Ticket to ride: Southern California theme parks roll out new attractions for summer

Arctic Rescue, SeaWorld's latest coaster, will simulate a snowmobile ride and will make its debut this summer.
(Courtesy of SeaWorld)

SeaWorld is opening a new play area, Legoland has a summer entertainment festival and San Diego Zoo debuts its nighttime promotion


And they’re off. With the return of Memorial Day weekend on Saturday, theme park season is officially up and running.

Because most American theme park visits occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Southern California’s destination theme and water parks — like Legoland California, SeaWorld San Diego, Disneyland and beyond — usually roll out their newest attractions this weekend, including new live shows, attractions and play areas.

Theme parks have been in deep recovery mode ever since they were able to reopen in spring 2021, but with cash flow cut off due to long-term pandemic-related closures, the new attractions in recent years have been relatively modest. In 2022, American theme park attendance rebounded, and theme park income skyrocketed due to higher ticket and concession prices, contributing to an estimated $15 billion in industry revenues in 2022, according to the Global Strategic Business Report. As a result, 2023 is expected to be a banner year for new theme park rides and attractions.

Here’s a look at the latest happenings at Southern California’s theme parks.


SeaWorld San Diego

This rendering shows what the Rescue Jr. area will look like
This rendering shows what the new family-friendly Rescue Jr. attraction will look like. It will be located in the former Sesame Street Bay of Play area.
(Courtesy of SeaWorld)

SeaWorld has two major attractions opening in the coming weeks and months: Rescue Jr. play area and the Arctic Rescue coaster.

Rescue Jr. will be a large-scale play area for younger children with an aquatic training ground and a simulated rescue boat ride. It takes the place of the former Sesame Street Bay of Play near the park’s entrance.

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Its features include a splash zone where children navigate an agility course and play in fountains and splash pad water zones; a rescue training obstacle course with net bridges, tunnels, bounce-house area and tots play area; and a play yard where children role-play as sea life rescuers. There are also three new rides: Rescue Rafters, a simulated rescue boat; Rescue Riders, a Jet Ski-like ride; and Tidepool Twist, a teacup-style ride.

In late spring or early summer, Arctic Rescue will open. It’s a roller coaster capable of traveling at up 40 miles per hour on a 2,800-foot track. Passengers will ride straddle-seat in cars that look like snowmobiles.

500 Sea World Drive, San Diego. seaworld.com/san-diego/


Legoland California

Performers in costume dance at Legoland California in Carlsbad.
Performers from Benny’s Dance Party, one of Summer Block Party, which kicks off May 27 at Legoland California in Carlsbad.
(Courtesy of Legoland California)

On Saturday, Legoland California in Carlsbad will kick off its Summer Block Party, a seasonal program with new costume characters, live performances and experiences throughout the park.

“Go Xtreme!” is a new extreme sports stunt show premiering in June, featuring BMX riders, scooters and skateboarders. Legoland Summer Jam is a song and dance show featuring a brass band. The new show “Pirate Captain’s Swashbuckling Jig” will be presented at Pirate Shores. On the Castle Stage, “Once Upon a Brick: The Tale of the Unicorn Knight” is a slapstick comedy storytelling show. “School of Spinjitzu” is a martial arts-style show. Benny’s Dance Party features an astronaut character who is ready to blast off. The Awesome Suit Crew will perform mashups of ‘80s songs throughout the park. And DJ Brick Beatz will play techno tunes.

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In March, Legoland California expanded its California Miniland area to include a new San Diego area, made with more than 5 million Lego bricks on a 1:20 scale.

A LEGO version of the San Diego Convention Center at Legoland California.
A LEGO version of the San Diego Convention Center, which is part of Miniland San Diego at Legoland in Carlsbad on Saturday, March 25, 2023. (Hayne Palmour IV / For The San Diego Union-Tribune)
(Hayne Palmour IV/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The new San Diego Miniland includes the San Diego Convention Center, Petco Park, the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, the Hotel del Coronado, the San Diego Central Library, the County Administration Center, Old Town State Historic Park and the Del Mar Fairgrounds, among other landmarks.

