Last updated on March 27th, 2019 at 09:27 pm
I’ve been wanting to visit LEGOLAND California since before we had kids. I grew up playing with LEGOs and I was curious what a whole theme park dedicated to this revolutionary toy would be like.
So, when members of my PEPS group suggested we do a big group trip down to Southern California to experience LEGOLAND California together, I jumped at the opportunity! May contain affiliate links.Find awesome LEGOLAND California deals here.
What better way to play in San Diego with 4 other families with toddlers and preschoolers than at LEGOLAND California?
I did a ton of research before our trip, but I had a hard time finding the information I was looking for.
So, after consulting with my friends on the trip (thanks Traci, Christine, Kathryn, and Karen!), I came up with my top LEGOLAND tips for people planning their first trip to LEGOLAND with kids ages 5 and younger.
Is LEGOLAND California Right for Your Family?
Before you start planning your trip, think about your family and what they like to do. If they love LEGOs and theme parks, you’re golden and can skip to the next section!
Are Your Kids Old Enough?
This really depends on whether or not you’re planning to come back. If this is your only trip, I’d wait until your kids are 4 years old to get the most out of your trip.
But, if you think you’ll be back, most of the rides require kids to be at least 34 inches tall. My just-turned 2 year old was 35 inches tall and he could ride just about everything he wanted.
So, if your child isn’t quite 34 inches and you think they will want to do rides, wait until they reach that height.
There are several rides that 4 year old kids can do on their own, like jousting and the Junior Driving Academy.
If your child is a thrill seeker and if this will be your only trip to LEGOLAND, wait until they are 42 inches tall to ensure they can ride ALL the rides.
They are pretty strict about measuring. It’s always hard when your child isn’t tall enough to ride something they really want to ride.
What if Your Kids Aren’t Into LEGOs?
First and foremost, this is a theme park. There are roller coasters, a carousel, boat rides, water activities, etc that would be the same with or without the LEGO decor.
They don’t really need to know the Ninjago or LEGO Friends characters to have fun with the rides.
While there are opportunities to play with LEGOs and DUPLOs and there are incredible LEGO builds all over the park, there are tons of rides that appeal to kids of all ages.
When Should You Go?
My friend lives in Southern California and this was her third trip to LEGOLAND. Her biggest tip for LEGOLAND is to go Monday-Thursday for minimal crowds.
Like most family destinations, major school breaks (winter break, spring break, and summer vacation) will be more crowded.
We went on a Thursday during the Arizona schools fall break (mid-October) and it wasn’t very crowded. We were able to ride almost every ride twice with minimal wait times.
The next day (Friday) was at least 2-3 times as crowded and several rides had 45 minute wait times.
Check the Online Calendar
If you are going during the off-season, check their online calendar to find out if the park is closed for refurbishment.
This is also important if you want to go to the LEGOLAND water parks, as they are only open certain days.
How Many Days Should You Spend?
This depends on your agenda. While you probably could do LEGOLAND in one day, it would be at a quick pace.
They have shorter hours than Disneyland (it was 10am-5pm when we went.)
My biggest LEGOLAND California tip is to plan for at least 2 days for your first trip. And if the water parks are open, add one more day.
We were able to leisurely enjoy the park and the LEGOLAND Aquarium during those 2 days. We rode every ride we wanted to (sometimes twice,) sat down to eat lunch, explored MINILAND, USA, enjoyed the playground equipment.
For your second trip, 2 days would probably suffice. That way you can do one day at the LEGOLAND park and the next day at the water parks.
What Should You Bring Into the Park?
I know every parent reading this is wondering what’s allowed inside LEGOLAND California.
The good news is that you can bring your own water and small snacks. Actually, you can bring in a little cooler, as long as it’s smaller than 12″ x 10″ to keep food cold.
I’d also suggest bringing an extra set of clothes in case you get wet. Our friends’ son got soaked on the Wave Racer because he was so close to the water. It took awhile for him to dry off.
Sunglasses, a hat, or sunscreen is also a good idea.
