Since 1976, California’s Great America in Santa Clara has been thrilling people of all ages with over 50 rides, a waterpark, live entertainment, and character meet & greets with the Peanuts Gang. The 100-acre theme park first opened as Marriott’s Great America, then Paramount’s Great America, until it was purchased by Cedar Fair and changed to its current name.
The park is so popular that it has even been seen in two movies, Getting Even with Dad and Beverly Hills Cop III. One of their coasters, the Gold Striker, has also been ranked as one of the top wooden roller coasters in Amusement Today magazine. It is the fastest and tallest wooden coaster in Northern California moving at over 50 miles per hour and standing over 108 feet tall.
Besides the Gold Striker, the park boasts eight other roller coasters and several thrill rides that are sure to get the heart racing. The kids have their own section of the park called Planet Snoopy with 15 rides including Joe Cool’s Dodgem School, Planet Snoopy Construction Zone, and Lucy’s Crabby Cabbies. The waterpark also has a few rides for the young’uns including Otter Trotter, Pup’s Pier, and the Tide Pool. Along with great food, fun carnival games, and amazing shows, visitors and their kids will love California’s Great America’s friendly atmosphere.
One of the most unique aspects of California’s Great America is that they have four seasons of fun. Since they are open all year long, they change their theme every season. During the spring, everything is colorful, and all the rides are open as well as a variety of games and shows.
Summer is even more colorful and fun with the opening of the waterpark, a BBQ and beer festival, and a parade. Fall at the park gives thrills a new meaning with the Halloween Haunt. Visitors can enjoy haunted mazes, decorated rides, and actors dressed up as scary creatures. Finally, winter offers holiday attractions, lights, and a skating area as well as Christmas shows and a New Year’s Eve event.
Another really great thing about California’s Great America is the cost of tickets. Online pricing for a one-day ticket is typically about $45 and that includes both California’s Great America and the waterpark, South Bay Shores. For those who wait and buy tickets at the gate, the price goes up to around $65, so buying online is a major money saver.
California’s Great America is just off of US-101, making it easy to get to no matter which way visitors are coming from for the adventure. Four miles from Santa Clara, stop in and visit the Winchester Mystery House, the Intel Museum, or one of the other nine museums in town. San Jose is just 10 miles away, where visitors can enjoy the Happy Hollow Park & Zoo, Children’s Discovery Museum, and Mission Peak. Palo Alto is only 12 miles to the northwest, where visitors can explore one of the parks including Castle Rock State Park, Shoreline Lake Park, or the Rancho San Antonio Preserve to name a few.
The park has thousands of parking spots, and although they charge a few dollars more to park an RV, it is not usually an outrageous amount. Get there early to make sure to get a good spot. RVers often choose to leave larger rigs at whatever campground they are staying at and take some form of public transportation to the park. Then, they don’t have to worry about parking at all.
Visitors to California’s Great America have several options for public transportation. Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) of Santa Clara County offers buses and trains that service the immediate area. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) offers rides from the Fremont Station with routes 140, 141, and 180 that go to the park. If you are coming from the Stockton area, check out the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE), which services all points to the east.
Camping at an amusement park would be fun, right? Even though staying overnight with Snoopy and friends sounds like the perfect idea, California’s Great America does not have that option. Maybe they will do that someday. Until then, those with motorhomes or trailers can find quite a few excellent RV parks and campgrounds around Santa Clara.
The closest RV campground is Garden City RV Park, which is a quick 15-minute drive. It is a small but nice park with 50 sites that have utilities, restrooms, showers, and Wi-Fi.
Portola Redwoods State Park is the closest state park in the area, just 30 miles away, and has 55 pet-friendly campsites that can manage motorhomes up to 24 feet long. Although there are no utilities, the park has a bunch of water spigots with potable water, restrooms, and showers.
About 45 minutes from the park, Santa Cruz / Monterey Bay KOA is the closest KOA campground. This spectacular park has over 200 sites that can accommodate up to 90-foot RVs and boasts a pool, store, dog park, playground, and more.
Although there are no shuttles or trams to get visitors from the parking lot to the front gates, it is not that far from even the farthest spot. For guests who have mobility issues, both electric and manual wheelchairs can be rented just inside the front entrance or visitors can bring their own. Strollers are available for rent as well. However, all of these rentals are on a first-come, first-served basis.
What to pack depends on when you are planning to visit California’s Great America. During the summer months from May through September, pack light, cool clothing like tank tops and shorts or pants. During the other months, it can drop into the lower 40s, so a jacket or hoodie is a good idea. Pack comfortable walking shoes as well.
Because visitors to California’s Great America typically spend an entire day at the park, it is natural to want to bring a lot of stuff with you. However, if you bring too much, you will have to rent a locker for your bag or backpack because many of the rides do not allow them. A fanny pack or other small bag is a good idea for just carrying your keys, phone, and wallet.
Sunglasses and a hat are two important items to bring to California’s Great America, especially if visiting during the summer. However, they may have to be removed on some rides, so be sure they fit in a pocket. The sun can be brutal, so bring a small pocket-sized bottle of sunscreen as well. Water can be brought in as long as it is in an unopened plastic bottle. Get a small first-aid kit to keep in a pocket as well.
RVers typically do an inventory check before heading out on the road. Some of the most important items to stock up on are things that may be needed for cooking. Aluminum foil is handy for all kinds of cooking, storing, and even cleaning jobs. Speaking of cleaning, be sure to have plenty of trash bags, paper towels or napkins, toilet paper, and eco-friendly soap. Even though there will be stores along the way, you may want to stock up ahead of time to avoid needing items as you head to the park.
Heading either way on US-101 from California’s Great America, RVers can find several nice full-service restaurants to sit down and enjoy a meal. Pizza, Italian cuisine, and even a Vietnamese restaurant are to the west and Mexican, steaks, and seafood to the east. Keep going south down the Great American Parkway to get to a few more upscale restaurants and several fast food places.
Whether your stomach is grumbling for snacks, steaks, or sweets, California’s Great America has plenty of items to choose from within the park. The café has many choices from burgers to hot dogs, fresh-cut fries, and chicken sandwiches. Food Festival is known for its foods from all over the world including Asian, Italian, Mexican, and American, all in one spot.
For those looking for typical carnival favorites like funnel cakes, popcorn, and cotton candy, these can be found throughout the park at individual kiosks. There are even several full-service eateries for those who want to sit down and let the food come to the table. Don’t forget to stop and check out the souvenirs at some of the many shops and boutiques before leaving.
All guests who come to the park will have to pass through the metal detectors first. In addition, all bags, backpacks, and purses will be checked before entering. Be sure to read the list of prohibited items on California’s Great America’s website before heading to the entrance. There are security guards and plain-clothed Santa Clara County police as well as video surveillance in and around the park to help make sure everyone is following the rules while having fun.
California is notorious for good weather in most areas and Santa Clara is one of the best. It never really gets too hot or too cold in this part of the state with the average high being 72 and an average low around 55. It rarely rains from April through October with just a small chance of rain during the winter months. Bring some warm clothes for the evenings because they can be chilly, and download a weather app just to stay up to date on the forecast.
California’s Great America provides first-aid service on-site if needed. Even if it is just a scratch or bump, it is good to get checked out if it happened at the park. Certified emergency medical techs (EMTs) are located at the first-aid center in the red schoolhouse by the Three-Point Challenge near Rail Blazer. For those that need more comprehensive medical care, the park can summon an ambulance if you are unable to do so.