GREAT ESCAPE: The Hidden Side of California’s Great America

Did you know that California's Great America, the Bay Area's biggest amusement park, is more than just rides? There’s much more to discover, including live shows, concerts and fireworks.

Let’s face it — as soon as school is out, the kids are clamoring to go to California’s Great America in Santa Clara, arguably the best amusement park in the entire Bay Area. With roller coasters for the thrill seekers, kids’ rides for the little ones, and water attractions that will please just about everyone, it’s a lot of entertainment rolled up into one place. But did you know that Great America is more than just rides? There’s much more to discover.

What to do here: Youngsters view Great America as the be-all and end-all of local amusement parks, and they do have a point. There is enough here that you’d be hard-pressed to cover it all in a single day. Your teens will love the big scary rides, like the Drop Tower, the Demon, the Flight Deck and Vortex; tiny tots will love the classic rides of KidZville and Planet Snoopy, like bumper cars and mini-coasters; and once they tire of those, it’s off to Boomerang Bay water park, with the area’s longest lazy river, a heated lagoon and 13 water slides.

Why we like it: It’s a great way for a family to spend a summer day, and if you buy an online season pass, it’s no more expensive than a ticket at the gate. And with so much to do in the park, there’s plenty to experience on a return trip this summer.

And even more to like: This year, Great America is celebrating its 35th anniversary season with live shows and fireworks galore, all included in the price of admission. A summer ice spectacular, “Snoopy Rocks on Ice,” puts the Peanuts gang on skates in the Great America Theater, and other live shows include a country dance review, a pirate adventure and a retro dance show, “Don’t Stop the Music.”

In addition, there are live concerts by Bay Area rock bands every Saturday and Sunday from July 9-Aug. 27. Public relations director Jim Stellmack said sometimes the live shows are overlooked by roller coaster fanatics, but are worth seeing, especially if you need to take a break from the rides.  

Also returning to the park are the special summer fireworks extravaganzas, which will be blazing every Saturday night in July and August as well as two holiday Sundays, July 3 and Sept. 4.

About California’s Great America: The park first opened in 1976 as Marriott’s Great America, and has been through several changes of ownership and name changes since then. For the past three years, the park has been owned by the Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, which renamed it California’s Great America in 2008. The park is open from March through October and has 55 rides in all, including seven roller coasters. It’s the only amusement park in Northern California that has a water park inside it. Officials say the best time to visit during the summer is on weekdays, when attendance tends to be lighter and there’s not such a long wait for popular rides.

Directions and phone: Take San Tomas Expressway to Highway 101 north, turn off at the Great America Parkway exit; you might consider taking public transportation to the park and skipping the $12 parking free (for details, see www.vta.org for bus and light rail information). Cost at the gate is $54.99 for adults and $34.99 for kids under 48 inches or seniors 62 and older. Go to the California’s Great America website and you can buy 2011 season passes for the same price; online discounts are also available for one-day admission. For additional information, as well as group sales and special deals, see www.cagreatamerica.com or call (408) 986-5866.




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