Getting Back in the Water
South Bay Shores Highlights New Water Parks
By Erik Chalhoub
Growing up, I used to be very timid when it came to trying a different theme park attraction. I was even nervous about riding the Giant Dipper at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, even though I had ridden it many times before.
But once I went on my first upside-down roller coaster at age 18 (I was a late theme park bloomer), I haven’t looked back since. I’ll try any ride at least once. I’ve even been on a slingshot-type attraction as well as a “skycoaster” before, no problem.
Yet, when I look at the seven-story Shark Reef Plunge inside California’s Great America’s newly opened water park, I feel that old hesitancy come back. The new water park has been open for a month, yet I still haven’t tried it. That’s unheard of for a park nerd such as myself.
Ultimate thrill-seekers, this one’s for you. I’ll be there. Eventually.
Great America’s former Boomerang Bay is getting its largest investment in its history, 14 years after the last new attraction opened. The expanded water park has been transformed into South Bay Shores, increasing its acreage from 10.5 to 15 acres, and adding seven new water attractions, including four drop slides, two tube slides, and a new lagoon area. Guests will also enjoy new and upgraded food and merchandise locations, upgraded cabanas and a sandy beach play area.
The aforementioned Shark Reef Plunge is part of the impressive Pacific Surge complex, a colorful maze of tube, body and raft slides that is the star new attraction of the park’s renovation.
With Shark Reef Plunge, riders step into an enclosed tube, and once in position, the floor drops out from underneath them, plummeting them down a near-vertical free fall as they twist and turn their way through the tube.
Great America officials say the park is themed as the “Bay Area’s newest quirky seaside town,” and add that much of its inspiration was from the city of Monterey. You’ll see bright artwork everywhere, created by Lacey Bryant, and numerous funky touches scattered throughout, such as a bicycle that was transformed into a mailbox and a buoy that sprays water in the kiddie pool.
There’s also plenty of options to take a break from the water. The new restaurant Pier 76 Cafe cooks up offerings such as fried shrimp, fish tacos, hand-breaded chicken tenders, sliders and waffle fries. Shaded outdoor seating is available as well.
Great America also overhauled the existing attractions with new paint, names and other additions.
To view all the new attractions at South Bay Shores, visit cagreatamerica.com/explore/south-bay-shores.
More New Water Attractions
Speaking of water parks, there’s a new one in the Central Valley’s Manteca.
The new 500-room Great Wolf Lodge Northern California features a 95,000-square-foot indoor water park with a 45,000-square-foot Great Wolf Adventure Park that features an array of indoor attractions.
At one point in 2017, Great Wolf Lodge was interested in opening this park in Gilroy, but negotiations fell through.
Great Wolf Lodge also marks the return of a water park in the city of Manteca, after Manteca Waterslides closed in 2004. Fun fact: Two of the slides at Great America (now called Reef Racer) used to be located in Manteca.
For information, visit greatwolf.com/northern-california.
Better Late Than Never
Gilroy Gardens was supposed to celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2020, but we all know how that year went.
So now, the park kicked off its 20th birthday celebration on June 26, three days after its own water park, Water Oasis, opened for the season.
A colorful clubhouse stage has been constructed near the park’s entrance, featuring daily live shows. Patios throughout the park will have different themes, such as Tea Party or Pirates.
Guests can also sign a giant birthday card, as well as take part in other activities.
For information, visit gilroygardens.org.
Save the Dates
- The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk will celebrate National Carousel Day on July 25. The first 100 riders on the Looff Carousel (marking its 110th anniversary) will receive a brass souvenir carousel ring.
- National Roller Coaster Day returns to the Boardwalk on Aug. 15. The first 100 riders on the 97-year-old Giant Dipper will receive a Boardwalk souvenir cup.