California's Great America

If California theme parks conjure up images of long lines for attractions and food, visitors to the San Francisco Bay area will find nirvana with a stop at California’s Great America, a Santa Clara sister park to famous Knotts Berry Farm. Even in August, the lines were short for what any theme park junkie would consider a high-quality product.

During our formative years in the Pacific Northwest, we relished the opportunity we had every few years to visit California and, in particular, Disneyland. In grade school the coolest people in our class were those who had been to Disneyland.

Such was the fascination with Disneyland and other parks like Knotts Berry Farm that one of our first road trips that a friend and I took as freshly minted high school graduates was to Disneyland where, interestingly, we ran into a person from our small Washington town right in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. We checked out the beaches, too, but it is telling that Disneyland was still high on the list for a couple of 18-year-olds.

Gradually, of course, we fell out of love with Disneyland. Not that we don’t still like to take our families there, but one’s tolerance for inconvenience seems to grow in direct proportion to one’s age. Back in the day, it was no problem waiting an hour for Space Mountain. Today, as over-the-hill adults, our time just seems a little more precious. For some reason, the prospect now of spending a 12-hour day at any park waiting in line for everything from rides to pretzels to bathrooms — well, it just doesn’t have the same allure it once had.

Enter California’s Great America. Here we were, a pleasant sunny Monday in August, and we’re making our way through this major theme park spending no more than five or 10 minutes in any one line. It was a Monday so that probably had a lot to do with it. But still, have you ever been to Disneyland on a Monday in August? If school’s out, Disneyland’s in — and packed to the rafters.

We noticed right off that the 364-acre Great America appeals to literally all ages. Another thing you notice right away is that California’s Great America is actually two theme parks, the original park and a water park that was added a few years ago called Boomerang Bay.

Troy, 10, made a beeline for the roller coasterswhile his older sister Ashlea offered to accompany him with certain restrictions: she would not, she declared, ride on anything that made her go upside down. Since most of the roller coasters and thrill rides do that, Troy became the primary test pilot on several of the more aggressive roller coaster rides

Troy’s verdict after trying out a number of roller coasters and other thrill rides: “Awesome.”

Troy and Ashlea also enjoyed the Survivor ride that is quite unlike anything you’ve seen before and manages to dip and twirl you in a way that seems designed to deeply disturb that fried chicken meal you got back at Maggie Brown’s.

They also picked out a few of the gentler rides like Barney Oldfield’s Speedway, the Flying Eagles and the Celebration Swings. The point is there was no shortage of rides and attractions and, in fact, our day was so busy we didn’t even get a chance to take in the magic or BMX shows, both of which looked like they would be fun experiences.

Our trip to Santa Clara was all the more enjoyable because we stayed overnight very close to the park at the Biltmore Hotel and Suites. Arriving at the Biltmore mid-day, we learned that shuttles to the park ran every hour, which proved a convenience and also a cost savings because parking at Great America is $12 per day. At the end of the day, we simply phoned for pickup and a van was at the park gate in just a few minutes to take us back to the hotel.

The Biltmore proved to be a good selection because the rooms are set up nicely for a family.

While we didn’t get time to use it, there is a heated outdoor swimming pool that would be quite refreshing after a day at theme park.

Also great for families was the excellent hot breakfast included with the room. The breakfast included bacon, eggs, potatoes, cereals, breads, pastries, coffee and orange juice.

For more information on California’s Great America, phone (408)988-1776 or visit

For more information on travel in California, visit

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