And don’t forget to bring a minifigure to trade at the park. This was definitely a novelty for all the kids!
Find an employee wearing a badge or stop by a stand in the park to trade minifigures.
Should You Bring a Stroller?
If you have kids ages 4 and under, I’d definitely use a stroller or wagon. They will be walking a lot and no one wants to carry tired kids back to the hotel.
We didn’t want to bring a stroller from home, so we immediately headed to the stroller rental area inside LEGOLAND and got a double stroller for $17. Single strollers are $15.
For our family, it was totally worth it because we were able to easily move around the park and it gave our kids an opportunity to rest.
Are There Water Refill Stations?
So, remember how you can bring water into the park? Bring a refillable water bottle because there are refill stations at the restaurants.
The soda machines also have ice and water.
Being from Seattle, we’re a bit picky about the taste of our water. We drank ice water from the refill stations throughout the trip and had no problem.
It can get really hot in Southern California. If you need a break from the heat, you have a few options:
1. LEGOLAND Rides
LEGO Ninjago The Ride and Lost Kingdom Adventure are both indoors and air conditioned.
There are also places, like Safari Trek, that have shaded areas while waiting in line.
2. Indoor Activities
There are also places to explore that have air conditioning or shelter from the sun, like Adventurer’s Club, LEGO Factory Tour, or the LEGO Life Zone.
3. Get Wet
Aquazone Wave Racer, Heartlake Fountain, Pirate Reef, Splash Battle, and Swabbies Deck are great places to cool off in the water!
4. Head to the LEGOLAND Aquarium
The whole SEA LIFE California Aquarium is inside and a great spot to recharge after hanging out in the heat. They also have a great cafe!
5. Go Shopping
Yes, you may get distracted and purchase a bunch of LEGO stuff, but at least you’ll be cool!
Where You Should Eat in LEGOLAND
The thing that surprised me the most about LEGOLAND is that the food inside the park is really good!
Ocean Journey Cafe
The first day, we ate at Ocean Journey Cafe. It’s located inside the LEGOLAND Aquarium, but you can eat there even if you don’t have an aquarium ticket.
The food was great! My friend ordered the large mac & cheese and it fed 3 kids PLUS leftovers! The large fries were also enough to share with your whole table.
They have made-to-order items. My friend and I split a hot turkey sandwich with little apple slices inside and it was mighty tasty!
I especially liked that they sold puffs for babies/toddlers, Honest Kids juice pouches, fresh fruit cups, and a whole kids menu.
And, there’s a cool fish tank to keep kids occupied when they are done eating.
Knights’ Smokehouse BBQ
The Dads on our trip smelled the brisket while walking around the first day, so we had to stop there for lunch on our second day!
We went right at lunchtime and I was impressed with how quickly the line moved. We grabbed a table outside with a sun umbrella.
The brisket was really flavorful! There are several BBQ sauces on the table and rolls of paper towels. Definitely worth a repeat visit next trip!
Insider tip: Get your food to go and bring it to the nearby play structure. That way, adults can eat lunch while kids play!
Granny’s Apple Fries
My LEGOLAND tip is to stop at Granny’s Apple Fries! I think they were $6 and worth every penny! We ordered them both days because they hit the spot!
Should You Go to the LEGOLAND Aquarium?
My kids aren’t always into aquariums, so originally, we weren’t going to go. But, I’m glad that our friends convinced us!
The SEA LIFE California Aquarium was so much cooler than I expected!
There’s a great mix of LEGOs along with impressive sea exhibits, several interactive sections, and tons of fun facts.
My favorite thing was that it’s accessible to kids of all ages. My 2 year old didn’t have to be lifted up to see anything. The vibe was very relaxing and it was perfect to reset after lunch.
One thing to know is that you can’t bring strollers into SEA LIFE Aquarium, unless LEGOLAND Park is closed.
Insider tip: You can do the whole aquarium in about an hour but there’s lots to see if your kids are interested in sea life!
Does LEGOLAND Have Photographers?
