Like most families, mine loves to visit theme parks in our travels. When we can’t travel far from home, we try to make time for day trips and staycations to some of our regional amusement parks in Northern California. This year, we decided to show some local love by getting annual passes to one of the San Francisco Bay Area amusement parks that we hadn’t visited in a few years – Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. After several visits to the park this season as well as our experience visiting in previous years when our kids were younger, I have a lot of firsthand tips to share for other Six Flags Discovery Kingdom visitors!
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Six Flags Discovery Kingdom Basics
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is located in Vallejo, California, an East Bay suburb of San Francisco en route to the Napa Valley in Solano County. When there’s no traffic, it’s only about 35 minutes from the city. That said, the I-80 corridor through Berkeley is often jam-packed, even on weekends. I’d plan on 45-60 minutes of travel time or more during certain times of day just to be safe.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom really is a tale of two theme parks. It features animal attractions and exhibits as a result of its original roots as a zoo and animal park – back when it was known as Marine World (which merged with Africa USA).
It also now has all of the crazy roller coasters one might expect of any Six Flags thanks to some expansions in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the mix are also quite a few rides for the younger kid set. The result is a park that is a pretty close cousin to what Sea World parks look like these days.
We have found that different families can visit and have a totally different park experience. Families with teens might want to do nothing but ride every coaster, and families with little ones might do the animal shows and the kiddie rides.
The park is quite large at 135 acres. Because of its history of development over the years, it’s a bit of a Frankenstein in terms of layout and theming. Some of the newer coasters are built on what used to be a parking lot.
The park is currently home to two major IPs: DC Comics (largely on the thrill rides) and Looney Tunes (in one of the three little kid sections of the park). Six Flags is open year round, usually daily during the peak summer season (plus during the winter holidays and local spring break week) and on weekends only the rest of the year.
Tips for Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
When we visit amusement parks, I’m always on the hunt to share with readers all the ways to hack your trip: how to save money, how to avoid lines, and how to plan in advance for the best time. Here are my very best tips for making the most of your visit at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.
1. Get the Right Tickets
Six Flags has so many different ticket options that might be overwhelming for a newbie. If you just plan to go for a single day all season long, the simplest way is to pay a la carte for tickets (as well as food, parking, etc.).
Here’s the only catch: just don’t wait until you are at the gate to buy! If you pre-purchase tickets online direct from the park, you can save quite a bit of money. While gate prices for tickets are $89.99, you can get tickets online as low as $40. So plan ahead – even just the morning of your trip by buying online – and save a bundle.
If you are visiting the San Francisco Bay Area and visiting other attractions, you may want to consider some of the multi-attraction passes from Go City, all of which include Six Flags Discovery Kingdom admission.
Go City offers two types of passes in the San Francisco area. The All-Inclusive Pass is priced by the day for as many attractions as you can get through. The Explorer Pass is best if you are touring on a more relaxed timeline, as it is priced per attraction and can be used up to 60 days after pass activation. The best value for most Six Flags Discovery Kingdom visitors is probably Go City’s San Francisco Explorer Pass since you’ll likely want to the spend the better part of a full day at the park. The Explorer Pass with three choices, for example, is currently $79 for adults and $69 for kids, offering substantial overall savings.
Trips With Tykes Tip: Note that kids 2 and under are free at Six Flags and there is no kids discount for older kids if you purchase direct. Kids prices for The All-Inclusive Pass or The Explorer Pass from Go City are reduced.
2. Consider a Season Pass
If you are a local and think you might go even just two times during the year, I’d strongly recommend a season pass of some sort. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom offers a slightly overwhelming array of options, each with a lot of fine print to read and slight differences in perks and discounts.
In 2023, the current offerings and prices are:
- Gold Pass ($64.99): Spring and summer admission only – expires at end of summer season September 2, 2023. Includes free general parking, 5% food and merchandise discounts.
- Platinum Pass ($89.99): Does not expire until January 2, 2024. Includes free general parking, 15% food and merchandise discounts, 2 specialty rate tickets, 1 skip the line pass. Also includes admission to Six Flags Hurricane Harbor (a nearby water park) in Concord, CA.
