Editor’s Note (September 2022): The Great Pumpkin Fest at California’s Great America has now been retired. But good news – it has been replaced by an even bigger and better family-friendly Halloween event in 2022. See my guide to the brand new Tricks and Treats Halloween event at California’s Great America for all the details and tips.
Regional theme parks tend to celebrate Halloween by scaring the living daylights out of guests. Horror Nights and Fright Fests and the like cater to teens and adults, but the little ones are often left out of the Halloween fun.
Luckily, there is something special for younger kids at one of Northern California’s largest theme parks, California’s Great America. Great America has an evening scary Halloween event, Halloween Haunt, but the park is entirely safe and not scary for younger kids during the day. During the day, the Halloween fun is centered in the Planet Snoopy section of the park, where the Peanuts gang celebrates “The Great Pumpkin Fest.”
What to Do at the Great Pumpkin Fest
The Great Pumpkin Fest is all about fun for the little ones. My kids are 8 and (newly) 4 years old which was just about the sweet spot age wise. Most families in attendance had toddlers, preschoolers, and younger age elementary kids. So what is there to do?
Dress Up: Kids ages 12 and under are welcome to come to the park in costume during the event. Those Halloween costumes are expensive, so you might as well get your money’s worth and wear them a few times.
Trick-or-Treating: There are several trick-or-treat stations located in strategic positions in the Planet Snoopy area of the park. Great America provides small plastic trick or treat bags so no need to bring your own. I was relieved to see that no chocolate candy was in the mix. With the heat waves that can happen in the South Bay, I had visions of melted chocolate getting on hundreds of little fingers and all over everything. Instead, hard candy like root beer barrels and Smarties filled the candy cauldrons. Well played, Great America.
Pumpkin Decorating: Great America has a station where every child can choose a small pumpkin of his or her own to take home – a nice souvenir. Employees hand out small packs of stickers and kids can decorate their pumpkins there.
Foam Pit: Kids can jump into a pit of foamy bubbles and go a little crazy. My kids are not the get messy sort, so we skipped the foam pit ourselves. We had plenty of fun watching from afar though!
Hay Maze: Kids can get their crazies out running through hay bales. Bonus that they aren’t high enough for the kids to actually get lost.
Coloring Station: When the little ones need a break from rides and crowds, make a pitstop at the Peanuts coloring station.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown Movie Showings: Another spot to take a break is just a few steps away from the coloring station. Kids can sit down and watch the classic Peanuts tale running on repeat.
Spooktacular Show: One of the highlights of the Great Pumpkin Fest is the Peanuts Spooktacular. The Peanuts characters take to the stage several times during the afternoon for a show and dance party. The gang dances along to Halloween music favorites in costume and even invite kids on the stage for a few songs and a costume contest.
Character Meet-and-Greets: One of my favorite things about California’s Great America with young kid is the large number of Peanuts character meet-and-greets. Characters are plentiful and lines are never long – if there are lines at all! My daughter was on a mission to get photos with as many characters as she could, and the setup at the Great Pumpkin Fest did not disappoint. She met Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Sally, Snoopy, Schroeder, and a few more in the span of a few hours. All of the Peanuts gang is in costume so the photo opportunities are extra special.
Rides: Of course, all the rides are open in Planet Snoopy and throughout the rest of the park during the Great Pumpkin Fest. Lines are usually very short in Planet Snoopy so your kids won’t have to wait long. That said, some of the rides are a bit slow to load and require an employee to manually release every safety belt, so pack a little patience. It doesn’t quite have the efficiency of Disney or Universal.
When To Go to the Great Pumpkin Fest
The Great Pumpkin Fest happens every Saturday and Sunday from September 30-October 29, 2017. Note that the park is closed Sunday, October 22 for a San Francisco’s 49ers game (the theme park shares parking with the stadium so both can’t be open at once).
The activities officially run from Noon to 4, but we found that things got going a bit earlier. We were able to meet several Peanuts characters and trick-or-treat before noon on the day of our visit. I’d still recommend getting to the park at its usual 10am opening to beat the crowds and ride a few rides before all the Great Pumpkin Fest events get started.
How to Save Money on California’s Great America Admission
Last but certainly not least, if you want to go to the Great Pumpkin Fest, there are certainly a lot of ways to save money at California’s Great America. Here are my favorite discounts that work in the fall:
- Gold Pass: The annual pass at Great America (the “Gold Pass”) is one of the best theme park deals going. Honestly. It’s $89 (or 9 payments of $9.88) and includes admission to the Great Pumpkin Fest, Halloween Haunt, and WinterFest. Plus holders get free parking, 20% discounts on select food and merchandise, early access times, and admission to another nearby local theme park, Gilroy Gardens.
- Go with a Friend: Have a friend with an annual pass? Go with them! During the fall months, each passholder can bring up to 4 friends for the daytime fun for just $24.99 each.
- Buy Online: Walk up prices for single day tickets are definitely high at Great America, but it’s easy to avoid them and save a bundle. In the fall, buy online for savings of up to $27 per ticket. Save $5 off the regular $20 parking charge by buying a parking pass in advance on the Great America website.
- AAA Discounts: Have a AAA membership? Buy single day tickets in person at a AAA office for up to $30 in savings.
- Military Discounts: Great America offers discounted admission to active, inactive, and retired military members with military ID year round.
Disclosure: California’s Great America hosted my family for a single day in the park during The Great Pumpkin Fest for review purposes. As always, all opinions are my own.