theme park food santa cruz
August 2019

What’s cooking at theme parks?

Deals, healthy options now on the table

Always Amused August 2019

By Erik Chalhoub

A theme park without food is like a car without wheels — you can’t operate one without the other. 

With most guests at parks making their visit a

Erik Chalhoub

day out of it, coupled with the amount of walking to and from attractions, it can be a good workout, and a great way to work up an appetite.

But theme park food is notorious for being greasy, unhealthy, heavily-processed grub. Worst of all, it’s overpriced ($40 pizza, anyone?).

Sadly, that is still the case, but fortunately no longer the entire story. Over the last few years, theme parks have taken notice that their price-conscious guests are demanding healthier options.

Two major chains that operate theme parks in our region — Cedar Fair (Gilroy Gardens and California’s Great America) and Six Flags (Discovery Kingdom) — offer deals to make their food more appetizing.

Great America, in particular, offers an “All Day Dining Plan,” where, for $32, guests can enjoy an entrée and a side at more than 15 dining locations throughout the park. Even better, there’s only a 90-minute wait between meals (if you are really that hungry). When one meal can easily exceed $20, the dining plan is enticing.

Frequent visitors to the park who hold season passes may want to consider adding the All Season Dining plan to their passes for $94. For the entire operating season, pass holders can eat lunch and dinner on every visit. It essentially pays for itself after two visits.

Discovery Kingdom offers similar passes. Its Deluxe Season Dining Pass is currently on sale for $80, and includes lunch, dinner and a snack for the rest of 2019 for both Discovery Kingdom and the Hurricane Harbor water park in Concord. The Basic Dining Pass is currently being offered for $40, and includes lunch and a snack for every visit.

A one-time Family Meal Deal at Gilroy Gardens for $37 includes an entrée and four 20-ounce fountain drink at three restaurants in the park.

Keep an eye out for deals throughout the year at all of these parks. These prices are known to change, and could also be combined with other deals depending on the promotion.

Sure, the prices may be relatively inexpensive, but would you actually want to eat the food?

Great America stands out above the rest of the parks in the area, and has made an effort to improve its food offerings over the past few seasons. Led by Executive Chef Erick J. Ponce, the park has not only invested in new restaurants and its existing ones, but it is pushing the boundaries of typical theme park fare.

Its two food festivals, Red, White and Brews and Taste of Orleans (held in June and July), have become a growing tradition at the

theme park food santa cruz
Photo by Erik Chalhoub. California's Great America Executive Chef Erick J. Ponce demonstrates how to cook a catfish slider.

Santa Clara park. Just take a look at this sampling of the menu, and you wouldn’t believe it comes from a theme park: chicken lollipops over apple slaw, brisket burnt ends over corn pudding, deep fried frog legs with Creole aioli, praline bread pudding and more.

theme park food santa cruz
Photo by Erik Chalhoub. California's Great America Executive Chef Erick J. Ponce demonstrates how to cook a catfish slider.

You also wouldn’t think the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk would offer more than just hot dogs and cotton candy, but it does. One of its newest restaurants, Cruzin’ Crêpes, offers just what it promises: made to order crêpes with either sweet or savory fillings. Wraps, bowls, quesadillas and other types of cuisine are offered at various locations throughout the seaside park.

And you have to indulge in the deep-fried cheesecake. It’s almost a requirement for

theme park food santa cruz
Photo by Erik Chalhoub. The finished blackened catfish slider with tangy slaw.

a Boardwalk visit.

Gilroy Gardens not only offers the traditional hamburgers, pizza and hot dogs, but its restaurants also have non-fried foods, reduced calories, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.

Those who are health-conscious will appreciate digital menus that are now being implemented at most food spots across all parks, which showcase calories and other nutritional information for each offering.

If none of this sounds tempting, you can always leave an ice cooler filled with food from home in your vehicle and head out for a parking lot picnic at lunchtime. You won’t be the only one.

theme park food santa cruz
Photo by Erik Chalhoub. The finished blackened catfish slider with tangy slaw.

Get the best family tips in Santa Cruz straight to your inbox!

* indicates required

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *