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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. Two Northern California theme parks, California’s Great America and Gilroy Gardens, announced a tentative targeted reopening date of May 22, 2021.

Other 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 are even holding special outdoor events and food festivals.

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’ll plan to keep updating this guide as more news is announced and more reopens. So bookmark or pin this post and keep checking back!

(Trips With Tykes uses affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission if you purchase through links in this post. See our full disclosure policy linked in the menu at the bottom of this site.)

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

California’s Governor Newsom, using his emergency powers, has 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. In this tier, park capacity is limited to 25%. There will be no geographic restrictions on guests who may visit.

Smaller local and regional theme parks with regular maximum capacities of less than 15,000 guests can reopen when the county in which they are located moves into the orange tier. Capacity, however, is limited to 25% or 500 guests, whichever is fewer. Only outdoor attractions can operate. Finally, only guests who reside in the same county as the theme park are permitted to attend while the county is in the orange tier.

As of mid-February 2021, the vast majority of counties in the state (and all of the counties that are home to theme parks) are still in the purple tier. This means regular theme park reopening is still a way off.

That said, cases are rapidly dropping in the state. A few larger counties will likely move into the red tier in the next few weeks. As weather improves and vaccines are rolled out to more people, case rates should continue to fall. This could make the orange or yellow tier within reach – perhaps by later in the spring or early summer.

One other wild card to watch is legislation proposed in the California state assembly. A proposed bill AB420 would move all theme park reopening to the orange (instead of yellow) tier. It may be heard in committee as early as March 7. For more information on this pending legislation, follow the California Attractions and Parks Association which has backed the bill on their Reopen California Amusement Parks site.

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
  • County Location: Orange County
  • What’s Open: Downtown Disney shops and restaurants (outdoor dining only), extending into Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure
  • Spring Events: Food festival in Disney California Adventure park Spring 2021 (dates TBD) (See details leaked so far on MiceChat)
  • Regular Reopening Announced: None

Universal Studios Hollywood

  • County Location: Los Angeles County
  • What’s Open: Universal CityWalk shops and restaurants (outdoor dining only)
  • Spring Events: None announced (as of this article’s last updated date)
  • Regular Reopening Announced: None

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: Sesame Street Parade of Lights Drive-Thru (ends February 24, 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 (outdoor dining only)
  • Spring Events: Taste of Boysenberry Festival March 5 – May 2, 2021
  • Regular Reopening Announced: None

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 (Starting March 5), on-property hotel guests also can receive access to the LEGO Chima Water Park for $10 more from March 12 – May 2, 2021
  • Regular Reopening Announced: None

Six Flags Magic Mountain

  • County Location: Los Angeles County
  • What’s Open: Currently closed.
  • Spring Events: Drive-Thru Cruis’n The Park Car Show (Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays February 26 – March 14, 2021).
  • Regular Reopening Announced: Announced today “Park Opening with rides Spring 2021” but no specific date announced.

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: Opening day 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: None announced (as of this article’s last updated date).
  • Regular Reopening Announced: None

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: Opening day 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: None

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 for events. 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.
  • 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 can: Because theme park reopening is governed by the tier assignment of a park’s home county, full theme park reopening in 2021 will likely not happen all at once. Counties with lower COVID rates may see their theme parks open weeks or months before others if the current system stays in place.

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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