- Six Flags Plus ($9.99/mo for minimum 12 months): A new subscription offering as of summer 2023. Includes admission and general parking at all Six Flags parks and water parks nationwide. 15% food and merchandise discounts, 2 specialty rate tickets, 1 skip the line pass.
- Diamond Pass ($159.99): Does not expire until January 2, 2024. Includes free preferred parking, 20% food and merchandise discounts, 5 specialty rate tickets, 4 skip the line passes. Also includes admission and preferred parking at all Six Flags parks and water parks nationwide. Several additional perks, including: 2023 Season Drink Bottle and 50% discount on season FLASH pass purchase.
Six Flags runs limited time sales and deals on a lot of these passes, especially in the spring and early summer, so look out for promotions. An amazing promotion offered in late spring and early summer of this year was a Platinum Pass at the price of a Gold Pass. That’s what tipped the scales for our family and made us take the season pass plunge this year. The passes essentially paid for themselves by our second visit.
You can read more details on pass options here. The bottom line is that for most local families, the Platinum pass is likely the best value. You might want to consider the Plus or Diamond if you plan to visit another Six Flags park like Magic Mountain in Southern California.
Trips With Tykes Tip: Even if you are only visiting for one day, you might want to consider a Gold Pass for a single member of your party or family. Why? Parking at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is $40 per day. The Gold Pass which includes parking often costs just $15-25 more than a one day ticket. If one member of your party purchases a Gold pass and everyone else gets a single day ticket, you come out ahead.
3. Plan for Distant Parking
One thing that took me by surprise the first time I visited Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is how far the parking is from the park. Most of the regional theme parks in the Bay Area have parking that is immediately adjacent to the front gates since they are smaller than parks like Disney and Universal. So this was definitely a change for us in terms of planning and timing! Plan for more time to get in and out of the park than you might at other smaller theme parks.
There’s a parking shuttle if you prefer to take it, but often the wait for it is longer than the time it will take you to walk. If you have a wait or it’s crowded, you may prefer to walk as we always do. When my son visited for the first time at age 4, it was a bit too far for him to walk and we used a stroller. But the walk barely rates now that he’s 9.
Trips With Tykes Tip: Bring a stroller even for older toddlers and preschoolers due to the park’s size. We always used the very lightweight gb Pockit travel stroller that we could easily carry down stairs one handed and use to nimbly navigate crowds (full gb Pockit review here).
4. Download the Six Flags App
In the last few years, we’ve watched the technology at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom really evolve and improve. A couple of years ago, guests needed to pick up the paper maps and showtimes guides. And while those are still available near the front gates, you really should go digital too. Before your visit, I recommend that at least one member of your party download the Six Flags app for use in the park.
A single app is good for all the parks under the Six Flags umbrella. Once you open the app, you can select the park you plan to visit. If you have passes, you can link them and the app immediately recognizes the park.
The app has a new version in summer 2023 and there are still some bugs to sort through. On our most recent visit last week, the interactive map feature wasn’t working yet. But everything else that is in there right now is quite helpful for planning your day. Features we use include:
- Linking passes to scan in to the park with your phone instead of your season pass card
- Mobile ordering for food (link any season passes to your app first and discounts are automatically applied)
- Animal experience showtimes
- Ride descriptions and photos
- FLASH Pass purchasing (more on that below)
Trips With Tykes Tip: If you want to see animals during our visit, check the animal experience showtimes early in the day in the app. Many shows only run once or twice a day, so knowing the times early is vital to your day’s planning and touring strategy. There are so many shows that you really have to pick and choose if you want to have time for rides too – it’s a good problem to have!
5. Share Meals
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom offers pretty inexpensive admission but pretty expensive food. The food is always where amusement parks make their money. Six Flags doesn’t allow outside food and drink into the park (although a couple of snacks in a purse or a bottle of water will pass muster). So that means you’ll need to budget for meals and snacks.
We luckily found that although the food is pricey, portions are pretty generous. On my last visit with my son, he and I split a double cheeseburger meal for $17.99 at Johnny Rockets and had fries left over. The $14.99 jumbo slice of cheese pizza from Primo’s Pizzeria in the food court comes with a side order of garlic knots, making it more than enough food for two younger kids to share. There are kids meals that are less expensive at many restaurants too – and nothing that prohibits an adult from ordering one for smaller portions and savings!
