With an unexpected free weekend to play with, we recently decided to head south down Southern California’s amusement park alley, past Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm (although not as south as the San Diego Zoo) and visit Legoland. While the Carlsbad-based park is closer to San Diego than Los Angeles, it can take less than two hours to get there (particularly if the I-5 traffic is cooperative).
The relatively new park on the Southern California scene (just over 10 years old), Legoland is not so enormous that you can’t make it a single-day adventure. Lego lovers, however, can find enough to do to spend more time there. Deciding to make it more of festive weekend, we chose to stay at the Sheraton Resort & Spa. A lovely, family-friendly hotel that conveniently has its own entrance to Legoland, it also has a big pool and a helpful staff.
However, the point of the trip was Legoland. We entered the park when it opened at 10 a.m. and started to wander around. Not every attraction was open but there was certainly much to do. One of the first things that we did was tackle the Splash Battle in Pirate Shores area. It was a water ride where you shoot water at others and have water shot at you. Needless to say, we got soaked. In fact, it started a string of water-related rides, which also included the Aquazone (a water carousel-type ride where you try to avoid the blast of water that others can set off) and a Treasure Falls (watch out for the water spout near the ride’s end).
Overall, the park holds a charming old-fashioned quality, which shouldn’t be surprising since it is all about Legos. There are plenty of hands-on, but not high-tech, things to do. One cool thing is that you can work on Legos while you wait in lines or go to special building areas to make Lego creations.
Legoland has eight different zones (The Beginning, Imagination Zone, Duplo Village, Fun Town, Castle Hill, Pirate Shores and Miniland USA) that have their own fun activities. The park is laid out sort of like a circle and getting from one zone to another can be a little more confusing than you would think, but it isn’t so large that you can’t find where you are going.
One place for Lego-lovers to seek out is the Miniland USA, where there are wonderfully detailed miniature models of various American locations – like New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Other fun spots included the Driving School (there is a “school” for 3- to 5-year-olds and 6- to 13-year-olds) and the Land of Adventure’s Lost Kingdom Adventure, where you ride and try to rack up point by hitting targets with a laser gun.
While the water park wasn’t open (it reopens in March for the warmer months), we did visit the Sea Life Aquarium, which was a nice indoor break during the sunny afternoon. While not as elaborate as the Aquarium of the Pacific (or Monterey’s Aquarium, for that matter), this aquarium houses a colorful array of marine life that you can view or even feel in touch pools. It’s also interesting to see how they have integrated Lego creations into the aquarium setting.
Parents will notice that there are (not surprisingly) plenty of shopping opportunities for Lego fans; however, there is a good range of prices so you don’t have to break the bank to come home with a memento. It’s also nice to report that we had a rather tasty pizza lunch at the Ristorante Brickolini, which is a pleasant surprise at an amusement park.
We lucked out, too, when it came to finding a restaurant for dinner in Carlsbad. Looking for something local, we wound up at the Fish House Vera Cruz on Carlsbad Village Drive. We enjoyed some delicious fish kabobs. Staying true to its menu, the kidss meal choices were all fish items; however, the halibut kabob got a big thumbs up from our 8 year old (who was not known to be a halibut fan previously).
If you arrive on a not-so-busy day and don’t try to hit every single attraction the park has to offer, you can make Legoland a really fun, one-day road trip. The park’s activities seem most suited for kids ages 10 and younger; some spots are best for younger kids but not too much that is just for pre-teens.
If you have more time, however, you can explore more of the Carlsbad/Oceanside area. Shoppers will want to check out the local outlet mall, while music fans should make note of the Museum of Making Music. It is a small museum operated by NAMM (the National Association of Music Merchants), but it houses an impressive collection of musical instruments.
LEGOLAND, various times, 1 Legoland Dr, Carlsbad. Admission: $69 adults, $59 children 3-12. www.legoland.com.
this was originally published in LA Parent Magazine