Southern California is a great place for exploring amusement parks, especially with energetic teens and tweens. In Orange and Los Angeles Counties, families with adolescents get their best bet at Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farms, Disneyland, and Disney’s California Adventure. The key to a family’s survival in the summer with this age group is to create a strategic game plan. Jennifer Blazey, community relations manager at Knott’s Berry Farm, shared some great tips to use at all parks to keep families’ trips on track, leaving the ups-and-downs to the rides.

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First: Create a plan

Check out the park’s website to view the map and guides for hours of operations and parking information. Plan to get to the park at least an hour before you want to be riding rides. Blazey recommends getting to the park early enough for breakfast and review your plan with the family over pancakes and bacon.
Knott’s Berry Farm: start out at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant and enjoy a plate of warm biscuits and gravy with a side of coffee and juice.
Universal Studios Hollywood: Begin the day dining at the Hollywood Grill, which is open for breakfast until 11a.m.
Disneyland: La Brea Bakery® Café in Downtown Disney serves up warm artisan breads and scrumptious breakfast in a craftsman-style café.
California Adventures: For Sunday visitors lift your voices, and praise the Lord while passing the biscuits at the House of Blues Gospel Brunch.

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Second: Allow some freedom

Teens and tweens have different needs and boundaries. Teens want more freedom and can be let loose while tweens still need that watchful parental eye. Blazey suggests preplanning the day to break it up, allowing teens to run off and explore but to regroup every few hours. Plan what rides the family can enjoy together and even let the kids share a ride while the parents relax on the bench.

The following are great rides to kick start the day:
Knott’s Berry Farm: Located close to the front entrance near Ghost Town is GhostRider, one of the longest and tallest wooden roller coasters in the world reaching speeds of 56 miles per hour with twists and turns but no loops. This is a great warm up ride, if you consider climbing 118 feet to drop 108 feet with fast banks and 13 additional drops, sudden dips, and maximum G-forces of 3.14!
Universal Studios Hollywood: Kick-start the day with Transformers The Ride-3D. Prepare for battle and fight alongside Optimus as you protect the AllSpark from Decepticons over four stories tall.
Disneyland: To avoid long lines that form later in the day the folks at Disney suggest starting your visit out with a jolt at two popular rides: Space Mountain and Indiana Jones. Space Mountain is an indoor thrill ride that hurls you into the next frontier. Indiana Jones takes you on an adventure by boarding a 12-person troop transport for a fast-paced thrill ride that realistically simulates driving fast over rough terrain.
Disney California Adventure: Feel your feet dangle 45 feet in the air as you hang glide over California’s famous natural and manmade wonders on Soarin’ Over California. This ride that flies you over the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Diego Harbor via a 80-foot, high-speed Omnimax film projected all around you is considered a mild but wild ride the whole family can enjoy.

(credit: Michelle Mears-Gerst)

Third: Connect over lunch

Lunchtime is great opportunity for parents to regroup with their teens if they went separate ways in the morning. Since summer afternoons can be really hot and draining on all family members plan your lunch around a park show near food courts or indoors at a sit down restaurant.
Knott’s Berry Farm: A great sit-down restaurant is the Ghost Town Grill, where families can unwind and dine on chicken and mashed potatoes or pulled pork BBQ sandwiches on the front porch or inside the old west themed restaurant. Another great place to meet up with the family is at Johnny Rockets for a fast 50’s-style themed restaurant for burgers and fries along the Boardwalk. Another fun place to cool down with the family is at the Calico Saloon Show and the Old School House where kids can see how school is taught in an authentic one-room building. Parents: make sure the kids read the rules students had to follow.
Universal Studios Hollywood: Everyone has to try Pink’s. Hollywood’s iconic hotdogs are now available at the parks own custom Pink’s Hot Dog Cart. Your hungry kids can try a nine-inch hot dog or a mild Polish sausage with drinks.
Disneyland: A great afternoon show at Disney is the Jedi Training Academy. As young Padawans, teens and tweens can recite the sacred Jedi Oath, draw their light sabers and learn ancient battle techniques from a true Jedi Master. The academy is located near Tomorrowland Terrace, an intergalactic eatery that serves up burgers, grilled chicken dishes like sandwiches, salads, and more.
California Adventure: It’s time to play the music and dim the lights at the Muppet*Vision 3D show. Teens and tweens can unwind and watch a fun 3D half hour show that is a bit nostalgic for the adults. The family can grab a quick bite to eat at the Fairfax Market, offering healthy fresh fruits, snacks and mouthwatering treats.

(credit: universalstudioshollywood.com)

Fourth: beat the heat

After lunch when the sun is blazing is a great time for families to hit the water rides or see more shows inside air-conditioned theaters.

Knott’s Berry Farm: Big Foot Rapids is a great midafternoon cool down ride that still offers thrills for teens to ride alone or the family can ride together. Be prepared to get soaked on the outdoor whitewater river raft ride that will bounce, toss, spin and splash everyone.
Universal Studios Hollywood: King Kong 360 3-D is the world’s largest, most intense 3-D experience and it’s on the Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour. Your survival instincts will be on overload as you find yourself caught in the middle of a struggle between the 35-foot T-Rex and King Kong.
Disneyland: Board a hollowed-out log and enjoy a musical journey through a colorful bayou populated with cheerful critters on Splash Mountain. This is one of the most elaborate Disneyland Park attractions, culminating in a daring 5-story plunge down rustic Chick-A-Pin Hill.
California Adventure: Ride the rapids on Grizzly River Run: take a six-minute journey through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but hold on tight when you plunge down a thrilling, spinning, runaway river.

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Fifth: reconnect at the end of the day

End the evening together with your teens and tweens and enjoy one of the evening shows the parks offer or wind down with dinner and refreshments.
Knott’s Berry Farm: At night, the rides light up and the park takes on cool neon look. End the evening with thrills and chills on rollercoasters like, Jaguar! Brave the ancient mysteries of the Temple of the Jaguar, a thrilling ride every member of the family will love.
Universal Studios Hollywood: Prove you are not scared of the dark and visit The House of Horrors. Stay calm if you can as you make your way through the dark and winding terror maze and come face-to-face with Frankenstein, Wolf Man, Chucky, and other frightening characters from the scariest horror movies of all time.
Disneyland: Every Disney visit has to end with the iconic Disney “Remember…Dreams Come True” Fireworks Spectacular bursting behind Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
California Adventure: Starting June 15, 2012, fall through the rabbit hole and travel “every which way” to enter the Mad T Party — a high-energy, glowing wonderland of live music, exotic tastes and fun-filled games at Hollywood Pictures Backlot.

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Michelle Mears-Gerst, who can be found on Twitter, would like to thank the folks at Knott’s Berry Farm for the tour and finding her son’s baseball hat. Advice: Don’t wear hats or eat lunch right before going on the best wooden roller coaster ever.