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Get your theme park vacation on. The Disneyland Resort is the undisputed front-runner in family-friendly vacation destinations in Southern California. A short drive away is another appealing amusement park: Knott's Berry Farm. Hosting a far better selection of high-speed roller coasters (Disney's are milder, to appeal to all ages), it's hugely popular with teens who crave thrill rides.

33 miles S of Los Angeles

There are newer and sometimes larger Disney parks in Florida, Tokyo, France, and Shanghai, but Disneyland -- the original and the inspiration for them all -- still opens its gates in Anaheim every day, proudly proclaiming itself "The Happiest Place on Earth." In 2001, Disney unveiled a new sister theme park, Disney California Adventure, along with the shopping/dining/entertainment district called Downtown Disney. The two parks are about 100 steps from each other, so get a "Park Hopper" ticket to go back and forth all day.

Attractions and Rides -- Savvy visitors know to use the MaxPass system for the park's most popular rides -- basically an appointment time so you can skip the lines — but there's a slight fee (purchase in the park via the Disneyland app, which is a must to download before you go). For little ones, It's A Small World is still timeless. Slightly older kids will love the ramunctious scenes in another classic, Pirates of the Caribbean. Thrill-seekers can count on Space Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, plus the Incredicoaster rollercoaster at the lakeside Pixar Pier area of California Adventure, for a good time. The biggest draw in California Adventure is the spot-on imitation of Radiator Springs in Cars Land; the Racers ride is among the most impressive ever constructed by Disney. In 2019, the richly detailed Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opened on newly added land at the rear of Disneyland; count on lines there.

Restaurants and Dining -- Kids will eat up character-dining opportunities, from Chip and Dale at the Grand Californian's Storytellers Café to Lilo and Stitch's Aloha Breakfast at the Paradise Pier Hotel, plus the high-end Carthay Circle at Disney California Adventure. For a one-of-a-kind experience, the dimly lit Blue Bayou is located inside the Pirates attraction but feels like a Southern patio on a starry night. For a more upscale, adult-oriented experience, the Napa Rose competes with Orange County's best fine-dining establishments; Catal Restaurant is quite good as well, and more moderately priced. Reservations are wise for all sit-down restaurants inside the theme parks; make them as far ahead as you can.

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Nightlife and Entertainment -- Downtown Disney isn't just for kids. There are a number of brewpubs and restaurants with cocktail bars, the fantastic Splitsville (bowling, bar, and grub like sushi), The VOID virtual reality walk-through attraction, a few brewpubs with hearty American fare, and fun twists on dessert like the funky flavors (black olive and goat cheese?) of Salt & Straw ice cream.

Characters and Parades -- Disneyland and California Adventure are also known for sensational productions such as FANTASMIC!, which takes its inspiration from The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and mixes life-size ships, music, stunts, pyrotechnics, and special effects. California Adventure's electrifying World of Color is a lighting and water-feature feat showcasing beloved Disney film characters and scenes, and takes place nightly in the park's lagoon.