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California Lockdown theme parks Pixar Pier in Disney California Adventure Park

How California’s latest lockdown impacts theme parks

California’s new lockdown has forced Disney, Universal and other theme parks in the state to alter, delay or cancel their holiday events in the latest coronavirus twist to a year unlike any other.

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Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, SeaWorld California, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Legoland California and Knott’s Berry Farm all scrambled to respond to the latest stay-at-home order from California Governor Gavin Newsom.

By Brady MacDonald

Newsom’s move closes amusement parks, zoos, aquariums and hotels, limits restaurants to take-out or delivery and restricts retail capacity.

Struggling California theme parks were already operating under state restrictions that had kept the major tourist destinations closed for nearly nine months.

Theme parks hit by latest California lockdown

The stay-at-home order went into effect over the weekend in Southern California counties. Many San Francisco Bay area counties are expected to enter lockdown in the next week or so. The order lasts at least three weeks. It can also be extended if COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to spike.

The stay-at-home order in Southern California will last through Christmas. The order prohibits indoor or outdoor dining. Shops must reduce capacity to 20% capacity.

The three-week lockdown is the latest blow to the already-battered California theme park industry. The extended coronavirus closures of California theme parks have had a devastating impact. Thousands of employees were furloughed. Layoffs followed as closures stretched from weeks to months and now nearly a year.

Financial losses have climbed to the tens of millions for major players like Six Flags and SeaWorld and the billions for industry leaders like Universal and Disney.

COVID-19 health and safety reopening guidelines issued by the state are expected to keep California theme parks from resuming to full operation until early 2021 or next summer. However, many theme parks in the state have partially reopened without attractions for dining, shopping and special events.

How does the California lockdown affect its theme parks?

Let’s take a closer look at the impacts of the California lockdown on the state’s theme parks.


Disney California Adventure and Disneyland have been closed since mid-March.

Disneyland and Disney’s three Anaheim hotels remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Downtown Disney reopened in July. Portions of Disney California Adventure partially reopened in November without rides for shopping and dining.

Phased Reopening of the Downtown Disney District

The theme park has laid off more than 11,500 employees and furloughed thousands more because of the closures.

Buena Vista Street

Disney California Adventure reopened Buena Vista Street and portions of Hollywood Land and Grizzly Peak Airfield for shopping and dining.

Buena Vista Street reopened on 19 November as part of the Downtown Disney outdoor shopping mall. The rest of Disney California Adventure remained closed to visitors. The state order forced Disney California Adventure to close outdoor dining restaurants. Approximately 350 Disney employees returned to furlough because of the state’s order.

Phased Reopening of the Downtown Disney District ice cream california lockdown theme parks

Reopened Disney California Adventure restaurants that didn’t offer take-out were closed. Those included Carthay Circle Lounge, Award Wieners, Smokejumpers Grill and Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe. The Carthay Circle restaurant had been offering an alfresco menu. The limited small-plate menu featured Moroccan chicken meatballs, duck confit empanadas and shrimp spring rolls.

Reservations for the fine dining restaurant went quickly, snapped up by hardcore Disneyland fans almost as soon as they became available. Existing dining reservations for Carthay Circle were automatically cancelled when the restaurant closed.

Shopping and dining

Phased Reopening of the Downtown Disney District

Award Wieners offered a menu that featured Disneyland’s world-famous corn dog.  Smokejumpers had been serving a reduced menu of burgers and fried chicken tenders. Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe serves Starbucks coffee.

Under the order, retail shops that sell food can remain open. That includes Trolley Treats in Disney California Adventure. Food purchased at Trolley Treats must be eaten offsite.

Buena Vista Street shoppers can also still browse Kingswell Camera Shop, Off the Page, Elias & Co. and Julius Katz & Sons in Disney California Adventure.

No character meet-and-greets, entertainment or rides are available in Disney California Adventure while Buena Vista Street is open for shopping and dining. It is free to enter the theme park to shop and dine.

The Backlot Premiere pop-up shop also has opened as an extension of Downtown Disney in the Stage 17 building in Disney California Adventure.

