5 tips for a fun family weekend at LEGOLAND

Maximizing time at Southern California’s LEGO-lover’s dream park

Sure, they say Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth. In my family, however, LEGOLAND, another theme park north of San Diego, comes pretty damn close.

We love the LEGO park because it’s manageable, because kids can build with LEGOs while parents wait on line, and because the food is actually good and healthy. We also love it because it’s a cheap and short flight-and-drive from our home in the northern part of the state (through San Diego International Airport), which means it’s totally doable for a weekend jaunt.

In fact, my two big kids and I recently returned from our third visit in the last three years. We’ve learned a ton about maximizing time and opportunity over those visits. Here, then, in no particular order, are five tips for doing just that.

Tip 1: Stay in the on-site hotel

As far as theme park accommodations go, the LEGOLAND Hotel might be the coolest place ever. In the lobby, guests are greeted by a giant pit of LEGOs where kids can build and play while mom and dad check-in. There’s also a giant castle in which kids can play and build more LEGO creations.

Upstairs, all rooms come in one of four themes: pirate, kingdom, adventure, or LEGO Friends. The rooms also have a queen-sized bed for the grownups and a bunk bed (in a separate kid nook) for the kids. Oh, and every family that stays overnight gets two sets of LEGOs—one for kids to borrow and play with while they’re there, another for kids to keep.

Finally, the hotel has some awesome amenities. Like a pool with giant floating LEGO bricks. And a restaurant that serves buffet-style meals three times a day. And a coffee shop that’s open late.

The girls and I have stayed both here and at nearby hotels. The differences are significant.

What’s more, when you stay at the LEGOLAND hotel and you pre-buy tickets, you get to enter the park 30 or 60 minutes before everyone else, meaning you get to hit up two or three rides before the masses descend. If your kids are impatient (like mine), this alone is worth the extra cash to stay on-site.

Tip 2: Do not ignore the water park

LEGOLAND California is home to a huge water park—one of the best in all of Southern California. Most of the park has been designed with a CHIMA theme. The theme, however, really doesn’t matter—especially when your kids are splashing around like maniacs or floating around in circles on the lazy river.

When we visited, the girls loved playing in the giant wave pool and zipping down some of the big water slides. They also loved huddling with our friends in the family-sized driers, which are available for $5 a pop.

Personally, what I loved about the water park was the seating; there were plenty of chaise lounges for parents who didn’t want to get wet, and I never lost track of my kids.

It’s worth noting that the water parks close for the winter and usually don’t reopen until spring. That said, these are well worth a few hours (or even an extra day). If you’ve got your heart set on LEGOLAND, make sure you can hit the water parks when you go.

Tip 3: Take advantage of the playgrounds

The LEGOLAND park is an interesting mix of rides, playgrounds, and display areas where you can see LEGO statues up-close-and-personal. If you’ve got young kids (let’s say ages 8 and under), the playgrounds are a great way to mix up the day. Especially after you’ve waited on lines.

Riding boats at LEGOLAND

These playgrounds vary in size, shape, and theme. One is geared toward younger kids, has a Duplo theme, and is packed with thousands of rubber LEGO blocks with which kids can build. Another playground is geared toward older kids, and resembles a cross between a treehouse and a play fort. This one has a one-way rope elevator that kids seem to love.

All three times we’ve visited, my kids have loved blowing off steam on these playgrounds in between rides. One day, I actually think we spent more time in the playgrounds than we did anywhere else.

Tip 4: Apple fries

Food in LEGOLAND is significantly better than it is at most other theme parks in the area (sorry, Mickey). One of the reasons is apple fries. To make this life-changing snack, concessionaires take Granny Smith apples, cut them into French fry shaped wedges, fry them, then lightly dust them with cinnamon and sugar. When you buy the goodies (they’re $5 apiece), they are served with sweet whipped cream dipping sauce.

Generally speaking, I’m not one of those bloggers who stands in front of a camera, eats something, then dramatically rolls eyes back into the head because the food is so amazing.

In the case of these suckers, however, I do that every time.

Viewfinder Tip: Be sure to visit Miniland USA, which has LEGO replicas of some of the most iconic places in America. The Las Vegas Strip is amazing!

Tip 5: Build in time to build

After I’ve just spent 800 words rambling about all the great things at LEGOLAND, the park’s no. 1 attraction remains the LEGOs themselves. With this in mind, I highly recommend taking the time to buy your kids a special LEGO set (some only are available at the park) and giving them an opportunity to build it while you’re there.

I did this on our most recent visit to the park. After dinner on our last night, I took the girls to one of the stores in the park, gave them each a credit to buy new sets, and spent the next few hours with them up in the room, building LEGOs.

They loved staying up late. I loved bonding with them over LEGOs. And all three of us enjoyed the fruits of our labor—two really cool LEGO sets (which I then got to pack up and take home).

As much as we loved the active stuff inside the park, this quiet time was just as fun.

What are your favorite theme parks and why?

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Matt Villano

In more than 20 years as a professional journalist, Matt Villano has had articles published in outlets including TIME, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Sunset, Coastal Living, and Entrepreneur, to name a few. He currently blogs about family travel at WanderingPod.com, and occasionally covers family travel for Family Fun and Scholastic Parent & Child magazines. Villano also wrote the family travel blog for Parenting magazine, and an adventure travel blog for SeeAmerica.com (a one-time website of Brand USA). In addition to travel, Villano’s areas of expertise are business, technology and gambling. When he’s not working at his stand-up desk, Villano is chasing after his three daughters, both of whom are future New York Yankees fans. His favorite destination on Earth is his (adopted) hometown of Healdsburg, California. No. 2 on the list: Vancouver Island, British Columbia (specifically Tofino). For more about Villano, visit Whalehead.com.

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