The Best Roller Coasters in California

Brace yourself for heart-pounding excitement on The Golden State’s best roller coasters.

Get ready to ride

Photo: Nik Schulz

Are you a thrill-seeker? Do you prefer your knuckles to be a lovely shade of white? Well, you’re in luck. One of our very own AAA employees, Ron Frost, just happens to be a coaster fanatic. He was able to give us the skinny on some of the best roller coasters in California.

GIANT DIPPER

Where: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

The Ride: This 1924 wooden coaster climbs 70 feet, offering sweeping views of Monterey Bay, and then suddenly you’re zooming through the fresh salty air over bouncy hills.

Ron’s Take: A classic, seaside wooden roller coaster, this ride is older than most amusement parks on the West Coast, but it still packs quite a punch. It has aged beautifully, and the pre-lift tunnel is a unique element that adds great excitement to the ride. And, nothing compares to the sounds of the trains clacking around the track.

Giant Dipper

Photo: Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

MEDUSA

Where: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo

The Ride: At 3,937 feet, Medusa is the longest and tallest looping coaster—with the world’s only sea serpent roll—in northern California. Dangle your feet in the air because you’ll be taking this one floorless.

Ron’s Take: The designers, Bolliger & Mabillard, are known for creating a super-smooth ride. With a total of seven inversions, this is as close as you might get to the feeling of being in a fighter jet.

Medusa

Photo: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

TATSU

Where: Six Flags Magic Mountain, Valencia

The Ride: Take flight! This coaster offers the closest thing to soaring like a bird. Riders positioned face-down speed along a steel track that winds up and down a mountainside. Careening down and swooping up while lying on your stomach, you feel like a high flier.

Ron’s Take: This Bolliger & Mabillard coaster has yet another unique twist. It’s one of the most intense coasters of its kind, and the views from atop the mountain (Magic Mountain is truly built on a mountain) are unmatched—if you can keep your eyes open, that is. And I can’t wait to ride the new hybrid coaster, Twisted Colossus, when it debuts at the park!

SILVER BULLET

Where: Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park

The Ride: Ready for intense? In just over two minutes, this compact coaster turns you upside down six times with two vertical loops, a cobra roll, two corkscrews and a zero-gravity roll.

Ron’s Take: Another roller coaster designed by the team at Bolliger & Mabillard, the Silver Bullet is built mostly over water. On parts of the ride, you feel like you might just get close enough to get your feet wet. The compact design gives it great intensity, and the g-forces created on the final spiral are enough to squeeze the air from your lungs.

Silver Bullet

Photo: Knott’s Berry Farm

CALIFORNIA SCREAMIN’

Where: Disney California® Adventure Park, Anaheim

The Ride: Don’t let the old-fashioned appearance of this roller coaster give you the wrong impression. The attraction looks like a 100-year-old woodie at a seaside boardwalk, but it’s really a smooth, speedy modern steel coaster.

Ron’s Take: The train just seems to glide around the track, and Disney enhances your experience by playing a great soundtrack through speakers in the headrest. With just one vertical loop, this is truly a family-friendly ride.

And the Runner Up. . . .

GOLD STRIKER

Where: California’s Great America, Santa Clara

The Ride: The fastest and tallest wooden roller coaster in northern California takes you on a wild ride filled with tight turns and high-speed twists that keep you guessing.

Ron’s Take: It’s a great modern wooden coaster, designed for speed, airtime and tight turns. The first drop is a doozy: You feel as though you’re freefalling into a mineshaft as you dive 103 feet at 54 mph into a dark tunnel. It’s a terrific addition to the park and a world-class coaster.

Get your roller coaster fix with this insane video taken from the front seat of the Gold Striker. On a big screen, it almost feels like the real deal.

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Heidi Kazemi, AAA Travel Counselor, Roseville, Calif.

Customization is always my top priority when planning a client's vacation. I ask about their family and where they've been before. Their preferences guide our planning so the vacation is perfectly tailored for them.

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