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom also has a dining pass program like a lot of other amusement parks. We haven’t found that we consume enough food to make it worth our while (especially since we often visit for only a few hours at a time), but consider it if you have big eaters in your group and intend to stay in the parks for more than one meal time.
6. Come with the Right Expectations
I find it is always important to keep all amusement park outings in perspective. Too many guests come to their local or regional park and expect it to run like the well-oiled machine of Disney. If you are expecting Disney efficiency anywhere but Disney, you will probably be disappointed. This is certainly true at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.
We have always found at Six Flags, for example, that quite a few rides aren’t open and ready to load right when the park opens. This could be frustrating to those who like to “rope drop” to beat the crowds as we do. We also have noticed that some rides stay closed for many hours into the day, sometimes never opening or opening only when the crowds warrant it. There’s not a way to learn reliably what will be closed in advance, so you may arrive and find a couple of rides you planned to do not operating.
But here is where perspective is so important: tickets to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom can be a quarter of the price of a day at Disney. That’s a pretty amazing value for what the park has to offer, which includes some truly world-class coasters like The Joker and Medusa.
So, keep your expectations reasonable, and I think most families will find the park more than meets those expectations for the price. We have found our visits to be a pretty solid value.
Trips with Tykes Tip: Always check the online calendar on Six Flags Discovery Kingdom’s site to make sure your visit doesn’t coincide with a major special event that may cause crowds to balloon. Not every event will be listed there, but it can help!
7. Start Early
Since it is a locals park full of season pass holders, a lot of visitors to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom don’t arrive until later in the afternoon and evening after work or other activities. If you can arrive before they do, you’ll have the park all to yourself for awhile, with shorter lines to boot.
Arriving early isn’t that hard because the park usually doesn’t even open until 11:00am! I recommend arriving before 10:30am to have time to park and walk to the gates. On our last visit, I was able to walk right on Medusa with zero wait time after strolling casually through the front gates a few minutes after 11:00am.
The disadvantage to arriving early is that not all the rides are open yet. But enough of the top tier thrill rides are open that being early is still worth it.
8. Make Time for Free Play With Young Kids
If you are coming with younger kids to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, I highly recommend not just running from ride to ride. There are quite a few fun play areas and nooks and crannies to explore. These are centered around three areas – Looney Tunes Seaport, Tava’s Jungleland and Seaside Junction.
My kids especially enjoyed the outdoor playground made to look like Bug’s Bunny’s house in the Looney Tunes Seaport and the indoor play zone “Acme Fun Factory” when they were younger. There’s also a splash pad (Splash Water Oasis) and a huge playground (Zoe’s Treehouse) over in the Tava’s Jungleland section of the park. My son at 9 still finds enough there to swing by for a few minutes of playtime. Seaside Junction is usually only open on weekends so don’t plan on that if you are visiting on a weekday.
Also a hit for little ones is simply exploring freely in the Sharks Experience, making time to touch sting rays in the touch pools, or watching the seals at play and being fed.
9. Consider The FLASH Pass with Adults/Teens
When we first started visiting Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, my young kids were not tall or brave enough for the truly jaw-dropping coasters. But now that I have a teenager, we are starting to strategize about coaster queues quite a bit more.
Like many amusement parks, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has a pay-to-cut-the-line service for many of the most popular attractions called “THE FLASH Pass.” If you have adults or teens who really want to ride until they drop, one of these three might offer a value to you. There are multiple options, again with fine print to read to get the one that fits your needs and budget best. Those include:
- THE FLASH Pass Platinum: Skip 90% of the wait. Daily prices $115-170 in 2023.
- THE FLASH Pass Gold: Skip 50% of the wait. Daily prices $70-90 in 2023.
- THE FLASH Pass Regular: Wait virtually. Daily prices $50-80 in 2023.
(There are also two FLASH Passes for Juniors that include the more family-friendly rides, but the lines for many of these attractions are rarely long enough to justify the cost in my mind.)
What Six Flags Discovery Kingdom doesn’t advertise very well, however, is that there are often single ride FLASH passes available for sale too. They are called “One Shot” and they are visible in the app. I’ve yet to find them mentioned on the park’s website.