Downtown Disney

The Downtown Disney mall connecting Disney’s Anaheim theme parks and hotels was the first area to reopen at the resort. Downtown Disney reopened in July, at the time Disney had hoped to reopen Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. But state officials prohibited the full reopening and, five months later, California theme parks have not fully reopened.

Phased Reopening of the Downtown Disney District california lockdown theme park

A majority of the outdoor dining restaurants in Downtown Disney have closed while many food and beverage locations that offer take-out remain open. Shoppers can’t eat or drink anything in Downtown Disney. Food and drinks purchased at Downtown Disney must be consumed offsite.

California lockdown leads theme parks to offer takeout services

Downtown Disney restaurants that offer outdoor dining without takeout service must close under the state order. Those locations include Asian Street Eats, Catal, La Brea Bakery & Cafe, Naples Ristorante e Bar, Napolini Pizzeria, Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen, Splitzville Luxury Lanes, Tortilla Jo’s and Uva Bar & Cafe.

Downtown Disney restaurants that offer takeout can remain open. Take-out food and drinks bought at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express, Wetzel’s Pretzels, Jamba, Salt & Straw, Earl of Sandwich, Starbucks and Sprinkles must be consumed outside Downtown Disney.

Sprinkles at Downtown Disney District

Black Tap Burgers & Shakes will offer takeout service through a walkup window. Black Tap won’t be able to serve their trademark CrazyShakes because the elaborate milkshakes can’t be fully enclosed as a to-go order. Ballast Point Brewery will be open for retail sales while the brewpub’s dining room remains closed.

Downtown Disney shops that sell food like Marceline’s Confectionary remain open but customers must eat their treats offsite.

Additional retail locations will be added to Downtown Disney in the coming weeks.

Disney Vacation Club

California’s lockdown has also forced the theme park to delay the planned phased reopening of the Disney Vacation Club villas. The villas were scheduled to reopen at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa on Dec. 6. The opening is now delayed indefinitely.

disney vacation club

The DVC villas were to become the first hotel rooms to reopen at the resort in nearly nine months. The Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier Hotel, as well as the rest of the Grand Californian, remain closed indefinitely.

“While we know this news is disappointing, we look forward to when we can welcome you back home and make magical memories together once more,” said a statement sent to DVC members.

Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood remains one of the few major California theme parks to not partially reopen for shopping, dining or a special event during the lockdown.

universal citywalk butterbeer

The adjacent Universal CityWalk shopping mall has temporarily closed outdoor dining because of the order. Meanwhile, Universal CityWalk retail stores and select takeout dining venues remain open for business.

The outdoor mall next to Universal Studios Hollywood has begun selling Butterbeer. The popular drink offers a taste of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter while the park remains closed.

SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego is another theme park that has to temporarily close again and cancel its holiday events because of California’s latest lockdown.

“As part of our continued commitment to the safety of our guests and Ambassadors and in accordance with the regional stay at home order issued by the state of California, we are temporarily closing SeaWorld San Diego,” SeaWorld officials said in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming our valued guests back to our parks soon.”

seaworld-san-diego california lockdown theme parks

SeaWorld partially reopened without rides in August under California’s aquariums and zoos guidelines.

Aquariums and zoos in Southern California must now close under the state’s stay-at-home order. SeaWorld San Diego hopes to return once the state permits Southern California zoos to reopen.

SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration kicked off in mid-November. The holiday event was going to run on select dates through until 4 January. The Christmas Celebration featured socially-distanced meet-and-greet opportunities with Santa and Rudolph, a Stocking Stuffer Christmas Trail with treats and toys for kids and holiday foods. SeaWorld’s famed orca, dolphin and sea lion stadium shows ran during the event.

SeaWorld’s animal care experts will continue to conduct animal rescue operations and care for the marine park’s animals during the closure.

Knott’s Berry Farm

Knott’s Berry Farm had been one of the first California theme parks to reopen after the initial lockdown, with a series of successful special events.

