Just as California wine fans understand the nuances of mouthfeel and notes, Golden State roller coaster fans are fluent in the intricacies of their favorite rides—from inversions to zero-gravity rolls and dual-racing tracks. August 16 is National Roller Coaster Day—the perfect excuse to plan a trip to one of California’s thrill-packed theme parks. While there have been several roller coaster debuts this summer, some classics are always worth revisiting. Here are nine of our favorite thrill rides, new and old, listed south to north across the Golden State.
Tidal Twister, Sea World San Diego
The 2019 debut at this San Diego theme park is a “dueling roller coaster” that channels the power of the ocean and features high-speed turns and upside-down twists. It features two trains starting at opposite ends of a figure-8 track then crossing in the center at a dynamic Zero-G roll.
Ghost Rider, Knott’s Berry Farm
This Buena Park theme park was born decades ago as an Old West attraction, and this wooden roller coaster, which first opened in 1998, embodies that spirit with gusto. It stretches 118 feet high and has 14 hills—and it’s the longest, tallest, and fastest (56 mph) wooden coaster on the West Coast.
Soarin’ Over California, Disney California Adventure Park
OK, it’s technically a simulated ride, but this beloved experience in Anaheim’s Disney California Adventure Park is back for just a limited run, ending August 31. It sends you gliding over Golden State sights within an immersive, 80-foot projection dome—including everything from San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge to the beaches of Malibu.
Jurassic World—The Ride, Universal Studios Hollywood
With its 84-foot plunge at the end, this new raft ride has coaster-level street cred. It’s a reborn version of Jurassic Park—The Ride with cutting-edge technology, lush vegetation, and characters such as the Indominus rex, the aquatic Mosasaurus, Velociraptors, and (of course) a T-rex.
The New Revolution Classic, Six Flags Magic Mountain
The steel-track New Revolution first debuted at the L.A. County park in 1976, under the bicentennial-themed name of Great American Revolution, and was the world's first 360-degree vertical loop. It got a makeover in 2016 but kept its American spirit with a red-white-and-blue exterior and silver-eagle hood ornaments. In its earlier form, it also made a cameo in the 1983 classic National Lampoon’s Vacation.
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: it turned 95 this summer. The 70-foot-high coaster was 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 has appeared in such movies as The Lost Boys, Sudden Impact, and Dangerous Minds.
Flight Deck, California’s Great America
This inverted steel coaster at the Santa Clara theme park has a 360-degree vertical loop, two 270-degree after burn turns, a full-circle wingover and a zero gravity roll. From the top of the first lift hill, you also get views of Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers. Fun fact: When it debuted in 1993, the ride was named Top Gun, after the movie.
Batman: The Ride, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
This newcomer at the Vallejo theme park is a “4D free-fly coaster”: Your car runs along the outside of a boxy-shaped, yellow-and-black frame that stands 120 feet high and includes a 90-degree, elevator-style incline. You’ll experience six head-over-heels inversions and plenty of unexpected free-fall drops.
While you’re at the park, located between San Francisco and Sacramento, embrace the true spirit of the day by riding the appropriately named Daredevil Chaos Coaster: The looping coaster that goes seven stories high with riders going both face-to-face and back to back, and featuring both a suspension and reversal mid-way.