These 5 California Theme Parks Are Toddler Approved. (Here’s Why.)

Sharing the joy and excitement of a theme park with a toddler can be so magical. That’s because everything in a toddler’s eyes is new and marvelous! Creating an adventure together with a little one, like visiting theme parks for toddlers for the first time, can be such a joyous experience.

California may be the best state to visit if you’re looking for theme parks. After all, one of the things it’s known for is it’s amusement parks! While there are many to choose from in the Golden State, not all of them are geared towards little kids.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here, thanks for your support!

In fact, theme parks can be very overwhelming for little ones. The cognitive development stages of toddlers make them much more susceptible to sensory overloads. That means that all of the sights, smells and new experiences might actually make toddlers anxious. This can happen especially on dark, scary or otherwise intense attractions. Let’s face it, some parks in California are definitely designed for older kids and teens, with thrill rides and roller coasters that require riders to be over 4 feet tall. Visiting the wrong park might cause major toddler tantrums, and put a real damper on your trip.

toddler with woman meeting character snoopy at knotts berry farm

That’s why this list of the top theme parks for toddlers in California only includes amusement parks that have lots to offer families with young kids. Read on for the recommendations.

Northern California Theme Parks


Southern California Theme Parks



1. Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park

Tucked inside farmland in Northern California sits Gilroy Gardens, a wonderful theme park specifically geared towards toddlers and young children. With it’s cute agricultural theme and it’s beautifully landscaped gardens, it ranks #1 on this list of best theme parks for toddlers.

gilroy gardens apple ride
View of the Apple and Worm ride from the Train.

Most of the rides are outside, so there is no threat of dark and scary. There are over 15 rides without a height requirement, and five rides that are only designed for kids under 48″ tall. Check out their ride policies for detailed information. There are also beautiful quiet gardens to escape to if your children need a break.

yellow duck boat floating on a lake at gilroy gardens
Duck Paddle Boat Ride on Coyote Lake.

Gilroy Gardens is so much fun for little kids. There is a play area, a small ferris wheel, boardwalk style arcade games and even a hot air balloon ride. In the summer, the Water Oasis water park feature is open and included in admission.

If you live in San Francisco, Gilroy is only 80 miles away, so it’s the perfect day trip to take with small kids.

Top toddler questions about Gilroy Gardens, answered:

Is there a train ride? Yes! The Bonfante Railroad Train Ride takes you around the property and stops in two places. (Note, there is one short tunnel between Redwood and Coyote junction. Be sure to prepare your kid if they dislike dark spaces.)

What about a car ride? There are two car rides!

  • Take a ride through historic Santa Clara county and through beautiful South County gardens in a 1920s or a 1950s style car on the South County Backroads Cars. (Note, there is one tunnel where a loud siren goes off unexpectedly.)
  • For little ones under 48″ there is also Pit Stop Racers, a favorite for toddlers.

Is there a carousel? There are also two carousels!

  • Illions Supreme Carousel, a spectacular full scale carousel built in 1927 by M.C. Illions.
  • Claudia’s Carousel, a sweet mini- carousel specifically for toddlers, located in the quiet area of Claudia’s Garden. (Must be under 48″ to sit on a horse.)

What treat can I eat? Visit Sugar Plum Farm for tasty cupcakes, chocolate covered frozen bananas and cookies. They also sell peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.

Top parent questions about Gilroy Gardens, answered:

Where is the best quiet place to take a rest and/or have a snack in the park?

There are lots of beautiful gardens to explore at Gilroy Gardens. One of the best spots is Claudia’s Garden. It’s serene and peaceful, and usually not heavily visited.

Is there a nursing and/ or diaper changing area for parents with little ones?

This park does not feature a baby care center. All bathrooms are equipped with changing tables.


2. Disneyland

Disneyland Park, of course, makes this list of best theme parks for toddlers. It is the quintessential California family theme park, loved by people of every generation since 1955. Time and time again, it proves itself to really be the happiest place on earth.

While Disneyland is usually a huge hit, and offers something for the entire family, be warned that it is VERY thematic. There is not an inch of the park that has not been imagineered. That means that there are lots of loud noises, thematic rides, tasty treats galore, and beautiful colors and lights. This can lead to hyperstimulation in some toddlers. It’s a good idea to get a hotel room nearby to take breaks and naps if you have a sensory sensitive child.

It's a small world white building decorated with clocks
Stroller parking in front of “It’s a Small World” at Disneyland.

While there are rides for children of every age at Disneyland, there are a few that were specifically created for young children. These include Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Tarzan’s Treehouse, The Mark Twain Riverboat and Mickey’s Toontown. The list of Disneyland’s Ride Height Requirements can be found on their website. Be sure to catch the live shows featuring your toddler’s favorite Disney characters, like the Disney Princesses at the Fantasy Faire in Fantasyland.

