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This article is about the California park originally known as Marriott's Great America. For the Illinois park that was once known by this same name, see Six Flags Great America.

Coordinates: 37°23′45.4″N 121°58′20.1″W / 37.395944°N 121.97225°W / 37.395944; -121.97225

California's Great America
Cga left type 2c redga.png
Location Santa Clara, California, United States United States
Website California's Great America
Owner Cedar Fair Entertainment Co.
Opened 1976
Previous names Marriott's Great America - 1976 to 1985
Great America - 1985 to 1993 and 2006 to 2008
Paramount's Great America - 1993 to 2006
California's Great America - 2008 to Present
Operating season March through October
Area 364 acres (1.5 km²)
Rides 55 total
  • 8 roller coasters
  • 3 water rides

California's Great America is an amusement park owned and operated by Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, located in Santa Clara, California, USA. Great America is one of four major amusement parks that operate around the San Francisco Bay Area, the other three being Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, and Gilroy Gardens in Gilroy. California's Great America is the only theme park in northern California that has a water park built in.




1970s and 1980s

Marriott's Great America, built by Marriott Corp., a hotel and restaurant operator, was opened in 1976, along with a sister park located north of Chicago bearing the same name. A third park was originally planned for Howard County, Maryland, but it was not constructed due to local opposition. California's Great America's sister park, in Gurnee, Illinois, would become Six Flags Great America in 1985.

View of California's Great America from above

The park, although profitable, was still an earnings disappointment for Marriott, leading the company in 1983 to agree to sell the park to Caz Development Co., which valued the prized land appraised at US$800,000 to $1 million per acre. But Marriott also gave a first option to the park to the city of Santa Clara, which was already partially involved in the park, leasing 55 acres (220,000 m2) for parking space for $75,000 per year. Fearing development of the land would aggravate congested roads, on 31 January 1984 the city council approved a $101 million deal by a 4-3 count on the condition that the electorate authorize the agreement. City voters approved the sale by a margin of 3 to 1. Caz Development sued the city and Marriott in Santa Clara County Superior Court to block the transaction. The court nullified the sale, forcing the city to attempt to salvage their deal through negotiations with both other parties. Unable to broker a timely agreement, the city council voted 6-1 to scuttle the sale on February 5, 1985, although the city was still interested in owning the park. After Marriott refunded a $20 million down payment to the city, negotiations were started afresh. Finally all parties worked out a compromise, which was signed in marathon sessions taking place over June 4-5, 1985. The city for $93.5 million acquired the park and inventory from Marriott, which retained 20 acres (81,000 m2) for development. Caz Development settled its lawsuit and in exchange the city allowed the developer to build a hotel and an office on land near the park.

During the 1980s the park conducted a number of environmental analyses, many related to acoustical impacts of proposed new rides. Examples of these studies include the Grizzly ride and a proposed steel coaster.[1]

Kings Entertainment Co., an operator of other parks, was hired to manage the park for the city. As planned, the city ended its ownership and sold the park structures to Kings in 1989 for $22 million but not the land, which would be leased for $5.3 million a year. In addition, the city earned 5% of revenue over $56 million.

The 90's ~ New Millennium and Paramount Parks era

Three years later Paramount Communications, then owners of Paramount Pictures, sought to join other entertainment companies as a theme park owner. The company acquired Kings Entertainment, owner of three parks including Great America, and two other parks for $400 million and created Paramount Parks. Viacom, the parent owner of MTV Networks and Nickelodeon, then bought Paramount in 1994, allowing Nickelodeon theming and merchandise into the park as well. During the Paramount Era, attractions from the Action FX Theatre, Nickelodeon Splat City (Now Nickelodeon Central), Drop Zone Stunt Tower giant drop, Invertigo inverted boomerang, and many more modern thrill ride attractions were added in. Unfortunately because the park was literally landlocked being in the center of Silicon Valley, several rides including the classic train ride and the Triple Wheel Ferris Wheel, a Marriott's Great America signature attraction, were removed to make way for newer attractions.

The New Era: Cedar Fair

Logo used in 2006. This logo is still seen on the garbage cans in and around California's Great America.

After Viacom and CBS Corporation split, Paramount Parks became part of CBS. The merger did not last long as CBS announced plans to sell the theme park division.

