Get Dunked and Cool Off on Slides and Rides that Blow Your Hair Back
School has started for most kids in Los Angeles, but summer fun doesn’t have to end. SoCal’ Indian summer often lasts through early fall, so jump in the car this weekend and head to local theme parks and water parks to chill out. Here is a short list of the coolest rides and slides and best places to stay and eat for the most awesome endless summer ever.
Park it Here
Pacific Park at the Santa Monica Pier is close to home for many Angelenos, and the cool ocean breezes are always a welcome escape from inland neighborhoods. The park includes 12 rides and an arcade of midway games, like the Tub Toss, where my son took home a beloved Despicable Me Minion (the trick is to aim high and to the side). The Sea Dragon that swings riders in a 180-degree arc in a rising and plunging boat is a favorite with teens and daring younger riders, and the West Coaster steel roller coaster that cascades over the coastline offering views from 55-feet up is a great first roller coaster for kids.
The Pacific Wheel solar-powered Ferris wheel gives you spectacular views of the Pacific. All-day unlimited-ride wristbands are $15.95 for kids and $22.95 for 7 and older, or rides are priced at $3 to $5 each. The park is in full operation through September and then partial and limited operations in the fall, and full operation on weekends. The pier is in the midst of an ongoing renewal project to maintain the 100-plus-year-old historical landmark, but Pacific Park access is unaffected, and the huge 40-ton crane parked at the pier actually is a sight to see in itself.
Water Water Everywhere
Aquatica in Chula Vista, is one of the most exciting and beautiful water parks around. Recently acquired and remodeled by SeaWorld, which is about 25 minutes away, the former Knott’s Soak City features six water rides and five water play areas, including Big Surf Shores wave pool, Loggerhead Lane lazy river and Walkabout Waters four-story play area. Our family’s favorite ride is the Walhalla Wave, in which up to six people can ride together in a raft down a 78-foot half pipe. For kids over 48 inches tall, the HooRoo Run boasts an 80-foot vertical drop that will thrill even the hardcore water park enthusiast. For younger splashers, the expansive kiddie play area with waterfalls, water cannons and small slides will keep them occupied for hours. The facilities are clean and well kempt, though along with the new ownership and makeover came higher prices, from overpriced snacks like $6 ice cream cone to $12-$20 lockers. Entry costs $38 for 10 and older, $30 for ages 3 to 9, and free for 2 years old and under. Open through weekends through November.
LEGOLAND Water Park adjoining the LEGOLAND theme park offers plenty for water fans of all ages. The family sized Orange Crush is one of the most popular rides, featuring 312-feet of twisting splashing fun for up to four riders. Unique to LEGOLAND is the Build-A-Raft River where riders can gather floating oversized LEGO blocks to attach to their innertube. Several kiddie play areas with open and enclosed small slides, waterfalls, fountains and sprinklers offer lots of splashing fun in wading-depth water and a sandy beach. At LEGOLAND you have the option of mixing up the fun at both the theme park and the water park. The theme park also features wet rides that cool you off, like the Pirate Reef and Splash Battle in Pirate Shores that will get you soaked. Buy ponchos to help keep you dry, or for $5 for a few minutes of hot air use the stand-inside dryers to dry off, or bring a change of clothes, as bathing suits may not be worn in the park. Admission starts at $76 for adults and $66 for kids 3-12, which includes both the theme park and the water park. The Water Park is open daily through early September and then on weekends as weather permits.
Where to Stay
LEGOLAND Hotel is the coolest new place to stay in Carlsbad. The hotel features themed rooms and surprises inside for kids. The kids’ bunk-and-trundle bed combo sleeps up to three kids, and adults sleep in an adjoining semi-private room. The lobby features a LEGO pit for community building, and an elaborate pirate-ship play area offers many fun features and live entertainment in the evenings. Fun features include a disco elevator, a giant whoopee cushion, talking bathroom mirrors and LEGO model decorations throughout the hotel. Guests also enjoy one hour early admission to the park.
Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront Resort & Spa (10 minutes from LEGOLAND and 30 minutes to SeaWorld) is a convenient base for visiting nearby amusement parks. The hotel is located across the street from a spectacular stretch of beach, and “ocean view” is the operative description for just about all the resort’s amenities: ocean view pool, ocean view restaurant, ocean view bar and lounge area (with outdoor ocean view fire pit), ocean view meeting rooms, and of course, ocean view guest rooms with ocean view balconies. The hotel’s restaurant, Chandler’s, offers panoramic seating for viewing gorgeous sunsets amid a succulent dessert garden. Besides addictive pretzel balls, standouts on the menu include fresh-caught sea bass and swordfish entrees and parmesan garlic fries.
Where to Eat
Tourists and locals alike line up at Bistro West, one of the hottest restaurants in Carlsbad. The delectably tasty menu features healthy and locally sourced gourmet comfort food, vegetarian and gluten free options, and a healthy kids menu. Highlights include a generously portioned calamari starter with zesty dipping sauces, thick Kobe beef burgers, classic homemade lasagna, homemade soups, exotic-topping pizzas from West’s stone hearth oven, an assortment of generously sized dinner salads, like the satisfying Manciata New York Steak Salad, and decadent desserts such as Bistro West Mud Pie for Two or warm fig and cherry bread pudding served with bourbon sauce. The crowd is multi-generational and well-dressed, and the atmosphere is casual chic, with modern but comfortable décor and a color-changing bubble wall fixture that mesmerizes kids and grown-ups too. Fido won’t feel left out either, with a pet-friendly Bow Wow Hour on the patio.
