As lifelong Disney fans, we didn’t see it coming, but Legoland California has become my family’s favorite theme park. Located just north of San Diego in Carlsbad, CA, this answer to any Lego-lover’s dream is perfect for the 2-12 age set. Plus, it has a Kidscore rating of 96. (Learn more about Kidscore.) And due to recent expansion, it’s now three parks in one: Legoland, Sea Life Aquarium, and water park! We love the interactive nature of the exhibits (kids and parents can built and test Lego race cars, pedal their own Lego roller coaster compartment, and play in a Lego town), the manageable size of the park, and all those primary colors!
As with any theme park, families will want to get to Legoland before rope-drop to beat the crowds in summer, but during the off-season, you may have the place relatively to yourself! Shops line the market area just past the entrance in The Beginning, and if you can entice your kids past it with promises to return (they remain open an entire hour past closing to give families plenty of shopping time), you’ll arrive in the popular Land of Adventure or Castle Hill area before the masses.
If you have younger kids, you may want to head left after The Beginning instead, hitting Dino Island and Fun Town before lines get too long. Skip the Duplo Village in the morning; this fun attraction is a line-free playground and is perfect for the afternoon when kids are tired of waiting their turn for rides.
Check the park schedule when you arrive; the shows are worth your time, and there are always events and activities going on in the Imagination Zone (where kids can get hands-on with Lego creations). We love how Legoland has built-in features that force families to slow down: you’ll get a nice breather while your kids are building and testing Legos, playing in the awesome castle climbing structure at Castle Hill, or splashing in the water park.
Because there are so many time-consuming activities at Legoland, families should plan to visit more than one day. Luckily, ticket prices are built around this concept, and are affordable for multiple days. Check for online and local offers: Legoland does an amazing job working with the Carlsbad community (at the time of this posting, they were running a ‘five days for the price of one’ deal). If you’re visiting at a busy time of year and are able to splurge, Legoland’s Premium Play Passes with front-of-the-line access are worth the expense! For more great Legoland touring and planning tips, I recommend Michele Bigley’s Unauthorized Guide to Legoland!
Sea Life Aquarium: Families have the option of buying only Legoland tickets, or ‘park hopper tickets’ which will include the aquarium and water park. If you only have one to two days, you may want to skip the aquarium, which only takes half a day but would significantly cut into your theme park time. If you’re planning to visit Legoland only a few days, but will be in the greater San Diego area longer, I advice adding the aquarium to your tickets and saving it for a rainy or foggy morning later in your vacation.
Water park: For better or for worse, Legoland’s water park is now nearly a theme park of its own. You’ll want to devote at least half a day to it, and remember that if you tour it on the same day as the rest of the park, you’ll want to store a change of clothes in a backpack. And don’t forget towels…we ended up buying a set on-site…a fun but costly way to spend souvenir money!
A word on accommodations: Good package deals can be had during certain seasons at Legoland’s ‘Bed and Brick’ preferred hotels, which includes the on-site Sheraton Carlsbad. However, if you’re looking to get away from the theme park hustle and bustle, our family recommends staying in nearby Del Mar. The Del Mar Motel on the Beach offers a fun and funky seaside experience!