The attraction has now had to cancel three weeks of sold-out dates for the Taste of Merry Farm food festival because of the state’s stay-at-home order. The Merry Farm event offered holiday food and drinks at 30 booths.

Knott’s has closed and temporarily halted the ongoing Taste of Merry Farm event from 11 – 26 December. The Knott’s holiday event is likely to resume on 27 December and run through until 3 January 2021.

Taste of Merry Farm kicked off on 20 November. This is the latest in a series of popular food festivals at Knott’s. It took the concept of the previous events and added a winter holiday twist with a menu celebrating seasonal flavours. Previous events included Taste of Fall-O-Ween, Taste of Knott’s and Taste of Calico.

Mrs Knott’s chicken dinner restaurant still offers curbside pick-up and carry-out for those craving a taste of the park.

The Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel will have to close to travellers during the stay-at-home orders. Hotels that offer rooms to essential workers can remain open during the lockdown.

Legoland California

Legoland California plans to halt its Holidays at Legoland dining and retail event because of the state order.


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The Legoland holiday event featured socially-distanced meet-and-greet opportunities with a Lego toy soldier and gingerbread man, a 30-foot-tall Lego Christmas tree and a life-size Lego Santa on his sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Legoland’s Big Shop retail store at the entrance to the park will remain open for shopping. The Legoland Castle Hotel will also stay open.

Six Flags Magic Mountain

Six Flags Magic Mountain was actually able to expand its holiday events after the state’s order went into effect. The park has extended the Holiday in the Park Drive-Thru Experience through until 31 January, on select dates.

“Our Six Flags Holiday in the Park Drive-Thru Experience will remain open as scheduled,” Six Flags officials said in a statement. “The health and safety of our guests and employees are our top priority, and like other local public venues, we continue to monitor the situation and follow guidance from the state and county officials.”

Six Flags Magic Mountain drive thru xmas california lockdown theme parks

The once-in-a-lifetime event lets visitors drive through the 125-acre park past millions of holiday lights from the safety and comfort of their vehicles. The Holiday in the Park Drive-Thru Experience takes visitors on a 30-minute trip past light displays choreographed to music.

The holiday lights drive-thru was Magic Mountain’s first attempt at partially reopening during the pandemic. The event kicked off on 20 November and Magic Mountain has expanded the popular event twice.

Along the way, visitors encounter faux snow, “ice” sculptures and 30-foot-tall ornaments. Santa and Mrs Claus also make socially-distanced appearances.

Passengers must stay in their vehicles. If visitors roll down their windows they must wear a mask.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Bay area theme parks have not yet fallen under Southern California’s stay-at-home order, but lockdowns in Northern California counties are expected in the coming days and weeks.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has been operating under zoo and aquarium guidelines. Like SeaWorld, Discovery Kingdom will have to close animal exhibits once the order comes through.

Six flags discovery kingdom xmas california lockdown theme parks

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom became the first theme park in California to reopen in July during the COVID-19 pandemic. Discovery Kingdom reopened the marine park portion of the park while keeping amusement rides closed. The limited-time Marine World Experience featured animal exhibits and stadium shows.

The park combined the Marine World Experience with some Christmas cheer for the Holiday in the Park Lights event. The event started on 27 November and runs on select dates through until 3 January 2021. This features holiday displays with millions of lights as well as dolphin and sea lion shows.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk briefly became the first amusement park in California to reopen with rides under the state’s new tiered system. But the honour did not last long. The waterfront amusement park shut its doors again after only two days. A spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Santa Cruz County forced amusement parks to close again.

santa cruz beach boardwalk

Santa Cruz County is likely to fall under the state’s lockdown in mid-December. That move will put the Beach Boardwalk as far as possible from reopening again.

California’s Great America remains closed for the 2020 season and Cedar Fair doesn’t plan to reopen the park until the 2021 season.

Images kind courtesy of those parks mentioned. Background image Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure.

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brady mcdonald

Brady MacDonald

Brady MacDonald is a freelance writer based in California. He wrote the Funland theme park blog for the Los Angeles Times for a decade. His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, New York Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Seattle Times, Orlando Sentinel and Orange County Register.

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