I love a good 24 hour weekend getaway. Somewhere out of town but close enough that the drive doesn’t wipe you out and you still have time to do laundry and prep for the next week. Living in Fresno, we basically have the mountains or the ocean. Although a one day trip to most of these destinations feels a bit rushed to me. This past weekend we found Gilroy to be that perfect distance to feel “away” but not have too much car time. (We even considered just making a day trip of it, and we probably will in the future, but because we were going to the evening Halloween celebration at Gilroy Gardens as well, we decided to get a hotel for the evening so we didn’t feel rushed or exhausted.)
So here are our tips and reasons to visit Gilroy Gardens!
But first, a little history.
Gilroy Gardens was created by Michael Bonfante as California’s only horticulture theme park. Bonfante was the owner of Nob Hill grocery stores and eventually sold the chain in order to pursue the dream of building this green theme park. The park opened in 2001 and has undergone changes in management and ownership to keep it running, but we are so glad the City of Gilroy has kept this Central California gem up and running!
Ideal Age to Visit
Gilroy Gardens is perfect for kiddos that aren’t ready for rollercoasters. There are tons of cute, fun, and not scary rides. There is one rollercoaster and the rest of the rides are really kid friendly! Here is a guide to all the rides and their thrill levels. We think this park is ideal for preschool and elementary age kids.
What to appreciate at GG
The rides and low crowds are great for a weekend adventure, but my favorite part of Gilroy Gardens is the landscape. There are beautiful trees and flowers everywhere! And visiting in the fall brings gorgeous changing leaves throughout the park.
We love walking around the park and looking at all of the varied horticulture, especially the circus trees. These amazing trees were brought in when the park was first built and are a really cool and unique feature of this park. Plus the rides are themed for the region’s agriculture which the kids love! (Strawberry Sundae is our favorite… although it leaves my head spinning! 🤪) There are also educational kiosks around the park to engage in and the Green Barn has lots of hands on activities and experiments for the kids to experience.
Special events at GG
Gilroy Gardens is open late-March through the first week of January. During the fall and winter months the park is only open on weekends and limited hours but they have some really fun holiday events for the family to enjoy. On our visit we went for the day to the regular park experience and then stayed for the Halloween celebration, the Great Big Boo (runs through November 2). A separate entrance fee is required for the evening festivities, but it’s all included if you buy the premium membership (more on that in a bit). A few observations from our visit: 1. The evening crowds were much larger than the daytime. 2. The park wasn’t scary like some Halloween theme parks… Just cool lights, occasional fog, silvery skeletons hidden around the park, and a handful of goofy Halloween characters that are a part of the seasonal show. 3. Many of the visitors came in costume but we opted for Halloween t-shirts and warm, comfy clothes. 4. There are candy stations around the park for trick or treating if your family is wanting a little more sweet fun!
My favorite thing about the evening, was seeing the beautiful park and all of its fall colors lit up in festive lights.
They also have a Christmas and New Years celebration that we will hopefully be checking out in December.
Why we opted for the Premium Membership
We decided to spend a little extra to get A LOT more with the premium membership. The membership included this years holiday events, all of 2020 regular park access, parking, and 20% off food and merchandise in the park. After adding it up, we calculated that a membership would be cheaper than one day time and special event visit if we bought our tickets at the gate. They do have online tickets that are cheaper than the gate price, so if you are looking to only visit once, that is the way to go. But, if you want to go to a holiday event and/or go more than once in the next year, the membership is totally worth it! Here is where you can check out all of the price details to see what would be best for your fam!
If you have little ones and live in Central California, we highly recommend a weekend visit to Gilroy Gardens!