California is arguably the best place to celebrate National Roller Coaster Day (August 16), since the Golden State is home to a wide range of superlative-inspiring theme parks and thrill rides. Even if you don’t know the difference between a cobra roll and a pretzel loop, the G-force-pushing delights of California’s most popular rides are tall, fast, and often pretty darn intense. Thanks to the weather, any season works well for a California theme park visit—though the upcoming early fall means shorter waits (to track possible lines in real time, check out the cool site Is It Packed). Here are coasters to ride on National Roller Coaster Day and beyond, listed from south to north.
Emperor, SeaWorld San Diego
The latest high-intensity coaster at the San Diego theme park is the tallest, fastest, longest—and only floorless—dive coaster in the state. In the tradition of the park’s other wildlife-inspired coasters—see Electric Eel and Manta—Emperor also takes its cues from nature, in this case the deep-diving emperor penguin. Launching with a 14-story straight-down dive, riders reach speeds of up to 60 mph as they careen along twists, loops, and inversions, feet dangling through it all.
HangTime, Knott’s Berry Farm
With its 96-degree drop, inversions, and a mid-air suspension—hence the “hang time” that pauses to leave you dangling over the park’s boardwalk area—this dive coaster keeps drawing serious thrill-seekers to its Buena Park home. While you’re at Knott’s, also check out Xcelerator The Ride, which goes from 0–82 mph in 2.3 seconds, and the Silver Bullet, which has six inversions, two vertical loops, a cobra roll, two corkscrews, and a zero-gravity roll.
The Incredicoaster, Disney California Adventure Park
This coaster at Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort is a sequel of sorts: It’s a makeover of the former California Screamin’, which was given an Incredibles theme as part of the park’s reborn Pixar Pier. This is the only inversion-loop ride at Disneyland Resort, and the added enclosed “scream tubes” add a fun thrill at 55 mph. For a Disneyland classic, don’t miss a spin on the indoor coaster Space Mountain, which temporarily morphs into the Halloween-themed Ghost Galaxy every Halloween season.
Full Throttle, Six Flags Magic Mountain
This L.A. County theme park is arguably California’s nerve center for super-thrill rides, but the 160-foot loop of The Throttle throws down the gauntlet by being the tallest and fastest looping roller coaster in the world—it features three launches, one of which blasts off at 70 mph.
Head next to Tatsu, which feels like flying as you ride face-down over a steel mountainside by way of a corkscrew, a zero G-roll, horseshoe, pretzel loop, and inline twist. Or, try Superman: Escape from Krypton, which climbs to 415 feet and takes you—in reverse—up to 100 mph. “Fifth-dimension” coaster X2, meanwhile, gets rave reviews for spinning you 360 degrees while also sending you both backwards and forward, all against a booming heavy-metal soundtrack.
Giant Dipper, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
This classic coaster counts as both a thrill ride and a historic site at the old-fashioned, seaside amusement park. The 70-foot-high coaster dates back to 1924, built by Arthur D. Looff (whose father created the park’s 1911 carousel), making it the fifth oldest in the U.S. The red and white ride still holds its own among wooden coasters, upping the ante with its views of Monterey Bay. The Giant Dipper also has showbiz street cred, having appeared in such movies as The Lost Boys, Sudden Impact, and Dangerous Minds.
Gold Striker, California’s Great America
The Santa Clara park is home to the fastest and tallest wooden roller coaster in Northern California, which has been called one of the top 10 wooden roller coasters in the world. It travels at up to 54 mph with a 103-foot descent into a mineshaft. For an added rush, try it at night, when the ride is kept dark. While you’re at the park, board the RailBlazer, where the cars straddle a single track through a rocky-ravine-like setting, giving the coaster a fun off-road feeling.
Batman: The Ride, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
The Vallejo theme park, located between San Francisco and Sacramento, tips its hat to the DC Comics franchise with this “free-fly coaster,”—the world’s first—which employs one-of-a-kind onboard magnetic technology to give riders a feeling of weightlessness. To cleanse your palate afterward, try the floorless Medusa, which is the longest and tallest looping coaster in northern California and has a “sea serpent roll” (a close cousin of the “cobra roll”).