Things to do in Bay Area

San Francisco Bay Area Theme Parks

Gear up for spine-tingling thrills and family fun at San Francisco Bay Area theme parks—your ticket to unforgettable adventures!

Thrillseekers looking for adrenaline-packed things to do in the Bay Area find more than amusement at these San Francisco theme parks. From iconic rides to family-friendly attractions, there’s no shortage of excitement waiting for you.

Get ready for a journey filled with thrills, chills, and unforgettable memories. Grab an empty seat on the next roller coaster to launch into your vacation.

Major Theme Parks

Kick off the adventure at one of the larger Bay Area theme parks. These action-packed venues vie for your attention with some of the wildest rides, biggest attractions, and best restaurants in the Bay Area (at an amusement park).

1. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Travel just 35 miles north of San Francisco to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, where thrills and family fun collide. This Bay Area amusement park lets you fly through the air like one of our high-flying performers. You can get up close and personal with dolphins, giraffes, and other animals.

It’s the perfect blend of heart-pounding rides and kid-friendly attractions. Whether you’re a thrill seeker in training or young at heart, this park offers nonstop entertainment for everyone. From trains and boats to bumper cars, the rides are as eclectic as the food options.

Ticket choices include daily or season passes, including combo passes for Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Hurricane Harbor.

2. California's Great America

Less than 45 miles away in Santa Clara, California’s Great America features over 60 rides for tots, teens, and adults. One of its most notable rides is Gold Striker. This modern wooden roller coaster has ranked among the top 10 coasters worldwide since its debut in 2013.

Other fun rides include RailBlazer, a popular single-rail coaster, and the inverted Flight Deck coaster. This amusement park opened in 1976 and was one of two parks built by the Marriott Corporation—the company behind the famous hotel chain.

The park has changed hands numerous times. Its current owner is Cedar Fair, and it was previously owned by the City of Santa Clara. Rumors indicate plans to close the park by 2033, so visit before it’s too late.

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3. Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park is located about 80 miles south of San Francisco in Gilroy. It's a wonderland of unique rides, aquatic attractions, and majestic gardens.

A distinctive feature of this horticulture-themed amusement park is its more than 10,000 trees, including the whimsical Circus Trees. These world-famous trees are living masterpieces worthy of a spot under the big top in our shows.

Originally known as Bonfante Gardens Theme Park, it began as a commercial plant nursery and recreational facility for Nob Hill Foods employees. It now boasts over 40 rides, numerous attractions, and educational exhibits.

Many of the rides are intended for younger visitors, but it has two roller coasters that require riders to be at least 48 in. tall. Gilroy Gardens’ season passes include free parking for every visit.

Water Parks

Kids love aquatic parks, making them an automatic hit for the whole family. Aquatic parks are seasonal, so before you grab your bathing suit, don’t forget to check operating times.

4. Six Flags Hurricane Harbor

Spend the day at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Concord, about 30 miles from San Francisco. With over 35 attractions, it’s the largest aquatic amusement park in the Bay Area. It's also home to the area's longest lazy river.

From heart-pounding slides that plunge you to the bottom at breakneck speeds to gentler rides and play areas for tots, Hurricane Harbor is full of fun for everyone. Mom and Dad can even relax under a cabana while the kids play.

5. Aqua Adventure Waterpark

Although Aqua Adventure Waterpark is smaller and has fewer rides, it’s still packed with entertainment. Tackle the Fortress of Fun with two single-rider aquatic slides and two tube slides. Relax as you're gently pulled along the 200-yd. Round About River or hang out in paradise at the Oasis Pool.

The City of Fremont owns this aquatic theme park, which is located about 40 miles from San Francisco. Swim lessons, exercise classes, and aqua camps are available. It’s also a fabulous place for birthday parties and group gatherings to put some splash in your bash.

6. Prewett Family Waterpark

Also known as Antioch Water Park, Prewett Family Waterpark is less than 50 miles from San Francisco and offers wet and wild fun. It features several swimming pools and five low-profile slides. The Otter Slide, Humphrey’s Slide, and Crystal Slide require riders under 48 in. tall to wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket for safety.

This summertime cool-off spot is ideal for all age groups. The shallow tot pool is perfect for younger children and has various-sized slides suitable for older kids. It also offers swimming lessons for kids, lap swimming for children aged 12 and older, and aquatic aerobics for all fitness levels.

Family and Children's Parks

Parks built with families and children in mind often have a more relaxed atmosphere, but that doesn’t mean they lack excitement.

7. Happy Hollow Park & Zoo

Are you seeking a more intimate attraction? The 16-ac. Happy Hollow Park & Zoo is situated about 50 miles away in San Jose. Its Danny the Dragon train ride has been running since it opened in 1961, and it features one of the state’s oldest, best-attended puppet shows.

This zoo is home to over 150 exotic, endangered, rescued animals and domesticated breeds. The park took a brief hiatus between 2008 and 2010 for major renovations. It now provides a scenic environment for kids of all ages to unplug and let their imaginations run wild.

8. Pixieland Amusement Park

Pixieland Amusement Park is meant for the younger pixies in your family. As one of the smallest theme parks in the Bay Area, it only has seven rides. But each ride packs a lot of punch.

The whimsical antique carousel offers lighthearted fun for kids of all sizes. Younger children can take a spin on planes, trains, and automobiles—and teacups. The Dragon Roller Coaster provides thrills for bigger kids who are at least three ft. tall. It also has three coin-operated rides suitable for the smallest theme park enthusiasts.

