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Santa Cruz is a terrific place to be in the black-and-orange season, from the beautiful and family-oriented cultural...

Water Oasis at Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park is the coolest place to play all summer long!

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park
Credit: Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park

The supersized splash zone includes four twisty slides, a giant tipping bucket, and over 90 water jets for wet and wild fun. Meanwhile, the original Water Oasis is perfect for younger guests, with giant flowers that shower, frogs that squirt, and gentle slides that drop into a shallow lagoon. Best of all, there are plenty of palm trees, shade umbrellas, and comfy Adirondack chairs for grownups to “chill out” while the kids splash and play. You can even rent a colorful cabana to serve as your family’s home base for a full day of fun.

Water Oasis is included with regular Gilroy Gardens admission, so you can also enjoy the park’s gorgeous gardens and over 40 exciting rides and attractions. Many of the rides were inspired by the region’s agricultural and historic past—from the Mushroom Swing, Artichoke Dip, and Garlic Twirl to the Timber Twister and Quicksilver Express Mine Coaster. There are plenty of gentle kiddie rides too, like Bulgy the Goldfish and Apple and Worm, for the youngest kids to enjoy. The Pitch-n-Win gallery includes classic carnival-style games with fun prizes.

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Other notable attractions include the Illions Supreme Carousel, which was originally built in 1927 and then lovingly restored in its beautiful new setting surrounded by trees and colorful flower beds. Kids get to take the wheel on vintage cars from the 1920s or 1950s on a road trip through South County Backroads. Climb aboard the Bonfante Railroad train for a relaxing trip across the entire park, through towering redwood groves and a tropical greenhouse garden. You can even paddle duck and swan boats across a peaceful lake—or walk right through a waterfall!

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park
Credit: Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park

There are over 10,000 trees at Gilroy Gardens, but the most incredible are the “Circus Trees,” which were originally grafted and shaped by Axel Erlandson in the 1920s, then rescued and replanted by park founder Michael Bonfante. Today, 18 of these fascinating living sculptures—including the park’s iconic Basket Tree as well as others like the Arch Tree and the Four-Legged Giant—can be found throughout the park. Visit California named the Circus Trees one of the state’s “Hidden Gems.”

Learning opportunities abound at Gilroy Gardens, a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and inspire families to learn more about trees and nature. The Green Barn is a unique space featuring an Art Studio, cozy Reading Nook, and the Nature Exchange, where children and their grownups can learn about art, nature and science together. It’s a “maker space” for discovery, creativity, and inspiration.

Gilroy Gardens is not just another theme park—it’s a truly magical place where fun grows on trees! For tickets and membership information, visit our website.

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Wallace reports and writes not only across his familiar areas of deep interest — including arts, entertainment and culture — but also is chronicling for Lookout the challenges the people of Santa Cruz...