Brick by brick.
Heretical though it seems, were he alive today it's quite possible that the great Walt Disney would take his grandchildren to play at Legoland California instead of Disneyland.
The newly opened 128-acre park in Carlsbad, about 30 miles north of San Diego, is reminiscent of the Disneyland of the '50s: Wait spurned recommendations to build an amusement park full of Ferris wheels and roller coasters and instead focused on elaborately landscaped theme areas, like Tom Sawyer Island, where using your imagination was as important as having an E ticket.
Whereas modern-day Disneyland has mothballed older rides in favor of flashy but passive attractions like the Indiana Jones Adventure, Legoland has gone back to the basic premise that kids prefer to be involved in play rather than just observe it.
That doesn't mean guests are expected to build their own rides out of the brightly colored plastic bricks. Far from it. There are boats that cruise through fairy-tale lands, animated zebras and lions to ogle, and a coaster ride through an enchanted castle. But, for the most part, kids are asked to get involved. At the Kid Power Tower, for example, you have to pull yourself up 35 feet to the top before experiencing a controlled free fall to the bottom. At the driving school in Fun Town, older youngsters are set loose and allowed to maneuver electric vehicles through a grid of streets (no tracks).
When kids need a break from physical activity, they can visit the magic theater with its behind-the-scenes look at wizardry. In the Imagination Zone, kids are challenged to build the fastest race car or erect the tallest tower and test it on an earthquake table.
The park's themed areas all revolve around Miniland, a fantastic re-creation of five scaled-down regions of the country, from the harbors and countryside of New England to the animated cable cars of San Francisco.
Though the theme park was designed specifically for ages 2 through 12, kids over 10 might tell you something different. There are plenty of challenging activities for older kids (a lot of adults would probably like to have the park all to themselves), but preteens might chafe at being surrounded by so many giggling, obviously enchanted youngsters.
$32, $25 ages 3-16 and 60 and over.
10-6 daily, later on holidays and in summer.
From 1-5 in Carlsbad, exit at Cannon Rd. and follow signs.