Over Land Over Sea
SeaWorld is most famous for its animal shows, but with last year’s addition of the Manta diving-and-looping rollercoaster the park has become more popular with thrill ride seekers. Bring a change of clothes so you can enjoy all the wet rides, like Journey to Atlantis, a half-roller-coaster half-boat-ride where park guests blast you with water cannons at the end, and Shipwreck Rapids, a winding, swirling ride down rapids and under water falls, and then dry off to hit the dry rides and shows. To shorten your wait time at popular rides, grab a Quick Queue pass. Get a schedule of daily shows online or at the gate. Ironically, one of the most popular shows at SeaWorld, Madagascar Live, is a sing-and-dance along musical that has little to do with the sea. The park’s mainstay shows include SeaLions LIVE, where sea lions jig to pop songs like Gangnam Style; One Ocean, starring legendary killer whale Shamu; and the amazing Cirque de la Mer, where acrobats perform tricks on seadoos and fly in physics-defying aerial acts over water. Online deals for admission for a single day are $64 for both adults and kids 3-9, or kids go free with an adult who pays full-price ($79).
Where to Stay
Paradise Point is an island oasis just a few minutes from SeaWorld. The resort’s bungalows feature lush courtyard and beachfront locations with access to a public beach where kids love the nighttime tradition of toasting marshmallows and making s’mores around the beach fire pits. The central Island Market store rents bikes to explore the island, and the elegant Baleen restaurant and more causal Barefoot Bar and Grill offer dining at the marina. Through early September the resort offers a water taxi that drops guests at a private marine entrance to the park for $10 for adults and $6 for children. If you happen to arrive at just the right time, you might catch SeaWorld’s Cirque de la Mer performers warming up “backstage” on the marina docks.
Hotel Indigo in Del Mar is a great option for families with sophisticated tastes but moderate budgets. About 20 minutes from LEGOLAND and SeaWorld, and 35 minutes from Aquatica, Hotel Indigo is an incredible remodel of the Stratford Inn, transformed from a sleepy lodge into a fabulous and swanky but kid-friendly boutique hotel, exquisitely decorated and featuring excellent service. The spacious rooms feature kitchenettes and beach-inspired designer décor and horse racing artwork in homage to the nearby Del Mar track. The rooms open into landscaped courtyards with private patios or balconies. The happening Oceanview bar and restaurant features an inviting outdoor lounge area with gas bonfire pits overlooking one of the two pools. Del Mar is a short drive from Carlsbad or San Diego and a terrific option for families making a weekend of their LEGOLAND or SeaWorld visit. The hotel a 10-minute walk from Del Mar Beach, a beautiful , expansive sandy beach where surfers, families, locals and tourists play in harmony.
Where to Eat
At the festive Café Coyote in Old Town San Diego, screaming kids are as welcome as raucous margarita drinkers. In this landmark multi-storied restaurant featuring countless dining rooms, neither can be heard over the din of large parties, gathered to celebrate everything from birthdays to bridal showers at this immensely popular watering hole and landmark famous for its offering of more than 100 tequilas.
Chillin’ at Disney
Disneyland and California Adventure are the mecca for SoCal theme park fans, but with great rides come great lines, except off-season. Cars Land has put California Adventure back on the map, and the blow-your-hair-back Radiator Springs Racers is a must-ride attraction. For a great cool off, float and splash down the Grizzly River Run whitewater raft ride, or for a blast of indoor AC, head into the friendly and scenic skies on Soarin’ Over California simulated flight ride. At Disneyland, a wild dash in the dark on Space Mountain is a great escape from the heat, or take a cool plunge on Splash Mountain, or for a blast of fresh air, the Matterhorn Bobsleds climbs up and away into icy caverns to meet the abominable snowman.
Another great spot to cool off on a warm day is the Disney Animation Building, in Hollywood Land at California Adventure. Indoors with air conditioning, guests can learn all about animation — from the Toy Story Zoetrope to projected animation all around the lobby to “learn to draw” character sketch sessions throughout the day. And more: fun exhibits to find your inner Disney character and interact with other characters, along with the family favorite show, Turtle Talk with Crush.
Next door at the air-conditioned Hyperion Theater, the popular stage show plays several times a day – “Aladdin, a Musical Spectacular,” complete with a flying carpet!
To minimize your wait times, plan your day of rides in advance and master using the FASTPASS. A great tool to gauge expected crowd size at the parks is http://www.isitpacked.com/disneyland-crowd-forecast-predictor-calendar/. Admission starts at $86 for ages 3 to 9 and $92 for ages 10 and up for a one-day visit, though park hopper a multi-day tickets are your best value if you have a couple of days for your visit.
Where to Stay
The Hilton Anaheim is a known as a premier convention hotel, but it’s also a terrific family hotel, and its location just two blocks from Disneyland and California Adventure makes it an appealing option for guests visiting the parks. The on-site Disney help desk sells park passes and can help guests plan their Disney day with insider tips, and guests can upgrade to Disney view rooms to see the Disney lights and fireworks nightly. Kids love the swimming pool with a water feature that includes a kiddie water slide, water cannons and a 200-gallon drench bucket. The hotel’s Kidz Korner offers supervised activities, and their babysitting service is a great option for parents who need some grown-up time off.
Where to Eat
Hilton Anaheim’s Mix restaurant offers upscale dining and cocktails, or nearby there are more causal options, including a food court and several family friendly restaurants within the Garden Walk plaza, which is walking distance or a short shuttle bus ride away.