I received LEGOLAND California  park tickets to facilitate this post, but all opinions are 100% mine.

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We were in California over the holidays and surprised the boys with a trip to LEGOLAND. My preschooler is OBSESSED with LEGOs right now (seriously — he never wants to play with anything else) and we thought he’d get a kick out of it, so we drove down to Carlsbad and checked out the park. I hadn’t known anything about this theme park, aside from its theme, before we went — so it was all new to me. In case you’re planning your first visit, here are some of our best tips and tricks for getting the most out of LEGOLAND.

Family Travel: 7 Tips For Visiting LEGOLANDLEGOLAND California Resort

1. Plan your path.

LEGOLAND is essentially set up in one big loop, with the entrance at the bottom of the circle. If you start by heading to the LEFT, you will find all the little-kid-friendly spots like Driving School, the DUPLO playground and Flight Squadron (all of which were hits with my 4 1/2 year old and 18 month old). Go RIGHT first, and you’ll find more grown up things like the Dragon roller coaster and the Lost Kingdom Adventure ride.

I recommend starting in the direction most appropriate for your age group — hit up the other stuff at the end of the day if possible, but this way you’ll have plenty of time to do your priority activities. We started by going to the grown up rides first and my little kids were bored and overwhelmed — we hurried over to the little kid area and they lit right up. LEGOLAND seems especially geared for younger kids — I’d say ages 4-10 would be perfect for this park.

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2. Go on a school day.

We went the first Monday after winter break — once all the local kids were back in school. All the workers kept telling us how chaotic the holiday crowds had been, and I think weekends can get pretty crowded too. LEGOLANDLEGOLAND is on the small side and has a laid-back vibe to it, so add crowds into that and it’s a recipe for a bad day. Avoid holidays and weekends and you’ll breeze right through — we didn’t wait more than 5 minutes for any ride besides the Sky Cruiser.

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3. Go DUPLO.

If you’ve got a kid under the age of 5, make sure you budget a LOT of time in your day for DUPLO Village. They’ve got some fun kid-friendly rides like Safari Trek and Fairy Tale Brook (slower, meandering rides that give you a good amount of time to admire the seriously awesome LEGO creations) but my kids looooved the Playtown. It’s basically a playground with lots of slides and things to climb on, but they’ve got giant life-sized LEGO bricks for building (which captivated my preschooler) and a train ride that my toddler wanted to ride over and over. It was a nice place for the grown ups to sit down in the afternoon and just watch the kids run wild. We could have stayed there for half the day.

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4. Don’t forget to eat!

As lunchtime approached, I was pretty tempted by most of the food stands (Granny’s Apple Fries smelled particularly delicious!) but we held out and discovered a delightful spot: the Fun Town Market. They seemed to have the healthiest and widest selection of options throughout the park — we opted for the kids meal, which had a main course (hot dog, chicken tenders or PB&J), chips, fruit and juice. It wasn’t cheap but it seemed reasonable for theme park food. Then we ate outside on their covered patio, where my boys got to eat at a tiny kid-sized table and the adults enjoyed themselves nearby at a grown-up table. Loved it!

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5. Save your shopping for the end.

The Big Shop at the entrance to the park is amaaazing and SO full of every LEGO thing you can dream of. We saved that as a prize at the end of the day, which gave my preschooler something to look forward to (and helped keep him from wanting to buy a toy at every shop we passed throughout the park). It’s like your local LEGO store on steroids, plus a bunch more cool stuff (and some cute LEGOLAND t-shirts!).

6. Hit up the aquarium.

You can get a park hopper pass that includes admission to LEGOLAND and the Sea Life Aquarium. This aquarium, like LEGOLAND, seems especially geared toward younger kids and it’s pretty fun. Lots of sea creatures to touch, feeding demos throughout the day, a walk-through shark tank and lots more. Definitely worth the park hopper ticket if you’ve got the time.

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The pass also includes the the Chima Water Park (which is closed for the winter). It includes a 45-foot-tall tower and 20 LEGO models that spray water on the swimmers. There are two sandy beach wading areas plus retail shopping and snack carts. It’s definitely something to go back for!

LEGO CHIMA™ Water Park presented by Cartoon Network™

7. Like the LEGO Movie?

The Playtown Theater in Duplo Village currently has the set from The LEGO Movie (all the real-life LEGO models from the end of the movie) along with cast autographs and some fun behind-the-scenes videos. We liked playing “where’s Emmet” by finding him among the buildings and it was fun to learn more about one of our favorite movies. We even got there in time for a photo opp with our favorite LEGO guy!

So there you go — our seven best tips for visiting LEGOLAND California. Have you been? What did you think and do you have any tips to add?