Mini Theme Parks

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Don’t rule out the big amusement parks if you’ve got young ones under five; even Great America and Six Flags have kid zones with attractions for the smallest of riders. Specifics are listed below, as are a sprinkling of Bay Area theme parks with miniature rides and kid-friendly themes.

This Oakland-based, non-profit park is magic for the kids from the moment they enter through the arch of a giant shoe. Fairyland rides are made for tots, as is the story-book theme. In addition to the carousel, train, slides, interactive exhibits, and rides, there’s a miniature Ferris wheel, probably the first you’ll feel comfortable enough to let the kids take a turn in on their own.

Small World Park
The addition of just a few rides turns this simple Pittsburg park into a big attraction for small kids, who’ll happily wave hello to you from the top of the balloon ride. There’s also a carousel, train, and playground to highlight your picnic on the tree-filled park grounds.

Gilroy Gardens
You know the rides are geared for the younger set when they’re made in the shapes of artichokes and strawberries. Fruits and vegetables are all part of the horticulture theme of this Gilroy theme park. Other rides include a monorail, mushroom swing, garlic twirl, and balloon flight, and there’s even a water park on the premises.

Fairytale Town
Fairytale Town in Sacramento provides the sets, and the kids do the rest. They’ll be doing the spinning and twirling on their own as they act out Merlin’s magic tricks at King Arthur’s Castle or skip across the Crooked Mile Path. Other sets include Jack and the Beanstalk, with a giant foot and beanstalk slide, and Alice’s Rabbit Hole.

Looney Tunes Seaport, Seaside Junction, and Tava’s Jungleland at Six Flags
In addition to the animal attractions and roller coaster, Vallejo’s Six Flags also has three kids’ areas where height restrictions won’t be a problem. These are Looney Tunes Seaport, where rides are named after the likes of Elmer, Bugs, and Daffy; Seaside Junction, where rides like Air Penguins let 38” riders to try it on their own; and Tava’s Jungle, with a giant treehouse and miniature elephant ride.

Pixieland Amusement Park
Perfect for pixie-sized riders, this miniature theme park in Concord has all the classics: including a tea cup ride, carousel, train, and roller coaster. Parents are too big to hop aboard the Red Baron Airplanes, so be prepared to watch the kids take off on their own.

Oakland Zoo
Families can easily spend a day at the Oakland Zoo without seeing a single animal. That’s because the rides area is a destination in and of itself, with the likes of the Road Runner cars and Safari Scramble to keep young ones entertained. The small but fast Tiger Coaster makes a fun introduction to the roller coaster.

Happy Hollow Park and Zoo
There’s a zoo, park, and puppet theater at San Jose’s Happy Hollow, and the handful of family rides make for a delightful little theme park excursion, without the theme-park over-stimulation. Danny the Dragon reinvents the train tour, and Mini Putts and Granny Bugs keep the toddlers moving.

KidZville at Great America
In addition to being home to the “Demon” and “Vortex,” Great America’s got an entire town just for the minis. Here, the bumper cars are smaller, as is the roller coaster, and the things that fly up in the air will have them squeeling “wheee!”

Nut Tree Plaza
Next time you visit the Vacaville outlets, stop by the Nut Tree Plaza to take a spin on a classic carousel or board Engine #5 around the plaza. Coin-operated rides at the Kids’ Korner are also available.

Tilden Park
Berkeley’s Tilden Park has all the theme park must-haves – a train, historic carousel, and petting zoo, only spread apart, with acres of hiking trails between them so families can enjoy the great outdoors in addition to a couple of kid rides.

San Francisco Zoo
Speaking of trains and carousels, the San Francisco Zoo’s got one of each, but that pretty much sums up the list of rides you’ll find at this animal-filled attraction.

—Renee M. Rutledge