents just got back from a trip there, gushing over how great it still is all these years later and still so many classic rides to enjoy to remind you why it's still the best.

March 15, 2018 at 12:16 PM ·

I don't expect this to be a close contest (Disneyland should win by a large margin), but my vote is for Knott's Berry Farm. They don't have the biggest budget or the intellectual properties that Disney has (Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, Disney's studio collection), but it is still enjoyable to visit Knott's with its classic themed rides, probably the best Old West themed area in any theme park, solid entertainment, great food, and top-class festivals during the spring and holidays (the 5th Boysenberry Festival starts tomorrow!).

I can't justify visiting Disneyland or California Adventure with my family anymore-- too crowded, too expensive, and it feels like the park is trying to upsell you for every way you might avoid the crowds or get a more positive experience. It still has the best attractions, but it's not enjoyable anymore.

March 15, 2018 at 1:33 PM ·

Got to admit that I have Disneyland third here. Granted, it'll likely go to number one easily after Galaxy's Edge opens, but Disneyland hasn't added anything new in years, and there's no section of the park that I enjoy hanging out in as much as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Cars Land. There's better food in those other two parks, and better entertainment, too. Disneyland is cruising on its rep and fans' nostalgia these days.

Now, between California Adventure and Universal for my first place vote? Aye, brother.

I flipped a coin.

March 15, 2018 at 1:42 PM ·

"Best" is a subjective term, including several factors including value. In the past I would have said Disneyland, hands down, but with the enormous price increases and focus on movie based properties I feel Disneyland has moved down several notches.
At the same time Knott's has been having a renaissance. With top notch original attractions and theming, all at a fantastic value Knott's is more Disney than Disney these days. I say Knott's Berry Farm, hands down.

March 15, 2018 at 2:11 PM ·

While I love all four of these parks, there's no doubt in my mind that Disneyland is at the top. Why? Well...

-As good as it is, Knott's is the weakest here. It has outstanding theming for a regional park and is probably the most balanced of the four, but it can't compete with the others in terms of overall experience quality.

-Some of the individual attractions at USH are outstanding, but I personally don't find the park as a whole too appealing. It is small, time-consuming to navigate (particularly going between the Upper and Lower Lots), and just doesn't have enough top notch attractions to justify the admission price. Honestly, after visiting Universal Orlando, I really have no desire to return to this park.

-DCA is an excellent park, but it still is not a full day park for return visitors IMO. On my last visit, I spent 15 hours at the resort, and only 5 of those were inside DCA. In that time, I easily did all the noteworthy attractions. The park is much better today than it was when it opened, but it needs a couple more headliner attractions to be worth a full day on its own.

-Disneyland, despite the crowds and the lack of newer attractions, is still one of my top ten theme parks and is somewhere that I almost always enjoy visiting. I may be slightly biased by having an outstanding visit last week, but this is the one So Cal park that never gets old to me. Yes, it is not perfect, but no park truly is, and this one probably comes the closest to what I would consider a perfect theme park.

March 15, 2018 at 3:29 PM ·

Disneyland is a slam dunk here. It has the most attractions, the majority of the best ones, and Walt's classic charm.

March 15, 2018 at 4:08 PM ·

Pirates, Indiana Jones, Space Mountain, Mr. Toad, Cafe Orleans, Matterhorn Macaroons, Walt Disney’s footsteps... you can’t beat the original. Although, I do agree with Robert that DCA has really upped the ante and closed the gap. Still, Walt’s baby park gets my vote.

March 15, 2018 at 5:38 PM ·

I voted Disneyland, but I'll likely never step foot in the park again - Star Wars or not. Too expensive, way-way too crowded, a major chore to visit. As a kid growing up in SoCal, Disney still has a nostalgic value in my heart. As does Knott's - an easy day but I can only take so many coasters and sit & spin rides - wandering around Ghost Town is still a joy, especially around the holidays. Now that I live in Dallas and Six Flags is down the road - ugh. I miss them both.

March 15, 2018 at 7:35 PM ·

DCA all the way for me. This park has been a long time favorite of mine. I went as a kid the first year it opened and have enjoyed watching it grow up so much. Mission: Breakout, RSR, Soarin', Grizzly River Run, and California Screamin (soon to be Incredicoaster) are some of my favorite attractions at the Disneyland Resort. Buena Vista Street and Cars Land are fantastic! I must also say I love the food offerings way more than across the way.

March 15, 2018 at 10:02 PM ·

Which of these parks is the only one that doesn't get its own Starbucks custom You Are Here mug?

It's a travesty, I tell ya.

March 16, 2018 at 2:30 AM ·

I grew up watching Disneyland on television but never thought I'd get there. Two years ago I visited for the first time, and while I was aware of DCA it was Disneyland that I was most excited to finally visit. Much to my surprise, I preferred DCA. Not to diminish the amazing quality and history of DL, it seemed somehow too frantic, too busy, too much reliant on knowing how to work the FastPass system to be sure you could experience everything- and just plain too crowded. DCA seemed much more relaxed, enjoyable. I could stroll and see things at DCA- at DL most of what I saw were people's heads and designer double-wide strollers.

March 16, 2018 at 9:51 AM ·

I'm going to echo James' sentiments. I grew up going to Disneyland but I find myself spending more time in DCA. It's has fewer small children, less crowds and wider walkways. The older I get the less tolerant of crowds and long queues I become. The only niggle is that DCA still lacks attractions including a traditional dark ride. The best park is probably still Disneyland but that's only if it is on a rare uncrowded day.

March 16, 2018 at 2:03 PM ·

I agree with some of the previous post, Disneyland is riding on its nostalgia. Crowds stepping on the back of my heels every which way, and with the only new addition being a fresh coat of paint, I'll pass. DCA for me.

March 16, 2018 at 4:20 PM ·

Right, the only new addition being a fresh coat of paint ...AND a whole new land (Star Wars) and largest single expansion in the park's history.

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