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13 Under The Radar Theme Parks in California That Will Amaze You!

Are you tired of long lines and sky-high prices at Disney and Universal Studios? 

Dreaming of a fun day out but dreading the crowded, overpriced theme parks? 

Guess what – California is bursting with hidden gem theme parks that most people don’t even know about! 

Imagine exciting rides, unique attractions and magical experiences, all without the stress and hefty price tags. 

Sounds too good to be true, right? 

Well, it’s not! 

Here’s our list of 13 under-the-radar theme parks in California where you can have an unforgettable adventure without breaking the bank or waiting hours for a single ride. 

1. Knott’s Berry Farm

Jeremy Thompson / Flickr

Knott’s Berry Farm, located in Buena Park near Los Angeles, is a theme park with a rich history and a variety of fun attractions. 

Originally a berry farm started by Walter and Cordelia Knott in the 1920s, it has since grown into a bustling amusement park with over 40 rides, including thrilling roller coasters. 

One of the park’s standout features is Ghost Town which is a replica of an Old West town complete with cowboys and cancan dancers. 

Inside the Magic / Flickr

Knott’s Berry Farm is also home to the first dive coaster in California, HangTime, which offers a gravity-defying drop. 

The park also hosts many seasonal events like Knott’s Scary Farm, the largest Halloween experience in Southern California, and the Boysenberry Festival, celebrating the berry that started it all.

2. Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park

Dave Parker / Flickr

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park is a unique horticulture-themed amusement park perfect for families, located in Gilroy which is a 40-minute drive south of San Jose. 

The park features over 40 rides and attractions, including the whimsical Circus Trees, which are living sculptures shaped by Axel Erlandson. 

You can enjoy a variety of rides, from the Garlic Twirl teacups to the thrilling Quicksilver Express Mine Coaster. 

Dave Parker / Flickr

The park also boasts six beautiful gardens which makes it a serene place to explore nature. 

Fun fact: Gilroy Gardens was originally a tree nursery and was created by Michael Bonfante, who sold his supermarket chain to fund the park. 

3. California’s Great America

Jeremy Thompson / Flickr

California’s Great America is a thrilling amusement park located in Santa Clara, situated next to San Jose. 

The park boasts over 40 rides and attractions, including the renowned Gold Striker which is highly acclaimed as one of the top wooden roller coasters in the world. 

For adrenaline junkies, RailBlazer offers a unique single-rail coaster experience, while Flight Deck provides high-speed, inverted coaster thrills. 

Jeremy Thompson / Flickr

The park also features Planet Snoopy, a dedicated area for younger children, and South Bay Shores, a water park with exciting slides and splash zones. 

Fun fact: California’s Great America has appeared in movies like ‘Beverly Hills Cop III’ and ‘Getting Even with Dad’. 

4. Belmont Park

Belmont Park is a historic beachfront amusement park located in the Mission Beach area of San Diego. 

Opened in 1925, it features the iconic Giant Dipper roller coaster which is a wooden coaster that offers thrilling rides with stunning ocean views. 

You can enjoy a variety of attractions including mini-golf, an obstacle course and a three-level laser tag arena. 

The park also has an arcade filled with classic and modern games, making it a fun spot for all ages. 

Fun fact: Belmont Park was originally developed by sugar magnate John D. Spreckels to help sell real estate in Mission Beach.

5. Castle Park

Mike Kish / Flickr

Castle Park is a charming amusement park with a medieval castle theme, located in Riverside which is under an hour’s drive from Los Angeles. 

Opened in 1976, the park features 27 unique rides and attractions including two roller coasters, Merlin’s Revenge and Screamin’ Demon. 

You can enjoy four award-winning miniature golf courses, a large arcade and a water playground called Buccaneer Cove. 

Interestingly, Castle Park was actually designed by Bud Hurlbut, who also created famous rides at Knott’s Berry Farm. 

The park hosts seasonal events throughout the year like Castle Dark for Halloween and Duke’s Very Merry Village during the holidays.

6. Pacific Park

Pacific Park is an oceanfront amusement park located on the iconic Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica. 

It is the only amusement park on the West Coast situated on a pier and offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. 

The park features 12 exciting rides, including the world’s first and only solar-powered Ferris wheel, the Pacific Wheel, and the thrilling West Coaster roller coaster. 

