California Great America History

California's Great America (formerly known as Marriott's Great America and Paramount's Great America) is a 100-acre (40 ha) amusement park located in Santa Clara, California. Owned and operated by Cedar Fair, it originally opened in 1976 as one of two parks built by the Marriott Corporation. The park has appeared in 1994 films Beverly Hills Cop III and Getting Even with Dad and features over 40 rides and attractions. One of its most notable attractions, Gold Striker, has been featured as a top-ranked wooden roller coaster in Amusement Today's annual Golden Ticket Awards publication.


Marriott's Great America, built by hotel and restaurant operator Marriott Corporation, opened to the public on March 21, 1976. Less than two weeks later on May 29, the company opened a second Marriott's Great America – later known as Six Flags Great America – north of Chicago in Gurnee, Illinois. A third park was initially planned for the Baltimore–Washington Metropolitan Area, but the idea was later abandoned after several failed attempts to sway local opposition. The Park opened up with the carousel. Which is still there at the park entrance to this day, a horse and cart and a car merry go round. A childrens park a twin track self drive car ride, Swing and big wheel and the popular cable car ride across the park. and they also had a few shows including a animal show. But the main draw into the park was Demon (named Turn of the Century from 1976 - 1980) a Arrow Development coaster with a height of 102ft and a top speed of 50mph and included 4 inversions. This coaster is still at the park now and its still has popular has ever.

In 1977 Marriott Great America opened its second thrill ride with Tidal Wave. A schwarzkopf shuttle loop launch coaster with a top speed of 57Mph, The 0 - 57mph coaster’s launch was powered by a unique weight-drop system. A multi-ton weight was hoisted up inside a cylindrical tower located beneath the highest spike of the coaster’s track. When the weight was dropped inside that tower, a system of cables and pulleys propelled a pusher forward. A iconic 200-foot observation tower provides an overhead view of California's Great America  in 1978 and is the very first ride guests encounter upon entering the park. From its magnificent vantage point, guests can view Great America’s grand entrance with the reflection pond fountains and Carousel Columbia, an overall park view, the surrounding hills and even San Francisco on a clear day. Atari launched its three-phase attraction at the park in 1982, featuring an arcade with all the latest coin video releases and a store with every Atari game and accessory.

The park, though profitable, was still an earnings disappointment for Marriott, leading the company in 1983 to explore options to sell. The city acquired the park for $93.5 million from Marriott, which retained 20 acres (8.1 ha) from the sale for development. Caz Development settled and was allowed to build a hotel and office near the park, which the city renamed Great America.

Kings Entertainment Company, who owned and operated other amusement parks, was hired in 1985 to manage Great America for the city. In 1985 the park added another roller coaster to its line up The Grizzly a wooden The ride was designed by Curtis D. Summers and manufactured by Kings Island Construction. It uses traditional tracks with steel wheels on the cars, and, therefore, is designed to maintain positive-g loading on the cars and riders throughout its course. 

The Grizzly provides picturesque, behind-the-scenes views of many other attractions, including Barney Oldfield Speedway and Demon. It also delivers unique perspectives of Xtreme Skyflyer and Drop Tower.

Recent years have delivered new wood on numerous parts of The Grizzly, creating a much smoother ride and improved rider experience on the park’s longest ride.

Blue Steak is a steel kiddie roller coaster the coaster was designed by Intamin AG and opened in 1987. The coaster had a Smurfs theme to it when it opened, as well as the section "Smurf Woods", a Smurf village with mushroom houses. Smurf Woods was closed in the early 1990s, Woodstock Express which its now known is the third-oldest coaster at Great America. With one pint-sized plunge, gentle turns and moderate speeds, Woodstock Express gives young riders a gentle coaster experience and one for all the family. The next year the perfect way to cool down was a trip down Rip Roaring Rapids and its outdoor water adventure. Take the entire family on a white water rafting expedition as you navigate down a rugged river course in a 6-person raft. the self-guided tour includes whitewater challenges and slow relaxing spots reminiscent of a real rafting trip. With most of the ride not visible from the park, it truly feels like a ride in the wilderness. Skyhawk made its debut at Great America in 1989. Manufactured by Intamin, this “Flight Trainer” model carried riders approximately 60 feet in the air in “flight cabins.”

The same year the city decided to return the park to the private sector and sold it to Kings Entertainment. In the agreement, the city would earn 5% of all revenue that exceeds $56 million

In to the very early 90's another water ride was added to the park Whitewater Falls the ride provides an intense rush—first ascending a 45-foot waterfall before splashing down and creating a 20-foot wave of water. The splash creates a multi-faceted effect. Whitewater Falls riders in the front and the back of the boat get a little wet. However, the real fun is watching the 20-foot wave of water launched towards the observation deck and seeing unsuspecting onlookers take the brunt of the tsunami!



