California’s Great America theme park is just a few hours from our home but I haven’t been to the park since I was a child. Now that our children are getting older (9 and 11) we are trying to focus on giving them experiences and adventures instead of traditional birthday parties. When we started planning my youngest daughter’s 9th birthday, and I had the opportunity to partner with California’s Great America, my little girl was absolutely thrilled with the idea. This year we skipped a big, fancy party and instead celebrated her birthday with a visit to the theme park.
I don’t really recall California’s Great America from childhood so we really weren’t sure what to expect on our visit. We went on a Thursday in June with fingers crossed it wouldn’t be too hot or too crowded.
We were very pleased to find the park is not at all the typical packed theme park experience. The park was filled with people but didn’t feel crowded, we did not experience long waits and it was easy to navigate around. I was also very pleased to see staff constantly walking around picking up garbage and sweeping and keeping things clean.
Depending on the time of year you visit, you can experience the theme park or experience the park and a built in water park called Boomerang Bay. The theme park ticket includes admission to both areas, but the water park is typically closed for the winter months. We did choose the summer and we were able to spend part of our day at the regular park and the other half of the day at Boomerang Bay.
Here are a few highlights from our experience plus some general tips if you want to plan your own trip to California’s Great America.
The parking was actually not an issue at all. I absolutely hate walking for ages after a long day at a theme park, but California’s Great America actually has a really large parking lot that goes right to the front gate of the park. You can also upgrade your parking pass to get front row spots if you prefer.
If you are a roller coaster person, this is the park for you. There are a whopping nine coasters for major thrill seekers or for the littles. My children love any and all roller coasters and their favorite was the newest coaster, RailBlazer. RailBlazer has a single rail that gives an incredible view of the park and provides an off-road adventure experience. My nine year old was ecstatic that she was tall enough to ride on RailBlazer and we wound up going back three times throughout the course of the day. Most of the roller coasters require a height of 40-48″ but two coasters, The Patriot and Flight Deck, have a height restriction of 54”.
The Patriot is a hugely popular roller coaster that is actually floorless. My youngest daughter is about an inch shy of the height requirement, so no Patriot for our family, but it certainly looked pretty incredible from the ground.
We did not find the wait to be terribly long for any ride at the park, but you can upgrade your ticket to include a Fast Lane wristband. That wristband allows you to skip the lines on 18 of the most popular rides.
Planet Snoopy is an adorable part of the park for smaller children. There are a bunch of rides for children 36″ to 48″ tall and a very cute playground area plus some dining and shopping options. You will also find PEANUTS® characters, meet and greets with Snoopy, Charlie Brown and more.
I found this part of the park really charming and my children loved looking in the stores and some of the rides. There is a child care center here for those with babies and toddlers.
We spent the entire day at the park and had a chance to try several of the dining options. California’s Great America does not allow you to bring in outside food unless it is baby food or special dietary restrictions. The park does accommodate many different dietary needs including vegetarian, nut free, gluten free, kosher and more.
One of our favorite options from the park is to purchase a souvenir bottle with free drink refills all day at the park. You will purchase the bottle for $11.99 and you can refill your drink from the many refill stations throughout the park as many times as you like on your visit. Keep the bottle and pay just $1 per refill on future visits or get an all-season refill bottle to use over and over again.
The park has standard theme park options like pizza, burgers, fries and a large food court area with healthier options like sandwiches, salads and sushi.
Our favorite dining spot was Maggie’s Smokehouse & Fried Chicken. The prices were very reasonable and the portions generous. Our family of four actually shared a two-entree meal and two-side meal and found it very filling. My husband commented a few times that the chicken was quite good and the children gobbled down the macaroni and cheese and I had the side garden salad.
We also ended the day on a sweet note with a funnel cake that was excellent. You don’t want to miss these if you have a sweet tooth.
Boomerang Bay is the water park section of California’s Great America. You definitely want to check the calendar before your visit to get hours of operation as it is on a different schedule than the standard park hours.
Inside Boomerang Bay you will find a lazy river, a huge lagoon for smaller children, water slides, a wave pool, a huge multi-level water fortress and more. We found a ton of seating for those that do not want to get wet all around Boomerang Bay, and they have cabanas available to rent. My children absolutely loved this part of the park and could have easily spent the entire day here.
It didn’t feel too crowded, despite the warm weather, and there are lifeguards stationed everywhere to ensure the children stay safe.
I didn’t see towels anywhere at Boomerang Bay so remember to bring your own into the park.
Should you forget, they do have swim items for sale at various shops throughout the park.
One of my favorite rides was the Delta Flyer/Eagle’s Flight. This is a great way to get a bird’s eye view of the entire park and save yourself a little walking back and forth with a personal gondola ride that goes over the entire park. You will get a nice view of Levi’s Stadium and I found it peaceful and relaxing.
Another suggestion for those that aren’t from the Bay Area is to bring a jacket or sweatshirt. We live two hours away from California’s Great America and I always forget how much colder it is in the Bay Area. We went to the park in shorts and tank tops and although we were comfortable most of the day, I wanted a sweatshirt earlier in the morning and had we stayed later at night I definitely would have been cold.
There are two water rides, Rip Roaring Rapids and Whitewater Falls. The Whitewater Falls flume ride was under construction during our visit, but Rip Roaring Rapids was really fun. You will get wet though and you need to take your belongings onto the ride or store them in lockers.
You can rent strollers if needed but they are limited so you want to reserve one early.
You can find more information, height requirements and hours of operation by visiting California’s Great America online.
If you decide to take a trip, please come back and share your experience! I’d love to hear from you.
This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of California’s Great America. All opinions expressed are my own!