One thing that I had a hard time figuring out was the whole Photo Pass system.
When we go to Disneyland, we always buy their PhotoPass because I love getting photos of our family on vacation. But, I didn’t see this option while we were at LEGOLAND.
I remember people asking us to buy photos after certain rides, but that was it. In fact, one of my friends was really put off by the sales pitch because she wasn’t sure about the cost upfront.
And there was a Photo Pass photographer at one of the character meet & greets we went to. Otherwise, I didn’t see them throughout the Park.
It wasn’t until I got home that I realized we could have bought a LEGOLAND Single Day Photo Pass for $29.99. It’s a wristband that gets you unlimited digital photo downloads for the whole day.
For our next trip, we’ll be getting the wristband and we’ll go in with the thinking that we’ll do all the photos.
Is There a FastPass Option?
Another thing I didn’t understand before our trip was their Reserve ‘N’ Ride option.
Here’s the lowdown:
Reserve ‘N’ Ride
This is an electronic system where you can reserve your spot in line for the rides you want via a handheld device or your phone.
You’ll get an alert when it’s time to head to the special Reserve ‘N’ Ride entrance, reducing the time you’ll spend waiting in line.
Express: For $35/person, you can reduce your wait time by up to 25%.
Deluxe: For $55/person, you can reduce your wait time by up to 50%.
Ultimate: For $100/person, you can reduce your wait time by up to 95%.
If you are short on time or are going during peak season, my LEGOLAND tip is to invest in the Reserve ‘N’ Ride options.
Since you are going to spend all that money on a LEGOLAND California trip, this is a great way to maximize your time having fun in the Park and minimize your time waiting.
But, if you are going during the week or during off-season, you probably won’t need.
What about Shopping at LEGOLAND?
There are plenty of shopping opportunities! In fact, many rides (like Coastersaurus, LEGO NINJAGO The Ride, LEGO City Deep Sea Adventure, and The LEGO Technic coaster) end at a themed gift shop. So, be prepared for your kids to ask you for stuff after each ride!
We thought the gift shop at the end of the LEGO Factory Tour was pretty cool. You can get all kinds of bulk bricks and make your own minifigures.
But, our favorite spot was The Big Shop. We found all kinds of LEGO sets, apparel, ornaments, etc. And the best part is that it’s right at the entrance/exit so you don’t have to lug your purchases all over the Park!
There are a few ways to cut the costs of a LEGOLAND California vacation:
Kids Free October
For free LEGOLAND tickets, take advantage of San Diego’s Kids Free program. For the month of October, kids get in free with a paying adult. That saves $105 on a park hopper ticket per kid!
Get Away Today
For discount LEGOLAND tickets, Get Away Today has some good options. Plus, they have deals for tickets to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios, etc.
San Diego Pass
Several of my friends purchased this San Diego Go Pass. It’s a great savings if you are just doing LEGOLAND, but it’s an incredible savings if you also want to hit up Sea World and the San Diego Zoo.
Insider tip: Print it out before you go so it’s easier for staff to get your tickets processed (rather than using the app on your phone.) They will print a souvenir ticket for you!
LEGOLAND Annual Pass
For $159 per person, you can get unlimited access to LEGOLAND California for a whole year. This is a great option if you plan to go more than 2 days in the year, as tickets are regularly $95.
And if you also want access to the LEGOLAND Aquarium and water parks (plus free parking) it’s $199 per person. This is a great option if you plan to go more than 4 days in the year, as 2 day hoppers start at $105.
Did you know there’s a LEGOLAND California App? It’s a great way to check wait times for the rides.
It also provides you with a map of the park, so it’s easy to navigate.
Insider tip: Bring a portable phone charger (like this) as the app will drain your battery quickly!)
What My Family Did at LEGOLAND on Day 1:
If you are looking to get an idea of what you could do with one day at LEGOLAND California, here’s what our family did.
We went at a very leisurely pace with a 2 year old and almost 5 year old on a Thursday in October. We spent some of the time walking as a group of 16, so again, leisurely pace.