In May 2006, it was announced that Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. would be acquiring the entire Paramount Parks chain for $1.24 Billion USD.[2] On June 30, 2006, Cedar Fair announced it completed the acquisition of Paramount Parks, including Great America.[3] The transaction includes licensing agreements with Nickelodeon and Paramount, providing the park the option to retain its Nickelodeon and Paramount theming for several years.[4]

On October 25, 2007, Cedar Fair renamed the park California's Great America. For the 2008 season, the park saw the addition of a Huss Rides top spin ride called FireFall, a new ice show in the "Great America Theatre" (formerly The Paramount Theatre), and the addition of the Halloween Haunt event to the park.[5]

Rides and attractions

Current rides

The park's current rides and attractions include:

  • The Demon. Built by Arrow Dynamics, the Demon is the park's oldest roller coaster, opening with the park in 1976 and originally named Turn of the Century.
  • Flight Deck. A B&M built Inverted roller coaster, Flight Deck is Northern California's longest Inverted coaster. Formerly known as Top Gun.
  • Invertigo. A Vekoma Invertigo shuttle coaster, Invertigo was North America's first inverted face-to-face roller coaster. Invertigo is the tallest Roller Coaster in Northern California, however it is not the fastest.
  • Vortex. A B&M Stand-Up roller coaster, Vortex is Northern California's only stand-up coaster.
  • Drop Tower: Scream Zone. A Giant Drop model drop tower (2nd generation Intamin freefall ride). Eventually replaced the park's original 1st gen. Freefall ride, The Edge. Stands 224 feet (68 m). Drops at 62 mph (100 km/h). Formerly Drop Zone Stunt Tower.
  • Carousel Columbia. A Double decker carousel, is one of the world's tallest carousels, along with the clone at Six Flags Great America.
  • Survivor: The Ride!. A Zamperla Disk-O.
  • Action Theater. A motion simulator attraction featuring SpongeBob SquarePants in 3D.
  • Grizzly. A wooden roller coaster designed by Curtis D. Summers and built by Kings Island Construction, Maintenance & Engineering Dept., Grizzly opened in 1986.
  • The Orbit. An Schwarzkopf Enterprise (ride). The Orbit Re-opened in 2007.
  • Centrifuge. An Schwarzkopf Calypso, formerly known as Fiddler's Fling.
  • Berserker. An Schwarzkopf Bayern Kurve.
  • H.M.B. Endeavor. An Intamin Space Shuttle/Looping Starship, formerly known as The Revolution.
  • Whitewater Falls. A Shoot-the-Chutes.
  • Flying Eagles. A Larson Flying Scooters.
  • Delirium. A Chance Revolution.
  • Xtreme Skyflyer. 170 ft (52 m) tall skycoaster flying 17 stories at 60 mph (97 km/h). Upcharge attraction.
  • Psycho Mouse. An Arrow Wild Mouse.
  • Delta Flyer/Eagle's Flight. A Von Roll skyride transporting guests from one side of the park to the other.
  • Loggers Run. An Arrow Flume Ride.
  • Celebration Swings. A Zierer Wave Swinger.
  • Rip Roaring Rapids. An Intamin River rafting ride.
  • Barney Oldfield Speedway. Classic style car ride for everyone of all ages.
  • Planet Snoopy. Kids area themed to the Peanuts.
  • KidZville. Kids themed area.
  • FireFall. Relocated Huss Top Spin, Texas Twister, from Geauga Lake. The ride officially opened May 17, 2008. The ride also contains water, fire, and fog effects to enhance the ride experience.
  • Star Tower. An observation tower, Star Tower was formerly Sky Tower.
  • Rue Le Dodge. Bumper cars.
  • Thunder Raceway. Go-karts. Upcharge attraction.

Past rides

Past ride and attractions include:

  • Stealth. A Vekoma Flying Dutchman, was removed for construction of the Boomerang Bay water park, and relocated to Carowinds as Nighthawk.
  • Great America Scenic Railway. A custom-built railroad around the perimeter of the park.
  • Yankee Clipper. An Arrow Dynamics Hydro Flume that used to interlock with Logger's Run.
  • Tidal Wave/Greased Lightning. A shuttle loop roller coaster manufactured by Anton Schwarzkopf. A model exists in the park office.
  • The Edge. The first original free-fall ride in the world and hence a first-generation Intamin AG Freefall.
  • Skyhawk. The pilot ride with the barrel rolls around the tower, known as an Intamin AG Flight Trainer.
  • Sky Whirl. This three-armed Ferris wheel, made by Intamin AG, was removed to make room for Invertigo.
  • Lobster. An octopus/spider ride.
  • Bottoms Up. The classic carnival ride known in the industry as a Trabant.
  • Triple Play. The Huss Troika ride that was next to Vortex.
  • Willard's Whizzer. The original steel family roller coaster, made by Anton Schwarzkopf.
  • Trolley Cars. In early years trolley cars traveled in Hometown Square and other parts of the park.
  • Dolphin Show/ Seal Show. During the Marriott years dolphins and seals were kept to do daily shows. Removed when Paramount took over to make way for what is now known as the Peanuts Playhouse Theater.
  • Smurf Woods. Smurf-themed small kids area with small Smurf mushroom houses. Was changed eventually into Planet Snoopy.
  • Cajun Carpet:.A large rotating platform ride located near Orleans Orbit and Rip Roaring Rapids .[6]

