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Gilroy Gardens

Little kids love the mellow rides— and everyone loves the Circus Trees

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If you're still searching for a way to get your kids to eat their veggies, take them to Gilroy Gardens, a charmingly “agricultural” theme park in Gilroy, the Garlic Capital of the World. The garden-themed rides—with cheeky names like the Artichoke Dip for a teacup-style ride—are so mild, some allow infant riders. Climb aboard a hungry worm for a trip around an apple core or crawl into the center of a giant garlic bulb for some whirls and twirls.

Gilroy Gardens was launched in the 1970s at a former tree nursery, created by the head of a supermarket chain to offer his employees a place to relax and perhaps share in his love of arbors. That tree theme still dominates: The park’s showstopping attraction is the collection of “Circus Trees” that feature whimsical shapes, cultivated through an elaborate grafting process. Grab a brochure about the trees at the entrance and build your visit around seeing them all. They’re all masterpieces, but the basket tree and the four-legged giant are must-sees.

Aside from the trees, the shady, 536-acre property has six botanical gardens—the largest being Monarch Garden, set in a 20,000-square-foot greenhouse. Some gardens feature specialized tours, like a relaxed boat cruise through the flower-filled Rainbow Garden. Or, climb aboard a re-creation of a Model-T to tour the South County Backroads area, landscaped to show how this broad valley south of San Francisco was once almost exclusively farmland. Kids will have love seeing tropical and subtropical plants from on board the park’s miniature replica of a steam train.

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