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In this photo provided by Magic Mountain, roller coaster enthusiasts ride upside-down on the Riddler's Revenge roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita, Calif., in this April 1, 1998, file photo. (AP Photo/Magic Mountain, Craig T. Mathew)
Travel: Roller-coaster mania in California theme parks
First Published May 17 2013 01:30 pm • Last Updated May 17 2013 01:34 pm

At California theme parks, it’s the year of the roller coaster, with four new ones — all very different ­— scheduled to make their debut. Great America is ready to unveil its new marquee ride, a soaring wooden coaster; Six Flags Magic Mountain is building a super-tall vertical loop; the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is adding a seaside coaster that spins; and at Knott’s Berry Farm, a "wild mouse"-style roller coaster will join the lineup. (Like tiny mice, wild-mouse coasters can be scarier than they look.) Here’s our annual roundup of new thrill rides, as well as tamer entertainment for the scaredy cats among us.


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What’s new » Great America is looking to strike gold with the sizable contingent of wood roller-coaster enthusiasts. Its latest, and some would say greatest, attraction is Gold Striker, billed as "the tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster in Northern California." Riders will soar as high as 108 feet, giving them a bird’s-eye view of the construction going on at the nearby San Francisco 49ers’ stadium. Yet this will be anything but a leisurely sightseeing trip. The coaster moves at speeds approaching 54 mph, along dramatic twists, turns and vertical descents, the steepest of which is reportedly 50 degrees. Gold Striker is set to open in late May.

Bargain alert » Buy online to save $14 off adult single-day tickets. Season pass, $59.99. All tickets include free admission to Boomerang Bay Waterpark.

Details » Open May 18-19, May 21-22, then daily starting May 25. 4701 Great America Parkway, Santa Clara. 408-988-1776; www.cagreatamerica.com.


What’s new » Discovery Kingdom is taking the tried-and-true "dolphin show" to new heights with "Cirque Dreams Splashtastic," which is billed as "the Most Amazing Show Above H2O." The park has partnered with Neil Goldberg’s acclaimed Cirque Dreams entertainment group for this production, which will feature both marine mammals and a troupe of acrobats and aerialists. "Splashtastic" will debut May 25 at the park’s Dolphin Harbor Theater.

Another top attraction is the Superman Ultimate Flight, a towering roller coaster that opened last year. The DC Comics-themed coaster stands 15 stories high and carries riders at speeds of as much as 62 mph, through twists, turns and vertical rolls, along 863 feet of track.

Bargain alert » Save $20 on a ticket when you buy at least three days in advance. A season pass deal offers free parking if you buy four passes.

Details » Open for the season. 1001 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo. 707-643-6722; www.sixflags.com/discoverykingdom.

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What’s new » Ready to go for a spin? Then make plans to check out Undertow, which is being advertised as the only spinning coaster in Northern California. The ride races at speeds of up to 40 mph, twisting and turning riders about in all kinds of disorienting angles along the 1,410 feet of track. Yes, the ride even does a complete 360-degree carousel spin. Once the ride has come to an end, it’s time to ride it again -- since, according to the Boardwalk folks, "Undertow’s unique design ensures that no two rides are ever the same." Undertow will join the Boardwalk’s classic wooden coaster from 1924, the Giant Dipper, sometime this summer.

The "Free Friday Night Bands on the Beach" series offers up two shows, at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., Fridays June 14-Aug. 30. The lineup includes modern-rockers ABC (June 14), classic-rockers Blue Oyster Cult (July 12) and funk band War (Aug. 9).

Bargain alert » Buy tickets at Costco and save as much as 33 percent on some packages.

Details » Open for the season. 400 Beach St., Santa Cruz. 831-423-5590; www.beachboardwalk.com.


What’s new » For kids, Gilroy Gardens is a park of gentle rides, games and shows. For their parents and grandparents, it’s a horticultural wonderland of twisted trees and landscaped gardens made possible by tree lover Michael Bonfante. For its 13th season, the park is enhancing its mission of "learning disguised as fun," with Backyard Monsters, an interactive exhibit with giant animated insects; live shows by the "Mike the Knight" character; and ROYelle, a new female sidekick for the garlic-clove mascot, GILbert. Together, GIL and ROY (get it?) will perform interactive musical revues.

Bargain alert » Online discount offers best savings on one-day tickets. Until June 1, a season pass costs $34.99 (kids 3-10, seniors 62-plus) or $44.99 general. And active-duty military personnel get free admission May 25-27, July 4-7 and Aug. 31-Sept. 2.

Details » Open weekends and Memorial Day, then daily from June 6. 3050 Hecker Pass Highway, Gilroy. 408-840-7100; www.gilroygardens.org.


What’s new » This year, royalty and magic trump roller coasters as Disneyland unveils new offerings that will appeal to its young visitors. The park has created an entire Fantasy Faire princess village, complete with Tudor-style turreted architecture; a meet-and-greet hall where little parkgoers can meet Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Belle and Rapunzel; two princess-themed stage shows in the Royal Theatre; and a daily Royal Ribbon Parade around a maypole. On May 25, a new live show, "Mickey and the Magical Map," will make its debut in the refurbished outdoor Fantasyland Theatre. Sorcerer Mickey and the troupe will put on five daily performances of this show during the summer.

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