Summer is almost over, but that doesn’t mean the adventures have to end. Why not pack up your bunch for one last Summer break hoorah at Gilroy Gardens?  Learn about butterflies, explore unique gardens, ride a giant banana swing, splash down water slides and so much more. This is the perfect family outing that delivers big for even the smallest of thrill-seekers.

Explore and learn:

Gilroy Gardens was built and created by Michael and Claudia Bonfante to inspire appreciation for horticulture and the environment. The park continues to support that dream of making this a place where families can learn together while having a blast. Stop by The Green Barn where art studio and lab unite. Little ones can go on a nature treasure hunt, bring in an object to learn about with the staff and get points to trade in for other interesting nature items. Get creative in the Art Studio using nature to create art pieces to take home or display in the studio. Need a quiet area for a break? Enjoy the reading nook stocked with popular favorites.

If you visit during Monarch butterfly season, from July through November, be sure to stop by the Monarch Butterfly Exhibit inside Monarch Garden to learn about their life cycle and maybe see a few being released. You can pick up a butterfly info brochure and trivia from the Welcome Center, as well as sign up for a Docent-led tour of the park or follow a self-guided tour.

The park features six beautiful gardens with various varieties of trees, flowers and landscaping, perfect for breaks in between thrills and is also home to the amusing and well-known Circus Trees, originally grown and created by Axel Erlandson after being inspired by a natural graft between two trees.

Play:

There are plenty of rides to choose from, all family-friendly and conveniently marked by thrill level. Check out favorites like the Banana Split that swings you high into the sky, the Bonfante Railroad Train Ride which takes you around the park and is great for scouting locations and the Garlic Twirl that'll have you spinning in a giant garlic bulb. The paddle boats, Sky Trail Monorail and South County Backroads are also must-do's.

When you're ready to cool off, head over to Bonfante Falls and get splashed while finding out what the back of a waterfall looks like. Bonfante's Splash Garden and Water Oasis will have the whole family frolicking through water play areas full of water squirters, giant tipping water buckets, spinning water wheels and twisty water slides. Little swimmers can take it easy in the Shallow Lagoon wading pool tot area, while mom and dad relax on comfy beach chairs under giant umbrellas or rent a cabana with food service for the day.

Be Prepared:

Gilroy temps can get pretty hot, so a hat, sunglasses and sunblock are a must. Dress comfortably, wear good trekking shoes and bring lots of water to hydrate and snacks for the minis (one per child, per current park rules). Don't forget your swimsuits, towels and a change of clothes to play in the water areas.  Bring an easy folding umbrella stroller or rent one at the park for the day. You can also pack a lunch and enjoy it at the picnic areas located outside the front gate and splurge on treats afterward at Skeels Funnel Cake or South County Cones.

Best to Visit:

The park is open most of the year with specific seasonal dates and special holiday events you won't want to miss. Check their calendar for updates before your visit. Weekdays and off-season dates are best to avoid large crowds and the cooler months are best to beat the heat.

Good to know:
Online admission reservations must be made in advance, tickets start at $40 and parking is $3 off online. Don't worry if you miss a few things, you can upgrade your admission towards a Membership on the day of your visit. Littles not fans of waiting in line? Consider a Fast Lane wristband allowing your gang to bypass the lines on rides. The park also offers day-use locker rentals, several dining options, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free selections, birthday party packages, family camp and movie nights.

Insider Tip:
The park is celebrating its 20th birthday all Summer long with its Best Birthday Party Ever event. Be sure to pick up a birthday cupcake decorating kit available for purchase at the Sugar Plum Farm Cafe, your kiddos will love it. Need to wash down those cupcakes? Refill sippy cups with orange or apple juice at Villa Pasta & Pizza and Sugar Plum Farm Cafe for 99¢.

Getting There:

From San Jose and San Francisco, take Highway 101 South to Gilroy. Exit Masten Ave., to Fitzgerald Ave. Turn left at Fitzgerald Ave. and Santa Teresa Blvd., then right onto Hwy 152 West (Hecker Pass Hwy.). The Gilroy Gardens entrance is on your left side just past the Gilroy Golf Course. Parking is $17 online and $20 at the gate.

Admission/Hours:
General Admission: Starting at $40 for the season/children and adults

Hours: Weekdays 11 a.m.–5 p.m. and weekends 10 a.m.–6 p.m.

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park
3050 Hecker Pass Hwy.
Gilroy, CA
Online: gilroygardens.org
Download a park map here

—Nella DuBon-Koch and Nicki Richesin

Photos by Nella DuBon-Koch 

Featured photo: Gilroy Gardens and Family Theme Park

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