You can also enjoy 14 midway games, delicious food stalls and unique shopping experiences. 

Pacific Park has actually been featured in over 500 movies and TV shows including ‘Hannah Montana’ and ‘Grand Theft Auto V’. 

7. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is an oceanfront amusement park located in Santa Cruz. 

Founded in 1907, it is California’s oldest surviving amusement park and offers a mix of classic and modern attractions. 

You can ride the historic Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster and the Looff Carousel, both of which are National Historic Landmarks. 

Doug Jones / Flickr

The park also features a variety of games, food stalls and shops, making it a fun destination for all ages. 

The boardwalk has been featured in numerous movies and TV shows including ‘The Lost Boys’ and ‘Sudden Impact’.

8. Adventure City

Adventure City is a charming amusement park located in Stanton, right on the edge of Anaheim. 

Despite its small size covering just over 2 acres, it offers a variety of fun attractions for families. 

The park features 17 rides, including the thrilling Rewind Racers roller coaster and the classic vintage 1946 carousel. 

You can also enjoy a petting farm, an arcade and live shows at Stage 39. 

Fun fact: Adventure City actually started as an expansion of Hobby City, which was a collection of novelty shops and museums.

9. Scandia Golfland

Scandia Golfland is a fantastic destination for family fun and adventure, located in Fairfield which is a 40-minute drive from San Francisco.

The park features two award-winning miniature golf courses, complete with ponds, streams and a majestic Scandinavian castle. 

You can also enjoy the Lil’ Indy Raceway go-karts, bumper boats and a state-of-the-art Lasertron laser tag arena. 

For those who love arcade games, Scandia Golfland also boasts a grand arcade with over 200 games, from classics to the latest video technology. 

Fun fact: the park also has 18 computer-controlled batting cages for both baseball and softball lovers.

10. Boomers Irvine

Boomers Irvine is a lively amusement park and entertainment center located in Irvine which is less than an hours drive from Los Angeles.

It offers a wide range of attractions including go-karts, bumper boats and miniature golf, perfect for a day of family fun. 

indigonight.geo / Flickr

You can also enjoy a giant arcade, batting cages, a rock wall and laser tag. 

Boomers Irvine is actually part of a national chain of amusement centers and they have locations throughout the country.

11. Children’s Fairyland

Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

Children’s Fairyland is a whimsical amusement park located in Oakland, along the shores of Lake Merritt. 

Opened in 1950, it was one of the first themed amusement parks in the United States and spans 10 acres of play sets, small rides and animals. 

Kids can explore storybook-themed attractions like the Alice in Wonderland Tunnel and the Jolly Roger Pirate Ship.

Todd Lappin / Flickr

They can also enjoy the park’s puppet shows at the Open Storybook Puppet Theater, the oldest continuously operating puppet theater in the country. 

Fun fact: Walt Disney actually visited Fairyland in the 1950s and drew inspiration from it for Disneyland. 

The park also features a petting zoo and a mini Ferris wheel called Anansi’s Magic Web.

12. Funderland Amusement Park

mliu92 / Flickr

Funderland Amusement Park is a delightful family-friendly amusement park located in Sacramento, within the beautiful William Land Park. 

Open since 1946, it offers ten exciting rides including the kid-sized roller coaster, the Tea Cup Ride, and the environmentally friendly Electric Train. 

The park is perfect for young children with attractions like Backroads Buggies Car Ride and the new Fort Funhouse. 

Wayne Hsieh / Flickr

Funderland is conveniently situated just a half-block from the Sacramento Zoo and across the street from Fairytale Town, making it easy to plan a full day of fun. 

The park also hosts birthday parties and offers a concession stand with tasty treats.

13. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Photos By Clark / Flickr

San Diego Zoo Safari Park, located in the San Pasqual Valley area of San Diego near Escondido, offers an immersive wildlife experience unlike any other. 

Spanning 1,800 acres, the park is home to over 3,000 animals representing more than 300 species. 

You’ll be able to embark on a Safari Tour to see animals like rhinos, giraffes and zebras roaming freely in expansive habitats. 

Nathan Rupert / Flickr

The park also features thrilling attractions such as the Flightline Safari zipline and the Africa Tram. 

The Safari Park is renowned for its successful breeding programs for endangered species, including the California condor. 

Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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