Located around 30 miles northeast of San Francisco, Pixieland is a dreamy place for your child’s next birthday party. Having it here will make it as memorable as our artistry and incredible feats.

9. Children’s Fairyland

Come to a land of enchantment that's only 3 miles away from the Bay Area. Children’s Fairyland is an awe-inspiring experience for visitors of all ages, but it especially appeals to children aged eight and younger. From child-sized rides to friendly animals, this oasis offers a timeless reminder of what it’s like to be a kid.

Fairyland opened in 1950, before Disneyland and when most amusement parks in the Bay Area, CA, catered to teens seeking thrills. With Fairyland's opening, children walked through fanciful fairy tales, accompanied by costumed guides, and rode colorful rides intended for young visitors.

Today, it remains a fantasy world where children come to laugh, play, and imagine all sorts of wondrous things.

Photographer: coralimages

Additional Fun Spots

There’s no shortage of things to do in the Bay Area. From trains to arcade games, your family fun has just begun.

10. Sonoma TrainTown Railroad

Around 46 mi. away from San Francisco, Sonoma TrainTown Railroad is a cute little park, and its main focus is a miniature train. Everyone can ride the quarter-scale train, which takes you on a 20-minute journey over bridges and through tunnels. It even stops at an immersive miniature town and a petting zoo.

Other rides include a remarkable train coaster and Iron Horse Carousel. Train enthusiasts can also explore the antique cabooses and roundhouse. Park admission and parking are free. You only pay to ride and refuel with yummy snacks and lunch options.

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11. Small World Park

Spend quality time with your family at Small World Park in Pittsburg, which is about 35 miles from downtown San Francisco. Managed by the city’s recreation department, this entertainment spot is ideal for kids aged 12 and under.

It has small carnival rides, a Ferris wheel, and a zip line. Kids can hop aboard a train and ride around the park, visit an astonishing castle, catch fish in the pond, or climb on the playground structures. Best of all, you can bring your own food for a picnic in the park.

The 8-ac. park sits on the former site of Camp Stoneman, a military camp that was once a station for soldiers embarking for the South Pacific during World War II. Now, kids come for a memorable experience in this well-shaded paradise.

12. Scandia Family Fun Center

Scandia Family Fun Center is about 50 mi. away from the Bay Area if you're looking for the ultimate arcade. It has over 100 games and fantastic prizes, but it offers more for adventurous kids.

Climb aboard a pirate-themed blaster boat and declare war on a parent or sibling. Try your skill on two miniature golf courses or hit the racetrack in a miniature Indy car. You'll love the mind-blowing Sky Circus—it sounds like something we’d have under our big top!

When the adrenaline starts to wane, and you need to refuel, Viking Pizza can quench your thirst or fill you up with a fresh slice.

13. Adventure Playground

The wonderfully unique Adventure Playground at Berkeley Marina is only about 6 miles from San Francisco. This outdoor play place for children features boats, towers, and forts designed and built by kids.

Children can test their building skills by creating something with the tools, paint, and recycled materials available. They can also ride the zip line and explore outdoors.

Adventure Playground opened in 1979 as the brainchild of Lady Marjory Allen, a children’s advocate and landscape architect. She found children preferred building their own structures and doing things with their hands over playing at traditional playgrounds.

Today, kids can gain self-confidence and learn teamwork as they create their own adventures. Admission is free during regular hours.

Zoo and Educational

Educational activities aren't necessarily dull, especially when animals are involved. If you’re looking for something besides amusement parks, these zoos are popular Bay Area kids' activities.

14. San Francisco Zoo

Get ready to take a walk on the wild side and meet some breathtaking new friends from the animal kingdom at San Francisco Zoo & Gardens. The zoo has been operating since 1922 and houses over 2,000 exotic animals. It also has more than 250 native and foreign species of plants across 100 ac. of majestic gardens.

See the largest outdoor lemur habitat in the nation, and visit Penguin Island, which houses the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in captivity. You can also meet rescued gorillas, view multiple species on the savanna, and pet and feed various farm animals at the Fisher Family Children’s Zoo.

The first ride added to the zoo is one of the last existing Dentzel Carousels, handcrafted by renowned builder William H. Dentzel in 1921.

Photographer: Chris Anderson

15. Oakland Zoo

The Oakland Zoo is less than 15 miles from San Francisco. It was established in 1922 and has over 850 native and exotic animals.

Over the years, the zoo has grown and added new exhibits to house more animals. It's nationally recognized as a leader in animal care and welfare and boasts Northern California's largest wild animal veterinary facility.

The Children’s Zoo opened in the summer of 2005 and quickly became a favorite among younger visitors. It features spacious animal exhibits, educational centers, and interactive elements, including playgrounds and animal contact yards.

You can collect Oakland Zoo Trading Cards to build your own menagerie and commemorate each visit. Each month, cards rotate to feature new animals.

Source: Oakland Zoo

Explore the Fun and Adventure at the Bay Area's Best Theme Parks

After the adrenaline rush of riding a roller coaster, kick it up another notch with a stellar, high-flying performance. Our shows feature lavish costumes, intriguing storylines, and mesmerizing acrobatics that immerse you in the unexpected. Dare to dream big and come to one of our shows in the Bay Area.

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