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California Theme Parks in 2021: What’s Open, What’s Not, & What’s Coming Soon

The year 2020 was pretty bleak for all types of businesses in the travel sector. But few were hit quite as hard as theme parks. From Singapore to Paris to Anaheim, amusement parks were universally shuttered around the world for many months. While many reopened last year and more are reopening just now, theme parks remain closed in the state of California in 2021.

But things are looking up as the year progresses for amusement parks in the Golden State. Governor Gavin Newsom announced in early March that theme parks can begin to open regular operations at limited capacity to in-state residents as early as April 1, 2021, as long as their home counties are in the state’s red tier or better.

In the meantime, theme parks have gotten creative since they can’t operate rides. These parks are finding ways to open their affiliated hotels, dining, and shopping. Several have been holding special outdoor events and food festivals this spring while they wait for full reopening.

So what can you expect from California theme parks in 2021? Here’s the scoop on what’s open now at each of the major players. I’ve been regularly updating this guide since it was published as all the news breaks and more reopenings are announced. So bookmark or pin this post and keep checking back!

Last updated: March 30, 2021

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What’s the Legal Status of California Theme Park Reopening in 2021?

Before we get into what’s open at each theme park, it’s important to understand why California theme parks aren’t open yet. A complicated legal framework governs their reopening. (I never thought my former life as an attorney would be so helpful for writing a travel blog, but here we are!)

California’s Color Coded Tiers

Last summer, California’s Governor Newsom using his emergency powers put in place a system that governs what business sectors can reopen and when. This system is called the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. It assigns each county in the state to a colored tier based upon COVID-19 case rates, test positivity rates, and a health equity metric. Counties in purple (substantial) face the most restrictions, followed by red (widespread), orange (moderate), and yellow (minimal) as the least restrictive.

California County Reopening Tiers

Last fall, the state issued detailed theme park guidelines that only permitted large theme parks like Disneyland and Universal Hollywood to reopen once their home county reached the yellow (lowest) tier. Smaller local and regional theme parks could reopen when the county in which they are located moved into the orange tier.

In mid-February 2021 when I first published this post, the vast majority of counties in the state (and all of the counties that are home to theme parks) were still in the purple tier. But cases were rapidly dropping in the state at the time, and the public health situation was improving. Theme parks continued to pressure state officials, proposing legislation to reopen all theme parks in the orange tier.

And on March 5, 2021, guidance for theme parks under the Blueprint for a Safer Economy changed substantially. Theme parks are now able to open in the red tier at 15% capacity to California residents only starting April 1, 2021. Theme parks in counties in the orange tier and yellow tiers will be able to open at 25% and 35% respectively (also with in-state resident restrictions for now). Many theme parks have started announcing targeted timelines for reopening, as indicated below.

Additionally, case number cutoffs for each tier are changing once several vaccination benchmarks of California’s most vulnerable communities are met. The red tier cutoff already moved from 7 cases per 100K to 10 cases per 100K when 2 million vaccines are completed. And once 4 million vaccines in these communities are completed, the case cutoffs will move for the orange and yellow tiers as well. The cutoff for the orange tier will move from 4 cases per 100K a day to 6. The cutoff for the yellow tier will move from 1 case per 100K a day to 2. This will allow theme parks to expand capacity more quickly.

Because California currently has a travel advisory requiring all out-of-state visitors to isolate for 10 days, out of state visitors are not permitted to visit theme parks under the current framework in any tier. But when that travel advisory is lifted, expect the in-state requirement to disappear as well.

How California Theme Parks Can Operate Right Now

Even though California theme parks can’t reopen right now with attractions like rides and large shows, all theme park operations aren’t shuttered. Most theme parks in the state have a number of associated businesses that fall within other tiers of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. These offerings permit some theme parks to operate in limited ways until regular reopening is on the table.

Some amusement parks, like SeaWorld San Diego or Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, have animal exhibits. Outdoor zoos and aquariums can open in the state’s purple tier, making those attractions possible to operate now.

Sea lion at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.

Almost every California theme park has extensive food operations, some of which are open now. In the purple tier, restaurant outdoor dining can operate. Outdoor food festivals can also take place on theme park grounds as long as the proper masking and social distancing protocols are followed. Once the counties in which the theme parks are located enter the red tier, indoor food service can resume at 25% capacity, followed by 50% capacity in the orange tier.

Finally, quite a few theme parks have associated hotels, stores, or shopping districts. Hotels can operate for leisure travel in the state in the purple tier, as can retail at 25% capacity. Many theme parks that have substantial retail offerings (like Downtown Disney at Disneyland and City Walk at Universal Hollywood) have opened those. Some theme park owned hotels are beginning to reopen as well.

So with those possibilities in mind, let’s dive into the detailed offerings that are in operation today at California theme parks on a park-by-park basis.

What’s Open Now at Southern California Theme Parks

The Southern California economy depends a lot on theme parks, so the major players in the LA, OC, and San Diego areas are reopening quite a lot, including new offerings for this spring.

