December 2021

‘Tis the Season for Coasters

Holiday events are back and more festive than ever

By Erik Chalhoub

For most of November, theme parks are a strange hodgepodge of jack-o-lanterns, zombie heads, colorful ornaments and twinkling lights.

The transition from Halloween to the holiday season doesn’t happen overnight. It takes many months of planning, and weeks of hands-on labor, to transform the parks from spooky nightmares to festive wonderlands.

Let’s check out what our local parks have planned for 2021.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
The Boardwalk’s Winter Wonderland returns select days through Jan. 2. The seaside amusement park will be decked out with holiday flair in this annual tradition, featuring lights and decorations throughout the walk. A three-story-tall Christmas tree, centered in the main entrance, is a highlight of the event.
Guests can also see who can pedal the fastest with the return of Boardwalk Racers in the main plaza, and sample traditional Boardwalk fare with a holiday twist and take photos with Santa Claus. Classic holiday movies will also be screened on Neptune’s Stage.
A series of special events are also planned throughout Winter Wonderland’s run. Mini Nutcracker performances will take place on Dec. 4 and 5, followed by school choir/band performances the following weekend. The Jingle Bell Rock Run is also on tap for Dec. 12.
For hours and information, visit
California’s Great America
WinterFest, billed as the Bay Area’s “most immersive holiday event,” returns to Santa Clara on select nights through Jan. 9. Expect to take part in the festive activities that have become a staple of this relatively new event, such as ice skating in front of the world’s tallest carousel, sending letters to the North Pole, and strolling through themed areas in-between coaster thrills in the chilling winter night. For information, visit
Gilroy Gardens
The horticultural themed park’s Holiday event is back on select nights through Dec. 31, where after ice skating, visitors can settle down to a feast before catching the Charlie Brown Christmas Show. Gilroy Gardens will also be decked out in festive lights, which are even more spectacular than displays elsewhere thanks to the park’s beautiful setting. For information, visit
Time to renew those season passes
The end of the year is usually the season pass … well … season, and this year is no different.

But what I’ve noticed in recent years is the rise of options theme parks are offering when it comes to their passes. It’s always nice to have options, but things are now getting complicated and downright confusing in some cases.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has the simplest option, with season passes for all of 2022 priced at $89.95. New this year, the Boardwalk is taking a Disney approach and offering cheaper, “restricted” season passes at $64.95, but with “blackout” dates. This pass restricts members from visiting on the busy summer weekends and holidays. It’s a good deal for those who avoid the packed weekends anyway and visit on the less-crowded weekdays.

Great America offers three different types of passes, in addition to the free Pre-K pass: Silver, Gold and Platinum. Each have their own perks and are priced differently. I always go with the Gold pass, since it includes parking as well as admission to Halloween Haunt and WinterFest. You can also pay the entire price of the pass up front or in monthly installments. It’s fairly straightforward.
However, Six Flags passes are a different story. The Season Pass at Discovery Kingdom will get you access to the Vallejo park as well as Hurricane Harbor Concord. I was disappointed, however, to see that the season passes no longer allow you to visit all Six Flags parks throughout the country, which was an incredible value at just under $60.

Six Flags offers memberships that are paid by monthly installments, with four different levels: Gold Plus, Platinum, Diamond and Diamond Elite. There are various benefits that come with each level, and Six Flags does a good job at breaking all of them down on their website:

If you don’t care about food and merchandise discounts and skip-the-line passes for every visit, I recommend going with the least expensive Gold Plus option, since it includes admission and parking at all Six Flags parks.

Take the time to research all the different options and choose the one that fits best for your family, so there are no surprises when you arrive at the gate.

Strike Out Hunger returns
The Boardwalk Bowl’s Strike Out Hunger, benefiting Second Harvest Food Bank, is back from its one-year hiatus through Jan. 2.

Those who bring a can of food to the Boardwalk Bowl get to bowl for free during the dates of the event. Participants who make a $100 cash donation to Second Harvest during the Strike out Hunger dates will receive 25 free bowling passes for use during future visits.

Now in its 14th year, Strike Out Hunger provided 21,334 meals to local families in need in 2019, according to the Boardwalk.
For information, visit

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