Going for more than 2 days? Buying your tickets from CityPass will give you a discount. Be sure to check out any special offers, especially if you are a Southern California resident.

toddler looking at mickey mouse at theme park disneyland
Meeting Mickey in front of his Toontown house.

Top toddler questions about Disneyland Park, answered:

Is there a train ride? There are actually three train themed rides (including Big Thunder Railroad), but two of them are for toddlers! They are:

  • The Disneyland Railroad, an authentic steam powered train ride that takes visitors all the way around the Magic Kingdom. It stops at Main Street U.S.A, New Orleans Square, Toon Town and Tomorrowland Station. (In between Tomorrowland station and Main Street Station is a trip through an indoor dinosaur diorama, which can be intense for some kids. If your child is sensitive to dark, loud and thematic attractions, disembark at Tomorrowland Station.)
  • Casey Jr. Circus Train, a favorite among toddlers. This little train is located in Fantasyland and was one of the original attractions when the park opened in 1955. Wind around Storybook Land in a fun little circus train. You might even get to sit in the “Wild Animals” car!

What about a car ride? There is! The Autopia is another fan favorite ride where anyone over 32″ (2.6 feet) can drive a little coupe car (with an adult.) Drive along with a working steering wheel and gas pedal.

Is there a carousel? Yes, the King Arthur’s Carrousel is in Fantasyland and typically has a short wait time. It was made in 1922 by the Dentzel company and was one of the original attractions when Disneyland opened.

What treat can I eat? Disneyland has so many tasty treats. Some of the most famous are Churros, Dole Whip, and any candy handmade at Pooh Corner!

Fantasyland in disneyland
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Fantasyland

Top parent questions about Disneyland Park, answered:

Where is the best quiet place to take a rest and/or have a snack in the park?

If it’s a crowded day at Disneyland (which, let’s face it, it often is) visiting the Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer island is a great place to find some space from everyone else. While there are no rides on Pirate’s Lair, there are picnic tables, a bathroom and lots of little caves for young kids to explore. To get to Pirate’s Lair, take a log river raft from New Orleans Square across the Rivers of America.

Is there a nursing and/ or diaper changing area for parents with little ones?

Yes, Disneyland offers a Baby Care center. Here, you’ll find private nursing rooms, toddler size potties, and feeding areas with highchairs. They also offer formula, wipes and diapers for purchase. The Baby Care Center is located on Main Street.


3. Knott’s Berry Farm

Originally a simple berry farm and fried chicken restaurant in Orange County, Knott’s Berry Farm has grown to be a theme park and water park destination.

small red baron airplane ride at knotts berry farm white airplane with blue and red stripes children's ride
Snoopy’s Flying Ace Ride

While there are many roller coasters and rides for big kids at Knott’s, the park makes the list of best theme parks for toddlers in California because of Camp Snoopy. Inspired by Charles Schulz’s Peanuts Gang, Camp Snoopy is a great place for young kids. The six-acre play area was designed to resemble the High Sierras and give you the feeling that you are at summer camp with Charlie Brown and friends. From flying biplanes to honking trucks, Camp Snoopy has amusement rides specifically designed for little ones. Check out their Rides and experiences page for height requirement details.

Top toddler questions about Knott’s Berry Farm, answered:

Is there a train ride? For train enthusiasts, there are two trains to ride at Knott’s Berry Farm:

  • The Calico Railroad, where riders can climb aboard an authentic turn-of-the-century narrow gauge train and tour the Knott’s Berry Farm property. During the ride, two bandits board the train and “rob” everyone. It’s very lighthearted and the actors are often funny, but it may scare very young children.
  • The Grand Sierra Railroad in Camp Snoopy, a four minute train ride through camp with the peanuts gang. It’s a miniature version of the Calico Railroad train.

What about a car ride? In Camp Snoopy, toddlers can enjoy Huff and Puff car racers, Pig Pen’s Mud Buggies and Rocky Mountain Truck Company, all car/ truck themed!

Is there a carousel? Yes! Knott’s Berry Farm’s Merry-Go-Round is located in Fiesta Village and is one of the world’s older working carrousels. It features many different types of animals to ride, including ostriches and zebras.

What treat can I eat? Knott’s Berry Farm is famous for their funnel cakes. Try it fully loaded with boysenberry, the berry made famous at Knott’s Berry Farm.

Top parent questions about Knott’s Berry Farm, answered:

Where is the best quiet place to take a rest and/or have a snack in the park?

In Camp Snoopy, near the camp bus ride, there is a gazebo with picnic tables and a tiny inclosed play area. It’s great for resting and having some water and a snack when you have small children.