Disneyland

Disneyland Pedestrian Entrance

Universal Studios Hollywood

  • County Location: Los Angeles County
  • What’s Open: Universal CityWalk shops and restaurants (outdoor dining only)
  • Spring Events: Taste of Universal – food festival featuring treats from four lands in the park including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Fridays through Sundays, March 12 through end date not yet announced, tickets on sale now through April 11)
  • Regular Reopening Announced: April 16, 2021 (reservations open April 5, 2021 and additional ticket sales open April 8, 2021)

SeaWorld San Diego

  • County Location: San Diego County
  • What’s Open: Zoo and aquarium exhibits, select animal shows (reserved distanced seating only), distanced Sesame Street character photo opps
  • Spring Events: Seven Seas Food Festival (Fridays through Sundays, March 5 – May 2, 2021)
  • Regular Reopening Announced: None

Knott’s Berry Farm

Knotts Berry Farm
  • County Location: Orange County
  • What’s Open: Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel, California Marketplace, and Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant
  • Spring Events: Taste of Boysenberry Festival March 5 – May 2, 2021
  • Regular Reopening Announced: Early May 2021

Legoland California

Legoland California on a Budget - Lego Jumbo Minifigs with kids
  • County Location: San Diego County
  • What’s Open: Legoland Castle Hotel (hotel guests can visit Miniland U.S.A., Hideaways outdoor playground, and The BIG Shop)
  • Spring Events: Build ‘N Play Days (March 5-31), on-property hotel guests also can receive access to the LEGO Chima Water Park for $10 more from March 12 – March 31, 2021
  • Regular Reopening Announced: Preview Days (some limited rides) April 1, 2021, Full reopening April 15, 2021

Six Flags Magic Mountain

  • County Location: Los Angeles County
  • What’s Open: Currently closed.
  • Spring Events: Drive-Thru Cruis’n The Park Car Show (ended March 14, 2021).
  • Regular Reopening Announced: April 1, 2021

Belmont Park

  • County Location: San Diego County
  • What’s Open: Boardwalk restaurants and in-park food venues, miniature golf, midway games, Go Karts, and rock wall
  • Spring Events: None announced (as of this article’s last updated date)
  • Regular Reopening Announced: None

What’s Open Now at Northern California Theme Parks

Northern California counties have usually posted lower COVID numbers. But counties in the San Francisco Bay Area have often imposed even stricter limits on reopening than the state requires. The theme parks in NorCal are also smaller, so fewer have made the effort to reopen quite as much as a result of these factors. I expect that to change soon, but here’s what’s open for now!

California’s Great America

Californias Great America with Kids - Carousel Columbia
  • County Location: Santa Clara County
  • What’s Open: Currently closed.
  • Spring Events: None announced (as of this article’s last updated date).
  • Regular Reopening Announced: May 22, 2021.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom Tips - Entrance
  • County Location: Solano County
  • What’s Open: Zoo and aquarium exhibits (“Marine World Experience”).
  • Spring Events: Renaissance Days (Saturdays & Sundays from March 6 – March 28, 2021)
  • Regular Reopening Announced: April 1, 2021 (reservations open here)

Gilroy Gardens

Gilroy Gardens Review - Garlic Twirl Ride
  • County Location: Santa Clara County
  • What’s Open: Currently closed.
  • Spring Events: None announced (as of this article’s last updated date).
  • Regular Reopening Announced: May 22, 2021

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Day Trips Near San Francisco with Kids - Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
  • County Location: Santa Cruz County
  • What’s Open: Retail and restaurants (outdoor dining only), drive-in movies, outdoor games and beach access open daily, pedal cars (Boardwalk Racers) and giant slides (Wave Rider) open on weekends/ holidays.
  • Spring Events: None announced (as of this article’s last updated date).
  • Regular Reopening Announced: April 1, 2021 (reservations open here)

Additional Tips for Visiting California Theme Parks in 2021

Considering visiting a theme park in 2021? Things are massively different, so it’s important to know what to expect and prepare accordingly. Here’s a few potential pitfalls to watch out for and tips to help make your experience a success.

  • Reservations/tickets may be required: In order to limit capacity, many theme parks are requiring dated reservations or advance purchase. Be sure to check a theme park’s official site and make whatever purchases or reservations that are needed as early as possible to avoid disappointment. Note too that some theme parks are only offering timed reservations so if you want to have a full day in the park (and arrive at “rope drop” to beat the crowds), you need to make reservations many weeks in advance because early entry times are the first to sell out!
  • Arrive early: For offerings that don’t require tickets or reservations, the early bird gets the worm. For example, capacity restrictions may mean that shopping districts close as the day goes on. If you can “rope drop” these activities, you’ll likely wait less.
  • Plan for COVID precautions: Theme parks, restaurants, retail shops, and hotels in California are meticulously enforcing COVID precautions almost everywhere. Make sure your mask meets all restrictions (many won’t allow gaiters or bananas) and young children are willing and able to follow whatever rules apply to them as well.
  • Expect some theme parks to reopen fully before others: Full theme park reopening in 2021 is not happening all at once. Because theme park reopening is governed by the tier assignment of a park’s home county, the public health situation in each county continue to cause differentiation. Aditionally, some theme parks can ramp up reopening more quickly than others – larger and more complex theme parks (like Disneyland!) need more lead time to prepare for reopening and call back staff. Other smaller theme parks have decided not to reopen until closer to Memorial Day when schools begin to let out. So keep watching those dates and check back here for all the details!

Where to Book California Theme Park Vacations

The best place to book California theme park vacations is with trusted Trips With Tykes partner Get Away Today. Get Away Today has expert customer service and amazing discounts on hotels, tickets, and more. Use promo code TYKES10 for an extra $10 off all package stays of 2 nights or more.


Collage of attractions at California's theme parks including roller coaster, Lego dinosaur, ferris wheel, and Disneyland food.

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