Paramount Parks (1992–2006)


  • Three years later Paramount Communications, the owners of Paramount Pictures, sought to join other entertainment companies as a theme park owner. The entertainment-publishing giant said it has agreed to buy Kings Entertainment Co. which owns Kings Dominion, near Richmond, Va. Great America, in Santa Clara, California and Carowinds, near Charlotte, N.C. Kings Entertainment also owns 20 percent of Canada's Wonderland, located near Toronto.

Paramount has also agreed to buy Kings Island, a theme park located outside Cincinnati and owned by American Financial Corp. Kings Entertainment operates that facility.and created Paramount ParksViacom

Also the same year IMAX Pictorium Theater received a $1.5 million upgrade allowing it to screen 3-D films.





  • The parent of MTV Networks (including Nickelodeon), then bought Paramount in 1994, allowing Nickelodeon theming and merchandise into the parks as well. Because the park is landlocked in the centre of Silicon Valley, several rides including the classic train ride and the Sky Whirl, a Marriott's Great America signature attraction, were removed to make way for newer attractions.



  • Saw the opening of the world's tallest vertical drop amusement park ride. Drop tower stunt tower was built by Swiss ride manufacturer Intamin and was a Giant Drop model. Standing at 224ft and a drop height of 207ft it picked up 62mph on free fall. Although the ride was manufactured by Intamin, the installation at California's Great America was constructed by Martin & Vleminckx.



  • It was a quiet year with no new features being added to the park but xtreme skyflyer and triple wheel were removed.



  • Saw the investment of another big roller coaster Invertigo, A Vekoma inverting SLC boomerang this was the second of this type of coaster to open up in the world the first being Liseberg the year before. And was apart of only 4 ever installed. This huge Vekoma stood at 131ft and had a top speed of 50mph and hit 5G.

1999 - 2000

  • Great America announced Stealth as "the world's first true flying coaster at a cost of $17 million dollars. For Stealth to be installed, the lower flume of Logger's Run had to be altered and the Yankee Clipper had to be removed. The coaster was a prototype being built by Vekoma International of the Netherlands, The best and brightest designers and engineers spent hundreds of thousands of hours creating this incredible experimental coaster," said Roger Houben, chief executive officer of Vekoma the ride officially opened to the public on April 1, 2000.


  • Psycho Mouse the last Mad Mouse to be produced by Arrow Dynamics was installed in 2001. The next year saw the opening of Delirium a powerful spinning ride where guests will experience gravity defying hang time on one of the most powerful pendulums on the planet.swinging more than 180 degrees. Riders also experience the rush of their seats rotating while the pendulum swings, delivering double the thrilling effects. Also the same year Greased Lighting was removed.


  • Another coaster removed from the park this time it was Stealth the steel flying coaster it wasnt scrapped it was sent to Carowinds and renamed Nighthawk.


  • Was the addition of Boomerang Bay including a complex of children's water slides/play area, a 4-person adult raft/tube ride, a two-person inner-tube water slide and a fully enclosed two-person inner-tube water slide the next year saw yet more Boomerang Bay expansion to include lazy river, two other waterslides and a large swimming pool.

In its last years as a Paramount Park, Great America was co-owned with several broadcasting stations in the Bay Area, including KPIX-TV and KBCW.

Cedar Fair Entertainment Company (2006–present)


  • Cedar Fair, L.P. Today announced that it has completed its acquisition of the Paramount Parks from CBS Corporation in a cash transaction valued at approximately $1.24 billion. Cedar Fair will assume the complete operations and management of the parks immediately.

“The completion of this acquisition is great news,” said Dick Kinzel, Cedar Fair’s chairman, president and chief executive officer.  “The five Paramount properties are well-run, top-tier parks in good locations with the potential to do even better.  The acquisition brings us access to new markets with attractive demographics, such as northern California, the Carolinas, Virginia / District of Columbia and Toronto.  We now have a well-balanced portfolio of operations with four parks producing annual attendance over three million visitors each (Cedar Point, Kings Island, Knott’s Berry Farm and Canada’s Wonderland) and, on a proforma basis, no single park contributes more than 22% of revenues based on 2005 results.  Our combined operations now include 12 amusement parks, five outdoor water parks, one indoor water park and six hotels, and will entertain approximately 25 million guests annually.”

The five Paramount Parks consist of Canada’s Wonderland near Toronto, Canada; Kings Island near Cincinnati, Ohio; Kings Dominion near Richmond, Virginia; Carowinds near Charlotte, North Carolina; and Great America located in Santa Clara, California.