One Legoland Drive, Carlsbad. legoland.com/california


San Diego Zoo

An Amur leopard cub at the San Diego Zoo.
One of San Diego Zoo’s newest attractions are twin Amur leopards, born in March. Fewer than 300 of these cats still exist on Earth.
(Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo)

Tonight, the zoo kicks off its summertime Nighttime Zoo programming. From now until Sept. 4, with the exception of June 17, the park will stay open until 9 p.m. each night (which is two hours later than usual). Live entertainment is scheduled throughout the zoo from 5 to 8:45 p.m. each evening, including music, dance, children’s contests, parades, puppetry, acrobats and themed shows. But because many animals are more active at night, Nighttime Zoo guest often prefer animal-watching after dusk.

San Diego Zoo’s newest attractions are also among its smallest. In March, twin cubs were born to Satka, a rare Amur leopard at the zoo. Born through a national breeding program, the cubs join the critically endangered population of roughly 300 Amur leopards left in the world. Also new to the zoo’s collection are twin Andean bear cubs, who were born in December to mother Alba and father Turbo. Andean bears have been part of the zoo’s collection since 1938.

There are no new shows or attractions this summer at the zoo’s San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido.

2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego. zoo.sandiegozoo.org


Sesame Place San Diego

Counts Splash Castle at Sesame Place San Diego, photographed in March 2022.
(Seasame Workshop)

Sesame Place San Diego water park in Chula Vista will launch its Sesame Summer Splash on Saturday, with daily operating hours through Sept. 4.

Although an opening date has not been announced, the new Sunny Day Cafe is scheduled to open sometime this summer. This indoor, air-conditioned 160-seat restaurant will offer buffet-style family dining. At the ticketed Dine with Elmo & Friends events, there will be live entertainment and the opportunity for children to interact with and take photos with Sesame Street characters.

2052 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista. sesameplace.com/san-diego/


Disneyland Park

Three Black women singers perform at Disney California Adventure.
During the month of June, Disneyland Resort in Anaheim is celebrating Black Music Month with daily live performances of jazz, R&B, gospel and more, including Midnight Hour (pictured) at the Hollywood Backlot at Disney California Adventure Park.
(Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort)

Perhaps the most notable summer event at Disneyland isn’t what’s opening but what’s closing. Splash Mountain will close for good on Tuesday, so the 34-year-old flume ride can be made over with a new theme. When it reopens in late 2024, it will be called Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, based on the Disney animated film “The Princess and the Frog.”

In honor of Juneteenth, Disneyland Resort is hosting Black Music Month in June, with live performances of jazz, R&B, gospel and more at locations around both Disney theme parks and Downtown Disney shopping district. “Tale of the Lion King,” the African storytelling stage play based on the animated film, is being presented daily at Disneyland Park. There will also be specialty food items served around the resort through July 4, and specialty artists will be signing their wares on June 10 and 17.

Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway at Toontown.
Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Toontown.
(Sarah Mosqueda)

From now through June 5, Star Wars fans can ride Hyperspace Mountain, a temporary Star Wars-themed projection, audio and music overlay in the Space Mountain ride in Tomorrowland. It’s been mounted periodically since 2015 to celebrate May the 4th, a Star Wars commemorative day.

On March 8, Disneyland’s Toontown land reopened after a yearlong renovation. It opened in 1993 as a cartoonish cul-de-sac where Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto live in separate homes and children can line up to meet these characters, play and board low-speed rides. The land’s refresh involved adding new outdoor play areas, renovations of its climbing, interactive and water play areas, and a new ride: Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim. disneyland.com


Disney California Adventure

A group of people perform on a stage in superhero costumes
A depiction of “Rogers: The Musical” from the Disney+ series “Hawkeye.”
(Chuck Zlotnick / Marvel Studios)

Disneyland’s sister park will open its newest attraction on June 30, “Rogers: The Musical,” a short stage musical that tells the Marvel story of how soldier Steve Rogers became Captain America during World War II. The story will be an adaptation of the corny Avengers musical seen on the Disney+ series “Hawkeye” in 2021. The 30-minute stage show will be performed inside the park’s Hyperion Theater several days a week and it will feature fellow Marvel characters Nick Fury, Peggy Carter and “select members of the Avengers.” It will be presented most Tuesdays through Saturdays.

