California's Great America is a hidden gem in the San Francisco Bay Area. For over 45 years, the park has remained both a local favorite and a travel destination for theme park enthusiasts throughout the country. Immersing families in an American carnival-themed setting, it features electrifying attractions of all kinds, as well as distinctive dining, entertainment and special events. Along with its water park counterpart, South Bay Shores Waterpark, California's Great America continues to expand and is open to the public the whole year! Let's hop to it and go over all the major aspects of this Santa Clara park. (Be sure to get your discount tickets to this park through Undercover Tourist!)
Overview of California's Great America in San Francisco
Undercover Tourist is frogcited to uncover nationwide savings (up to 25 percent!) to your favorite theme parks and attractions — a lineup that now includes California's Great America. So, let's introduce this new park to all of you in the Frog Pond!
California's Great America is a carnival-themed amusement park located in Santa Clara, just between San Jose and San Francisco. The park was acquired by Cedar Fair in 2006 and has since become a popular landmark in the Bay Area.
Spread across an area of 112 acres, California's Great America is home to a vast number of special events, rides and experiences. Thrills, chills and family feels are all included in this park, from its themed kids' land based off of the PEANUTS gang, Planet Snoopy, to the tallest and fastest wooden coaster in Northern California, Gold Striker. California's Great America has something to offer everyone!
California's Great America Hours, Location and Map
In the summer, the park usually operates daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Park hours tend to vary during other seasons and may only stay open on weekends only. For the most up-to-date hours, hop over to the park's calendar on California's Great America website.
Located close to the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the park is known for its coastal ambiance and rip-roaring rides. This Santa Clara park is about six miles from Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport. If you plan to drive yourself to the park, parking costs $30 per vehicle. But if you're planning to rideshare, the address is 4911 Great America Parkway, Santa Clara, CA 95054 — the drop-off/pick-up area is just past the parking lot entrance.
California's Great America Tickets
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Day tickets and season passes are available for California's Great America. One-day general admission tickets are available, as well as group tickets and military tickets. Season Passes can also be purchased to enter the park. Undercover Tourist now offers frogtastic discount tickets for both California's Great America and South Bay Shores Water Park, so you can save some green through your favorite froggy friends.
California's Great America Rides
California's Great America offers ribbeting roller coasters for adult frogs and two small coasters for the tadpoles to enjoy. In addition, you can also find six thrill rides, 13 family rides and 14 rides for children in the park.
Some of Great America's larger rollercoasters are well-known and loved amongst theme park enthusiasts! Since its unveiling in 2013, Gold Striker has become a vastly popular wooden rollercoaster in the park and attracts crowds from all around. Each attraction has a unique, adrenaline-filled experience to offer! Take note that many attractions have minimum height requirements.
Maximize your time with Fast Lane, the paid skip-the-line option at California's Great America. For $49 plus tax, a Fast Lane wristband (valid for one visit) allows you to bypass the standby lines for 17 rides as many times as you want during your visit. For $475 plus tax, you can purchase a Season Pass Fast Lane which allows guests to skip the lines for 17 rides each time they visit. The Fast Lane pass can be used for some of the park's popular attractions, including RailBlazer, Patriot, Gold Striker and more. Either pass allows you to ride the included attractions repeatedly! A limited amount of passes are sold each day so be sure to snag them early in the day (or online in advance) before they sell out!
Rip-Roaring Roller Coasters
Great America has seven solid roller coasters geared toward teen and adult frogs! While all are exciting, each takes on its own special approach to bringing the thrills. RailBlazer is by far one of the most unfrogettable rides in the park. The first single-rail coaster in the West Coast area, the ride propels riders over a 106-foot-tall vertical drop and reaches speeds of 52 mph while doing so. The coaster also features three full inversions and ample airtime to make you feel like you're flying in the most frogtastic way. Moreover, the single-rail aspect of the ride creates the illusion of gliding through the sky, rather than being on a coaster.
One of the park's oldest rides, Demon has been a coaster favorite for decades, especially for the locals. The steel coaster provides stomach-churning airtime, intense vertical loops, double corkscrews and dives, all in under two minutes. Named one of the world's Top 10 Wooden Coasters by Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards, Gold Striker stands 108.2 feet high at the front of the park. Other coasters, such as Flight Deck, also deliver memorable inversions and views.