These single ride FLASH passes are just $8-10 per person and usually have close in return times. Unless you plan to ride a ton of rides, you don’t really need one of the all day FLASH passes. Instead, you can pay for what you need based on what the real time lines are looking like. One Shot passes are easy to purchase via the app by going to the ride listings. Or just scan the QR codes by the ride’s entrance.
On peak days, note that One Shots sometimes aren’t available at all or aren’t available for all rides that offer FLASH pass. If this is the case, you can always purchase a full version of FLASH pass. But don’t purchase the full version first until you know whether that’s your only option.
10. Try Holiday Offerings & Special Events
A lot of visitors only go to their regional theme parks in the summer months when the kids are out of school. Summer is certainly when you’re mostly likely to find Six Flags Discovery Kingdom fully staffed and operating more attractions.
But the park also has a lot to offer at other times of year, particularly around Halloween and the Christmas and winter holiday seasons. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is the last park in the San Francisco Bay Area to offer a scary Halloween haunt, Fright Fest (after its largest competitor California’s Great America moved to the family-friendly Tricks and Treats in 2022). Fright Fest admission is not included in any season passes, so all guests must buy individual tickets to attend.
Most everything else is, however, included in regular park admission and family-friendly. These events often have smaller food festivals and other activities attached. Special events on calendar in 2023 include:
- Viva La Fiesta (Spring/early summer)
- Summer Nights (Select dates in July and early August)
- Oktoberfest (Select dates in September and October)
- Kids Boo Fest (Select dates in September and October)
- Veterans Day Weekend (November 10-12)
- Holiday in the Park (Select dates from Thanksgiving week until the New Year)
Frequently Asked Questions about Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
What are the Best Rides at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom?
If you are new to the park and are overwhelmed trying to choose among all the rides and plan your day, I’m here to help. At least someone in my family has been on every single ride in the park at this point (the only exception is Wonder Woman: Lasso of Truth which I think no one will ever quite muster up the courage or the stomach to tackle!).
Here are the best rides in each category, as well as a few you may want to skip or at least be advised about:
- Biggest & best coasters and thrills: The Joker (RMC hybrid wooden/steel), Medusa (floorless), Superman: Ultimate Flight (Sky Rocket II)
- Thrill rides we avoid: Kong (SLC that unfortunately has a lot of head banging), Wonder Woman: Lasso of Truth (so much spinning)
- Best starter coasters for younger kids: Roadrunner Express, Cobra, Sidewinder Safari (these coasters have no inversions are listed in on order of increasing thrills)
- Best non-coaster rides for the whole family to do together: The Ark (mild swinging ship), Monkey Business (tea cup style ride)
- Best super mild thrills for toddlers & preschoolers: Taz Typhoon (chair swing ride), Congo Queen (Zamperla Rockin’ Tug), Sylvester’s Pounce and Bounce (kiddie drop/bounce ride)
- Rides where you will get wet (really wet): White Water Safari (river rapids raft ride), Monsoon Falls (flume)
- Best animal exhibits: Rainforest Trail (butterfly house), Stingray Bay, Seal Cove, Shark Experience
- Best animal shows: Drench! (dolphin show), Odin’s Temple of the Tiger
What Hotels Are Near Six Flags Discovery Kingdom?
Lots of visitors come to the park as a day trip from San Francisco or elsewhere in the Bay Area. But if you want to stay close to the park, the closest safe and clean hotel option is the Hampton Inn Vallejo.
What is the Weather Like at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom?
Like much of the Bay Area, the weather is pretty mild most of the year. Summer average high temperatures approach 80 degrees, with lows in the mid 50s. In winter, expect average highs in the upper 50s with lows in the mid 40s.
That said, Vallejo can get quite hot some days in summer, so it’s important to check local forecasts for heatwaves. The park is in a location near the bay that can get a fair amount of wind off the water so it can get quite chilly in the evenings even in summer. Pack layers if you plan to visit both after dark and during the heat of the day.
Have you been to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom? Leave your tips in the comments!
Disclosure: All of our recent visits to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom have been completely at our own expense. The park provided my family with complimentary media tickets for one visit in 2018.