An artist's rendering of the new San Fransokyo dining area at Disney California Adventure theme park in Anaheim.
(Courtesy of Disneyland Resort)

Also this summer, Disney California’s Pacific Wharf dining district will be transformed into San Fransokyo, a location featured in the animated Disney film “Big Hero 6.” The revamped area will be a fictional mash-up of the fish canneries in San Francisco and Tokyo. The restaurant options include Asian-inspired, English, Japanese and Spanish dishes, as well as a beer garden.

In February, the park debuted “One,” its new World of Color water, projection and light show. It features a diverse slate of Disney animated characters, including mouse chef Remy in “Ratatouille,” Mirabel in “Encanto,” Chinese warrior Mulan in “Mulan” and wannabe jazz artist Joe Gardner in “Soul.” It plays nightly on Paradise Bay, weather permitting.

1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim. disneyland.com


Knott’s Berry Farm

Fiesta Village area at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park.
An artist’s rendering of the newly renovated Fiesta Village area at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park.
(Courtesy of Knott’s Berry Farm)

This Americana-style theme park in Buena Park will kick off its summer season today with several new attractions and events.

Following a winter renovation, the park’s Fiesta Village reopens today. The area celebrates Mexican American culture and cuisine. The Fiesta Mercado shops, restaurants and rides have been refreshed. The new restaurant Casa California will serve burritos, birria quesadillas and tamales. Live performances of Mexican folkloric dancing will be presented in the evenings on select days. Still to come later this year is the reopening of the ride Montezooma’s Revenge, which is undergoing a refresh and rebranding.

Also kicking off today is Ghost Town Alive. The 6-year-old seasonal event features entertainment for families on select days in Calico Park, which is Knott’s Old West historically themed town. The entertainment begins and ends each day with a hoedown dance at 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

And finally, Knott’s Summer Nights promotion, running daily through Sept. 4, features evening-hours food booths serving specialty fare, live music and family-friendly games.

8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park. knotts.com


Universal Studios Hollywood

A general view of the Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge ride at the "SUPER NINTENDO WORLD."
A general view of the Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge ride at the “SUPER NINTENDO WORLD” welcome celebration at Universal Studios Hollywood on February 16, 2023 in Universal City, California.
(Rodin Eckenroth / Getty Images)

This film-inspired theme park in Universal City opened its latest attraction in February: Super Nintendo World, an immersive themed land in a newly expanded area of the park.

The central attraction of the new area is Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge, a thrill ride that takes passengers on a “underwater” ride through Mario’s video game mushroom kingdom using augmented reality, projection mapping technology and a moving track ride. There’s also a new themed restaurant, the Toadstool Cafe, the Bowser’s Castle and a new retail store, the 1-Up Factory. During visits to the land, guests can wear smart wristbands that will unlock site-specific games.

100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City. universalstudioshollywood.com


Six Flags Magic Mountain

Aerial views of Six Flags Magic Mountain in 2020.
(Robert Gauthier/Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

This Valencia theme park, known for its 20 roller coasters and more than 100 other rides, games and attractions, has no new rides opening this year but it is offering several festival events through the spring and summer. Now running on weekends through June 11 is Viva la Fiesta, featuring music, decorations, folk art and food celebrating Latin American and North American traditions. The Flavors of the World Food Festival, offering tastings of food items from seven countries, runs from 2 to 8 p.m. June 16-18, 23-25, 30, July 1-4, 7-9, 14-16, 21-23, 28-30 and Aug. 4-6. The park’s most recent ride debut was Wonder Woman Flight of Courage, billed as the tallest, longest single-rail coaster in the world, which opened last July.

26101 Magic Mountain Parkway, Valencia. sixflags.com/magicmountain