  • Cedar Fair renamed the park California's Great America the same year Great Barrier Reef Wavepool was added to Boomerang Bay 



  • The park saw the addition of a Huss Rides top spin ride called FireFall, a new ice show in the "Great America Theatre" (formerly The Paramount Theatre), and the addition of the Halloween Haunt event to the park. Great America’s Halloween Haunt offers six haunted mazes, CornStalkers, Club Blood Werewolf Canyon and Camp Gonna Getcha Slaughterhouse, CarnEvil  four scare zones, three live shows, rides, and shops. The grounds of the park was transformed into an homage to Halloween, complete with ominous fog, cemeteries dotting the landscape, and grinning jack-o-lanterns. The water around the "Scary-Go-Round" is now home to skeletons lounging on the “beach”, floating on rafts, and water skiing behind a skeletal whale. A few even found their way onto the Scary-Go-Round itself. The following year was a quiet year for the park with only the expansion Halloween Haunt.


  • Saw the retheme of Nickelodeon Central to Planet Snoopy which was a standard move for cedar fair parks; Hanna Barbera references was also removed in KidZville.


  • After 12 years of service at California's Great America, Cedar Fair has decided to move Invertigo and for it to be relocated to Dorney Park, another Cedar Fair property.On September 19, 2011, Cedar Fair confirmed reports that California's Great America would be sold to JMA Ventures, LLC for $70 million in cash. The sale required approval by the City of Santa Clara, and its city council was scheduled to vote on the matter on December 6, 2011. Cedar Fair, which purchased the park in 2006, expected to use the cash proceeds from the sale to reduce its senior secured debt.  However, on December 6, 2011, Real estate investment firm JMA Ventures LLC cancelled plans to buy California’s Great America theme park, a $70 million deal that would have given the San Francisco 49ers partial control of key property near its planned stadium.

The park's owner, Cedar Fair Entertainment Co., said Tuesday that San Francisco-based JMA bowed out of the purchase agreement. Cedar Fair also said it reached a "long-term" agreement with the 49ers on parking and stadium construction, issues that prompted at least two lawsuits in recent years.

Under the deal with JMA, announced in September, the investment firm was slated to pay cash for the 100-acre park in Santa Clara. At the time, JMA said an entity affiliated with the 49ers had been working with it and was expected to partner on the acquisition.

The sale was subject to Santa Clara city approval, as the city owns the land underneath the theme park. The city council had been expected to vote on the matter Tuesday night.

Santa Clara collects $5.3 million per year in base-rent from Cedar Fair. Meanwhile Cedar Fair “reached a long-term agreement with the San Francisco 49ers related to the construction of the stadium and parking for NFL and other stadium-related events for the life of the new stadium.” Which would pay the $5.3 million per year rent to Santa Clara. Back to the rides Several park improvements such as a repaint of Carousel Columbia, Demon and Flight Deck. ADA improvements including an elevator lift entrance for Loggers Run and Vortex. Also, The Grizzly was retracked.


  • Gold Striker was the park's eighth roller coaster which opened to the public on May 31, 2013. Its 174-foot-long (53 m) tunnel is the longest in the world to be featured on the first drop which stands at 108ft, and it was marketed as the "tallest and fastest (53mph) wooden coaster in Northern California" Originally, California's Great America planned to build Gold Striker for the 2009 season, but issues led to the project's cancellation On January 30, 2013, one of the milestones took place as the ride's lift hill was topped off. On February 20, 2013, California's Great America announced the first drop will be fully enclosed setting the record for world's longest initial drop tunnel on a wooden coaster. On March 6, the park announced they would be holding a first rider auction for Gold Striker. The park was auctioning off the first six trains through April 28. Members of the general public were able to take some early rides in from April 30, 2013 during a promotional shoot the park was doing. 



  • Flight Deck had its red and white paint job completed also Glizzly loading bay was also painted the same colour, two new Haunted Mazes for 2014, and one new Haunted Attraction. Werewolf Canyon and Slaughterhouse: Annihilation mazes removed. The Overlord is removed as Haunt icon. Skeleton Key is added, giving 5 mazes a new interactive room.



  • Planet Snoopy takes over the former KidZville section of the park. And Halloween Haunt expansion again.



  • A 4D holographic attraction themed to BioWare's Mass Effect video game in newly renovated Action Theater for the 2016 season, Riders will sit in motion-based seating with high-tech sound and 3D glasses while a live performer curates the quest to save the galaxy from other civilizations. Winterfest debuts. Halloween Haunt expansion 



  • A big upgrade to a old 1991 coaster Vortex the stand up coaster was upgraded to a floor less coaster repainted and renamed Patriot.



  • A new style coaster added to the park RMC RAPTOR track a very similar to T-Rex track, but Raptor track only runs trains that are one seat wide instead of two seats wide, and tend to be smaller. the coaster finally opened in June 2018

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