Though they may not be roller coasters, the six thrill rides available at California's Great America will leave a lasting impression. Tiki Twirl, formerly known as SURVIVOR The Ride, was built in 2006 and is considered a must-try experience by many parkgoers. The ride incorporates drums, music and giant tiki torches along with the giant spinning disc that riders sit on in a circle formation. The disk spins at an increasing speed and travels back and forth along a track with a hill in the center, serving as a smooth introduction to thrill rides for those not accustomed (or for kids). A similar ride, Delirium, depends on a pendulum effect to swing guests in a gravity-defying manner. This ride raises riders up to 64 feet, or six stories, in the air!
While these rides may not deliver spine-tingling thrills, they are still a great way to ensure your frog squad has a fun time together at the park. Great America is one of the very few parks in the U.S. featuring a ride based off of a video game. Based off of the military, sci-fi video game franchise, "Mass Effect," Mass Effect: New Earth is a one-of-a-kind 4D attraction utilizing water, wind and aroma effects in addition to live actors. It also accommodates up to 80 people and uses a 60-foot-tall LED screen to immerse guests in its storyline.
Specially made for smaller tadpoles, ranging from toddlers to elementary-aged kids, there are many children's rides at California's Great America. Most of the kiddie rides are located inside Planet Snoopy, the designated children's area in the park. The Berserker is a timeless, mini-bobsled ride specifically designed for tadpoles. At its highest point, the attraction tips riders sideways at a 45-degree angle for some mild thrills. Sally's Love Buggies is another toadally cute ride meant for kids. Each pair of riders gets to coast in a personal buggy covered in hearts.
The park also has a playground on the premises for some more traditional fun, known as the Planet Snoopy Construction Zone!
Dining and Shopping at California's Great America
Some of these establishments include classics, such as Subway and Panda Express, which are great options for picky eaters. For those wanting to explore newer restaurants and eateries in the park, visit the South Bay Cantina for some Mexicali-inspired dishes, such as burritos and nachos. If there are adult frogs in your group, you can even visit the Game Time Sports Bar. There, you can find flatscreen TVs and frozen margaritas, along with American-style dishes.
California's Great America is now cashless. The park no longer accepts physical cash or coins to complete transactions. Guests can either use a credit card, debit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay to make all purchases inside the park. It’s a faster, safer and always secure alternative to physical money. No card? No problem! The parks have multiple Cash-to-Card kiosks that will allow you to convert your cash to a prepaid card with no fee. Leftover funds can be used anywhere VISA is accepted.
California's Great America offers different dining plans for guests to choose from. You can purchase these online or at the gate. The Single-Meal Deal is $16.99 and covers one meal during your one-time visit, and includes an entree, side and a regular-size fountain drink at participating restaurants in the park. The All-Day Dining Plan costs $31.99 and allows you to pick an entree and a side from participating restaurants in the park as many times as you want during your one-time visit. All you have to do is wait 90 minutes between each use. The Premium Dining Plan, priced at $42.99, includes the benefits of the All-Day Dining Plan, plus a drink wristband you can redeem all day (with free refills). Even more dining plans for annual pass holders can be found on its website.
The park contains 12 stores, each selling distinct souvenirs, apparel and collectibles. One of the first things you see when you enter the park, Inside CGA is a large, general souvenir store selling everything from snacks to Great America memorabilia. The store can be found in Celebration Plaza, close to the Front Gate Photo station where you can get your photo taken by a park employee (which you can later see in FunPix). Some smaller, themed shops in the park include the Snoopy Boutique, Bayou Outpost and California Trails. Bayou Outpost sells Mardi Gras-themed souvenirs, while California Trails specializes in outdoorsy, nature-oriented keepsakes.
Entertainment at California's Great America
Aside from its massively popular rides and coasters, Great America offers lots of entertainment options to complete the theme park experience. The park puts on live shows ranging from character greetings to full-scale stage productions. You can easily hear the smooth tunes of live musical performers and bands at different theater stages throughout the park. There's even an a capella group!
To check out all of the entertainment available at the park, check out the official California's Great America app. You can also try out some of the carnival-style games and interactive activities available at the park.
South Bay Shores Water Park
Ready to beat the heat this summer? Well, you definitely can at South Bay Shores Water Park! Right next door to California's Great America, this 15-acre water park recently reopened with new theming in 2021. This added seven new water attractions and two new restaurants to the already popular spot. South Bay Shores Water Park is mainly open in the summer, from the months of June to August. For the 2023 season, it will open May 27.
Pacific Surge is the water park's headlining attraction. It features six waterslides (six stories tall); four of which send riders down a trap-door vertical drop, then into a series of turns and dips before making a big splash! There are also tamer waterslides and play areas for the little ones, such as Coastal Cruz and Pup's Pier. Coastal Cruz takes families on an aquatic journey aboard a four-person raft, filled with twists, turns and playful waves.
The water park even includes a few dining choices apart from what is available at California's Great America. Shark Bites is a quick-service eatery serving up boardwalk-reminiscent treats, including burgers, fries and shakes. Pier 76 Cafe, is more of an upscale, yet fast-casual dining experience. The cafe serves regular dishes, such as pizza and chicken sandwiches, as well as seafood fares, such as fried shrimp and fish. Adult frogs will definitely want to check out The Sand Bar, a tropical, summertime-themed bar, offering ice-cold drinks, fish tacos and more.
Hoppy news! Admission to the water park is included when you purchase entry for California's Great America. Don't froget to snag a cabana rental if you want to keep your belongings safely stored, or simply want a place to relax away from the sun.
California's Great America Special Events
California's Great America features entertaining special events year-round. These seasons of fun occur even during months when the park is only open on weekends. During these family-friendly events, guests are given the opportunity to experience the park in a special theme — through decor, specialty eats and live shows.
Join the PEANUTS gang as they take over Planet Snoopy and the rest of the park during the PEANUTS Celebration, which is taking place from April 1-30, 2023. You can even enjoy an all-American day of fun and drinks during the Red White & Brews 4th of July celebration. During this event, Great America's Hometown Square comes to life with new live entertainment, food and a frognomenal fireworks show!
Carnivale at Orlean's Place
In the summer, the Carnivale spectacular comes to life at Orlean's Place from July 18 to Aug. 6, 2023. The celebration features Cajun flavors, Big Easy live bands and other soulful entertainment. A vibrant display of Mardi Gras floats will take over the park during this event's Spectacle of Color Parade. The night also finishes off with a dance party. Let the good times roll!
Tricks and Treats
This event puts a spin on the traditional scary celebrations other parks throw every year. Taking a family-friendly approach to the Halloween, Tricks and Treats caters to the park's younger guests with spooky surprises including costume parties, game shows and terrifyingly delicious treats. Both of our tadpoles love this frogerrific event. You can attend this event for almost an entire month, from Sep. 21 to Oct. 28, 2023.
By far the most immersive holiday event in the Bay Area, WinterFest brings Christmas and holiday cheer fit for everyone in the family! WinterFest will take place on select dates from Nov. 24 to Dec. 31, 2023. Watch the park magically transform into a Winter Wonderland, complete with snow, magic and lots of hot chocolate! There are more than 60 holiday attractions and experiences offered during WinterFest. Make sure to catch a glimpse of the giant Christmas tree and its twinkling lights, and hop over to Santa's Workshop for a meet and greet!
Tips and Tricks
Here are a few tips and tricks you can use to enjoy the park to the fullest extent:
- Download the California's Great America app to keep track of your purchased tickets, as well as schedules for all the shows that will take place during your visit. It can also be used to check on the status of rides, mark your parking spot, and manage your FunPix photos.
- Consider purchasing a Single Day FunPix Pass, or a FunPix Season Pass, to access and download all of your character-greeting photos, on-ride photos and more at the end of your visit.
- Take advantage of the Fast Lane ticket in the summer. Although it might be a bigger expense to add to your general admission ticket during this season, you will be able to skip ahead of the crowds for the most part. That way, you can avoid heat fatigue and stay fresh all day.
- If someone in your party has a disability, visit Guest Services for assistance. There, you can get a copy of the Guest Assistance Guide, too.
- Use Rider Swap if you're visiting with small children. It allows one guest to ride while another guest waits with those who did not ride. When the ride is complete, the guests swap responsibility at the exit. Go to Guest Services for more information on this feature.
- The Family Care Center, located in Planet Snoopy, is air-conditioned and offers bottle warming, private nursing areas and other services for families with children.
- Rent a stroller, wheelchair or electric scooter if anyone in your party cannot walk for long periods of time. It might be a bit more money upfront but worthwhile to maximize your time in the park.
- Get a locker rental inside the front entrance of the park, especially if you're visiting with a large family or have many bags/backpacks.
We have reached the end of our in-depth guide to California's Great America! Let us know if you're planning to visit California's Great America in the future.
Related: Uncovering the Cedar Fair Parks — Tickets Now Available Through Undercover Tourist!