Legoland California. Credit: Nancy Chaney
Dreaming of a family trip to Legoland California? The 128-acre family theme park opened in Carlsbad, California, in 1999 and continues to entice Lego-loving Northwest families.
Legoland California has more than 60 interactive rides, shows and attractions, as well as some 30,000 Lego models created from 62 million Lego bricks. The park attracts Lego fans of all ages but the rides are particularly suited to kids ages 2–10, depending on the kids, with the ideal age generally in the 4–7 range.
Kids will love the Ninjago ride, along with fairly tame roller coasters, such as Coastersaurus, and a water-fighting pirate ship. The elaborate sculptures in Miniland USA will inspire the true Lego enthusiast and impress even the more mildly interested. Unlike some other theme parks, extras at Legoland tend to cost extra, so be prepared to shell out for special activities.
To help plan your everything-is-awesome family vacation, we’ve put together our top tips to ensure a smooth trip filled with fun rides, exciting discoveries, brick play and a minimum of hassles and surprises.
1. Buy tickets in advance
Pre-buying your tickets before heading to Legoland California will guarantee savings and expedite entrance to the park. The Legoland website offers a variety of deals and ways to customize your theme park experience. Buying tickets for a set day on the site offers the best deal but tickets with flexible dates are also available for purchase.
You can buy entry into just the amusement park or get combo tickets that include the seasonal water park or Sea Life Aquarium, or go big and get tickets for all three. Costco members can sometimes find big savings on Legoland tickets and vacation packages. AAA members and those with a military ID can also sometimes find great discounts. Another way to save on tickets is to sign up for the free Lego Life Magazine and receive cost-saving coupons to Legoland.
2. Get the app
Plan your trip before you even leave home. The Legoland app is a terrific tool to help you plan ahead to maximize your fun. The app has an interactive map, provides ride wait times along with a height guide for rides (a must for the littles) and a car finder so you can locate your car after a day of play.
3. Be prepared for smaller rides
Legoland California is ideal for the younger set because rides and attractions are geared toward the 2–10 age range. Some kids older than about 7 might find the park to be a little too reserved, especially if they are thrill seekers or fresh off a visit to Disneyland or other park with wilder rides. Roller coasters at Legoland, for example, are fun but on the conservative side for both height and speed.
Older Lego fans will still enjoy the Lego Mindstorms Lab and the Xbox WB Games Space. For tots and preschoolers, note that many rides have a minimum height of 34 inches, with some requiring an adult to ride along. Legoland California can still be fun for little kids, even if they're too small for the rides. Check out Legoland’s "What to Do When You’re Two" for tips on bringing along toddlers and babies.
4. Invest in Reserve ‘n’ Ride to avoid long waits
Legoland California offers a Reserve ‘n’ Ride system, which lets you hold a spot in line for the most popular rides without having to wait in the actual line.
To set up a Reserve 'n' Ride, head to the website or visit the kiosk located just inside the gates. When you purchase the pass, you’ll get to choose between reducing wait times by 25 percent, 50 percent or 90 percent for $35, $55 and $100 per person, respectively.
Once you pick up your pass, you get a device that allows you to make a reservation for one ride at a time, from anywhere in the park. When it’s your time to ride the device alerts you.
Those familiar with Disneyland's FastPass system — included with your admission ticket — will find the cost of Reserve 'n' Ride irritatingly expensive, but if it's a hot or extra-busy day and long waits will induce ruinous meltdowns, you may want to make the investment.
5. Show up early
While Legoland officially opens at 10 a.m. most days, the turnstiles get turning by 9 a.m. as rides start running by 9:30 a.m. Arriving early will give you time to access the park and plan out your day.
Arriving early also allows snagging close-in parking without paying for a premium spot ($25 regular vs. $35 premium). Alternatively, stay at a hotel with a Legoland shuttle service to avoid dealing with parking altogether.
6. Be prepared to buy food and drink in the park
Legoland California does not allow any outside food and drink, but you can usually bring your own water bottles, granola bars and other small snacks that can be stashed away for those hangry emergencies. Exceptions are made for dietary restrictions and infants; call ahead if you'll need to bring your own special food.
Legoland's dining choices are decent by theme park standards. Expect kid-friendly fare such as pizza, burgers and hot dogs along with barbecue, ramen and a good salad bar. The Granny’s Apple Fries with vanilla cream dipping sauce were our family's favorite treat.
7. Pack a change of clothes
Bringing an extra set of clothing and a small towel is a benefit after a day at Legoland. While most rides do not feature water, there are enough rides that splash water that having dry clothes along is a wise idea. Carry a backpack or rent an all-day locker (near the entrance). Of course, on hot days, staying a bit wet can be a cooling enterprise!
The Pirate Shores area has lockers for rent and family dryers available as well. If hitting up the water park, swimsuits are a must and the water park has additional lockers. See next tip....
8. In the warmer months, play at the water park
When the weather heats up, it can be so nice to slide down a few waterslides. The Legoland water park is smaller than a typical standalone water park but still packs a splash of fun.
The $30 ticket upgrade is worth it for a few hours and provides a different experience. You can get an even better deal when purchasing your ticket in advance online and combining your purchase. Lego-obsessed kids will love the lazy river where they can build with oversized Legos while floating on a tube.
Do check the schedule ahead of time for the water park hours as they are not as extensive as the park’s hours. The waterpark is generally open daily June through August, and select dates in spring and fall.
The other add-on attraction include is Legoland's Sea Life Aquarium. A dizzying array of combo tickets and deals for one or more days is available. Check online for current deals.
9. Plan ahead if you’re going to shop
Be prepared that there are things to buy at nearly every turn inside Legoland and that your Lego fans may beg for new toys at every turn as well.
The many Legoland stores have the largest selection of Lego and Legoland products found anywhere in the world, so it might make it worth a splurge. Take advantage of the ability to shop and pick up your purchases when you leave the park without having to worry about schlepping items around all day.
Minifigures can be a fun purchase for kiddos who feel they must bring home a souvenir. Build-a-Mini tables let you create your own custom minifigs. Buy three for a great deal and special packaging. Shop staff can also typically discern by feel which mystery-packaged minifigs are which if your kid wants a specific one.
10. Where to stay
Lego fanatics will appreciate staying at the Legoland Hotel or the newer Legoland Castle Hotel. Both hotels offer themed rooms with early entry to the park, plus nightly entertainment, a breakfast buffet and a pool. The hotels are mere footsteps from the park, which means if naps are still part of your daily itinerary, it's easy to take a siesta when needed.
Staying in Carlsbad will help save some money but won’t skip out on experience. The Carlsbad by the Sea Hotel has a great pool and a free shuttle to Legoland; it's just a 5-minute drive away. The Sheraton Carlsbad Resort provides a stellar location with its own entrance at the back of the park. This spot is also pet-friendly, which means Fido can come along for the fun (though pets are not allowed in the park).
Visitors looking to save on eating-out costs will love the Hilton Grand Vacations at Marbrisa for its full kitchens and suites. Along with a scenic golf course and large pool, this spot also has a private entrance to Legoland California.
More fun times in Southern California!
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2018 and updated in 2019.