By Matt Villano, on January 28, 2015

Family weekend at LEGOLAND

In my book, LEGOs are like chocolate chip cookies—every kid loves ‘em. My 5-year-old daughter plays with them at least an hour every day. My 3-year-old daughter is even more obsessed, sometimes enclosing herself in a fort of the tiny plastic bricks, then suggesting we play hide-and-seek.

I know kids—boys, mostly—who are so obsessed with LEGOs that they spend almost every waking moment of every waking day playing with the things.

In short, this is the stuff around which cults are formed.

Naturally, then, when a high-school buddy of mine told me my kids would love LEGOLAND California Resort, near San Diego, I had to see for myself. My younger girl and I visited the park on a recent weekend. It was, without question, one of the most fun trips we’ve ever taken anywhere together. Here’s a rundown on the stuff we liked best.


Without question, the best part of our experience at LEGOLAND was the hotel itself—technically known as the LEGOLAND Hotel at LEGOLAND California Resort.

Loose LEGOs were everywhere at the property—in a giant pit near the check-in counter, in our room upstairs, even at some of the tables in the on-site restaurant. We also found dozens—check that, HUNDREDS—of pre-assembled creatures and characters around the resort, ranging from scarab beetles and monkeys to chefs and dragons.

Upon checking in, guests receive rooms with one of three themes—pirate, kingdom, and adventure. Ours was an “Adventure” room and had an Indiana-Jones-meets-King-Tut kind of vibe. Considering my wife is an archaeologist, this could not have been more perfect.

The room itself was spacious and clean. One side was a pretty basic hotel room: Queen-sized bed, desk, armoire for clothes, and a mini-fridge. The other side was kid-friendly and awesome: Bunk beds, trundle bed, separate television, and a host of LEGO packets to play with. (There also was a standard bathroom with a toilet seat that had a built-in potty seat; this was terrific for my 3-year-old.)

Playing with DUPLOs in DUPLO Playtown

But the undisputed highlight of our time at the LEGOLAND California Resort was the elevator. When we entered the elevator, it was playing muzak just like any other. But once the doors closed, a disco ball dropped from the ceiling, lights flashed, and dance music came on. My daughter insisted on riding the elevator up and down five or six times a day, just to see the transformation occur. To this day, months later, she still talks about that elevator.

The park itself

The theme park at LEGOLAND California, which boasts a host of rides and attractions, is a great place to spend the day—provided you don’t mind lines.

Thankfully, park designers thought ahead and installed LEGO tables in every queue; kids can pass time building with communal blocks at these tables while moms and dads wait. Still, especially on a busy day, you can expect to spend at least a few hours just standing around.

Some of the rides are worth it—we waited 45 minutes for the Sky Cruiser, a roller coaster on which you actually have to pedal in order to make your car move. Other rides are nothing special—the Safari Trek ride was nothing more than an automated pass around a track with a bunch of LEGO animals on either side.

Perhaps our favorite ride was the Coast Cruise, which gave us a lay of Miniland USA by boat. As a guy who regularly covers Las Vegas, the detail of the miniature Sin City blew me away.

In addition to the rides, my daughter also liked the park’s playgrounds. In the DUPLO Playtown playground, she built another one of her famous forts—only this time, with giant DUPLOs. At the Hideaways playground, she and some new friends climbed up rope ladders and slid down tunnel slides, again and again and again.

Viewfinder Tip: Splurge to stay at the LEGOLAND Hotel and enjoy extra access to the LEGOLAND California Resort. Hours vary by season.

The food

Usually, the notion of theme park food makes me want to bring peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches from home. In the case of LEGOLAND, however, there were a variety of legitimately cool—and healthy—options. Like a Ramen restaurant. And a Garden Café with veggie dishes.

The place even has a stand with “fries” made out of apple sticks.

As if the variety wasn’t impressive enough, the reality blew me away. While we visited, my daughter and I met up with friends of ours—an entire family who is vegan. The five of them had no problem getting lunch and snacks—and avoiding the usual cheese sandwich. One of them ate a salad. Another had a snack of fruit. Definitely not your typical theme park eats.

Other attractions

With only 48 hours inside the park, my daughter and I only saw a fraction of what there is to see at LEGOLAND California. Things we missed: the LEGO CHIMA Water Park, the SEA LIFE Aquarium, and more. Because we visited in winter, we also missed out on a chance to go ice-skating on a makeshift skating rink. This just means we’ll have to go back again later in the year.

In many ways, both of us found LEGOLAND California just as enjoyable as that famous theme park up the road—Disneyland. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to expand our perspective on Southern California entertainment.

What are your favorite theme parks and why?