Planning a visit to the Los Angeles area? You should at least consider it — this is a great destination for theme park fans. Southern California is the birthplace of the modern theme park industry, with Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm leading the way, Universal Studios establishing the model for movie-themed parks, and Six Flags Magic Mountain now claiming the title as Roller Coaster Capital of the World.
But Southern California's theme parks and other attractions are spread over an immense metro area, separated by miles and miles of often-traffic-clogged freeways and even a few mountain ranges. There's no relatively compact theme park district in Southern California, as there is in Orlando. Planning your LA-area vacation is essential, not just to get the best deals on tickets, hotels, and airfare, but to ensure that you don't waste your get-away time stuck in a car on the highway.
Let's start with Southern California's top attraction — the Disneyland Resort. Located in Orange County's city of Anaheim, Disneyland is just located just six miles from Knott's Berry Farm, in Buena Park. But Disneyland lies 35 miles south of Universal Studios Hollywood, which is located north of downtown Los Angeles, at the edge of the San Fernando Valley. And you would have to drive another 26 miles north up the 5 from Universal to Six Flags Magic Mountain, which is located over Newhall Pass in the Santa Clarita Valley's city of Valencia, in northern Los Angeles County.
You might think that drives of 35 and 26 miles aren't too bad. But forget about driving a mile-a-minute in LA. Freeway traffic means that these drives can take more than an hour each... and that's if traffic isn't too bad.
So there's no one hotel or AirBnB you can book to get to all four of these theme park destinations, without wasting hours of your time in traffic driving between them. If you want to visit all of the Los Angeles area's top theme parks, you will want to break your trip into segments, staying in different hotels for each one.
If you are wondering what would be the best time to visit Disneyland, there isn't much of an "offseason" there anymore. Your best bet is to find a day when its popular Southern California Select annual passes are blocked out and that's also convenient for you. Rainy days are the best for low crowds, which means visiting during the (relatively) rainy season in January through March and taking your chances. But that's also "refurbishment season" in the parks, when some rides and areas will be closed for repair. So... go whenever you want.
For tickets and vacation packages including nearby hotels, please visit our Disneyland tickets page. Disneyland has three on-site hotels, but some of its Good Neighbor hotels are located just as close to the parks' front gates as the official hotels and are often quite a bit cheaper.
You can save on nightly parking costs at local hotels by taking the Disneyland Resort Express shuttle bus directly from or to Los Angeles International Airport or Orange County's John Wayne Airport in nearby Santa Ana, then just walking or using Anaheim Resort Transit to get around. But if you want to venture beyond the Disneyland Resort in Southern California, you will need a car. Our tip is to wait to rent a car until after the Disneyland portion of your trip. That will save you overnight parking costs and days of rental costs when you really won't use the car at the very walkable Disneyland Resort.
For tickets to other attractions throughout Southern California, we recommend the Go Los Angeles Card. That ticket includes admission to dozens of local attractions, including Six Flags Magic Mountain, Knott's Berry Farm and Soak City, Legoland California, and the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. If you get the three-, five-, or seven-day version of the Card, it also includes a one-day admission to Universal Studios Hollywood as well.
The adult price is $82 for one day, $126 for two days, $213 for three, $273 for five, and $319 for seven days. All days must be used within 14 days of the ticket's first use. Here is the list of attraction that you can get into with the Go Los Angeles Card, with their one-time ticket costs listed for reference. (All participating locations and prices are from the time of publication.)
Use the three-day card just to visit Magic Mountain, Universal, and then Warner Bros. and the nearby LA Zoo on your third day, and you've saved $38 over the already-discounted prices linked above. You can extend your savings with more creative itineraries. But keep those freeways in mind!
To help you minimize your travel time across Southern California, I've grouped the participating attractions by their locations. Excepting Magic Mountain and Legoland, you comfortably can hit up your choice of attractions from any two adjacent areas from the lists below in one day, but I wouldn't try anything more aggressive than that. For each area, I've also included nearby popular attractions not included on the Card, in italics.
Up north: [Hotels]
Universal area: [Hotels]
Between Downtown and Westside:
Between the Westside and South Bay:
South Bay: [Hotels]
Orange County: [Hotels]
Farther down the 5: [Hotels]
That leaves the Huntington Library and Gardens at 1151 Oxford Road in San Marino, which is located conveniently within walking distance of Theme Park Insider world headquarters, but is a 25-minute drive from Universal in good traffic. It's a wonderful destination, but perhaps not the best use of an entire day on the Go Los Angeles Card, since it'd be tough to pair it with something else on the Card on the same day, and you can just buy a ticket to it for less than the per-day cost of the Card.
Obviously, there's far more to do in Southern California that anyone could fit in a single vacation, but we hope that these links and advice help you to plan an affordable and enjoyable you to the Los Angeles area. And if you need more help with making reservations, please don't hesitate to call our travel partner at +1-800-680-1272 for assistance.
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