Day-trips from San Francisco: Top three amusement parks

The Santa Cruz Boardwalk
The Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Warm summer weather and vacations often equal thrill rides and hot dogs on a stick. While San Francisco isn’t known for theme parks (the same way a certain Southern California city certainly is), you can get your fill by renting a car for the day and heading to the coast. The roller coasters that is. Here are three Bay Area amusement parks to consider.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk (Santa Cruz, CA): Set on the Pacific

Ocean, this traditional boardwalk has free concerts in addition to the rides. Come for a few hours or the whole day, while trying out the historic 1911 Looff carousel -- It has one of the few “brass ring” machines left in the country. You can lean over from your wooden carousel horse and grab a ring, then toss it into a clown’s mouth a few seconds later. The Boardwalk has rides for all ages.

Gilroy Gardens (Gilroy, CA): In the garlic capital of the world, this amusement park is best for the younger set and for parents who might find the horticultural exhibits fascinating. With 40 rides plus water features, the kids will end up happy and tired. They’ll even love the 19 “Circus Trees,” with branches and trunks grafted and shaped in surprising ways. In addition to a train and monorail, the park also has a large greenhouse with a Monarch butterfly garden.

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (Vallejo, CA): Head north to Vallejo, and you can ride a coaster that will make you nauseous, swim with dolphins, and more. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has a little something for everyone, with animals like a Bengal tiger, an Asian elephant, and a killer whale. As for the rides, they range from go karts to a Tony Hawk spinning coaster.

If you're traveling with the family and want to stay in the city, check out the Fisherman’s Wharf hotels like the Sheraton, Fairmont Heritage Place or the Holiday Inn and you’ll have easy access to the routes.

--Debbie Abrams Kaplan of Frisco Kids and Kaplan Ink

[Photo courtesy of Flickr: ScottScrantz]

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