Since we stayed at the LEGOLAND Hotel, we got into the Park at 9:30am, but we used that extra 30 minutes to sort out our tickets and to rent a double stroller. Then we talked to a few families who frequent LEGOLAND to get their tips.
We really started our day at 10am with our friends starting at LEGO CITY: Deep Sea Adventure.
Here’s our actual itinerary of what we did:
- LEGO City: Deep Sea Adventure (2x)
- The Dragon Coaster (2x)
- The Royal Joust (2x)
- Walked through Miniland USA (New York, Vegas, New Orleans)
- Coast Cruise
- Ocean Journey Cafe for Lunch (inside Sea Life Aquarium)
- Sea Life Aquarium
- Attempted Coastersaurus (closed right as we got there due to tree branch)
- Junior Driving School
- Sky Patrol (2x)
- Played at LEGO car area
- Fun Town Police and Fire Academy (Hubby took toddler back to hotel to nap)
- Captain Cranky’s Challenge
- LEGO City: Deep Sea Adventure
- Sat and ate Apple Fries
- Played at The Hideaways
- Walked back to LEGOLAND Hotel
Coming Up With YOUR Perfect Schedule
Theme park vacations vary so much from family to family. What we did might not be what you want to do.
My LEGOLAND California tip is to pick out the ride your family wants to do the most and ride it a few times. One family did the LEGO CITY Deep Sea Adventure 7 times because he was able to get right back in line after the ride!
If you have early park access, head to the LEFT when you enter the park and there are a few rides available during this early time.
Our second day, we did all the rides we missed the first day and then went back and rode a few of our favorites again!
Where to Eat in Carlsbad
The easiest place to eat is at the LEGOLAND Hotel. They have a character dinner that looks really cool. Or you can grab Park food to go. Or call Uber Eats to deliver something to your hotel.
But, if you have the energy to drive somewhere, there’s a lot of restaurants within a 5-10 minute drive. This includes an In-N-Out right at the exit!
Where to Stay at LEGOLAND
LEGOLAND is located about 40 minutes away from the San Diego airport in Carlsbad, CA.
If you are planning on exploring San Diego or are just doing a day trip to LEGOLAND, it probably makes the most sense to stay close to San Diego.
However, if you want the full LEGOLAND experience, it’s best to stay close to the Park.
Here are my top hotel picks:
My family loved staying at the LEGOLAND Hotel (and you can read all about it here.)
It’s just steps away from the Park entrance and they have a really cool lobby for both parents and adults.
Kids will love their own private sleeping area, bin of LEGOs to play with, and tons of Hotel activities and events! Plus, they can search for clues to open up a Treasure Chest with LEGO surprises inside!
And the complimentary breakfast is really nice. The kitchen area is more of an open concept design with a kid section where the food is kid height and they can serve themselves.
Find LEGOLAND Hotel deals here.
LEGOLAND CASTLE HOTEL
My friend stayed here (after staying at the LEGOLAND Hotel in past trips.) It’s the newest LEGOLAND hotel and features a huge outdoor play area.
She reported back that they also do the infamous Treasure Chest scavenger hunt! That was the highlight of her son’s stay! And they had built in LEGO play section in the wall of their hotel room.
She thought the lobby play area felt smaller than LEGOLAND Hotel and the breakfast buffet layout was different.
But, she loved the kids sleeping area in their room!
Find LEGOLAND Castle Hotel deals here.
SHERATON CARLSBAD RESORT & SPA
Several of our friends stayed here and liked it. It has it’s own entrance to the park near the LEGO CITY: Undersea Adventure ride (at the complete opposite end from the LEGOLAND hotels.)
Find Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa deals here.
Thanks to LEGOLAND California for the press tickets and media rate for the LEGOLAND Hotel. All opinions are my own.
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LEGOLAND for Toddlers: Guide to Rides, Activities + Hotels
LEGOLAND Hotel Adventure Theme Room Tour
Best Disneyland Hotels for Families with Young Children
Disneyland with Toddlers: Tips + Itinerary
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