{REVIEW} California’s Great America Theme Park

As I mentioned a few weeks back, our family had a chance to visit California’s Great America here in Santa Clara, CA.

NOTE: For those of you not familiar with the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Clara is a few minutes from San Jose, about an hour south of San Francisco (showing my Canadian side by speaking in minutes rather than miles/kms!).


It’s no secret that our family loves Disneyland and we go often — despite it being a 9-hour drive from us (there I go again!). In addition, I’m a huge thrill seeker and love me some crazy coasters (Six Flags Magic Mountain being one of my favourites). So it’s safe to say that we have pretty high expectations when it comes to theme parks!

Our first impression of California’s Great America was pretty positive. The grounds were clean and the two-storey carousel when you first enter is beautiful and charming. We had an immediate photo opp with the Snoopy crew, too!

Great America Photo Opp

To summarize our experience in a brief and succinct way, I’m going to give you a simple bullet list of what we really liked about the park:

  • Plenty of rides for a full day of theme park fun.
  • Good balance between kiddie rides and thrill rides.
  • Smaller crowds means less waiting in line (we averaged about 15-20 minutes per major ride).
  • Fun water rides where you know you’ll get wet.
  • An amazing water park that’s included in your admission rate (more on that below).
  • Clean grounds.
  • Staff were not opposed to giving us free water from the soda fountain (which saves $$ and the environment!).
  • Rides felt safe and well-maintained.
Outside the log ride, Tim leaves the kids to get soaked while he runs for cover!

Outside the log ride, Tim leaves the kids to get soaked while he runs for cover!

Although it didn’t ruin the day, there were a few negative aspects to the park:  

  • The food and beverage selection, quality, and cost.

Selection and Quality: It’s no secret that I’m a food snob. I may even let you call me a “food elitist” so take my words with a grain of salt. That said, our family does not eat chemical-ridden, processed foods. This left us with ZERO options inside the park. And I mean zero. With over a dozen food vendors (pizza, chicken, Asian stir-fry, Subway, etc), there was absolutely nothing that I would constitute as proper food. We contemplated leaving to go find a nearby grocery store or restaurant but pressed for time, opted for Subway (a no-no in our family for many reasons). I, on the other hand, fasted. Truth is, I would rather starve than eat processed food. Like I said — food snob.

Cost: Of course we know things are going to cost more inside an amusement park but the prices seemed a bit absurd. $10 for a pint of beer (vs. $4 in a pub/restaurant); $13 for a foot-long Subway sandwich (vs. $6 outside the park). We definitely felt trapped and gouged.

  • Overbearing music and questionable content.

While this may be a huge plus for some, we found the TV’s showing music videos while you wait in line for rides really annoying. Being somewhat anti-screens, it unnerved us to watch our kids turn into zombies as they were glued to the videos. To make matters worse, the music selection was awful — heavy metal and alternative rock are not exactly creating a friendly and inviting atmosphere, especially when the volume doesn’t seem to be regulated (a few of the rides had music blaring so loudly that we couldn’t hear each other). What’s worse, they showed some questionable content that just isn’t suitable for a family environment (i.e. a music video with a group of half-naked women bouncing on a bed in their bras and underwear — I had to cover my son’s eyes!).

  • Gold Striker Closure

It was probably just crummy timing but sadly, Great America’s prized ride was out of commission for the day. Of course, I would rather they close a ride than let us get on when it’s unsafe so I’m not holding it against them. But it was a huge disappointment for our kids after seeing advertisements all over the Bay Area for this new wooden coaster.

Boomerang Bay_Great America

The kids had a riot running through this amazing water feature.

Overall, we had a great time at the theme park but the saving grace, and the highlight of the day, was definitely the water park, Boomerang Bay. It was awesome! Speed slides (hold your top…just sayin’), slingshot tube rides, a group tubing slide that had us dying in laughter, river floats, the list goes on!). With acres of space to explore, we didn’t even get to do every ride there and will plan on returning just for the water park alone.

Domestica’s Tip: leave your valuables in your trunk — the lockers cost $15-25 in the park.


The Final Verdict

Because it felt stressful and just so freakin’ loud, I’m not sure I’d take the family back for the theme park itself but with the water park leaving such a great impression on us, I do recommend a visit to California’s Great America. For those of you without kids (and who don’t mind TV’s blaring at you), I recommend their discounted “After 4pm” tickets — the theme park could make for a fun date night. Just take your sweetie somewhere else for dinner!

Domestically Yours,
Natasha Kay

Domestica_avatarNatasha Drisdelle (aka Domestica) is a mom of twins, baby-weight survivor, and health & fitness blogger who lives in California’s Silicon Valley. She posted her before-and-after pics on the immortal internet as living proof that morphing into a gelatinous baby-growing-factory doesn’t have to mean your bikini days are over. You can find her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter, cutting through the myths and guilt that keep women from realizing true health.

* Our family was given complimentary tickets to visit and review California’s Great America. All opinions are my own.