California's Great America's Timeline

Complete View of the Invertigo
  • 2010: Planet Snoopy (Re-theme of Nickelodeon Central); Panda Express
  • 2009: All Wheels Extreme Stunt show; Chipper Lowell Experience show; expanded Halloween Haunt
  • 2008: FireFall; Dora's Sing-Along Adventure; Endless Summer On Ice show; Halloween Haunt
  • 2007: Great Barrier Reef added to Boomerang Bay; Ed Alonzo Misfit of Magic; Twistin' to the 60s Show
  • 2006: Survivor: The Ride
  • 2005: Boomerang Bay expansion
  • 2004: Boomerang Bay. Triple Play is removed
  • 2003: Spongebob Square Pants 3-D in the Action Theater; Nickelodeon Central (expansion of Splat City); Stealth (flying steel coaster) is removed and sent to Carowinds as Nighthawk
  • 2002: Delirium; Flying Eagles; Greased Lightning (steel coaster) removed
  • 2001: Psycho Mouse; Celebration Swings
  • 2000: Stealth (flying steel coaster); Scenic Railroad removed
  • 1999: KidZville
  • 1998: Invertigo, James Bond: License to Thrill[6]
  • 1997: Xtreme Skyflyer
  • 1996: Drop Tower Scream Zone
  • 1995: Nickelodeon Splat City
  • 1994: Action Theater
  • 1993: Flight Deck
  • 1991: Vortex
  • 1990: Whitewater Falls
  • 1989: Skyhawk
  • 1988: Rip Roaring Rapids. Whizzer is removed
  • 1987: Blue Streak; Smurf Woods; Fort Fun; HMB Endeavor (Formerly known as The Revolution)
  • 1986: Redwood Amphitheater with the Miami Sound Machine
  • 1985: The Grizzly
  • 1983: The Edge
  • 1980: The Demon (remodeled from Turn of the Century)
  • 1979: Star Tower (formerly Sky Tower)
  • 1978: IMAX Pictorium Theater, with film Man Belongs to the Earth
  • 1977: Tidal Wave
  • 1976: Marriott's Great America opens

On film and television

  • Though appearing under the name "WonderWorld", Paramount's Great America was used as the theme park in the 1994 film Beverly Hills Cop III.
  • Paramount's Great America was also used as the theme park Macaulay Culkin visits in the 1994 film Getting Even with Dad.
  • California's Great America was featured in a 2007 Excedrin commercial with the park's inverted steel coaster, "Flight Deck", as the main star.

Injuries and accidents

There have been a number of notable injuries and accidents at California's Great America, some of which are listed below. Please see Incidents at Cedar Fair parks for additional information on these and other incidents.

  • In 1980, a 13-year-old boy was killed and several others injured on the Willard's Whizzer roller coaster.
  • In 1989, two boys intentionally jumped out of the Loggers' Run ride. One was killed and the other fell onto a platform and was injured.[7]
  • In 1991, two couples were injured on the Yankee Clipper as their boat hydroplaned then capsized, leaving the riders temporarily trapped under the upside-down boat. The attraction was later modified to include a bump at the bottom of the drop in order to prevent hydroplaning.
  • In 1998, after riding Flight Deck (Top Gun at the time), a 24 year old Spanish-speaking man, who could not read the English-language warning signs, entered a locked, gated area underneath the ride to retrieve a hat. He was hit and killed by the foot of a passenger on the Flight Deck train. The passenger suffered a broken leg.[8]
  • In 1999, a 12-year-old boy fell out of the Drop Zone Tower and died.[9]
  • On July 12, 2007, a 4 year old boy drowned in the Boomerang Bay's Great Barrier Reef wave pool.[7][10]


  1. ^ Ballard W. George, Acoustical Study for New Steel Roller Coaster Great America Park, Santa Clara, Ca., Earth Metrics Inc., Report 10029 prepared for the city of Santa Clara
  2. ^ "Cedar Fair to buy CBS park unit for $1.24 billion - International Herald Tribune". 
  3. ^ "Press Releases :: Cedar Fair Entertainment Company". 
  4. ^ "EDGAR Filing Documents for 0000811532-06-000054". 
  5. ^ "Great America". 
  6. ^ a b "". 
  7. ^ a b " 7/12/07". 
  8. ^ " - 1998 Accident Reports and News". 
  9. ^ article
  10. ^ "4-Year-Old Drowns In California's Great America Wave Pool - News Story - KNTV". 


  • Michelson, Herb. (June 7, 1984). "City will purchase Marriott's". Sacramento Bee, p. A.
  • "Santa Clara drops Great America pact". (February 7, 1985). San Francisco Chronicle, p. 4.
  • Ewell, Miranda. (June 6, 1985). "Santa Clara assumes ownership of Great America". San Jose Mercury News (CA), p. 8B.
  • Kava, Brad. (March 15, 1989). "Great America reopens". San Jose Mercury News, p. 1.
  • Eng, Sherri. (August 1, 1992). "Paramount to buy Great America owner". San Jose Mercury News, p. 1E.

External links


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