Sunday, July 11, 2010

Gilroy Gardens - One of California's Best-kept Secrets

Late in B.B.'s visit, the girls started talking about Disneyland. It seems B.B. had never been there. In fact, she said, she'd not been to an amusement park anywhere.

Well, we couldn't just let that go, of course! We checked our family finances, and the calendar, and decided rather than head south to the Big D where hot weather, heavy crowds and bank-bustin' entry fees would kill the buzz, we'd head north to Gilroy Gardens. We'd visited the park just a couple of weeks ago with my dad, and our entry at that time included season passes. So...what the heck?

Saturday morning, the girls easily popped out of bed (which, in our house, is very unusual) and we were all ready for the day and in van headed north 30 minutes later. With good company for the girls, a pillow for me and Mr. B at the wheel, the three-hour drive north was a cinch. (Especially for me - note "pillow.")

Gilroy Gardens, formerly known as Bonfante Gardens, is everything an amusement park should be: a relatively affordable, heavily landscaped, beautiful park that offers kid-friendly rides, and ample bench seating throughout. But somehow it remains off the major tourist route radar, which is a shame. The low-stress, uncrowded park with mellow rides designed specifically for the younger set is ideal for families with young children.

There are only two "big rides" - Timber Twister Coaster and the Quicksilver Express Mine Coaster - and the 11 year old with us enjoyed them both tremendously. (We also managed to get our two on Timber Twister for a trial run, but only the youngest volunteered to go back for more. Still, she returned over and over again and, indeed, closed the park with one last blast on that coaster.)

Our oldest did, finally, find a "thrill ride," relatively speaking, which she loved. While a single trip on the Mushroom Swing pretty much did me in for the day (barf!), E, V, and B.B. took the ride half a dozen times in a row before stepping off to try something else. E returned at the end of the day to ride it for 34 minutes straight while B.B. and V headed back to Timber Twister with Mr. B.

Gilroy can get very warm, even downright hot, in the summertime, but the park even has a solution for that. As the temperature rises, take a break in any of the ample shady spots, or head to the back of the park and set the kids loose in Bonfante Splash Garden. Heck, lots of adults were in there getting soaked to prep for the rest of the day, too. (Yeah...I was one of those!)

It was a mixed blessing to find the park so devoid of visitors on this particular, beautiful, summer weekend; the lack of crowds certainly appealed to our family, but couldn't bode well for the future of the park.

We plan to head back a few more times this summer. You know. To help them with their numbers.

After the park, we've come to enjoy our dinner visits to The Claddagh, an Irish-pub-style restaurant in Gilroy. The food is good, the beer refreshing (for the adult passenger with pillow in waiting), and while it's got a sports-bar feel to some extent, it's certainly family friendly. Screens played images from World Cup Soccer in the well-lit restaurant which also features a full bar for the grown-ups, which means a great fruit juice selection for the kids. And the owners are super friendly to adults and kids alike.

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