Just 40 minutes from San Jose, Gilroy is most well-known for its annual garlic festival. But Gilroy has tons to offer Bay Area families looking for a short road trip, from an amazing amusement park with a horticulture theme to a park where you can learn about the Ohlone Indians. So pack up the kids and get on the road to check out some of our favorite stops!
From San Jose, head south on highway 101. If you exit at Tennant Avenue in Morgan Hill, you can take Watsonville Road to Chitactac-Adams County Park and Gilroy Gardens. Or, continue on highway 101 south to Leavesley Road to make a shopping or dining pit stop at the Gilroy Premium Outlets. For more help in planning your trip to Gilroy, check out the Gilroy Welcome Center website.
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Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park
The original owner of Gilroy Gardens, Michael Bonfante, had a true love for all trees and built the park as a way to pass on that love to future generations. While the rides and games are likely the draw for most families, the fascinating history of the trees that make up the park is something not to be missed.
Ask one of the friendly docents at the park entrance or welcome booth to point out the “Circus Trees” that flank the entrance and are sprinkled throughout the park. These trees are true works of art created by Axel Erlandson using intricate grafting techniques and many years of patience. See if you can figure out how many trees were used to create the “basket tree” or the “oil rig.”
These famous trees are just the beginning of the botanical wonders that make up the park. Trees from as far away as Italy were brought over to make the park a horticulture masterpiece. If you have time, take one of the horticulture tours to learn more. Kids with an interest in horticulture would enjoy some of the many educational programs offered at Gilroy Gardens or head to one of the four Green Spots in the park to learn more about plants, weather, water and all things green.
Once you have learned a little bit about the history of the park, hop aboard one of the many rides! The Bonfante Railroad Train Ride is a great way to view the park (especially at night to see all of the lights). Little visitors will enjoy the Strawberry Sundae and South Country Backroads rides, while the thrill-seekers should head straight to the Quicksilver Express Mine Coaster for some fast moving fun!
December is a great time to head to Gilroy Gardens as they open the park on weekend evenings for the Holiday Lights display. See the park come alive with millions of lights and enjoy a show put on by Charlie Brown and friends. California kids will be stunned to see it snowing in the park as you walk through Candy Cane Lane. The all-you-can-eat holiday feast is also a great option for families looking to have a festive meal at the park. Don’t forget to stop by and say “Hi!” to Santa and get your picture taken!
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Chitactac-Adams County Park
Just up the road from Gilroy Gardens is this park where you can learn how the Ohlone Indians lived. Take the self-guided tour to see petroglyphs, bedrock mortars (which the Ohlone used to process food) and Ohlone buildings. There is no park entrance fee and kids of all ages can easily manage the short walking tour.
Casa de Fruta
The neighboring town of Hollister is home to Casa de Fruta and it’s definitely worth a drive there if you have some time. A restaurant, huge fruit stand, wine tasting room and sweet shop are just a few of the many buildings that make up Casa de Fruta. It also has a playground, merry-go-round and a train that kids and parents can ride. Head over to the water sluice where you can pan for gold and fossils like the miners did during the California gold rush.
In September and October, Casa de Fruta hosts the Northern California Renaissance Faire. The property even has an inn and RV park for those looking to stay the night.
There are lots of great dining options at Gilroy Gardens and Casa de Fruta but if you prefer to eat elsewhere, Black Bear Diner is a great family-friendly option. Tons of options for kids, big portions for the parents and a free kid’s sundae for every kid’s meal purchased after 11 a.m. What more could you want?
The nearby Gilroy Premium Outlets also offers many kid-friendly options like In-N-Out Burger and Applebee’s.
Where is your favorite stop in Gilroy? Let us know in the comments below!
Photos courtesy of Gilroy Welcome Center except where noted.