Tucked away in the Central Coast of California is the perfect family getaway – Gilroy Gardens, a family theme park. On a google search quest for food festivals, I stumbled upon the Gilroy Garlic Festival, a festival I’d heard of but never attended. Half deciding to attend the festival, I started searching for kid friendly things to do in the area. To my surprise I found Gilroy Gardens. As I trolled around their website, I started to get excited. Before I knew it, our original trip to the Gilroy Garlic Festival turned into the Gilroy Gardens trip. With 22 rides, five attractions, and numerous circus trees, Gilroy Gardens appeared to be the perfect place for our little family. So the planning started. The more I explored their website and read reviews online, I realized that our family could have a nice little getaway at a faction of the cost of other theme parks. I’ll dive into that a little later. After all, you know me, I’m all about making the most of life without breaking the bank.
As we entered the park, we were instantly greeted with beauty. A canopy of trees flanked our entry into the center of the park. Little did we know, that was just the beginning. Everywhere we went that day there was a majestic garden, waterfall, or circus tree.
What is a Circus Tree?
Okay so the Circus Trees are completely amazing. Axel Erlandson, a Swedish American farmer, shaped trees as a hobby and eventually created a horticultural attraction in 1947. Prior to his death, he sold his collection of Circus Trees to Gilroy Gardens. Throughout the park, you’ll stumble upon a number of Circus Trees. There are 25 trees still alive today! To make a game of it, be sure to pick up a Circus Tree brochure when you enter the park. It lists a guide to the various trees throughout the park and helps you identify each tree by name. It’s a fun little scavenger hunt to do with the kids.
Hop on a ride or 22
With two roller coasters and 20 other rides, there is a ride that fits every age. With two young children, six and three years old, there were more than a handful of rides that kept them entertained. Each ride was consistent with the parks mission to educate visitors on horticulture. Of course, there was a Garlic Twirl, Mushroom Swing, Apple & Worm, and Strawberry Sundae. The park is great about providing visitors with a guide to each ride, clearly stating the level of thrill. I couldn’t get Loca #1 off the Strawberry Sundae ride. She loved it! She also talked me into getting on the Panoramic Wheel, a Ferris wheel that provides great views of the park and surrounding area.
Pack a bathing suit
An excellent addition to Gilroy Gardens is all of the water attractions. There are numerous waterfalls, a splash pad, a water oasis, duck shaped paddle boats (perhaps my favorite part of the park), and a Rainbow Garden Round Boat ride. If you intend on making a day of the water attractions, Gilroy Gardens also offers cabanas for rent. The city of Gilroy tends to get pretty hot, especially during the months when the water oasis is open.
How to save money and have a blast
The best way to save money at Gilroy Gardens is to pack snacks and plan for a picnic. While Gilroy Gardens doesn’t allow you to bring in outside food, you can still have a picnic outside the park. Having two picky eaters, planning our own picnic helped us ensure they had food they would actually eat. There are two picnic areas located outside the park. Since they allow re-entry to the park, stopping to have a family picnic doesn’t put a kink in your plans. For our family of four we saved nearly $40 on food and snacks.
To further save money, you can invest in a membership to Gilroy Gardens. This is especially cost effective if you live in the area. The payment plans are well below the rates of other theme parks. Another perk – Gilroy Gardens is a nonprofit, making their memberships tax deductible.
Take advantage of the educational workshops
Since Gilroy Gardens’ mission is to inspire families to appreciate horticulture, there are a number of educational activities, workshops, and buildings located throughout the park. We went through a Monarch Garden and completed some activities in a nearby educational building. The girls did leaf rubbing and looked at rocks under microscopes. Being that they are both young, the excitement of learning how to view nature in a different way really appealed to them.
Since our visit to Gilroy Gardens, both girls have talked about going back. As a parent, it wasn’t as stressful as other theme parks and the educational spin allowed us to continue the learning process at home.
Hopefully some of these pictures and info will help you decide if Gilroy Gardens is a perfect getaway for your family. It’s worth the trip.