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Gilroy Gardens: 7 Hidden Gems + Insider Tips & Tidbits

Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park in Gilroy, California is a wonderful place for the whole family to enjoy rides, water play, games, entertainment, and some great food. But before you visit the park, take a few minutes to learn about some great “hidden gems” you simply must see—as well as some helpful insider tips and fascinating tidbits.

Gilroy Gardens sign with purple and green letters and bright yellow outline in front of the entrance

#1: Vibrant Vistas at Uncle John’s Terrace

Tucked behind the Splash Gardens water play area, there is an overlook called Uncle John’s Terrace. Here you can take a sweeping gaze of scenic Coyote Lake and Lily Pond Falls and the exciting Mushroom Swing. This is a great photo op and fun spot to watch the paddle boats cruising on Coyote Lake.

Uncle John’s Terrace Overlook

Tip: If you look across the lake, you can catch a glimpse of #2 on our list of hidden gems.

Across Coyote Lake is the Cantilever Deck

 

#2: Shady Seats on the Cantilever Deck

a shaded area with benches to sit on with trees all around

Cantilever Deck Benches

The Cantilever Deck is a quiet, hidden area with several benches, including a bench on the overlook portion. This peaceful nook hangs over the lower part of Lily Pond Falls and is located behind the Mushroom Swing.

an overlook with a bench and rail around it looking at a pond with green trees around it

Cantilever Deck Overlook

Tip: This is one of the staff’s favorite spots to take a rest break in the shade on a hot day.

 

#3: Walk behind a Waterfall at Bonfante Falls 

Two waterfalls with some rocks flowing into a pond with plants on them in the middle

For a cool, refreshing break, take a few minutes to stop at Bonfante Falls. It’s perfectly located about midway through the park, between Water Oasis and the Coyote and Redwood Railroad stop. Just as you’re just starting to heat up on a hot day, walk behind the largest falls to let the waterfall splash you and cool you off.

a waterfall coming down staggered levels of rocks

Tidbits: Gilroy Gardens’ founder, Michael Bonfante, personally oversaw the placement of every single rock at Bonfante Falls. He also designed the five different waterfalls in this spot to represent the five major types of waterfalls that are found in nature.

 

4: Old-World Charm on Claudia’s Carousel

a carousel wtih small horses set in a garden area

A sweet, eye-catching ride that not every park attendee sees right away is tucked away in Claudia’s Garden. It’s Claudia’s Carousel, named after Michael Bonfante’s wife. The carousel originally came from a department store in Philadelphia, where it operated from 1922 to 1980. Bonfante purchased it from a collector in southern California in 1988, and it then underwent quite a restoration before the park opened.

woman with brown hair holding a baby on in yellow hat and clothes on a gray carousel horse

 

Tip: This carousel is perfect for little ones, as the horses are smaller. Riders on horses must be no taller than 48”. Those over 48” may ride on a chariot.

carousel with blue and purple accent colors and several small, colorful horses

Tidbits: Waldon Hogue, a longtime-Gilroyan, helped to restore the structure of the carousel, including redoing the wooden floor. Linda Buchanan, another Gilroyan (and a member of our own California Welcome Center Gilroy staff), hand-painted each one of the aluminum horses on Claudia’s Carousel with colors she custom-created. Linda also painted the eyes on the two Victorian girls at the top of the carousel to match the eye colors of her own children.

 

5: Relaxing and Recharging in Comfy Cabanas

Where can you find some shade, enjoy water play nearby, and charge your phone so you can keep catching all those special memories in the park? In a Water Oasis Cabana Rental! You can rent one of six cabanas on the “Original” side, near the slower-paced water activities and wading pool and kiddie slides, or one of six cabanas on the more active “Expansion” side, which boasts the Giant Tipping Bucket and three bigger slides that even adults can enjoy.

a black woman, young boy, and man sitting on a sofa in a cabana

Tips: Each cabana comes with:

  • Mobile charging unit
  • Patio table and lounge seating
  • 4 complimentary water bottles in ice bucket
  • 4 complimentary towels
  • Waiter service (charges for menu items)

Reserve your cabana before you visit the park so the whole family has a comfortable place to rest and re“charge”: Gilroy Gardens Cabana Rentals

 

6: Tasty Treats at Sugar Plum Cafe

Visit the Sugar Plum Cafe for two of Gilroy Gardens’ newest sweet treats. This cute little restaurant, named after one of founder Michael Bonfante’s favorite local restaurants from years past, is just inside the park to the right after you cross the Sycamore Bridge.

Malasadas: Don’t miss these donut-hole style desserts. These yeast-leavened pastries are enriched with eggs, butter, and sometimes milk, and after being fried, they are rolled in sugar. Yum!!

three round donut-hole pastries topped with sugar sitting in a white dish

Malasadas from the Sugar Plum Cafe

Affogatos: For the coffee-lover who also has a penchant for ice cream, this is the perfect combination. Enjoy a scoop of vanilla ice cream or gelato topped with a shot of hot espresso in this Italian dessert.

A cup with ice cream with espresso over it and small coffee beans on top

Affogatos at the Sugar Plum Cafe

Tip: These new, delicious desserts can only be found in the Sugar Plum Cafe.

 

7: Speedy Service with Fast Lane Wristbands

Are you into getting ahead? Well, you don’t have to be a Type A to do that at Gilroy Gardens. Just purchase a Fast Lane wristband, which allows you to skip to the front of the line on more than 20 rides. You can purchase a Fast Lane for $30 each, or buy 3 or more for $25 each.

a rattlesnake roller coaster with people on it

The Timber Twister Roller Coaster, a Fast Lane Ride

Tips: During the 2022 season, you can even receive 2 free Fast Lane wristbands when you buy a a Premium Membership. Disclaimer: Limited time offer. Passes are only valid for the day of visit through the Dec. 31, 2022. Not valid at Water Oasis.

More Gilroy Gardens Park History

Learn even more fascinating facts and stories about Gilroy Gardens Park History.

Plan Your Visit to Gilroy Gardens

To plan your visit, check out our Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park page and read our other blog: Gilroy Gardens: Where Fun Grows on Trees

And when you’re ready to visit, book one of our budget-friendly Hotels and plan a weekend Family Getaway. We have plenty of great activities for you and your whole family to enjoy!

Outside of the California Welcome Center Gilroy building

While you’re here, be sure to stop in at the California Welcome Center Gilroy for our visitor guide, some souvenirs, and our suggestions for other fun things to do in Gilroy!

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