Universal Studios Hollywood. Photo © fcarucci/Dreamstime.

Universal Studios Hollywood puts visitors into the action of their favorite movies. Photo © fcarucci/Dreamstime.

Universal Studios Hollywood

The longtime Hollywood-centric alternative to Disneyland is the Universal Studios Hollywood (100 Universal City Plaza, Los Angeles, 800/864-8377, hours vary, adults $85-95, children under 48 inches tall $72, parking $10-15) theme park. Kids adore this park, which puts them right into the action of their favorite movies. Flee the carnivorous dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, explore The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, or quiver in terror of an ancient curse in Revenge of the Mummy. If you’re more interested in how the movies are made than the rides made from them, take the Studio Tour. You’ll get an extreme close-up of the sets of major blockbuster films like War of the Worlds. Better yet, be part of the studio audience of TV shows currently taping by getting tickets at the Audiences Unlimited Ticket Booth. If you’re a serious movie buff, consider buying a VIP pass—you’ll get a six-hour tour that takes you onto working sound stages, into the current prop warehouse, and through a variety of working build shops that service movies and programs currently filming.

Six Flags Magic Mountain

Six Flags Magic Mountain (Magic Mountain Parkway, Valencia, 661/255-4100, hours vary, adults $73, children $48) provides good fun for the whole family. Magic Mountain has long been the extreme alternative to the Mouse, offering a wide array of thrill rides. You’ll need a strong stomach to deal with the g-forces of the major-league roller coasters and the death-defying drops, including the Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom, where you plummet 400 feet at speeds up to 85 mph. For the younger set, plenty of rides offer a less intense but equally fun amusement-park experience. Both littler and bigger kids enjoy interacting with the classic Warner Bros. characters, especially in Bugs Bunny World, and a kids’ show features Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, and more. Other than that, Magic Mountain has little in the way of staged entertainment—this park is all about the rides. The park is divided into areas, just like most other major theme parks; get a map at the entrance to help you maneuver around and pick your favorite rides.

Knott’s Berry Farm

For a taste of history along with some ultramodern thrill rides and plenty of cooling waterslides, head for Knott’s Berry Farm (8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, 714/220-5200, hours vary, adults $38, seniors and children $34, parking $15). From the tall landmark GhostRider wooden coaster to the 30-story vertical-drop ride to the screaming Silver Bullet suspended coaster, Knott’s supplies excitement to even the most hard-core ride lover. For the younger crowd, Camp Snoopy offers an array of pint-size rides and attractions, plus Snoopy and all the characters they love from the Peanuts comics and TV shows.

In the heat of the summer, many park visitors adjourn from the coasters to Knott’s Soak City (hours vary daily Memorial Day-Labor Day, adults $28-34, seniors and children $24, parking $15-20), a full-size water park with 22 rides, a kid pool and water playground, and plenty of space to enjoy the O.C. sunshine.

Convenient to the parks, Knott’s Berry Farm Resort Hotel (7675 Crescent Ave., Buena Park, 714/995-1111, $155-222) is a high-rise resort with a pool and spa, a fitness center, and several on-site restaurants.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon California.