Is there a nursing and/ or diaper changing area for parents with little ones?

Through the park there are three nursing stations, and one of them is located in Camp Snoopy. There are nice little buildings that have partitioned rooms with rocking chairs, sinks and changing tables. All of the bathrooms are also equipped with changing tables.


4. Disney California Adventure Park

Right across the promenade from Disneyland Park sits Disney California Adventure Park. As with Disneyland, this beautiful and exciting theme park is packed with sights, sounds, and smells! Be sure to take breaks if your kids are sensitive to sensory input.

One of the most fun toddler attractions in California Adventure is the Disney Junior Dance Party! This live show is basically a baby rave with some of your toddler’s favorite characters on TV, like Doc McStuffins and Mickey Mouse. It’s magical.

Mickey and Minnie on stage at toddler theme park dance party
Disney Junior Dance Party

Another great spot for family fun in California Adventure is the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. Kids can climb, zipline and slide through the great outdoors. This outdoor play space is a nice area to help an overstimulated toddler reset.

Going for more than 2 days? Buying your tickets from CityPass will save you some money! Be sure to check out any special offers, especially if you are a Southern California resident.

Top toddler questions about Disney’s California Adventure, answered:

Is there a train ride? No train rides in California Adventure, however there is a trolley ride! The Red Card Trolleys are modeled after the Pacific Electric Railway cars that once covered the Los Angeles area.

What about a car ride? There is an entire CARS LAND in Disney California Adventure! Step into Radiator Springs and experience multiple car themed rides, like Luigi’s Rollickin Roadsters. Meet your toddler’s favorite characters from the Cars Movie franchise, like Lightning McQueen!

Is there a carousel? Jessie’s Critter Carousel is located in Pixar Pier and features friendly animals from Woody’s Roundup.

What treat can I eat? California Adventure has so many yummy treats. Toddlers especially love Jack-Jack Cookie Num Nums!

dancing toddler in front of guardians of the galaxy theme park ride at california adventure
Dancing in front of Guardians of the Galaxy

Top parent questions about Disney California Adventure, answered:

Where is the best quiet place to take a rest and/or have a snack in the park?

Connected to this park is the Grand Californian Hotel. If you have tickets to California Adventure you can enter and exit the park through the hotel, right near Grizzly River Run entrance. The hotel features a beautiful craftsman style lobby and multiple outdoor seating areas, shops and restaurants. It’s a great place to take a break.

Is there a nursing and/ or diaper changing area for parents with little ones?

In California Adventure, the Baby Care Center is located in Pacific Wharf. Here, you’ll find private nursing rooms, toddler size potties, and feeding areas with highchairs. They also offer formula, wipes and diapers for purchase.


5. Children’s Fairyland

Located on the shores of Lake Merritt in Oakland, California, Children’s Fairyland is a beloved favorite of Bay Area locals. It’s the perfect place for younger kids to explore and use their imagination. There are fun rides and lots of storybook sets to climb on and discover. Some toddler favorites include the woman who lived in the shoe’s shoe, a happy dragon who’s tongue you can pull and Willie the Blue Whale, who’s open mouth you can walk into.

There are also live animals at this park, including miniature donkeys, ponies, chickens and a bearded dragon. With all of it’s attractions designed for toddlers and small kids, it is one of the best amusement parks/ theme parks for toddlers. Little kids always have a great time!

Image courtesy of fairyland.org

Top toddler questions about Children’s Fairyland, answered:

Is there a train ride? Yes! The Jolly Trolley is a colorful kid sized train that will take riders through Old West Junction. Small children must ride with an adult.

What about a car ride? No car rides at Children’ Fairyland, However there is the Jolly Roger Pirate Ship from Peter Pan. Kids can climb into the crow’s nest and be on the lookout for the crocodile.

Is there a carousel? There are two carousels! The Wonder-Go-Round, which features characters from Alice in Wonderland, and the bright and colorful Flecto Carousel. Both carousels are specifically designed for small kids.

What treat can I eat? Johnny Appleseed’s Cafe provides sweet treats and lunch items for purchase.

Top parent questions about Children’s Fairyland, answered:

Where is the best quiet place to take a rest and/or have a snack in the park?

The Teddy Bear picnic area is a quiet corner of the park with picnic tables and a nearby restroom. It’s a great place to sip some water and have a snack.

Is there a nursing and/ or diaper changing area for parents with little ones?

While there is not a specific baby area, all restrooms are equipped with changing tables.


The Best Theme Parks for Toddlers in California

What do you think? Leave a comment below about the best theme parks for toddlers in California.

Recent Posts

2 thoughts on “These 5 California Theme Parks Are Toddler Approved. (Here’s Why.)”

Comments are closed.